December 1 Omicron coronavirus variant news

By Adam Renton, Brad Lendon, Sheena McKenzie, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021
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3:29 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Do not wait for variant-specific boosters, Fauci advises

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The arrival of the Omicron variant is another reason for people to get vaccinated and for the vaccinated to get booster doses now, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

In a White House news briefing, Fauci announced the first US case of Omicron and said the case was in an individual who traveled from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive for Covid-19 on Nov. 29.

“I think what's happening now is another example of why it's important for people to get vaccinated,” Fauci told the news conference, adding that it was also important for vaccinated individuals to get their booster doses.

He said data shows antibody levels spike after a booster dose of any of the three vaccines authorized in the US.

“And people ask, why is that important? Because our experience with variants such as the Delta variant is that even though the vaccine isn't specifically targeted to the Delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection even against a variant that the vaccine wasn't specifically directed at,” Fauci said. In other words, the immune response is so broad and strong that even if a variant evades the immune response, there’s enough extra power that people are still protected.

“And that's the reason why we feel even though we don't have a lot of data on it, there's every reason to believe that that kind of increase that you get with the boost would be helpful, at least in preventing severe disease of a variant like Omicron,” Fauci said.

“So right now, I would not be waiting. People say, ‘Well, if we're going to have a booster-specific vaccine, should we wait?’ If you are eligible – think six months with a double mRNA dose or two months for the J&J – get boosted now. We may not need a variant-specific boost. We're preparing for the possibility that we need a very specific boost and that's what the companies are doing,” Fauci added.

“But the mistake people would make is to say, 'Let me wait to see if we get one,'" he added.

3:10 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

WHO advises certain high-risk groups to postpone travel in response to Omicron variant

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

The World Health Organization advised people in certain groups at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19, including the unvaccinated and those over 60, to postpone travel to areas with community spread, in response to the newly identified Omicron variant.

“Persons who are unwell, or who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present increased risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes) should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission,” the WHO advised. 

The organization also recommended that countries use a “multi-layered risk mitigation approach” to reducing spread, which it says can include passenger screening, Covid-19 testing and quarantines. 

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” the WHO said, adding that travel bans can “disincentivize” countries to report cases of the variant when they appear. 

3:27 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci says travel ban was "needed to buy some time" for US to prepare for Omicron 

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that "no one feels" a travel ban will prevent the Omicron variant from arriving in the US, but that it was "needed to buy some time" for the country to prepare and understand the situation.

Fauci announced the first US case of the Omicron variant had been detected in the US, in a traveler who had arrived from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive Nov. 29. The traveler, who landed in California, had mild symptoms and was self-isolating.

The individual arrived before the US instituted measures aimed at slowing the entry of the new variant by limiting travel from several African nations. 

“No one feels – I certainly don't – that a travel ban is going to prevent people who are infected from coming to the United States,” Fauci told a White House news briefing.

“But we needed to buy some time to be able to prepare, understand what's going on,” added Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“What is the nature of this infection? What is the nature of the transmissibility? And we wanted to make sure that we didn't all of a sudden say, ‘It's like anything else, don't worry about it,’ and then all of a sudden, something unfolds in front of you that you're really not prepared for,” he added. “So we look at this is a temporary measure.”

 

3:10 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

"Get vaccinated for goodness' sakes," San Francisco health official says after Omicron case detected in city

San Francisco Director of Public Health Dr. Grant Colfax said the identification of the United State's first Omicron coronavirus variant case in the city "is cause for concern, but is also certainly not a cause for us to panic."

"With regard to the case itself, the person recently traveled to South Africa and developed symptoms upon their return. And they did the right thing and got tested and reported their travel history. They have received a full dose of the Moderna vaccine, but no booster. They had mild symptoms and thankfully have now recovered," Colfax said.

Contacts to the individual have and are being notified by the city health department, he said.

Colfax said the city is "relatively well positioned" to respond to variants, and he pleaded with residents to get vaccinated and receive booster shots.

"Most experts that I have spoken to believe that the vaccines will still be of critical importance in protecting ourselves, our families and our community. So our message is the same as it was yesterday: To best protect against this variant, get vaccinated for goodness' sakes, if you have not been vaccinated. Get your booster if you're eligible. Continue to wear those masks inside where required," he said.

