Friday, January 21

WHO ‘confident’ current COVID-19 vaccines will work against Omicron

A senior scientist at the World Health Organization said Tuesday there is “no question” about the efficacy of current vaccines in protecting Omicron-infected patients from severe forms of COVID-19.

Current vaccines are effective against Omicron, which does not appear to be more dangerous than Delta, the variant that circulates the most in the world, senior scientists from the WHO and the White House have said.

This comes as Poland and several other Central and Eastern European countries are battling a massive increase in new infections and deaths caused by the transmissible Delta variant, and amid fears that current vaccines will be less effective against the new Omicron variant.

“We have very effective vaccines that have been shown to be effective against all variants so far, in terms of severity of illness and hospitalization, and there is no reason to think that this would not be the case for Omicron,” said Dr. Michal Ryan. Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program.

However, Ryan acknowledged that vaccines might be less effective against Omicron, which is characterized by a very high number of mutations.

But it is “highly unlikely” that the variant could completely escape the protection of the vaccine.

The WHO emergency manager emphasized that studies of the variant, detected only on November 24 by South African authorities and which has since been detected in dozens of countries, were still in their infancy.

“The general pattern we are seeing so far does not show an increase in severity. In fact, some places in southern Africa are reporting milder symptoms,” Ryan insisted.

The emergence of this new variant has caused great panic in Europe, which is already experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant.

The WHO has confirmed more than 400 infections across the continent since the first case was discovered.

Several countries around the world have announced border closures, including for South Africans.

The move infuriated Pretoria, which denounces an unjustified ostracism.

The Austrian government turned to mandatory vaccination for all its citizens, while Norway announced on Tuesday that it was strengthening health measures to combat a coronavirus outbreak, including limiting the number of people at domestic events, including Christmas holidays.

However, the WHO has advised governments to only use mandatory vaccination as a last resort to fight the pandemic.

On Wednesday, BioNTech Medical Director Özlem Türeci said that the coronavirus vaccine developed jointly by BioNTech and Pfizer neutralizes the Omicron variant of the virus after three doses.

A laboratory study conducted by its manufacturers found that “three doses of our vaccine neutralize the Omicron variant”, but warned that “two doses show to significantly reduce the neutralization of this new variant.”

Pfizer and BioNTech also said that an Omicron-specific version of the coronavirus vaccine, currently under development by BioNTech, would be available in March.

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