'It's way too soon to be panicky' about omicron variant, says Penn COVID expert

Omicron variant cases have been detected in numerous countries, including Canada.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Americans face at least two weeks of uncertainty before major questions may get answered about the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Health experts urge the public to be cautious and patient as scientists try to find out if omicron -- deemed a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization -- is more transmissible and dangerous than other forms of the novel coronavirus and whether existing vaccines work against it.

Omicron variant cases have been detected in numerous countries, including Canada. No cases have been found in the United States, but many experts says it's inevitable.

The overall global risk related to the newly discovered B.1.1.529 strain of the coronavirus "is assessed as very high," the WHO said in a technical brief Monday.

Dr. Susan Weiss is the co-chair of the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus.

Dr. Susan Weiss, who is the co-chair of the Penn Center for Research on Coronavirus, says now is the time to be calm.

SEE ALSO: US health officials work to answer 3 key questions about the new omicron variant

"Every time a new one comes out, it gets to be a hysteria and it's too much. I think it's way too soon to be panicky about it," said Dr. Weiss. "There's no evidence that it causes a more serious disease. And as far as how well it spreads or whether it's going to take over, that's really all to be seen."

But she says there are very early studies on omicron from South Africa where the variant was first discovered.

"The reports from South Africa, the few we've heard, say that it's been associated with mild disease. That's anecdotal but it's based on some patients and doctors in South Africa," said Weiss.

As far as it being a "variant of concern," she says that means it may have mutations that could be associated with faster spread or compromise an immune response.

"None of that is known yet. It's all speculation. It's all based on looking at the sequence and saying this may happen," said Weiss.

She also believes vaccines, along with booster shots, are the key to stopping omicron and any other COVID-19 variant. So she's urging everyone to go get them.

"The only way to stop getting variants -- and this is really important -- is to get vaccinated and to stop its replication and spread. It doesn't mean that the vaccine is not going to work, it just means that it may be a little bit less able to neutralize the virus," said Dr. Weiss.

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While the new omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has not yet been detected in the United States, it will "inevitably" arrive, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

At least 44 countries have imposed travel restrictions from several African countries following the discovery of the variant.

In the meantime, US travel restrictions on flights from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi went into effect Monday.

CNN Wire contributed to this report.
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