“We really don’t know,” Fauci told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” calling speculation premature.
The new variant poses the latest test to Biden’s efforts to contain the pandemic, mitigate its impacts on the economy and return a sense of normalcy to the U.S. during the holiday season.
“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said.
Biden last week moved to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in southern Africa, effective Monday, in a bid to give scientists time to learn more about the new variant, and for more Americans to get vaccinated before it hits the U.S.
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 move to limit most travel from the countries where omicron was first identified was meant to provide time for the U.S. to learn more about the variant and to “intensify” the domestic vaccination campaign, Fauci said earlier Monday.
“It buys you a couple of weeks because if you can keep things out in force for a couple of weeks you can do a lot of things,” he told “CBS Mornings.”
Pharmaceutical companies are already adjusting their existing COVID-19 vaccines to better attack the omicron variant, but Fauci said Americans should make it a priority to get either their first shots or a booster dose now, rather than waiting for a new formulation.
“I would strongly suggest you get boosted now,” he said.
He added that depending on what scientists learn about the omicron variant in the coming weeks “we may not need” targeted boosters to contain that strain of the virus.
Biden said his administration was “sparing no effort at removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe,” including working with drug manufacturers on potential new boosters and testing targeted specifically at the new variant.
Any omicron-specific vaccine probably could not begin to be produced for another two or three months, so getting boosters now is a “very important initial line of defense,” Dr. Paul Burton, chief medical officer for the vaccine-maker Moderna, said Monday.
Burton said Moderna and other vaccine companies are testing existing COVID-19 vaccines to determine how effective they are against the omicron variant.
“If we need to manufacture an omicron-specific variant, it’s going to take some weeks, two to three months is probably what we’re looking at to be able to really begin to manufacture,” Burton told ABC.
Noting that the new variant, like earlier ones, sprang up overseas in areas with lower vaccination rates, Biden said it was both a moral imperative and in America’s self-interest to speed up global vaccinations. He noted that the U.S. has already donated more than 275 million doses — more than the rest of the world combined — and is on pace to deliver more than 1.1 billion doses globally by September 2022.
“Now we need the rest of the world to step up as well,” Biden said. “We can’t let up until the world is vaccinated.”