Vice President Kamala Harris said the Biden administration “didn’t see,” either Delta or Omicron coronavirus variants coming, appearing to reinforce the perception that the federal response was caught flat-footed by the more severe Delta variant that swept over the country in the summertime.
“We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” Harris told the Los Angeles Times in a year-end interview. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”
A Harris adviser told CNN that the vice president was referring to “the exact kind of mutation,” and not the prevalence of the variants themselves. CNN has provided the official anonymity in order to more freely discuss Harris’ comments.
“The vice president’s comments referred to the exact kind of mutation,” the adviser told CNN. “The administration knew mutations were possible, it’s the reason we ordered extra tests, extra gear and extra PPE. It is the reason the President, vice president and our entire administration warned early and often that the best way to get on the other side of the pandemic is to get vaccinated. We were and continue to be prepared.”
But Harris’ comments – as reported – fly in the face of an administration who has gone to great lengths to project competence and make clear to the American people that they are on top of the virus.
Still, the adviser argued Harris’ comments need more context.
“She and the President have warned for months, they said the best way to get on the other side of this is to get vaccinated. Why were they doing that? Because they were clear mutations could occur,” the adviser said.
The comments come at a time when the White House is struggling to return the country back to normal from the pandemic, facing a rise of cases across the country that threaten to derail a normal holiday season as promised.
“I get it. I get it. I totally get it,” Harris told the paper. “I mean, you know, one of the concerns that I have is the undiagnosed and untreated trauma at various degrees that everyone has experienced.”
Research is still early on the virulence of the Omicron coronavirus variant, but what is clear, experts say, is that it’s poised to spread rapidly across the US and could overwhelm a battered US health care system.
The variant is expected to become the “dominant strain” in the coming weeks, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.
No victory just yet
Despite Biden declaring “independence” from the virus in July, Harris said that did not equate to declaring victory.
“We have not been victorious over it,” she said. “I don’t think that in any regard anyone can claim victory when, you know, there are 800,000 people who are dead because of this virus.”
The vice president identified vaccine misinformation as a “singular regret,” the Times reported. Harris said she underestimated the role misinformation would play in extending the pandemic, according to the Times.
“I would take that more seriously,” she said of the misinformation. “The biggest threat still to the American people is the threat to the unvaccinated. And most people who believe in the efficacy of the vaccine and the seriousness of the virus have been vaccinated. That troubles me deeply.”
CNN’s Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.