It’s a full-court press for the White House’s public health brain trust on this morning’s Sunday shows as Team Biden tries to calm the public about the new COVID variant tearing through South Africa. Each show will feature a top science bureaucrat sharing the latest data on the Omicron strain. For “This Week,” it’s CDC chief Rochelle Walensky. For “Meet the Press,” it’s NIH head Francis Collins. For “State of the Union,” it’s Anthony Fauci. And for “Face the Nation” and “Fox News Sunday,” it’s Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
They’ll do their best to reassure Americans that the situation is under control but the news from South Africa isn’t great.
Underscoring growing concerns about Omicron, scientists in South Africa said on Friday that the newest coronavirus variant appears to spread more than twice as quickly as Delta, which had been considered the most contagious version of the virus.
Omicron’s rapid spread results from a combination of contagiousness and an ability to dodge the body’s immune defenses, the researchers said, but the contribution of each factor is not yet certain…
“It is actually really striking how quickly it seems to have taken over,” said Juliet Pulliam, the director of an epidemiological modeling center at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, who led the earlier research on immunity.
“It’s possible that it might even be less transmissible than Delta,” said one British modeler to the Times. That sounds like good news but it isn’t: If Omicron is less transmissible but cases are skyrocketing nonetheless, it can only be because the variant is breaking through into the immune population and spreading among that group to a degree that Delta can’t. (Read this post and this post from Friday for more on that.) The good news is that the FDA is already preparing to streamline the process for approving updated vaccines if they prove to be necessary, which seems increasingly likely. The bad news is that we’re still a few months away from those vaccines being ready. Given the rate at which Omicron is spreading in Africa, it seems a cinch that we’ll have a wave of it here before then.
Elsewhere this morning, Ilhan Omar will drop by “State of the Union” to discuss Lauren Boebert’s “suicide bomber” joke about her, their aborted phone call, and what consequences she wants Boebert to face in the House. The full line-up is at the AP.