WHO sees more evidence that Omicron causes milder symptoms

More and more evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant affects the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants.

  • Omicron reduced the risk of serious illness.
  • The variant has appeared in at least 128 countries.
  • WHO says increasing the number of vaccines is a priority.

A growing body of evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant affects the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms than previous variants and causing a “decoupling” in some places between the surge in the number of cases and the low death rates. an official from the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

“We are seeing more and more studies indicating that Omicron infects the upper part of the body. Unlike others, the lungs are believed to be the cause of severe pneumonia,” said the incident manager at the WHO, Abdi Mahamud, to Geneva-based journalists.

“This may be good news, but we really need more studies to prove it.”

Since the heavily mutated variant was first detected in November, WHO data shows it has spread rapidly and appeared in at least 128 countries, presenting dilemmas for many countries and people seeking restart their economy and their lives after nearly two years of Covid-related disruption.

However, while the number of cases has reached all-time highs, hospitalization and death rates are often lower than in other phases of the pandemic.

“What we are seeing now is… the decoupling between cases and deaths,” he said.

His remarks on reducing the risk of serious illness dovetail with other data, including a study in South Africa, which was one of the first countries where Omicron was detected.

However, Mahamud also issued a note of caution, calling South Africa an “outlier” because it has a young population, among other factors.

And he warned that Omicron’s high transmissibility meant it would become dominant within weeks in many places, posing a threat to medical systems in countries where a large proportion of the population is still unvaccinated.

Vaccination, not vaccines, is the challenge

As Omicron appeared to move past antibodies, evidence was emerging that Covid-19 vaccines still offered some protection, eliciting a second pillar of the T-cell immune response, Mahamud said.

“Our prediction is that the protection against severe hospitalizations and death (due to Omicron) will be maintained,” he said, adding that this also applied to vaccines developed by Sinopharm and Sinovac which are used in China, where Omicron cases remain very low.

He said:

The challenge was not the vaccine but the vaccination and reaching these vulnerable populations.

Asked about the need for a specific vaccine for Omicron, Mahamud said it was too early to tell, but expressed doubts and stressed the decision required global coordination and should not be left to manufacturers alone.

“You can go ahead with Omicron and put all your eggs in that basket and a new, more transmissible or more immuno-evasive variant may appear,” he said, adding that a WHO technical group had held recent meetings on vaccine composition.

The best way to reduce the impact of the variant would be to meet the WHO target of vaccinating 70% of the population in each country by July, rather than offering third and fourth doses in some countries. , did he declare.

READ | Fauci: ‘focus on Covid hospitalizations, not the number of cases’ as US cases exceed one million

As the number of cases due to Omicron has skyrocketed, some countries, including the United States, have reduced periods of isolation or quarantine in an attempt to allow asymptomatic people to return to work or school .

Mahamud said leaders should decide based on the strength of the local outbreak, saying Western countries with very high cases may consider reducing periods of isolation to keep basic services functioning.

However, places that have largely excluded it would be better off maintaining the full 14-day quarantine period.

“If your numbers are very small, you better invest in keeping that number very, very low.”

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