US coronavirus: The Omicron variant is raising concerns amid the holiday travel season, but there's no need to panic just yet, experts say

“Any time we’ve seen a new variant, it’s already spread around the world. So the fact that Omicron is in multiple countries in Europe, in the US, is not necessarily an ominous sign. And I think that’s a key point to keep in mind,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, advised NCS’s Jim Acosta Saturday. “And also remember we’ve not seen any evidence that Omicron produces more severe disease than any of the other variants.”

The Omicron variant, which was first recognized in South Africa, was deemed a variant of concern by the World Health Organization Friday — sounding a heightened alarm globally over the state of the coronavirus pandemic, which has spanned almost two years.

In response, many international locations, together with the US, moved urgently in implementing travel bans. Besides South Africa, the newly recognized variant has been detected in Australia, the UK, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday that it has not detected any instances of the Omicron variant in the US.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci advised NBC Saturday that he would “not be surprised” if the Omicron variant is already in the US.

“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re having travel-related cases they’ve noted in other places already, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is going to go all over,” Fauci stated.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, famous that travel restrictions enable well being experts to have further time to research the variant and perceive it in a extra vital capability — together with whether or not the present vaccines are efficient in opposition to Omicron.

“The vaccines we use may very well be able to contain this. And then it won’t be as serious as some people are surmising it might be. A lot of unknowns,” Fauci advised NBC. “You don’t want people to panic, but you want to know we’re doing everything we can to stay ahead of this.”

US federal well being officers are working round the clock to study extra about Omicron, one official advised NCS Saturday, but it might be a number of weeks earlier than they know whether or not the fears of the extremely mutated variant are justified.

More contagious would not at all times imply extra harmful, professional says

The Omicron pressure of coronavirus is regarding to scientists as a result of the variant’s vital variety of mutations might make it extra contagious than the unique novel coronavirus pressure.

But with a lot nonetheless unknown, Dr. Saju Mathew, a public well being specialist, advised NCS Saturday that the precedence is on studying extra about the variant and vaccination.

“I take the whole position that we shouldn’t panic just yet. The most important thing is to study the virus. Just because this virus is more contagious, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s more dangerous,” Mathew stated, noting vaccinations are nonetheless vitally essential. “This is the time to show up at your local pharmacy and get the vaccinations.”

The new Omicron variant is a pandemic gut check
The latest data from the CDC reveals greater than 196 million Americans, or 59% of the US inhabitants, are absolutely vaccinated. Nearly 37.5 million have acquired booster pictures, the knowledge reveals.

Vaccine maker Moderna stated Friday that it is transferring shortly to check the skill of its vaccine to neutralize Omicron, and knowledge is anticipated in the coming weeks.

The pressure consists of mutations “seen in the Delta variant that are believed to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants that are believed to promote immune escape,” Moderna stated in a information launch.

“The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity.”

If its present vaccine and booster are inadequate in opposition to the variant, Moderna defined one potential answer is boosting folks with a bigger dose, which the firm is testing. It additionally testing an Omicron-specific booster.

Scientists at BioNTech, the German firm that partnered with Pfizer to make its Covid-19 vaccine, are additionally investigating the impression of the variant on their shot, with knowledge anticipated inside the upcoming weeks.

A Johnson & Johnson spokesperson advised NCS in a press release the firm was additionally testing the effectiveness of its vaccine in opposition to Omicron.

Scientists work on the Covid-19 at the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Omicron will make its manner round the world, professional says

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, echoed that the variant might be in the US, noting he anticipates stricter Covid-19 mitigation efforts to return.

“It’s going to make its way around the world. It looks like that way,” Schaffner advised NCS Saturday. “I think we may, indeed, be in for a phase of many more masks, much more social distancing, and more restrictions and obligations for vaccination going forward.”

He added that even when the Omicron variant is not in the US, it is certain to be “soon.”

Meanwhile, the US is nonetheless affected by the Delta variant surge — a variant the CDC has stated is about as contagious as chickenpox. The common of each day deaths was greater than 1,000 as of Friday, in accordance to Johns Hopkins University, and hospitalizations in 16 states elevated by greater than 50% in the previous week in contrast to the earlier week, the US Health and Human Services Department stated.

“I think we need to just get our mind set that the virus is still in control. I don’t care about your covid fatigue,” Schaffner stated. “We’re going to have to deal with this in an ongoing way very, very seriously. … Tighten your seat belts.”

NCS’s Jacqueline Howard, Virginia Langmaid, Michael Nedelman, Frederik Pleitgen and Kaitlan Collins.