Speed Reads


Biden meets with COVID team on Omicron variant, is told we won't know its threat profile for 2 weeks

A lot of the concerns public health experts have for the newly identified Omicron variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus stem from what they don't know. From the World Health Organization on down, health officials stress it will be weeks before we know how transmissible, deadly, and able to evade current COVID-19 protections the strain proves to be. Omicron was first detected in South Africa, and the WHO labeled it a "variant of concern" on Friday. 

"We need more data there before we can say confidently that this is not a severe version of the virus, but we should find that out in the next couple weeks," outgoing National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins told Fox News Sunday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top medical adviser to President Biden, told Biden on Sunday he expects it will be about two weeks before we have definitive information on the Omicron strain and its risk profile, according to a White House readout of Biden's Oval Office meeting with his COVID-19 response team. 

Omicron has already been detected in Canada, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Botswana, and South Africa. Biden's coronavirus advisers said they expect the Omicron variant to reach the U.S., if it hasn't already, despite a travel ban on eight southern African countries set to take effect Monday, the White House said.

The White House COVID team's recommendation for Americans is that all vaccinated adults get a booster shot and unvaccinated adults and eligible children to get immunized as soon as possible. Fauci told Biden he believes existing vaccines provide at least "a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID." 

Outside experts agreed. "If you're worried about Omicron, do the same things as if you're worried about Delta: Get your boost and get fully vaccinated," Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, told The Washington Post.

About 24 percent of South Africans are fully vaccinated, versus 60 percent of Americans, according to Johns Hopkins data. Fauci told NBC News on Sunday that "whether or not we're headed into a bleak or bleaker winter is really going to depend upon what we do" with the time South African officials gave us. He called Omicron "a clarion call" to get vaccinated or boosted and elaborated on why he thinks that will protect people against the new variant.