WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden said Monday that the omicron variant of COVID-19 “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
Speaking from the White House Monday morning, Biden urged Americans to get fully vaccinated, including booster shots, and return to wearing face masks indoors in public settings to slow any spread.
“Do not wait. Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so,” Biden said. “And if you are not vaccinated, now is the time to go get vaccinated and to bring your children to go get vaccinated.”
The United States began restricting travel to at least eight African countries Monday as the reports of the variant popping up in countries around the world emerged.
It’s not clear where the new variant first appeared, but scientists in South Africa alerted the World Health Organization, and it has now been seen in travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel to the Netherlands.
“We’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion,” Biden said. “We have more tools today to fight the variant than we ever had before, from vaccines to boosters, to vaccines for children.”
Separately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention broadened its recommendation for COVID-19 booster shots to include all adults because of the new variant. The agency had previously approved boosters for all adults, but only recommended them for those 50 years and older or living in long-term care settings.
“Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after their initial J&J vaccine,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
Some other nations are reinstating severe travel and business lockdowns to prevent the omicron variant from spreading, but Biden indicated the U.S. was not following suit.
“If people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there’s no need for lockdowns,” he said.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told Biden Sunday during a task force meeting that it would take two more weeks to learn how transmissible and how severe the omicron variant really is.
This comes after Fauci said he would not be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the United States.
“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you’re already having travel-related cases that they’ve noted in Israel and Belgium and other places, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said.
When omicron arrives, and it will, Biden said, America will “face this new threat just as we’ve faced those that have come before it.”
Both Pfizer and Moderna said they are monitoring the variant and expect more information about the current vaccines’ effectiveness in the coming weeks.
Pfizer said it could adjust its vaccine to be more effective against this variant “within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days” if needed.
Paul Burton, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said to the BBC Sunday that the vaccine maker could introduce a reformulated vaccine against the omicron variant next year.
“We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks, but the remarkable thing about the MRNA vaccines, Moderna platform is that we can move very fast,” Burton said.
The Associated Press and Pix11’s Sarah Vasile contributed to this report.
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