First Responders

What We Know About Omicron, the New COVID-19 Strain

November 30, 2021Dustin Jones
Omicron cause for concern

Navy hospitalman Lionel Dejesus prepares for COVID-19 vaccine administration Aug. 13, 2021, Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jacob Sippel.

The new COVID-19 variant Omicron is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” President Joe Biden said Monday, Nov. 29. The new strain of the virus emerged a week ago in Africa, and cases have since been spotted on nearly every continent, an indication that the strain is likely already widespread. It will take several weeks to learn how easily the virus is spread, its medical effects, and whether current vaccines and treatment methods are effective against it.

Vaccine makers, meanwhile, said they may be able to produce an altered vaccine for Omicron within 100 days.

Omicron was first reported in South Africa Wednesday and by Monday had been found in Canada, Europe, Australia, Israel, and Hong Kong. Though no cases have yet been reported in the United States, Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci said the variant may already be here.

“We have the best vaccines in the world, the best medicine, the best scientists, and we are learning more every single day,” Biden said Monday.

The World Health Organization declared Friday that Omicron was a variant of concern, meaning the strain had either increased transmissibility, more damaging infections, or treatment resistance. It’s unclear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared with other variants, according to the WHO, or whether it causes more severe disease. But experts are beginning to believe the variant has an increased risk of reinfection for those who previously had COVID-19.

Biden restricted travel from eight southern African countries. And though travel restrictions can slow the spread of Omicron, they won’t stop it, Biden said. The restrictions do give people time to get a booster vaccine or their initial shots. 

Vaccine makers Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said they could have an Omicron-specific vaccine available within 100 days, NPR reported. And Moderna said it was exploring booster shots that anticipated virus mutations such as Omicron. The best defense against Omicron is to get vaccinated, Biden said, whether that be an initial round of vaccinations or a booster.

Biden said he had no intention of initiating lockdowns or other safety mandates, both of which hindered the holidays last year.

“If you and your family are fully vaccinated, you can celebrate the holidays much more safely,” the president said. “And given where we were last year, that’s a blessing that none of us should take for granted.”

Read Next: In Ukraine, a Sense of Guarded Calm Amid Russian Invasion Warnings

Dustin Jones
Dustin Jones

Dustin Jones is a former senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine covering military and intelligence news. Jones served four years in the Marine Corps with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He studied journalism at the University of Colorado and Columbia University. He has worked as a reporter in Southwest Montana and at NPR. A New Hampshire native, Dustin currently resides in Southern California.

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