Gade Skidmore

Kamala Harris, in interview, says administration did not anticipate Omicron variant

Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that the administration failed to anticipate the variants that have prolonged and worsened the COVID-19 pandemic and that she underestimated the role misinformation would play in prolonging the disease that has killed 800,000 Americans.

“We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” she said. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”

Harris made the comments during a wide-ranging interview with The Times in her ceremonial office, touching on immigration, women’s health, the criticism she has received for her management style and her role as a history-making leader. But the vice president returned repeatedly to the chief challenge of the Biden administration: battling a pandemic that — thanks to a new fast-spreading variant, Omicron — has led many Americans to put travel plans on hold, cancel holiday parties and stock up again on masks.

“I get it. I get it. I totally get it,” she said. “I mean, you know, one of the concerns that I have is the undiagnosed and untreated trauma at various degrees that everyone has experienced.”

President Biden celebrated “independence” from the virus in an upbeat July 4 speech, saying, “While the virus hasn’t been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation. And it’s within our power to make sure it never does again.”

At the time, some public health experts warned that his optimism was premature, given that the Delta variant was already a significant threat.

Harris denied that the administration declared victory prematurely, or ever.

“We have not been victorious over it,” she said. “I don’t think that in any regard anyone can claim victory when, you know, there are 800,000 people who are dead because of this virus.”

Many Americans, particularly conservatives, resisted Biden’s call to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a measure public health officials say is critical to avoid hospitalization and death from the disease. Harris cited as a singular regret her failure to appreciate the power of misinformation in dissuading people to trust the vaccine.

“I would take that more seriously,” she said of the misinformation. “The biggest threat still to the American people is the threat to the unvaccinated. And most people who believe in the efficacy of the vaccine and the seriousness of the virus have been vaccinated. That troubles me deeply.”

But it could hardly have been a surprise to Harris. She spent much of her time in the administration’s early months trying to overcome hesitancy among some Black people, who have endured a history of mistreatment by the medical community. Former President Trump repeatedly promoted misinformation while in office, especially as the pandemic raged. He remains active in promoting the false claim that the election was stolen, a conspiracy theory shared by many of those who refuse to get vaccinated.

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