Nov. 29, 2021 -- President Joe Biden said Monday that available vaccines are expected to provide some protection against the new Omicron COVID-19 variant, and federal health officials are working to gather more information on its potency before the first cases are detected in the United States.
He was accompanied by top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, MD. The president had been briefed by health officials on Sunday.
Biden said he does not anticipate lockdowns or tighter restrictions, and he hopes to fight the variant by increasing vaccination rates.
“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” he said. “We’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion. We have more tools today to fight the variant than we ever have before.”
Scientists will be working over the next several weeks to learn more about the virus and to determine the level of protection provided by available COVID-19 shots. Omicron was first detected in South Africa, prompting Biden to enforce a travel ban, and cases have now been reported in several European countries as well as Canada.
Biden praised the South African health community for quickly notifying the world of this variant, and he said the travel ban was put in place to provide more time for U.S. residents to get vaccinated and boosted.
“The best protection against this new variant, or any of the variants out there, is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot,” he said.
He continued: “While it’ll be a few weeks before we’ll know everything we need to know about how strong the existing vaccines protect against the variant, Dr. Fauci, who is with me today, and our medical team believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease.”
He urged people to continue wearing masks indoors in public settings for an extra layer of protection.
In the unlikely event that the vaccines are not effective against the variant, Biden said, the White House is working with Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to “develop contingency plans for boosters if needed.”
“I will also direct the FDA and CDC to use the fastest process available without cutting any corners for safety to get these vaccines approved and on the market, if needed,” he said.
But he stressed that this is unlikely.
“As we continue this effort, let’s remember where we stand,” he said. “We’re in a very different place as we enter the month of December, compared to where we were last Christmas.”
He noted that only 1% of American adults were vaccinated last December, and this December, that number will be over 70%.
“If you are vaccinated but still worried about the new variant, get your booster,” he said. “If you aren’t vaccinated, go get that first shot.”