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Harris says Biden administration 'didn't see omicron coming'

The Hill 18/12/2021 Caroline Vakil
Vice President Harris speaks at a signing ceremony for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday, November 15, 2021. © Greg Nash Vice President Harris speaks at a signing ceremony for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday, November 15, 2021.

Vice President Harris said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Friday that the Biden administration "didn't see omicron coming," referring to a coronavirus variant that has rapidly made its way across the U.S.

The omicron variant, first officially detected last month in South Africa, has hit multiple states, including New York, California, Florida and Texas. Although Pfizer has reported that its booster appears to shore up protection against the new variant, some research appears to also suggest it infects humans faster than previous strains.

"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 said. "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."

Harris's comments come as the United States has seen an uptick of COVID-19 cases, including more than 156,000 reported on Thursday and more than 143,000 the day prior. The last peak in the fall amid the delta wave included daily numbers close to 200,000.

Professional sports teams have postponed games, some schools have transitioned into remote learning and city officials are considering readopting COVID-19 protocols, such as mask mandates.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 77 percent of Americans aged 5 years and older have been at least partially vaccinated and 65 percent are fully vaccinated. About 31 percent of Americans aged 18 years and older have received their booster.

Harris, however, defended the Biden administration's response to COVID-19 amid concerns from health officials who worried that the president may have claimed victory against the virus too soon, telling the newspaper "we have not been victorious over it."

"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," she told The Times.

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