The Slatest

NIH Director Francis Collins: “There’s No Reason to Panic” Over Omicron Yet

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins holds up a model of the coronavirus as he testifies on Capitol Hill, May 26, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins holds up a model of the coronavirus as he testifies on Capitol Hill, May 26, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Pool/Getty Images

As the world scrambles to try to slow the spread of the new COVID-19 variant, the head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, tried to urge calm, saying more data is needed to know the full ramifications of omicron. “We’re going to get better information about this,” Collins said on CNN’s State of the Union. “There’s no reason to panic.” Although the new variant is “certainly not good news,” it’s still far from clear “how much of an impact this will have.” For now, it’s a great reason for people to get vaccinated. “It ought to redouble our efforts to use the tools that we have, which are vaccinations and boosters,” Collins added.

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Collins also sounded an optimistic tone regarding vaccines, saying on Fox News Sunday that the current crop of shots will “most likely” be effective against omicron, although he cautioned it was still too early to know for sure. It will take “two to three weeks” to know how well the current vaccines stack up to omicron, he added. But people shouldn’t wait. “It’s clear that in all the previous examples of variants, the vaccines have worked to provide protection and the boosters have provided especially strong protection against things like delta,” Collins said. “Given that history, we expect that most likely the current vaccines will be sufficient to provide protection and especially the boosters will give that additional layer of protection.” If a new vaccine is needed to combat omicron it would likely take two or three months to develop.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, echoed Collins in saying that news of omicron amounts to “a clarion call” for people to get vaccinated because the new variant will inevitably be detected in the United States sooner or later. “We all know when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here,” Fauci said on ABC’s This Week. “The question is, will we be prepared for it?” Fauci said that omicron “appears to be” more transmissible than other variants but said it seemed highly unlikely existing vaccines would be completely ineffective against the new variant. “It may diminish it a bit, but that’s the reason why you boost,” Fauci said. He also noted that while the travel ban on most travelers from eight southern African countries that will come into effect Monday won’t stop omicron from arriving in the United States, it will give officials time. “What you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared. And that’s the thing that people need to understand,” Fauci said.

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Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also sounded an optimistic tone on vaccines. “If you talk to people in vaccine circles, people who are working on a vaccine, they have a pretty good degree of confidence that a booster vaccine so three full doses of vaccine is going to be fairly protective against this new variant,” Gottlieb, who serves on the board of Pfizer, said on CBS’ Face the Nation. He also said “there’s no indication” that omicron is more severe and makes people sicker.

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