WHO cautions against underestimating Omicron as 'mild', decries vaccine inequity

WION Web Team
Geneva, Switzerland Published: Jan 07, 2022, 08:47 AM(IST)

Using his first speech of 2022, Tedros condemned the way wealthy nations hoarded vaccine doses last year. He said it had created the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of virus variants. To stop the "death and destruction" of COVID-19, he urged the world in 2022 to share out vaccine doses more fairly. Photograph:( WION Web Team )

Story highlights

Nearly 9.5 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported to the WHO last week, which is a record 71 per cent increase from the previous week

World Health Organization says that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is killing people around the world, and should not be disregarded as mild.

According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO chief, hospitals are overburdened by the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant, which is rapidly outcompeting the Delta variant in many countries.

Also read | Research model predicts Omicron is not done evolving, it can further evolve to increase transmission

"While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorised as mild," Tedros told a press conference.

"Just like previous variants, Omicron is hospitalising people and it is killing people," he explained. "In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world."

Nearly 9.5 million new cases of COVID-19 were reported to the WHO last week, which is a record 71 per cent increase from the previous week.

However, even this was an underestimate, Tedros said since it did not include the backlog of testing around the Christmas and New Year holidays, positive tests that were not registered, and overburdened surveillance systems that missed cases.

Also read | 'Vaccine sceptic' Bolsonaro criticises health regulator, dismisses vaccinating children

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead for COVID-19, said it was "very unlikely" that Omicron would be the last variant of concern before the pandemic ended.

In the face of the more transmissible Omicron variant, Van Kerkhove encouraged the general public to step up the measures they were already taking for their own protection.

"Do everything that we have been advising better, more comprehensively, more purposefully," she said. "We need people to hang in there and really fight."

She said she was amazed at how sloppily some people wore facemasks.

"It needs to cover your nose and mouth... wearing a mask below your chin is useless," she said.

Using his first speech of 2022, Tedros condemned the way wealthy nations hoarded vaccine doses last year. He said it had created the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of virus variants. To stop the "death and destruction" of COVID-19, he urged the world in 2022 to share out vaccine doses more fairly.

Also read | Child in Los Angeles detected with 'flurona'; what are the symptoms?

Tedros had hoped to have 10 per cent of every country's population vaccinated by September 2021 and 40 per cent by December 2021.

As per WHO estimates 92 of its 194 members missed the target set for the end of 2021, and 36 did not even vaccinate the first 10 per cent due to lack of access to vaccines.

Now, he wants 70 per cent of people in each country to be jabbed by mid-2022. However, 109 countries will miss the target due to the current pace of vaccine deployment.

"Vaccine inequity is a killer of people and jobs and it undermines a global economic recovery," said Tedros.

"Booster after booster in a small number of countries will not end a pandemic while billions remain completely unprotected."

Watch | WHO: Dismissing the Omicron variant as a mild infection will be a monumental mistake

Bruce Aylward, the WHO's lead on accessing coronavirus tools, said that there was "no need to finish 2022 in a pandemic".

Michael Ryan, WHO's director of emergencies, however, said that without vaccine equity, "we will be sitting here at the end of 2022 having somewhat the same conversation, which, in itself, would be a great tragedy".

(With inputs from agencies)

Read in App