How worried should you be about the omicron variant?

The Donlon Report

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The omicron variant has now been detected in three states: California, Minnesota and Colorado, and it’s just a matter of time before that list starts to grow.

Dr. Amish Adalja from Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security says although the World Health Organization classified omicron as a “variant of concern,” there is no reason for the public to panic, at least not yet.

“This is the new normal. We’re going to see new variants arise, and we’re going to have to be prepared to deal with them,” Adalja said. “And I think that our vaccines do hold up against what matters … serious disease.”

Adalja told NewsNation’s Joe Donlon we should have more information within the next few days about whether omicron can spread more quickly or make people sicker than the delta variant.

“We’ll likely have more answers within about two weeks when they can do all those experiments (to) understand how well the antibodies generated by vaccines neutralize this variant.”

Adalja also noted it’s not clear wheater omicron will eventually dominate the delta variant or how well the COVID-19 vaccines will protect against the new variant.

“I think it’s very important that we understand this variant because it has so many mutations in them that are likely to cause problems for our vaccines, cause problems for monoclonal antibodies, and maybe perhaps be more transmissible.”

Information about the omicron variant is very limited. It was first detected by scientists in South Africa, but the samples came from several countries in southern Africa. And health officials in the Netherlands now say it was found there prior to the South Africa detection.

However, Adalja said early indications are that the vaccine seems to be holding up pretty well against the omicron variant.

“We’re looking at what’s happening in South Africa; we’re seeing hospitalizations go up there, but it tends to be people who are not vaccinated. So that really coincides with or integrates with what we’ve known about these vaccines for some time.”

Adalja praised the CDC’s latest efforts for offering free COVID-19 tests for passengers arriving from certain southern African countries in an effort to boost detection of the new variant.

“I think all those people that are coming back from South Africa should be getting tested based on what’s going on there. I don’t think this crosses any kind of line that I’m particularly worried about. But, I think we will get to a point where this becomes a little bit more normalized when we’re dealing with omicron or whatever variant it is that will start to learn how to risk calculate better, and it won’t be this five-alarm fire. But, I think for right now … until we get these answers, I think some of this is justified.”

Adlija said if you do plan to travel this holiday season, you should follow the same precautions as those against the delta variant: wear your masks, keep your distance and get vaccinated and boosted.

“The safest way to travel is to make sure that you are vaccinated and the people that you are with are vaccinated.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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