President Joe Biden said Monday he is directing federal agencies to be prepared to move as quickly as possible to approve additional vaccines or boosters tailored to shield against the new omicron coronavirus variant.
The current Covid vaccines are believed to provide at least some protection from the heavily mutated omicron strain, and booster shots “strengthen that protection significantly,” Biden assured Americans in a speech at the White House.
“We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed,” he said.
But the president said his administration nevertheless is working with vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for new vaccines or boosters if needed.
The White House is also directing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use the “fastest process available without cutting any corners” to approve those potential vaccines and get them on the market, Biden said.
Biden on Friday ordered precautionary air travel restrictions from South Africa, where omicron was first detected, and seven other African countries. Those new rules, which took effect Monday, were announced after the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its deepest rout of the year, driven by fears of another deadly wave of the pandemic. Stocks rebounded somewhat Monday morning.
Those worries arose despite a lack of clarity about the threat posed by the new variant. Scientists, including top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, say it may take weeks to understand omicron’s transmissibility, the severity of its symptoms and the effectiveness of existing vaccines against it.
Biden’s administration has struggled to contain the devastating spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which is now the most prevalent form of Covid in the U.S.