President Joe Biden addressed the nation on Monday, outlining the White House's response to an emergent COVID-19 variant out of South Africa, known as omicron.
"Sooner or later we're going to see cases of this variant in the United States," the president said. Severity of symptoms and rate of transmissibility have not yet been determined.
The president assured Monday that omicron was indeed "a cause for concern," but "not a cause for panic."
"We're learning more every single day," he said, noting that the U.S. has "more tools today" to fight the variant than ever before — including widespread access to vaccines and boosters.
"The best protection against this new variant, or any of the new variants out there ... is getting fully vaccinated, and getting a booster shot," the president said. He also encouraged vaccinated and boostered individuals to continue wearing masks indoors, or while navigating crowds.
In the event that the omicron variant requires updated vaccines or boosters "we will accelerate their deployment," the president said. He said the White House was already working with Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for updated vaccines and boosters, and distributing them quickly if needed. He has authorized development as to move as fast as possible "without cutting corners on safety."
"I'm sparing no effort, I'm removing all roadbloacks to keep Americans safe," the president said. But "we do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed," he added, noting that current vacccine and booster formulations offer a degree of protection against the omicron variant.
White House Chief Medical Advisor and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was present during the president's remarks, added that polymerase chain reaction tests (PCRs) presently being used to test people traveling to the U.S. from overseas for COVID-19 are adequate at detecting omicron.
President Biden said the White House would be putting out a detailed plan for how the country plans to fight COVID into the winter months.