Omicron Covid-19 variant raises concerns amid holiday travel season, but there’s no need to panic just yet, experts say
By Aya Elamroussi, CNN
The Omicron variant of Covid-19 raises concerns from health officials amid the peak holiday travel season, but there is no need to panic just yet as the potential impact of the newly detected strain remains unknown, experts say.
“Every time we see a new variant, it is already spreading around the world. So the fact that Omicron is in several European countries, in the United States, is not necessarily a worrying sign. And I think that’s a key point to keep in mind, ”Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Saturday. “And also remember that we haven’t seen any evidence that Omicron produces disease more severe than any of the other variants.”
The Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa, was considered a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Friday – sounding heightened alarm globally over the state of the pandemic of coronavirus, which lasted almost two years.
In response, many countries, including the United States, have taken urgent steps to implement travel bans. Besides South Africa, the newly identified variant has been detected in Australia, UK, Germany, Israel, Italy, Czech Republic and Hong Kong.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said friday that it has not detected any case of the Omicron variant in the United States.
But Dr Anthony Fauci told NBC on Saturday that he would “not be surprised” if the Omicron variant was already in the United States.
“We haven’t detected it yet, but when you have a virus that shows that degree of transmissibility and you have travel-related cases that they’ve already noted in other places, when you have a virus like that – here it’s almost invariably going to go everywhere, ”Fauci said.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that travel restrictions allow health experts more time to study the variant and understand it more meaningfully – including whether Current vaccines are effective against Omicron.
“The vaccines we use could very well contain that. And then it won’t be as bad as some people think. Lots of unknowns, ”Fauci told NBC. “You don’t want people to panic, but you want to know that we are doing everything we can to stay ahead of the game.”
U.S. federal health officials are working around the clock to learn more about Omicron, an official told CNN on Saturday, but it could be several weeks before they know whether fears of the highly mutated variant are justified.
Concern over the new variant comes as Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the vacation travel season in the United States and passengers pack airports to near pre-pandemic levels. The Transportation Security Administration said it screened around 2.3 million people at airports across the country on Wednesday, making it the busiest day at security checkpoints since March 2020. The number stands at 88% of observed traffic. the equivalent Wednesday in 2019, before the pandemic. And that’s more than double the number of people screened by ASD on the same day last year.
More contagious doesn’t always mean more dangerous, expert says
The Omicron coronavirus strain worries scientists because the large number of mutations in the variant could make it more contagious than the original new strain of coronavirus.
But with so much still unknown, Dr Saju Mathew, a public health specialist, told CNN on Saturday that the priority was to learn more about the variant and the vaccination.
“I don’t think we should be panicking just yet. The most important thing is to study the virus. Just because this virus is more contagious doesn’t mean it is necessarily more dangerous, ”said Mathew, noting that vaccinations are still vitally important. “Now is the time to go to your local pharmacy and get vaccinated. “
The latest data CDC shows that more than 196 million Americans, or 59% of the American population, are fully immunized. Nearly 37.5 million people have received booster shots, the data shows.
Vaccine maker Moderna said on Friday it was moving fast to test its vaccine’s ability to neutralize Omicron, and data is expected in the coming weeks.
The strain includes mutations “seen in the Delta variant which are believed to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants which are believed to promote immune evasion,” Moderna said in a press release.
“The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the decline of natural and vaccine-induced immunity.”
If its current vaccine and booster are insufficient against the variant, Moderna explained that one possible solution is to stimulate people with a larger dose, which the company is testing. He is also testing a booster specific to Omicron.
Scientists at BioNTech, the German company that has partnered with Pfizer to make its Covid-19 vaccine, are also studying the impact of the variant on their shot, with data expected in the coming weeks.
A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson told CNN in a statement that the company is also testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against Omicron.
Omicron will tour the world, expert says
Dr William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the variant could be found in the United States, noting that he anticipates the return of more stringent Covid-19 mitigation efforts.
“He’s going to go around the world. It looks like this, ”Schaffner told CNN on Saturday. “I think we could, indeed, be in a phase of a lot more masks, a lot more social distancing and more restrictions and obligations for vaccination in the future.”
He added that even if the Omicron variant is not in the United States, it is bound to be “soon”.
Meanwhile, the United States is still suffering from the wave of Delta variants – a variant that the CDC says concerns as contagious as chickenpox. The average daily fatality was over 1,000 on Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University, and hospitalizations in 16 states rose more than 50% last week from the previous week, the U.S. Department of Justice said. Health and Social Services.
“I think we just have to get in mind that the virus is still under control. I don’t care about your covid fatigue, ”Schaffner said. “We’re going to have to deal with this on an ongoing basis very, very seriously. … Tighten your seat belts.
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CNN’s Jacqueline Howard, Virginia Langmaid, Michael Nedelman, Frederik Pleitgen and Kaitlan Collins.