Omicron unlikely to be more severe or to fully evade vaccines: WHO

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It’s early days, but the World Health Organisation has sounded a note of very cautious optimism about the Omicron Covid-19 variant. According to an AFP report, the WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan says early data shows the mutation is no more severe than earlier variants and unlikely to fully dodge vaccine protection. However, Ryan cautions that it’s still too soon to make definitive statements about the severity of the threat posed by the variant.

“The preliminary data doesn’t indicate that this is more severe. In fact, if anything, the direction is towards less severity. It’s very early days, we have to be very careful how we interpret that signal.”

Ryan adds that while current vaccines may turn out to be less effective against the new strain, it’s “highly unlikely” that Omicron will manage to evade vaccine protection completely.

“We have to confirm if there’s any lapse in that protection, but I would expect to see some protection there. The preliminary data from South Africa wouldn’t indicate that we will have a catastrophic loss of efficacy. In fact, the opposite at the moment.”

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The WHO boss adds that the fact Omicron appears to be more transmissible than previous variants is no surprise.

“When any new variant emerges, it will tend to be more transmissible, because it’s got to compete with previous variants.”

Responding to suggestions that the variant may be better at infecting people who are fully vaccinated or who’ve already had Covid-19, Ryan says the aim of vaccines has always been to prevent severe illness, not necessarily to prevent people contracting the virus. Therefore, provided people who become re-infected are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, there is less cause for concern.

He adds that, at the end of the day, the Omicron variant is still Covid-19 and therefore the same disease prevention measures, including vaccination, face masks, and social distancing, still have an important role to play.

“The virus hasn’t changed its nature. It may have changed in terms of its efficiency, but it hasn’t changed the game entirely. The rules of the game are still the same.”

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Maya Taylor

A seasoned writer, with a degree in Creative Writing. Over ten years' experience in producing blog and magazine articles, news reports and website content.

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