• Friday, July 19, 2024
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COVID-19: Don’t underestimate Omicron – WHO

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization has said that the omicron variant should not be underestimated and is spreading faster than any other Covid-19 variant as it is now present in 77 countries.

“Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant. We’re concerned that people are dismissing Omicron as mild,” WHO director-general said during a Covid update in Geneva.

“Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril.”

“Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems. I need to be very clear: vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis. Countries can – and must – prevent the spread of Omicron with measures that work today.”

Tedros warned that making choices about strategies to halt the pandemic was the wrong approach: “It’s not vaccines instead of distancing. It’s not vaccines instead of ventilation or hand hygiene. Do it all. Do it consistently. Do it well.”

He said in the past 10 weeks, the international vaccine rollout initiative, COVAX, has shipped more vaccines than in the first 9 months of the year combined, with most countries using vaccines as fast as they get them.

Read also:  WHO says Omicron spreading faster than other variants

“A small group of countries are facing challenges rolling out vaccines and scaling up rapidly, and WHO and our partners are working closely with those countries to overcome bottlenecks”, he added.

“Although we expect further improvements in supply, there are no guarantees, and the hard-won gains we have made are fragile.”

Tedros said “evolving evidence suggests a small decline in the effectiveness of vaccines against severe disease and death”, noting that booster rollouts for all over-18s to fight Omicron in some countries, had begun despite a lack of evidence that they will be effective.

“WHO is concerned that such programmes will repeat the vaccine hoarding we saw this year, and exacerbate inequity…Let me be very clear: WHO is not against boosters. We’re against inequity. Our main concern is to save lives, everywhere.”

He said that giving boosters to groups at low risk, simply endangers the lives of those facing higher risk, who have not yet got their primary doses, due to supply constraints.