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Fauci on Omicron variant: "We should not be freaking out"

CBS News logo CBS News 11/29/2021 CBS News
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Dr. Anthony Fauci is asking the public not to panic while scientists around the world rush to understand the threat posed by Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant first detected in South Africa.

President Biden's chief medical adviser said it's going to take some time — perhaps a couple of weeks — to "get a good handle" on the newly discovered strain.

"We should not be freaking out," Fauci told "CBS Mornings" on Monday. "We should be doing the things that we know work when you're dealing with a pandemic virus. It's not the time to panic.

"We should be concerned, and our concern should spur us to do the things that we know work," he said, stressing the need for people to get vaccinated and then get their booster shots.

The new variant, first reported by South Africa just last week, is spreading quickly and has been reported in at least 14 nations, including Canada. This is the first coronavirus mutation to be labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization since the Delta variant emerged and went on the dominate the world, including the U.S.

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Fauci said the high number of mutations found in the new variant and where they were found suggests Omicron "would be more transmissible and also suggests that it might evade some of the immune parameters that we have," such as antibody and plasma treatments as well as existing vaccines.

"It appears to be spreading very readily and has a transmission advantage," Fauci said, noting that his assessment was based on early information provided by South African scientists.

Several countries, including the U.S., are imposing new travel restrictions on African nations while scientists try to understand whether Omicron's high number of gene mutations could lead to severe illness and if existing vaccines protect against it.

"The things that we don't know right now is whether the people who do get infected have a severer form of the disease or whether it's a light disease or somewhat the same as Delta," Fauci said. 

Despite the travel restrictions on African countries, Fauci said it's still too early to talk about lockdowns.

"The reason for the restriction on travel was to give us time to first understand it better and, second, to just intensify the things that we are already doing," he said. "Get vaccinated for those who are unvaccinated. Absolutely get boosted if, in fact, you've already been vaccinated."

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