Emergence of Omicron variant sparks calls for immediate vaccination, maximized response

Home Survival Emergence of Omicron variant sparks calls for immediate vaccination, maximized response

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared last week the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, leading to a cascading response of border closures, strategy updates, and calls for immediate vaccination of as many as possible.

The new variant was first reported in South Africa. The WHO stated that it posed a very high global risk with the potential of severe consequences, including evasion of immune protection and greater transmissibility. It has since popped up in several other countries worldwide, although Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who first alerted the world of its dangers, dubbed its symptoms to be extremely mild so far.

However, the United States and the U.K. still implemented new travel bans.

“The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in southern Africa,” Biden said. “Travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron; it cannot prevent it. But here’s what it does: it gives us time. It gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot, you have to get the booster. Sooner or later, we’re going to see cases here in the United States. We’ll have to face this new threat, just as we’ve faced the ones that have come before.”

Meanwhile, on the international stage, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) stressed that the emergence of a new variant highlights the continued need for COVID-19 vaccine research and development. Having shots doesn’t mean the fight is over. Instead, the organization noted that it is actively working to fund studies that will help policymakers deliver the best strategies available, develop new vaccines that target new areas and offer advantages over current shots, and research vaccines against variants of concern while also developing vaccines capable of protecting against a range of potential variants.

“It’s, of course, critical that we continue to get people vaccinated globally to reduce the amount of virus in circulation, but we must also focus effort and resources on improving the current COVID-19 vaccines to make them more effective against multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2,” Dr. Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI, said. “Our strategy must seek to optimize the way we deploy our current vaccines so every dose delivers the maximum benefit; improve upon our existing arsenal of vaccines; and prepare now for the possibility of variants that can evade our vaccines.”

Hatchett and CEPI added that it is part of a global system designed to detect such viral mutations quickly and bring them to the attention of labs for assessment. That is critical, in their view, to see if current vaccines can block or future proof against such variants–and to make sure CEPI-backed developers can update their products accordingly.

In a statement issued before Biden’s public remarks, the White House noted that the President met with his Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who determined that it will take approximately two weeks before genuine information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of Omicron can be confirmed. Nevertheless, in assurances pointed to during his White House address, Biden stated that Fauci and his team believe that existing vaccines are likely to provide some degree of protection against severe cases of COVID-19, whether from Omicron or not.

“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said. He went on to add that, “The best protection against this new variant, or any of the variants out there, is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot. Most Americans are fully vaccinated, but not yet boosted.”

Vaccines are provided free of charge to Americans, regardless of their insurance status, at thousands of locations across the country. At this time, Biden added, experts do not believe that additional measures to counter Omicron will be needed but that masks should continue to be worn indoors and in crowded spaces. Even if current countermeasures prove ineffective, Biden and the White House tried to ease fears by pointing to science’s past and present successes.

“In the event, hopefully unlikely, that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool,” Biden said.

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Author: Chris Galford

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