WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will urge Americans to get vaccinated and to receive a booster shot as he seeks to quell concerns Monday over the new COVID-19 variant omicron, but won’t immediately push for more restrictions to stop its spread, his chief medical adviser said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and Biden’s leading COVID-19 adviser, said Monday that there were as yet still no cases of the variant identified in the U.S. but that it was “inevitable” that it would make its way into the country eventually.
Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Fauci said scientists hope to know in the next week or two how well the existing COVID-19 vaccines protect against the varian t, and how dangerous it is compared to earlier strains.
“We really don’t know,” Fauci said, calling speculation “premature.”
Biden is set to speak later Monday to emphasize the importance of vaccination to protecting against all variants of the COVID-19 virus and the urgency of vaccinating the roughly 80 million Americans aged 5 and up who haven’t received a shot. But he was not expected to announce any new virus-related restrictions, beyond last week’s move to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region effective Monday.
“I don’t think so at all,” Fauci said if more restrictions were imminent.
Officials said the move to limit most travel from the countries where omicron was first identified was meant to buy time for the U.S to learn more about the variant. But Fauci said it would eventually reach the U.S. and could, like the delta variant before it, become the dominant strain, saying omicron “has a transmissibility advantage” over other variants.
Pharmaceutical companies are already tweaking their existing COVID-19 vaccines to better attack the omicron variant, but Fauci said Americans should make it a priority to get either their first shots or a booster dose now, rather than waiting for a newly formulated shot.
“I would strongly suggest you get boosted now,” he said.
He added that depending on what scientists learn about the omicron variant in the coming weeks “we may not need” targeted boosters to contain that strain of the virus.