MISE À DAY
The COVID-19 pandemic “is far from over,” the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday, warning against the idea that the variant Omicron is benign.
“Omicron continues to sweep the planet. (…) Make no mistake, Omicron causes hospitalizations and deaths, and even the least serious cases overwhelm healthcare establishments,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva (Switzerland).
“This pandemic is far from over and given the incredible growth of Omicron around the world, it is likely that new variants will emerge,” he added.
On January 11, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) estimated that although the disease is still in the pandemic phase, the spread of the Omicron variant would turn COVID-19 into an endemic disease that humanity can learn to live with.
“As immunity increases in the population – and with Omicron there will be a lot of natural immunity in addition to vaccination – we will move quickly towards a scenario that will be closer to endemicity,” said Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy at the EMA, based in Amsterdam.
- Listen to Benoît Dutrizac's interview with virologist Benoît Barbeau on QUB radio:
In Switzerland, the Minister of Health Alain Berset also estimated last week that the Omicron variant could be ” the beginning of the end” of the pandemic.
But the head of the WHO is much more cautious, and once again underlined that the Omicron variant is not benign.
“In some countries, Covid cases appear to have peaked, giving hope that the worst of this latest wave is over, but no country is out of the woods yet,” he told reporters on Tuesday. media.
He expressed particular concern that many countries have low Covid vaccination rates: “People are more at risk of suffering from severe forms of the disease or die if they are not vaccinated”.
“Omicron may be less severe on average, but the narrative that it is a mild disease is misleading (and) harms the overall response and costs more lives,” Dr Tedros said. p>
Not to 'give up'
He felt that “now is not the time to give up and wave the white flag” , because it is still “possible to significantly reduce the impact of the current wave” thanks to public health measures and vaccines.
Because, he said, “Vaccines may be less effective in preventing Omicron infection, and its transmission, than they were against previous variants, but they are still exceptionally effective in preventing severe forms of the disease and deaths”.
Last week, the WHO Technical Advisory Group on the composition of Covid vaccines considered that “it would be good” to develop vaccines which, in addition to preventing severe forms of the disease and deaths , have a marked impact on the prevention of infections and on transmission.
Until these vaccines become available, these experts call for an update of the composition of current vaccines “to ensure that they continue to offer the levels of protection recommended by the WHO”, including against Omicron and future variants.
On Tuesday, Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at WHO, stressed that one should not wait for Omicron-specific vaccines to be on the market to get vaccinated, because current vaccines are “effective”.
“Granted, having specific vaccines against variants is one approach, but a better approach might be to have polyvalent vaccines,” she said.
Beside her, Michael Ryan, WHO's health emergencies officer, for his part, pointed out that it was difficult to compare national strategies.
But, he said, “I would prefer to far from being in a situation where the vast majority of the population has never been infected with Covid and is now achieving high levels of vaccine protection”