Hotez: Yeah, the omicron variant is likely in the U.S. but "don't push the panic button"

(AP Photo/John Mone)

Dr. Peter Hotez has an extensive resume centered around vaccine development. He is the founding dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine. He is also Director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair in Tropical Pediatrics, and University Professor of Biology at Baylor University in Houston. He’s been in the forefront since the coronavirus pandemic began, doing interviews and offering his professional opinion, even to the White House during the previous administration. Of the omicron variant, he is cautioning that we do not push the panic button.

That is noteworthy, coming from Hotez. He is frequently on television, on national broadcasts, and on local Houston stations, and I’ve described his brand of opinions as doom and gloom and I’ve noted that his political leanings sometimes rise to the surface. Hotez says that more data is needed at this time. “Transmissibility is king in determining if omicron will impact the globe the way previous variants alpha and delta did.”

If you haven’t read Allahpundit’s post from yesterday with similar advice and lots of data to back it up, go do that now.

Hotez notes that what he’s looking for is the level of transmissibility.

“Before we press the panic button I think there’s a few things to consider,” Hotez said during an appearance on MSNBC. “Yes, it does have some immune escape properties, or at least it looks like it might, but that’s not what’s associated with high transmissibility. We’ve had other immune-escape variants before that have not really taken off… That’s what I’m looking out for, the level of transmissibility.”

During the interview with MSNBC, Hotez said that the virus is already likely in the U.S.

Hotez told MSNBC he believes the virus has already arrived in the U.S. and will be identified soon.

“I think we should assume that it’s likely in the U.S. by now since we tend to underperform in our ability to pick up various viral genomes,” he said.

A panel at the World Health Organization classified the omicron variant as highly transmissible. Hotez is probably right that the variant is already here, given the mobility of travelers, especially during the holiday season. Some countries are acting swiftly and putting a ban on travelers from South Africa, where the variant originates. The world is reacting faster now than in previous outbreaks. Financial markets plunged Friday.

Financial markets plunged on Friday, especially stocks of airlines and others in the travel sector, as investors worried the variant could cause another surge in the pandemic. Oil prices tumbled by about $10 a barrel.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (.DJI) closed down 2.5%, its worst day since late October 2020, and European stocks (.STOXX) had their worst day in 17 months.

Two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant were detected in Great Britain on Saturday. Both were connected to travel to southern Africa, according to health minister Sajid Javid.

The health ministry said two individuals and all members of their households were being re-tested and told to self-isolate while further testing and contact tracing was done.

Britain also said it was expanding its “red list” to put travel curbs on more southern Africa countries, while South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Oman and Hungary also announced travel restrictions on southern African nations.

Officials in the western German state of Hesse said the Omicron variant has probably arrived in Germany, after mutations were found in a passenger arriving from South Africa. Czech health authorities said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.

Australia and Japan are the latest countries to announce travel bans today. Effective Monday, the U.S. will ban travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. Slow Joe doesn’t want to move too quickly.

“I’ve decided we’re going to be cautious,” Biden said to reporters Friday following the announcement of the travel restrictions. “We don’t know a lot about the variant except it is a great concern, seems to spread rapidly,” he said.

Remember when Trump imposed a travel ban (The Obama-Biden travel ban) and Biden clutched his pearls and accused Trump of xenophobia and fear-mongering? Good times.

“We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus,” Biden tweeted as a presidential candidate last year the day after Trump imposed travel restrictions from China into the United States in response to the spread of the coronavirus. “We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.”

Biden ran on eliminating the coronavirus pandemic, yet despite the availability of vaccines and therapies, and other developments in the treatment of the virus, it remains with us. He should have known better during the campaign but he went ahead and made an outlandish promise to end the pandemic just to own Trump or something. The coronavirus will continue to mutate and it will remain with us, just as other viruses do. We have to learn to live with it and go about our lives. Juvenile name-calling over travel bans that are meant to protect Americans from the spread of an easily transmittable virus is not a sign of leadership. The omicron variant probably won’t be the last of the variants to be discovered.