Amid concerns of vaccine escape by the new super mutant Omicron variant of the coronavirus, WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan on Thursday said that existing vaccines will likely prevent disease and death.
According to the scientists, it is “highly likely” that Omicron can escape immunity caused by previous infection or vaccination because of the presence of over 30 mutations on its spike protein, which binds to human cells, associated with higher transmission, and a decrease in antibody protection.
“Regardless of the variant, complete vaccination is likely to protect against severe disease and deaths, especially in older age groups,” Swaminathan wrote on Twitter, adding that the goal now ought to be to protect those around the world who currently have not had access to any Covid-19 jabs.
The global health body said that Covid-19 is already a crisis, regardless of the emergence of Omicron. It is because many countries are in “luxurious position” with booster doses, while some do not have enough vaccines to even protect their most vulnerable, The Telegraph reported.
The WHO also warned that the world was creating toxic conditions for new Covid variants like Omicron to emerge and then spread around the globe.
It said the combination of low vaccination coverage and testing across the countries is creating a fertile breeding ground for variants.
Meanwhile, the WHO also slammed nations for creating hype and panic over the new variant.
It was “certainly a worry” that scientists may be dissuaded from revealing new information about variants after seeing what has happened to southern Africa, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead Dr Maria Van Kerkhove was quoted as saying.
Following the news about the Omicron variant from South Africa and Botswana, many countries including the US, and the UK, moved to bring in travel bans or quarantines for travellers from a number of African countries.
“Nothing I have seen about this new variant warrants the extreme action” that the governments have taken in response, Dr Angeique Coetzee, the doctor who alerted the world to the Omicron Covid variant, wrote in an op-ed for the Daily Mail.
“No one here in South Africa is known to have been hospitalised with the Omicron variant, nor is anyone here believed to have fallen seriously ill with it,” she said, adding they were “over-reacting” to the threat.
In an interview with The Financial Times, Stephane Bancel, who is the chief executive of US drug maker Moderna, said that currently available vaccines for Covid-19 could likely be less effective against the new Omicron variant. His statements rattled the market.
But Coetzee said: “The simple truth is: we don’t know yet anywhere near enough about Omicron to make such judgments or to impose such policies.”
“The worst situation — of course — would be a fast-spreading virus with severe infections. But that’s not where we are at the moment,” she noted, adding that all the patients she saw and who had tested positive for the new variant “had a very mild illness”.
Coetzee said that acethe reality is that Covid is something we have to learn to live with. “Look after yourself and get your vaccines. Above all, don’t panic – and that goes for governments as well.”