The variant of the COVID-19 omicron is probably already in all countries and at a speed never seen before
The omicron variant of the coronavirus is expanding “at a rate we have not seen in any of the previous strains,” and it is probably already in almost every country in the world, the World Health Organization warned today.
“There are already 77 countries that have reported cases of omicron, and the reality is that omicron is probably in most countries, although it has not yet been detected. Ómicron is spreading at a rate that we have not seen with any previous variant. We are concerned that people dismiss omicron as mild, “said the Organization’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the weekly press conference on the status of the pandemic.
In this regard, one of the WHO specialists, Dr. Abdi Mhamud indicated that “people have the feeling that omicron is mild, but these are preliminary data from young patients. Age is the biggest risk factor for COVID19, so we have to protect the most vulnerable“.
Mhamud made an observation regarding the fact that it is still unknown how the new variant behaves in older people, especially in countries with an older population.
The danger of Christmas
His colleague, Dr. Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, pointed out that, even “although omicron does not cause a more serious disease than delta, as it is causing a large number of cases, Health systems, if not well prepared, can be overwhelmed“.
For his part, Dr. Bruce Aylward, advisor to the World Health Organization, expressed the concern of those responsible for the arrival of a festive period characterized by family gatherings and travel.
“We are very concerned about arriving at Christmas with a virus that we know is very communicable, but about which there is still much to know and with people assuming that it causes a mild illness. It is a very dangerous situation“.
WHO asks to speed up vaccination before the appearance of the omicron variant
Get ready, get ready, get ready
Against this background, they all called on governments around the world to prepare for a wave of infections ensuring hospitals have the necessary staff, triage system, and oxygen supplies.
The appearance of omicron has led some countries to implement reinforcement programs for their entire adult population, despite the fact that, according to Tedros, there is no evidence on the efficacy of boosters against this variant.
WHO is concerned that those programs will repeat the hoarding of vaccines seen this year and exacerbate inequality.
“Let me be very clear: WHO is not against reinforcements. We are against inequity. Our main concern is saving lives, everywhere ”.
In this regard, Dr. Michael Ryan, responsible for the Organization’s emergency response, indicated: “We do not want a vulnerable person who is offered a booster dose to feel guilty about accepting it. It’s not about that. It’s about governments thinking about global inequality to better protect their population. “
His colleague Katherine O’Brien, an expert in vaccines at the Organization, explained that “if there is a hoarding of vaccines, other countries cannot access them.”
For this reason, he asked manufacturers and donor countries to continue to prioritize donations to COVAX, the UN mechanism for equitable distribution of vaccines.
“We don’t want the delivery rate that has taken months to slow down,” added O’Brien.
Tedros commented that it is actually very simple: “the priority in each country, and globally, should be to protect the least protected, not the most protected.”
* COVAX is part of an unprecedented global effort to provide vaccines to at least 20% of the population of each participating country during 2021, in order to protect those most at risk of severe forms of COVID-19 and save lives. In America, 36 countries will receive vaccines through the COVAX Mechanism, of which 26 will do so with their own financing and ten will do so at no cost.
The Revolving Fund of the Pan American Health Organization is the mechanism designated by COVAX to purchase vaccines on behalf of the countries of the region.
COVAX is co-chaired by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and works in partnership with UNICEF, the PAHO Revolving Fund, as well as with the World Bank, civil society organizations, manufacturers, and others.