Top US infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, on Sunday warned that the Omicron coronavirus variant was easily transmissible and might override any existing immunity received from vaccines or prior infection.
"The profile of the mutations strongly suggest that it's going to have an advantage in transmissibility and that it might evade immune protection," Fauci said on NBC's 'Meet the Press. "It's not necessarily that that's going to happen, but it's a strong indication that we really need to be prepared for that."
The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a "variant of concern" last week by the World Health Organization, has caused worry around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year COVID-19 pandemic. First discovered in South Africa, it has now been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although it is unclear whether it causes more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.
"This is a clarion call, as far as I'm concerned, of saying let's put aside all of these differences that we have and say, if you're not vaccinated, get vaccinated, if you're fully vaccinated, get boosted and get the children vaccinated also," Fauci said, adding that, while the virus was not going to be eradicated, vaccines were the only way to control its spread.
Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, with some reintroducing restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread.
The new variant has also thrown a spotlight on huge disparities in vaccination rates around the globe. Even as many developed countries are giving third-dose boosters, less than 7% of people in poorer countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.