President addresses nation, backs vaccinations and boosters; South Africa praised for quick action
President Biden addressed the nation Monday morning from the White House, addressing the new omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus.
“Sooner or later we are going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States,” President Biden said. “We’ll have to face this new threat, just as we have faced those that have come before it.”
President Biden said he plans on Thursday to roll out a detailed strategy to fight COVID this winter — not with lockdowns, but with widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing., etc.
For now, South Africa is being commended by President Biden and other officials for its swift action on the omicron variant.
“This time the world showed it is learning … South Africa’s analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response. It no doubt saved many lives,” said European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, singling out South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“Our South African colleagues have been extremely cooperative and helpful to us to understand this,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, told “CBS Mornings” on Monday.
“It appears to be spreading very rapidly, and that there is a transmission advantage,” said Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “The thing that we don’t know right now is, if those that do get infected have a more severe form of disease, or if it’s a light disease, or about the same as delta.”
President Biden also praised South Africa in his address Monday morning: “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.”
Health officials are being candid concerning their lack of knowledge on the variant and how to respond to it.
“There’s a lot we don’t understand about this variant … The mutation profile gives us concern, but now we need to do the work to understand the significance of this variant and what it means for the response to the pandemic,” said Richard Lessells, an infectious-diseases physician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa.
“It will take maybe a couple weeks to get a good handle on it. The thing that we do know that is concerning is that there has been an identification in (South Africa), and it is having a degree of mutations around the spike protein, which is responsible for the binding of the virus to the cells in your body,” Dr. Fauci told CBS News.
This suggests that the variant is more transmissible and that it could evade some of the immune antibodies we have, according to Dr. Faucci.
President Biden made three points in his address to the nation.
In his first point, he emphasized, “This new variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
“We are learning more everyday, in addition to having the best scientists, vaccines and medicine in the world,” President Biden reassured the nation. “We will fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable action and speed, not chaos and confusion. We have more tools today to fight the variant than we have ever had before.”
On CBS, Dr. Fauci also emphasized this point, saying “Instead of panicking, just do the right thing,” in reference to getting vaccinated and wearing a mask.
For his second point during Monday’s address, President Biden emphasized the importance of full vaccination.
“I know you are tired of hearing me say this,” said President Biden. “The best protection against this new variant, or any variant, is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot. Most Americans are fully vaccinated but not yet boosted.
“You should get a booster shot if you are over the age of 18 and were fully vaccinated prior to June 1, 2021. Booster shots are free and available at 80,000 locations across the nation,” the president said.
“A fully vaccinated, boosted person is the most protected against COVID,” said Mr. Biden, encouraging the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and urging people to get their children vaccinated as well.
President Biden also encouraged the continued wearing of masks indoors for additional protection.
Lastly, the president assured the nation that if updated vaccinations are necessary, to fight this new variant, “we will accelerate their deployment with every available tool.”
According to Dr. Fauci, the current vaccines provide at least some measure of protection, and he said a booster shot increases that protection significantly.
At this time, the Biden administration does not believe that additional measures will be necessary. However, contingency plans for vaccines and boosters are already in the works if that proves to be necessary.
“I will also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available without cutting any corners for safety,” President Biden said.
Both the delta and omicron variants originated outside the U.S., President Biden pointed out. “We can’t let up until the world is vaccinated. We are protecting Americans by doing that.”
“To beat the pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world as well, and America is leading that effort … we have shipped over 275 million vaccines to over 110 countries, now we need the rest of the world to step up as well.” President Biden said, reassuring the nation that providing vaccines to the world is not coming at the expense of Americans. “I will always make sure our people are protected first.”
Currently more than 71% of Americans are vaccinated, including over 86% of seniors.
In Santa Barbara County, 66% of the eligible 5-and-older population is vaccinated, according to the county Public Health Department.
President Biden emphasized that there is time to either get a booster shot, or for the unvaccinated, to get their first and second shots before Christmas. “If you and your family are fully vaccinated, you can celebrate the holidays much more safely.”
President Biden closed his address with this statement: “We are throwing everything we can at this virus, tracking it from every angle … We have moved forward in the face of COVID-19, we have moved forward in the face of the delta variant, and we move forward now in the face of the omicron variant as well.”