WHO: The Omicron variant does not appear to be worse than other coronavirus strains, top scientists from the WHO and the United States told AFP, on Tuesday.
Amid mounting global concerns over the new variant, Omicron, deemed more transmissible and capable of undergoing frequent mutations, the World Health Organization (WHO) brought out the clarifications about the efficacy of the existing vaccines against the new strain.
Apprehensions laid to rest
Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s Emergencies Director, told AFP in an interview that there currently is no indication to suggest that Omicron, although highly infectious, causes a more severe disease than previous Covid-19 variants such as Delta.
He further assured that the existing vaccines should protect the people who contract Omicron against the worst outcomes of the disease.
“We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalization and there’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t be so [for Omicron],” the WHO official was quoted saying, pointing to initial data from South Africa, where the strain was first reported.
“The virus hasn’t changed its nature. It may have changed in terms of its efficiency, but it hasn’t changed the game entirely,” he said.
“The rules of the game are still the same.”
Michael Ryan, however, said that more research was needed into studying the Omicron variant to appropriately take on board exactly how threatening it is poised to be.
Statements by other officials
Anthony Fauci, the Chief Medical Advisor to the US President, too echoed similar statements on Tuesday. He said that Omicron is certainly not worse than previous strains, including Delta.
Omicron is “clearly highly transmissible” but might actually be less severe than Delta, as indicated by the ratio between the number of infections and the number of hospitalisations in South Africa.
Fauci, too, said that only when more epidemiological data from around the world is gathered, can there be an affirmation by the scientific body.
He added, the results from lab experiments that tested the potency of antibodies from current vaccines against Omicron should come in the next few days to a week.
The hopeful assessments came as global concern grew heavily over the mutated variant, which has forced dozens of nations to re-impose border restrictions.
Origin of the variant
The Omicron variant has now been detected in at least 38 countries.
Though it has not yet been linked to any deaths, scientists are particularly concerned by the unique “constellation” of more than 39 mutations on the spike protein that dots the surface of the coronavirus and allows it to invade cells.
Findings in South Africa
Meanwhile, researchers in South Africa have found that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine actually provides less immunity to the Omicron variant than to other major versions of the virus.
The loss of immune protection is “robust, but not complete,” Alex Sigal, head of research at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, said in an online presentation of the first reported experiments gauging the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new variant.