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National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said that it is still too early to draw any conclusions about the severity of the new “Omicron” variant of the COVID-19 virus.
“This is early enough that it’s hard to be sure that we know the answers,” Collins told Fox News’ Trace Gallagher during an interview on Fox News Sunday.
“We do know that this is a variant that has a lot of mutations – like 50 of them, and more than 30 of those in the spike protein, which is the part of the virus that attaches to your human cells if you get infected,” Collins said. “That is a new record in terms of the number of mutations. It does make you worry, therefore, that it’s a sufficiently different virus, that it might not respond as well to protection from the vaccines. But we don’t know that.”
When asked by Gallagher about the severity of the novel variant, Collins stated bluntly, “We don’t know about the severity. [We’re] trying to collect that data as quickly as possible.”
When asked about the difference in spike proteins, Collins said that the new variant’s spike proteins could possibly lead it to resist the antibodies of the current vaccines and those of previously infected people.
“The question is, if you’ve raised antibodies against [COVID-19] from previously being infected or from being vaccinated, the question is, will those antibodies still stick to this version of the spike protein, or will they evade that protection? We need to find that out, to be honest, though that’s gonna take two, three weeks in both laboratory and field studies to figure out the answer. And that’s what all of us as scientists want to know,” said Collins.
When asked to confirm whether the new variant’s symptoms are mild or more severe, Collins said it was “too early” to conclude one way or the other, noting that the early cases were young adults, who typically have mild cases anyway.
He did say, however, that based on their history with the Delta variant, the current crop of vaccines and booster shots should provide some level of protection from the virus.
“It’s clear that in all the previous examples of variants, the vaccines have worked to provide protection and the boosters have provided especially strong protection against things like Delta. Given that history, we expect that most likely the current vaccines 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 it hasn’t seen before,” he said.
Collins finished by urging Americans to get vaccinated in hopes of curbing the spread of the Omicron variant.
“Please, Americans, if you’re one of those folks who are sort of waiting to see, this would be a great time to sign up get your booster. Or if you haven’t been vaccinated already, get started. Omicron is one more reason to do this,” he said.