Politics

Fauci says Omicron is probably not a “huge deal,” however the US ought to nonetheless be “making ready for the worst.”

The evidence “strongly” suggests that the new Omicron coronavirus variant has an advantage in transferability over other variants and that it can also evade immune protection, said Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday urged people to get vaccinated before there were documented cases of the variant in the US.

“This is a clear call for me to say, let’s put all these differences aside and say, if you are not vaccinated, get vaccinated. When you are fully vaccinated, get a booster and vaccinate the children as well, ”he said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said that while much is still unknown about Omicron, vaccines offer a proven level of protection.

“It may not be as good at protecting against a primary infection, but it does have a very important impact in reducing the chance that you will get a serious result from it,” he said.

TODAY: Dr. Fauci tells Meet the Press that South African health officials were transparent in their Covid coverage when they saw the rise in the Omicron variant. #IfItsSunday #MTP

Dr. Fauci: “All of a sudden there was this big increase” in infections. pic.twitter.com/Loq1cqgWCe

– Meet the press (@MeetThePress) November 28, 2021

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said in an interview with Fox News Sunday it will likely take two to three weeks of laboratory and field studies before scientists know if the variant can bypass current Covid-19 vaccines. Like Fauci, he encouraged Americans to get vaccinated because recent evidence shows that the gunshots provided adequate protection.

“The boosters in particular offer this additional protection, because there is something about the booster that makes your immune system really expand its capacity against all kinds of different spike proteins, even against those it has never seen before,” he said.

The Omicron variant, first discovered in southern Africa, has been found in a growing number of countries, including since Sunday in England, Israel, Belgium, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, Australia and the Netherlands.

In an interview on Saturday, Fauci said he would be “not surprised” if the variant was already in the US. In another interview on Sunday he said, “It will inevitably be here.”

As Fauci explained, Omicron is likely more transmissible than other variants because it has at least 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that attaches to and infects a human cell.

A gas station attendant stood next to a newspaper headline in Pretoria, South Africa on Saturday as scientists in that country – where Omicron was first identified – were trying to combat the spread of the variant.

“The profile of the mutations strongly suggests that it will have an advantage in terms of transmissibility and that it could elude the immune protection you would get from monoclonal antibodies or convalescent serum after infection and possibly even against a person some of the vaccine-induced antibodies, ”he said.

The recent surge in Covid-19 cases in South Africa is also an indicator of its ability to spread quickly.

“If you look around South Africa, you have had a low infection rate. And then suddenly there was this big point. And when the South Africans looked at it, they said, ‘Oh my god. This is a different virus than we have seen before, ‘”Fauci said at Meet the Press.

South African health officials have said the new variant is likely responsible for up to 90% of the country’s new cases, with early studies showing that any person infected with it is likely to spread it to two more people.

“So it clearly has the ability to transfer quickly,” said Fauci. “That is what worries us now, but also puts pressure on ourselves now to do something to prepare for it.”

Travelers at London Heathrow Airport on Sunday. The UK imposed new restrictions on incoming travelers due to the Omicron variant.

Hollie Adams via Getty Images

The White House announced on Friday that it would ban travel from South Africa and seven other African countries from Monday. President Joe Biden planned to meet with Fauci and other members of his Covid-19 response team on Sunday to discuss the government’s response.

Fauci told Meet The Press that the interruption in travel to and from African countries where the variant was discovered should be used as an opportunity for Americans to get fully vaccinated and keep themselves up to date with their boosters to prepare for the highly likely spread of the variant bring the US.

“So don’t let this decision to block travel from certain countries go without a positive effect,” he said. “And the positive effect is that we’re better prepared, we’re getting the vaccine going, really ready for something that may not be that important, but we want to make sure we’re prepared for the worst.”

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