The director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said on Sunday that "it's certainly possible" that omicron will not be the last emerging COVID-19 variant.
"Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd asked NIH Director Francis Collins if people should expect to see a new dominant variant every six months, noting the delta variant that emerged over the summer before omicron was first reported to be detected over the Thanksgiving holiday.
"It's certainly possible that this is not the last emerging variant that will attract a lot of attention and a lot of concern. This one does have the largest number of mutations that we've seen so far. Omicron with about 50 mutations compared to the original," Collins responded.
Collins reiterated a notion shared by scientists that the omicron variant may have developed from an immunocompromised person who was not able completely combat the virus.
"So it remained in the system maybe for months in that person until they finally got over it," Collins suspected. "And that is of course a perfect situation for the virus to be able to pick up additional mutations along the way. To the extent that that's gonna keep happening, if we don't have adequate immune protection across the globe - yeah, we're probably gonna see something. We'll have to use some of the other letters in the Greek alphabet."
Collins' comments come as scientists are racing to learn more about the newly detected omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa late last month.
More than a dozen states have now detected omicron even as the U.S. imposed travel restrictions from eight southern African nations starting last Monday in response to the new variant and implemented tougher COVID-19 testing requirements on international travelers.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky confirmed on Sunday that the Food and Drug Administration was "already in conversations about streamlining the authorization of ... an omicron-specific vaccine."