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Virus Expert Warns Omicron is "Almost Definitely Here Already"

Dr. Scott Gottlieb said here's what we need to know about the new COVID variant.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The new coronavirus variant Omicron has sent virus and world leaders into red alert, as the strain seems more transmissible, and is spreading rapidly—and may, or may not, be more severe. (They appear to be taking a "better safe than sorry approach," as much is not yet known about the strain.) Until we figure that out, Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who is on the board of Pfizer, appeared on CBS' Face the Nation to say how you can stay safe from the strain. Read on to see what he has to say about Omicron—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

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Virus Expert Says These are the Critical Questions About Omicron

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"The three critical questions right now is first, is this more virulent?" said Gottlieb. "Is this making people more ill? There's no indication that it is. And in fact, there's some anecdotal information offered by physicians in South Africa that this could be causing mild illness. So that could be an artifact of the fact that the initial case has seemed to have been clustered in younger people, perhaps in outbreaks around the universities. The second critical question is, does this escape immunity? And this is the question that has people concerned. Cause when you look at the genetic sequence of this new variant, that has a lot of mutations that we know correlate with escape from immunity, that's conferred by prior infection or by the vaccines."

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Virus Expert Says This About the Vaccine Protecting You

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"The third critical question is, does that escape from immunity increase transmissibility. And there's an assumption right now that it does. We don't have a firm answer to that question, but even if its ability to escape the immunity that we've acquired from prior infection or vaccines does make it more transmissible, in certain circumstances. The question here is going to be whether or not a fully boosted individuals, someone who's had three doses of that scene has good protection against this variant right now, if you talk to people in vaccine circles, people who are working on a vaccine, they have a pretty good degree of confidence that a boosted vaccine. So three full doses of vaccine is going to be fairly protective against this new variant. The other critical question we're going to need to answer is whether or not someone who has immunity from prior infection from Delta also has good protection against this new variant. Those two things hold true. If someone who's been infected with Delta's well-protected from this and someone who is fully boosted is also well-protected from this. That could be a pretty good backstop from this becoming really epidemic in the United States."

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Virus Expert Said Omicron is "Almost Definitely Here Already"

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"It's almost definitely here already," said Dr. Gottlieb about Omicron. "Just looking at the number of cases coming off planes this weekend, it's almost a certainty that there have been cases that have gotten into the United States. We're in a much better place now than we were a year ago. Even when Delta first arrived, it was sequencing about a hundred thousand cases a week, which is very good. It's about 20% of all the diagnosed cases. CDC is also going to set up this week, a new surveillance system specifically for this variant….So we do have a pretty robust surveillance system in place right now, relative to certainly where we were maybe six months ago."

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Virus Expert Said This About Plane Travel

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"I think people should use the same precautions that they were using before," said Dr. Gottlieb about plane travel. "It appears that this has been detected very early in South Africa. And I think it's not that prevalent right now in South Africa, we may be overestimating its prevalence because of the recent uptick in cases in South Africa, there's a presumption that many of those cases are this new variant, but it may well be the case that south Africa's also exhibiting a surge of Delta infection after they relaxed some of their recent mitigation following a big surge of Delta. So this probably isn't that prevalent around the world. I would still exercise the same cautions as before I think the biggest risk to travelers right now is that given the uncertainty around the world and the fact that countries are reacting so briskly, if you do end up being positive overseas, you could find yourself stuck in a very onerous quarantine relative to where we were maybe one or two weeks ago, because I think countries are behaving with no frills right now and trying to control the spread of this new variant. And they're taking pretty drastic measures in certain cases."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

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Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

 

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more