Biden Calls Omicron a ‘Cause for Concern, Not a Cause for Panic’
The variant has yet to be detected in the United States, and crucial questions about it remain.
Biden calls Omicron a ’cause for concern, not a cause for panic.’
Biden Urges Vaccinations Amid Omicron Variant Concerns
President Biden called the new Omicron coronavirus variant “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and urged Americans to get vaccinations and booster shots. The variant has not yet been detected in the United States.
The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in Southern Africa. But while we have that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it. But here’s what it does. It gives us time, gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot. You have to get the booster. The — sooner or later, we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States. We’ll have to face this new threat just as we faced those that come before it. This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day. And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion. In the event — hopefully unlikely — that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool. I want to reiterate: Dr. Fauci believes that the current vaccines provide at least some protection against the new variant and the boosters strengthen that protection, significantly. We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed, but so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed.
President Biden called the new Omicron coronavirus variant “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and urged Americans to get vaccinations and booster shots. The variant has not yet been detected in the United States.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
Nov. 29, 2021Updated 1:54 p.m. ET
President Biden sought to reassure the nation on Monday about the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus as crucial questions about it remain, telling Americans that the variant is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and that his administration was working with vaccine manufacturers to modify vaccines and booster shots should that prove necessary.
“We’re throwing everything we have at this virus, tracking it from every angle,” Mr. Biden said at the White House, adding, “I’m sparing no effort, removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe.”
The president is expected to visit the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, and said he would outline “a strategy for how we are going to fight Covid this winter, not with shutdowns or with lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.” The variant has yet to be detected in the United States.
Mr. Biden has already restricted travel from eight nations, including South Africa, a move that experts said would buy the United States time in determining how to respond. But it will likely be a week, possibly two weeks, before experts know more about the new variant. It has mutations that scientists fear could make it more infectious and less susceptible to vaccines, though evidence to support those fears has yet to be established.
Despite significant questions about the variant itself — including whether it causes mild or severe disease — countries around the world have rushed to defend against its spread, with a cascade of border closures and travel restrictions that recalled the earliest days of the pandemic.
Mr. Biden was elected on a promise to bring the pandemic under control — a task that is proving easier said than done. Viruses are dedicated to ensuring their own survival, and that is especially true of the virus that causes Covid-19. Just as Mr. Biden was about to declare “independence from the virus” on the July 4 holiday, the Delta variant swept across the United States, causing another wave of hospitalizations and deaths.
Now there is Omicron, discovered in southern Africa and designated by the World Health Organization on Friday as a “variant of concern,” popping up just as the holiday travel season gets underway.
Mr. Biden is trying to project calm and keep the country from panicking while also ensuring that Americans get vaccinated and take other precautions, including masking and social distancing. He was joined at the White House by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said that current P.C.R. tests were able to detect the new variant.
The emergence of the new variant is also increasing pressure on Mr. Biden and his administration to do more to share vaccines with the rest of the world.
South Africa, whose scientists detected the variant, has fully vaccinated only 24 percent of its population, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. It has a better vaccination rate than most countries on the continent, but has asked vaccine makers to stop sending doses: It is having trouble getting shots into arms, in part because of distribution bottlenecks and in part because many people are hesitant to take them.
Understand the Omicron Variant
What to Know: It’s unclear how effective vaccines will be against Omicron, and experts say it’s too early to tell if the variant causes only mild illness.Do Travel Bans Work?: As the Omicron variant circles the globe, some experts say travel bans may do more harm than good.Tracking the Variants: Here’s where Omicron has been detected.How Omicron Got Its Name: The W.H.O. began naming the variants after Greek letters to avoid public confusion and stigma.
Elsewhere in Africa, the vaccination rate is much lower, and in some countries, even health care workers have had trouble getting their shots. The W.H.O. reported last week that just 27 percent of health workers in Africa had been fully vaccinated.
The Biden administration has pledged to donate more than a billion vaccine doses to other nations, and so far it has shipped 275 million doses to 110 countries. The president said, as he has in the past, that the United States has donated more doses than any other nation. He implored other foreign leaders to increase their donations.
“Now we need the rest of the world to step as well,” he said.
But activists and some global health experts said the administration needed to move faster, arguing that vaccine inequities were the reason for the emergence of the variant.
“This is precisely what experts have been predicting was going to happen — that the extraordinary inequities and gaps between low-income countries and high-income countries creates this massive vulnerability, and it’s going to continue to generate these dangerous variants,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global health expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “That point is glaringly obvious, and it’s painful.”
Mr. Biden’s top health advisers, including Dr. Fauci, spent much of the holiday weekend consulting with their South African counterparts.
Dr. Fauci told the president that it would take approximately two weeks to learn more about the variant’s transmissibility and severity, but that “he continues to believe that existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases” of Covid, according to a statement from the White House.
Alexandra E. Petri contributed reporting.