According to a top WHO official, Omicron does not appear to produce more severe disease than prior Covid strains and is “very unlikely” to entirely evade vaccine safeguards.
While there is still a lot to learn about the new, extensively modified variety of Covid-19, the World Health Organization’s second-in-command told AFP that preliminary data showed it did not make individuals sicker than Delta and other variants.
“Based on the preliminary statistics, this does not appear to be a more serious situation.” In fact, if anything, the trend is toward decreased severity,” said WHO emergency director Michael Ryan in an interview, while emphasizing the need for more research.
“We have to be very careful how we interpret that signal because it’s very early.”
Simultaneously, he stated that there was no indication that Omicron could completely circumvent the safeguards afforded by existing Covid vaccinations.
“We have incredibly potent vaccines that have shown effective against all varieties so far in terms of serious sickness and hospitalization,” stated the epidemiologist and former trauma surgeon, who is 56 years old.
“There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t be the case” for Omicron, he added, citing early data from South Africa, where the variant was initially discovered, which “indicate the vaccination is at least holding up in terms of protection.”
‘The most effective weapon’
Ryan recognized that existing vaccinations could be ineffective against Omicron, which has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that dots the coronavirus’s surface and causes it to infiltrate cells.
However, he believes it is “extremely unlikely” that it will be able to completely circumvent vaccine safeguards.
“We’ll have to check to see whether there’s any lapse in that protection, but I’d expect to see some.”
“Preliminary research from South Africa suggests that we will not experience a catastrophic loss of efficacy.” In fact, it’s the polar opposite right now.”
“The best weapon we have right now in the fight against all Covid strains is to get vaccinated,” he said.
Omicron has been discovered in dozens of nations around the world just two weeks after it was originally discovered.
According to preliminary evidence from South Africa, the new variety is likely more transmissible than prior forms, which Ryan said was not surprising.
“Any new variant will tend to be more transmissible,” he said, “since it has to fight with prior variants.”
The same rules apply.
The quick-witted Irishman predicted that Omicron will eventually supplant Delta as the dominant strain.
However, he noted that Omicron had grown particularly swiftly in South Africa, where Delta had faded, and that it could just be “exploiting a gap in the transmission of Delta.”
There’s also evidence that Omicron is more effective at infecting those who have already been vaccinated or have taken Covid.
“There is some evidence that suggests Omicron reinfection is more common than it was with prior waves or varieties,” Ryan added.
“We’re more interested in seeing whether you can be reinfected with Omicron, rather than whether any fresh infection is more or less severe,” says the researcher.
Reinfections with mild or no symptoms, he said, were of less concern because the current Covid vaccines aim to prevent severe disease but do not always protect against simply getting the virus.
In any event, despite its alterations, Ryan said the new version was still Covid and should be combated with the same tools, such as vaccines, masks, and physical separation.
“The virus’s nature hasn’t changed.” It may have improved in terms of efficiency, but it hasn’t completely revolutionized the game,” he remarked.