The World Health Organization says the omicron variant of the coronavirus could change the course of the pandemic. It urges countries to immunize as quickly as possible and take measures to protect people from infection.
“We can prevent omicrons from becoming a global crisis,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at Wednesday’s briefing. “This virus is changing, but our collective resolve is not.”
The organization also said that while there is early evidence that omicrons are milder than the delta strain, it is still too early to be definitive.
“Certain characteristics of the omicron, including its global spread and large number of mutations, suggest that it can have a major impact on the course of a pandemic,” said Tedros.
When asked about a new study from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE about how their vaccine works against omicrons, Kate O’Brien, director of immunizations and vaccines, said WHO is aware of and will review the findings.
“We are still in the middle of a pandemic in the delta, so vaccination with existing vaccines continues to be a top priority,” she said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech said initial laboratory studies suggest a third dose of their vaccine may be needed to neutralize the omicron variant, an analysis that would accelerate injections. repeated around the world.
WHO has been pushing countries to stop using boosters to make more vaccines available to poorer countries where vaccination rates are low. But governments may be less likely to do that if evidence from trials continues to show that a third shot is needed to protect against omicrons.
Currently, this variant has spread to 57 countries and it appears to be more contagious than previous strains of the virus. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies programme, said that while omicrons appear to be more transmissible than delta, “that doesn’t mean the virus is unstoppable.”