2:58 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

US will react to Omicron "with science and speed," White House says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said the US is prepared to meet the challenge of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 “with science and speed” upon its detection in the US Wednesday. 

“This new variant is cause for continued vigilance, not panic. We know what it takes to limit the spread of COVID: Get vaccinated, get boosted, and take public health measures like masking and distancing,” Zients said in a statement. 

Earlier today, the first confirmed case of the Omicron coronavirus variant was identified in California. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the case was in a person who traveled from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive for Covid-19 on Nov. 29.

That person, Fauci said, is self-quarantining and close contacts have tested negative for coronavirus so far.

2:54 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci expresses hope that some Omicron travel restrictions variant get "sorted out and lifted"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested Wednesday he hopes that some travel restrictions imposed by the Biden administration in light of the Omicron coronavirus variant get “sorted out and lifted” when asked about the countries included in the ban that have not yet identified any Omicron cases, including Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

“You know, that's a very good question, an important question, and we did struggle with that. But we wanted to see if we could buy time temporarily, so I do hope that this gets sorted out and lifted before it has any significant impact on the country,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said.

Earlier this week, the Biden administration placed restrictions on travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. So far, the Omicron variant has been detected in at least 24 countries, including the US.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the restrictions were meant to buy time and are not planned to be permanent.

“The President is briefed every day by his Covid team and will continue to assess, based on their recommendations, any additional steps that needs to be taken. As Dr. Fauci noted, there's a lot we don't know. So putting in place these travel restrictions was intended to give us more time to do the necessary evaluation, data and testing required that our health experts are working around the clock to do. And they made this assessment and recommendation about the countries where we would put in place these travel restrictions in order to give us that time,” Psaki told reporters later in the briefing.

She continued, “We want to learn more information, know more information, but the President is always going to err on the side of protecting the American people.”

Psaki added that the restrictions were “not a political decision,” but rather, “based on the advice – recommendations – of the health and medical team.”

2:29 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

As US confirms first Omicron case, CNN medical analyst urges vaccination and preventative measures

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen
CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen (CNN)

CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen urged caution after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified the United States’ first confirmed case of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

"I definitely understand why this would be concerning to people hearing the news, but let's remember that this was something that we expected all along," Wen said on CNN.

"It should be a good thing that we're now able to pick up on cases of Omicron here," she said.

While Wen said we do not know specifics about this case yet, scientists are actively researching this variant.

"We also know what it takes to prevent Omicron, which is the same thing it takes to prevent Delta. Vaccination will probably be effective — especially getting a booster dose for those if you haven't already — and if you're going to crowded settings, please wear a mask," Wen said.

2:27 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci says "there's no doubt" the pandemic will one day end

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke at length this afternoon about what must be done for the world to emerge out of the throes of the coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, discussed the "end game" to the pandemic, saying it would involve "a situation where viruses will not have the opportunity that they have right now is to essentially, freely distribute and freely circulate in society, both domestic society and global society."

"The more protection you get with vaccines, the less likelihood a virus has to do that, the less likelihood a virus has to mutate, the less likely you're going to get a variant," Fauci said during a White House press briefing. "So one of the things we need to do about our long end game is to do the things we've been saying every single day; not only for ourselves, but internationally and you know, we have done a lot and will continue to do a lot to get low and middle-income countries vaccinated."

Fauci added: "There's no doubt. This will end, I promise you that. This will end."

2:11 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci says Omicron underscores importance of getting vaccinated or booster shots

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

(Susan Walsh/AP)
(Susan Walsh/AP)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the discovery of the Omicron variant in the United States "is another example of why it's important for people to get vaccinated who've not been vaccinated, but also boosting."

"Boosting is really very important," Fauci told reporters during a White House press briefing.

"Our experience with variants such as the Delta variant is that even though the vaccine isn't specifically targeted to the Delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection even against a variant that the vaccine wasn't specifically directed at. And that's the reason why we feel, even though we don't have a lot of data on it, there's every reason to believe that that kind of increase that you get with the boost would be helpful at least in preventing severe disease of a variant like Omicron," said Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden.

Fauci advised Americans to not wait to get a booster shot.

"We may not need a variant-specific boost. We're preparing for the possibility that we need a variant-specific booster," Fauci said.

"But the mistake people would make is to say, 'let me wait and see if we get one.' If you're eligible for boosting, get boosted right now," he said.