WHO Warns Against Underestimating the Omicron Threat
(Bloomberg) -- The World Health Organization is concerned that the omicron variant is being dismissed as mild, even as it spreads at a faster rate than any previous strain of Covid-19.
The recently detected variant has been reported in some 77 nations, though it’s probably in most countries already, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“We’re concerned that people are jumping to a conclusion that this is a mild disease,” Bruce Aylward, senior adviser at the WHO, told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday. “A more transmissible virus can do just as much damage -- or more -- than one which is more severe but less transmissible.”
The combination of increased socializing over the holidays and a strain that’s more easily passed around can lead to “very dangerous situations,” he added.
The emergence of omicron, with its large number of mutations, has scientists around the world racing to track its progress and to determine whether the strain can evade current vaccines, is more transmissible than previous variants or causes less severe illness.
The vaccines by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, as well Johnson & Johnson, appear to largely prevent severe disease from omicron, South African studies show. The two-shot Pfizer course may offer 70% protection against being hospitalized with the variant.
Early observations have shown that most patients don’t need oxygen or intensive treatment for the illness, though more studies are underway to better gauge omicron’s risk.
“Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril,” Tedros said.
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