Biden faces uncertain threat with Omicron variant as evolving pandemic tests nation’s patience – .

Biden faces uncertain threat with Omicron variant as evolving pandemic tests nation’s patience – .

President Biden rushes to show the country his administration is prepared for the Omicron variant as the World Health Organization warns there is a “very high” risk of new global epidemics, a possibility that could s ‘proving demoralizing for Americans weary of a pandemic that began almost two years ago.
“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said from the White House after coming out of a meeting with public health advisers on Monday.

Much of the Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa last week, remains unclear. Some scientists fear it could prove to be highly contagious or elude protection from vaccines that have already been developed, but public health officials have said it could take two weeks to develop clearer answers to these questions. No evidence has emerged that Omicron’s symptoms are different or more severe than the previous variants.

The uncertainty surrounding the variant has left Biden in a sticky situation where he must demonstrate that he takes the potential threat seriously while quelling dark speculation before scientists assemble a fuller picture.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mentioned the emergence of the Omicron variant when it updated its booster injection guidelines on Monday. Instead of just making boosters available to all adults, the agency said another dose was recommended to increase protection against the coronavirus.

Biden said he was “sparing no effort and removing all obstacles to keep the American people safe,” adding that his administration was already working with pharmaceutical companies to formulate updated vaccines if needed. However, he stressed, “we do not yet believe that further measures will be necessary”. The president said he had no plans for further restrictions on travel or business.

Cases of Omicron have already been detected in several countries, including Britain and Canada, and Biden said he expects it to reach the United States as well.

“Sooner or later we’re going to see cases of this new variant here,” he said. “We will have to face this new threat as we faced the ones that came before it. “

The speed of Biden’s public response to Omicron – which he has repeatedly mispronounced as “Omnicron” – reflects a bitter understanding of how variants can alter the course of the pandemic. The highly contagious Delta variant, which was first identified in India, has ravaged unvaccinated communities in the United States this year, causing the death toll to rise at a time when many Americans expected the threat is diminishing.

Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at Harvard University who served as assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama, described it as a “public health purgatory.”

Now Omicron is overloading Biden’s schedule. His meeting with public health officials on Monday was his second in two days, and on Thursday he is due to visit the National Institutes of Health, headquartered just outside Washington.

“The challenge is to convey the uncertainty into the unanswered questions without creating panic among decision-makers,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It’s a very nuanced and difficult message to get across. “

Adalja said officials were struggling to calibrate their communications to COVID-19, “something that has been woefully deficient over the past two years.”

He criticized the administration for announcing a ban on international visitors from South Africa and other countries in the region, describing the policy “as porous, ineffective and punitive towards countries which were adept at identifying and alerting the world. on this variant ”.

A man walks through a deserted section of an airport in Johannesburg, South Africa on Monday.

(Jérôme Delay / Associated Press)

In his remarks, Biden praised South Africa for quickly flagging the new variant, saying that “this type of transparency should be encouraged and applauded as it increases our ability to respond to any new threat.”

Omicron recalls the danger of uncontrolled spread in developing countries with low vaccination rates, scenarios that can allow the virus to mutate into new variants. Biden reiterated his commitment to share vaccines with the rest of the world, and he pledged more than a billion doses by next fall. He stressed that none of the donations would reduce the availability of the photos to Americans.

Biden said the travel ban would give the United States some time to continue distributing vaccines and encouraging people to get vaccinated. Many Republican lawmakers have fought vaccine requirements, and about 47 million American adults still haven’t received a single dose of the vaccine despite its wide availability.

Dr Anthony Fauci, Biden’s senior medical adviser, told ABC News he expects vaccines and booster doses, available to all adults, to prove effective against Omicron.

“We don’t know exactly what’s going on with this variant, but I guess, and I think it’s a reasonable assumption, that when you’re vaccinated and boosted and your level [of antibodies] soaring, you will have some level of protection, at least against serious illnesses, ”he said.

Fauci said people considering getting vaccinated should do so and not wait for drug companies to produce new versions of their vaccines to handle Omicron, and he stressed that it is not clear whether any changes to the vaccines. will even be necessary.

Pfizer and Moderna, the leading producers of two-dose vaccines in the United States, said modified vaccines could be developed in the coming months.

It is normal for viruses to mutate. Omicron is the latest in a series of variants that have been identified during the pandemic, some of which have proven to be insignificant.

“This isn’t the first variant and it won’t be the last,” said Amanda McClelland, senior vice president of Prevent Epidemics and Resolve to Save Lives at Vital Strategies, a nonprofit public health organization based in New York.

While the Delta variant has been shown to be damaging, others, such as Gamma and Beta, have been labeled “variants of concern” by the World Health Organization, but have not become household names.

Times editors Erin Logan and Laura King contributed to this report.


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