Vice President Kamala Harris says the Biden administration could not have foreseen the rise of COVID-19 variants, contrary to what health experts have long warned is a possibility.

The claim of ignorance, which alluded to the delta and omicron variants, was made during an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Friday.

“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,” Harris 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."

Despite what Harris said, scientists, including top advisers in the Biden administration, have been raising the alarm for months about the onset of a new, more dangerous variant as they pushed for increased vaccination rates.


“If we don’t crush the outbreak to the point of getting the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, then what will happen is the virus will continue to smolder through the fall into the winter, giving it ample chance to get a variant which, quite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness. We’re very fortunate that that’s the case. There could be a variant that’s lingering out there that can push aside delta," Dr. Anthony Fauci told McClatchy in August.

“If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” he added. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”


The omicron variant, first detected in South Africa last month, is quickly spreading across the planet and is being associated with case hot spots in crowded places such as New York City, prompting a new wave of restrictions.

An unnamed Harris adviser later walked back the vice president's comments.

"The vice president's comments referred to the exact kind of mutation," the adviser told CNN. "The administration knew mutations were possible, it's the reason we ordered extra tests, extra gear and extra PPE. It is the reason the President, vice president and our entire administration warned early and often that the best way to get on the other side of the pandemic is to get vaccinated. We were and continue to be prepared."

The adviser added: "She and the President have warned for months, they said the best way to get on the other side of this is to get vaccinated. Why were they doing that? Because they were clear mutations could occur."

Early research suggested that the omicron variant was more transmissible but less severe than delta, which became the dominant strain worldwide this summer. Delta is twice as contagious as the prior variants, and some data suggest it can cause more severe illness than previous variants in unvaccinated people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 273 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported around the world since the start of the pandemic, and more than 5.3 million deaths have been associated with it, according to data posted by Johns Hopkins University. More than 200 million people have been fully vaccinated in the United States, and roughly 58 million have received a booster shot, according to the CDC.