As the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continues to spread around the world, the United Nations health agency said Tuesday that it is crucial to do more to help all countries receive life-saving coronavirus vaccines as quickly as possible.
The development comes as a senior World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist reiterated the agency’s message that countries could not get out of the pandemic “with booster doses” when the Omicron variant is being transmitted as “intensely” as the Delta variant.
“In the context of intense social mixing, limited use of proven public health measures, limited vaccine coverage globally…these are conditions that allow any variant, any virus, to thrive,” Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove told BBC Radio, adding, “Omicron benefits from this, and so does Delta.”
Is omicron less severe than Delta?
New data seem to confirm that the Omicron variant causes the least severe forms of the new coronavirus than the Delta strain, a WHO official said Tuesday.
These less severe symptoms than previous strains are thought to be related to the fact that the Omicron variant seems more likely to infect the upper respiratory tract (nose to the throat) than the lungs, said Dr. Abdi Mahamud, who heads a team working on Covid-19 pandemic management at the U.N. World Health Agency.
“We have more and more studies that have proven that Omicron infects the upper part of the respiratory tract, unlike other strains, which could cause severe pneumonia,” he confirmed at a regular U.N. press briefing in Geneva, surmised that this could be “good news” on the front of the fight against Covid-19.
In this regard, the WHO epidemiologist recalled that in the city of London, which was “very hard hit” by the explosion in the number of infections, hospitalization rates are now more than 20% lower than they were in 2020 before the vaccines were available.
However, the Omicron variant is characterized by very high contagiousness, it will become the majority in the contaminations in most areas where it is not yet in the coming weeks, he added.
A threat to countries with low immunization coverage rates
In general, there is not yet sufficient data to say whether the Omicron variant is less severe than other coronavirus strains.
Other data suggest that the Omicron variant also affects the lungs. It could thus cause severe pneumonia, but more research is needed to prove such findings.
This is a way for the WHO to remind that this variant could be a real threat for countries where the vaccination coverage rate remains low.
“So the main message is, if you’re vaccinated, you’re protected, but if you’re vulnerable or haven’t been vaccinated, this Omicron, as mild as it might be for others, could hit you very hard,” Dr. Mahamud explained.
“So vaccination (is) very important,” Dr. Mahamud insisted, noting that it is crucial to do more to help all countries receive life-saving Covid-19 vaccines as soon as possible.
Vaccination to channel the emergence of new variants
“The challenge has not been the vaccine, but the immunization of the most vulnerable populations,” he noted, before urging more countries to push for 70 percent immunization coverage as soon as possible.
Without this level of vaccine protection, the virus “replicates in a crowded, unventilated, unvaccinated environment,” Dr. Mahamud defeated, describing this type of environment as an ideal place for the new coronavirus to mutate.
According to a WHO count last week, 128 countries have reported identifying Omicron. Also, last week, WHO said the risk of the Omicron variant worldwide remains “very high.
“The overall risk from the new worrisome Omicron variant remained very high,” WHO noted in its weekly epidemiological bulletin, despite preliminary data suggesting a lower risk of Omicron-related hospitalizations.
“Demonstrated evidence that the Omicron variant has a growth advantage over the Delta variant with a doubling rate of two to three days,” WHO reported.
The “fluorine”, a mixture of coronavirus and flu
During the press conference at the Palais des Nations on Tuesday, WHO also noted that there is a risk of co-infection with the influenza virus and the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. However, influenza and Covid-19 viruses or cases of “fluorine” (people who have both diseases at the same time) do not increase the risk of the coronavirus evolving into more dangerous variants, said the WHO expert.
“These are viruses of completely different species that use different receptors to infect and there is not much interaction between them,” said the WHO epidemiologist. According to media reports, Israel and Spain have detected initial cases of fluoronium.
According to WHO, mutations in SARS-CoV-2 tend to occur primarily in unvaccinated people, where the pathogen is more likely to replicate.
The main objective must continue to be “to vaccinate everyone in order to reduce the risk of mutation,” Dr. Mahamud concluded.
More than 281.8 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide, including 5,411,759 deaths. According to a January 3, 2022, WHO count, a total of 8,693,832,171 doses of vaccine have been administered worldwide.