The discovery of the omicron coronavirus variant is serious and shows the need for increased global vaccination efforts, but it won't set the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic back to square one, Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told Newsmax Monday.
"Every month or so we see a new variant pop up and everybody goes 'oh, my God, a new variant," Jha said on Newsmax's "Wake Up America." "Most variants don't mean that much. This one is different. It has a bunch of mutations in some critical places that has a lot of us concerned that this is going to be a more serious variant than others."
Disease experts are saying they believe the omicron variant could make vaccines less effective as it has 26 unique mutations of the spike proteins that are targeted by vaccine antibodies.
But Jha told Newsmax that the new variant is "not so serious that all of our vaccines will stop working, and not so serious that anybody's going to need to think about things like lockdowns. I think all that stuff is behind us."
But still, the mutations make the variant a concern, as "maybe your vaccines will work less well, [and] maybe we'll see a lot of reinfections in people who have just recovered from prior infections, and that means we're gonna have to take this seriously," said Jha. "We're going to have to formulate new vaccines. We may have to update our testing infrastructure. We're going to have to see how things go. But we've got to take it seriously."
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden's ban on travel from eight southern African countries takes effect on Monday, and Jha said he thinks the restrictions will help somewhat, but won't "make a big difference" in the spread of the variant.
He also said that most experts don't think the variant started in South Africa.
"It was detected in South Africa because they have a fabulous surveillance system," said Jha. "They really do a great job."
The doctor also said he's not doing anything any differently after the announcement, and he's not changing his advice concerning the upcoming holidays.
"This has been a horrendous 20-22 months," said Jha. "We're getting close to two years on this thing. It's taken a toll on every American. What I would say to folks is we now have the tools to get out of this pandemic. If more Americans got vaccinated, if we did a better job of testing and other things, then I think we can put this behind us."
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