The more contagious Omicron variant does not appear to have as severe an impact as the delta variant dominating the world’s COVID-19 epidemic, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Thursday. However, this variant cannot be classified as “mild”.
WHO’s clinical management leader, Janet Diaz, said preliminary studies have shown that the variant, first identified in South Africa and Hong Kong in November, has a reduced risk of hospitalization compared to the delta variant.
At a press conference from the WHO headquarters in Geneva, he said that the risk of violence has also decreased in young and old people.
His description of the reduced risk of severe disease was matched with other data, including studies from South Africa and the United Kingdom, but did not provide further details on the study or the age of the cases analyzed.
The impact of these variants on the elderly is one of the big unanswered questions though, as most of the cases studied so far occurred in younger people.
“Although Omicron appears to be less severe than delta, especially in the vaccinated, that doesn’t mean it should be classified as mild,” said Managing Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Just like the previous variant, the omicron hospitalizes and kills people.”
He warned of a “tsunami” of cases as global infections soared to a record fueled by omicrons and deltas, health systems overwhelmed and governments struggled to tame the virus that has killed more than 5.8 million people.
Tedros reiterated its call for greater equality in the distribution and access of vaccines globally.
Tedros added that, based on current vaccine launch rates, 109 countries will miss WHO’s goal of fully vaccinating 70% of the world’s population by July. This goal is seen as helping to end the acute phase of the pandemic.
“Upgrade after increase in a small number of countries will not end the pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected,” he said.
WHO adviser Bruce Aylward said 36 countries have not even reached 10 percent vaccine coverage. He added that 80 percent of severely ill patients worldwide are not vaccinated.
Another variant of B.1,640 – first discovered in September 2021 in many countries – is among those monitored by WHO but not widely distributed, Maria van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical chief for COVID-19 said.