Dr Anthony Fauci said on Saturday morning he would not be shocked to learn that the omicron COVID-19 variant is already in the United States
In an interview with NBC’s “Weekend TODAY”, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) told co-hosts Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander that the strain has a large number of mutations which suggest that it could potentially escape immune protection and that scientists can predict that it will be more transmissible.
NO CASE OF OMICRON COVID-19 VARIANT IDENTIFIED YET IN US, Says CDC
“We don’t know that yet, but you have to be careful and assume that it does. He also has a bunch of mutations that suggest he might escape protection, for example, monoclonal antibodies and maybe even convalescent plasma for people who have been infected and cured and maybe a vaccine. These are all maybe, but the suggestion is enough, “he said.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci testifies before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on November 4, 2021 in Washington, DC (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The chief medical adviser to the president said the worrying variant of the ability to infect those who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered from the infection “makes us say that this is something you need to pay very close attention to and to be prepared for something so serious “.
While it “may not be like this,” Fauci noted, the United States was trying to “get ahead” despite the unknowns.
“So in real terms, Dr Fauci, do you think omicron is already here in the United States, probably?” Alexander asked.
“You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. We haven’t detected it yet. But, when you have a virus that shows that degree of transmissibility and you already have travel-related cases they have noted in Israel and Belgium and other places, when you have a virus like this, it will almost invariably eventually go away, mostly everywhere, ”he replied.
People enter Schiphol Airport after Dutch health authorities said 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on November 27, 2021 (REUTERS / Eva Plevier)
“The problem with blocking travel from a given country is just giving us time to better assess it. That’s the reason for doing it,” Fauci added. “No reason to panic. But we want to give ourselves some time to really fill in the gaps of what we don’t know at the moment.”
In an interview Friday on CNN’s “New Day,” Fauci previously told co-host Brianna Keilar anything is possible when asked if it was possible for the variant to be in the United States.
OMICRON COVID-19 VARIANT: HERE’S WHAT WE KNOW
“Of course. Anything is possible,” he said then. “We don’t know. There is no indication that this is the case at this time. It seemed to have been restricted.”
The White House decided on Friday to implement travel restrictions in South Africa and seven other countries in the region, with a few exceptions. The changes are expected to start on Monday.
“It seems to be spreading quickly,” President Biden said on Friday, telling reporters he had decided “to be careful.”
Other countries have taken similar action as cases and probable cases have emerged in Britain, Germany, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday evening that no cases of the omicron variant have been identified in the United States to date and assured the agency “will watch its way.”
The omicron variant has alarmed healthcare professionals because of its rapid spread among young people in South Africa, although there is no immediate indication whether the variant causes more serious illness.
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A number of pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, have said they have plans in place to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of omicron.
Less than 6% of people in Africa have been fully immune to COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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