Existing vaccines will likely protect against Omicron



The World Health Organization believes the existing COVID-19 vaccines will offer protection against severe cases of the new Omicron variant, the group’s chief scientist said Wednesday.

“Vaccines are likely to have some protection,” Soumya Swaminathan said during a press conference.

“We still need to find out if there is a loss on protection but we think vaccines will still protect against severe disease as they have against the other variants,” the expert added.

Maria van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, told reporters that the agency expects to have more information about the transmissibility of the emerging variant within days, according to Reuters.

That is faster than the “weeks” the WHO last week predicted it would take to assess the data available on Omicron, which it has designated a “variant of concern,” its highest rating.

World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan
World Health Organization chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan says vaccines are likely to offer some protection against the Omicron variant and protect against severe disease.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Van Kerkhove said one possible scenario was that the variant — first reported in southern Africa — may be more transmissible than the dominant Delta one, adding that it is not yet known if Omicron makes people more sick.

Meanwhile, WHO’s vaccine advisory group will meet next week to review data on extra doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Swaminathan did not give a specific date, but said the agency would give recommendations on the use of boosters after the review.

Maria van Kerkhove, head of the Outbreak Investigation Task Force for the World Health Organization
Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s lead on COVID, says the agency will have more information on Omicron in the coming days.

Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergency director, said there is no evidence that providing booster shots to the whole population, including the healthy, will offer greater protection against the illness.

He also reiterated the agency’s opposition to the blanket bans on flights to and from southern Africa that have been imposed by many countries, saying it would not prevent the variant’s spread.

“The idea you can just put a hermetic seal on some countries is not possible. I can’t see the logic from an epidemiological or public health perspective,” Ryan said.

Nurse preparing COVID vaccine.
The WHO says it is possible that Omicron is more transmissible than Delta but the agency isn’t sure if it presents more severe symptoms.


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