The Omicron variant has to be taken seriously, but it isn’t yet known whether it will outcompete the Delta variant in the United States, National Institutes for Health Director Dr. Francis Collins told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Newsroom Monday.
“What we do know, it has a lot of mutations, more than 50, that’s a new record,” Collins said, when asked about what is currently known about the Omicron variant. “Some of those we’ve seen before and some we haven’t. So this certainly suggests that this is a new kind of virus that we have to take very seriously.
“We worry that if the spike protein is of a different shape, maybe the antibodies won’t stick quite as well,” he said. “That’s the reason for the concern.”
Collins did make the point that all the previous variants — which have all had differences in the spike protein — have responded to vaccines and boosters.
“That’s a very important message I want everybody to hear right now,” he said. “The boosters do in fact allow your immune system to have a wide range of capabilities against spike proteins it hasn’t even seen before. So, if you needed one more reason, if you’re eligible to get that booster right away, this would be it.”
When it comes to contagiousness, “I think it is clear from what’s happening in South Africa, that this Omicron variant does spread rapidly,” Collins said, noting that Covid-19 cases are relatively low in South Africa.
“What we don’t know is whether this Omicron variant will outcompete Delta in a country like ours, or whether Delta, because it’s been so successful, will basically just push it aside. That’s another unknown,” Collins said.
Remember: It's also too early to tell whether the Omicron variant causes more severe illness, Collins previously said.