Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that because scientists don’t have a full understanding of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, travel bans are a good idea to provide time to prepare for it.
And he said vaccines and boosters remain a first line of defense. Fauci spoke on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”
Boosters, Fauci said, increase the number of disease-fighting antibodies in a person’s body. Scientists don’t know how the Omicron outbreak will play out, but Fauci said, “get boosted, get vaccinated and you’re going to bring that level [of antibodies] right up.”
Travel bans won’t fully prevent the variant from entering the country. “There’s no way that’s going to happen. But what you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared,” said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The United States will implement a travel ban Monday from South Africa and seven other countries in southern Africa.
A ban will provide time to learn more about the virus and how it reacts to vaccines, Fauci said. “And above all, you’ve used this time to really, really put your pedal to the floor and get people vaccinated and get people boosted. It’s going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness.”
Fauci said that’s it’s not clear yet if current vaccines will work against the Omicron variant. He said work is occurring to answer that question.
“We don’t have a definitive answer to that and we will know that likely in a period of about two weeks. That whole process is already underway right now.”
The Omicron variant is more transmissible than other variants, Fauci said, because of changes to its structure.
“It has the molecular characteristics that would strongly suggest that it would be more transmissible. It has a bunch of mutations. A disturbingly large number of mutations in the spike protein, which is the business end of the virus.”
Fauci said he expects the variant to spread because of its mutations.
“If you look at the pattern of what’s going on right now in southern Africa particularly in South Africa, where you have a spike of infections, they are very heavily weighted toward this new variant. And therefore you have to presume that it has a good degree of transmissibility advantage, which is very likely what is going on right now in southern Africa and would likely be going on in other countries as it spreads.”