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Biden encourages vaccinations as Omicron variant spreads in other countries

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  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

On Monday, President Biden indicated why he imposed travel restrictions from South Africa and 7 other countries due to the Omicron coronavirus variant. Biden said the variant was a cause for concern, but not a cause for panic.

Video Transcript


JOSEPH BIDEN: So today, I want to take a few moments to talk about the new COVID variant first identified last week in Southern Africa. It's called the Omicron. It is-- and to their credit, the scientific community in South Africa quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant. This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats.

The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in Southern Africa. But while we have that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it. But here's what it does. It gives us time. It gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine.

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of Southern African countries, including our own, following the identification of the Omicron variant. Now these restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries.

The prohibition of travel is not informed by science nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to and also to recover from the pandemic.

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing, and reporting this variant, not penalized. Indeed, Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics. Our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores.

- Do you think that other countries will be reluctant to report variants or other strains given the travel ban that you put so quickly on South Africa?

JOSEPH BIDEN: No, I don't think so. I don't think that's what's going to happen. And I want to, again-- the reason for the immediate travel ban is there were a significant number of cases, unlike any other country-- or well, the few around South Africa-- in the world.

We needed time to give people an opportunity to say get that vaccination now before it-- because it's going to move around the world. I think it's almost inevitable there will be, at some point, that strain here in the United States.

- Should we expect more changes, more restrictions?

ANTHONY FAUCI: No, I don't think so at all, George. Right now, the important thing that I've been saying and that all of us have been saying on the medical team is that we just need to make sure that we know we have tools against virus, in general, this SARS-CoV-2. A variant like this-- although there's a lot that we don't know about it-- one thing we do know is that vaccinated people do much, much better than unvaccinated people.

And particularly when you boost someone, George, who's been vaccinated, you get the level of antibody very, very high-- much, much higher than the peak level following the initial vaccination, which is the reason why we're emphasizing right now that, when you get a high level of antibody-- we've known with Delta-- that it spills over in protecting a wide variety of variants. So we don't know exactly what's going on with this variant. But I would assume-- and I think it's a reasonable assumption-- that when you get vaccinated and boosted and your level goes way up, you're going to have some degree of protection at least against severe disease.

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