Biden to give omicron-focused speech on Tuesday

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(The Hill) – President Biden is slated to make an omicron-focused speech next week as the variant continues to circulate in the U.S. and elsewhere, the White House announced on Saturday.

“On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks on the status of the country’s fight against COVID-19, as the country sees rising cases amid the growing Omicron variant,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted on Saturday.

“Building off his Winter Plan, @POTUS will announce new steps the Administration is taking to help communities in need of assistance, while also issuing a stark warning of what the winter will look like for Americans that choose to remain unvaccinated,” Psaki added. She noted that the president will also detail how the administration will respond to an anticipated rise in case numbers and remind Americans to get their boosters and vaccines. The news of Biden’s omicron-focused speech was first reported by NBC News on Saturday.

The reports come as health officials, cities and states brace themselves for further spread of the omicron variant, with the United States seeing increasingly high case numbers this month. The World Health Organization said on Saturday that the variant, first detected last month in South Africa, has already made its way to 89 countries.

It is not yet clear how severe the new strain is or how well the vaccines will work against it in the long term. Pfizer, BioNTech and a group of Israeli researchers have provided some encouraging signs that a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, in addition to the initial two-dose regimen, appears to offer strong protection against the variant.

However, some experts and health officials are not yet sure how much protection the vaccines will ultimately provide against omicron.

Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and professor of global health law at the Georgetown University Law Center and a contributor to The Hill, said in an interview that “there’s no question” the boosters would be helpful. 

However, he noted that it was a question of how long protection would last and how protective the boosters would be against infections and hospitalizations.

“Because a lot of the studies of the boosters have been, you know, in the first few weeks after the booster is given and whether that third shot immunity will wane is an open question,” Gostin said. “But our experience is that it will wane … and we don’t know how long, so we’re just really heading into a concerning unknown here.”

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