COVID-19 Omicron variant sparking widespread concern over uncertainty, prompts African travel ban

The new Omicron variant of COVID-19 has sparked widespread concern over its uncertainty. On Monday, a new travel ban will go into effect in the U.S., to help slow the spread. 

The variant was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from South Africa on Wednesday. Two days later, the WHO sounded designated Omicron as a variant of concern. 

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The move pummeled financial markets and prompted the Biden administration to issue a travel ban against eight African countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe starting Monday. 

Scientists like Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine say little information is currently known about Omicron.

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He believes it could take several weeks before its severity and transmissibility are understood.  

"Keep in mind, right now, the biggest threat to everybody in the United States is not the Omicron variant," he said. "Overwhelmingly, the big threat is the Delta variant and we're about to see the acceleration of it and yet another big winter wave. It's already started in the upper Midwest. 

"It's the same; it's the same game plan," he continued. "One, if you've only gotten two doses of the vaccine and you're more than six months out get that third immunization. Two, if you have been infected and recovered, you still need to get vaccinated because that's going to also really rev up your virus-neutralizing antibodies and actually make you more resilient to Delta and the Omicron variant.

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"And third, if you've not been vaccinated yet and you're eligible then you're asking for trouble because we've now lost here in Texas 20,000 unvaccinated Texans since June 1, 2021, that have needlessly lost their lives, because they refuse to get vaccinated."

On FOX News Sunday, the National Institutes of Health Director, Dr. Francis Collins, said the boosters have proven to provide strong protection against the Delta variant and believes it will be effective against Omicron as well. 

"Given that history, we expect that the current vaccines most likely will be sufficient to provide protection and especially the boosters will give that additional layer of protection because there’s something about the booster that causes your immune system to really expand its capacity against all kinds of different spike proteins, even ones that it hasn't seen before," he said. 

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Ultimately, NIH Director Dr. Collins says there’s no reason to panic over Omicron yet. 

He adds that if a new vaccine designed specifically for protecting against Omicron is needed, it could take companies like Pfizer and Moderna at least 3 months to be ready for that.