WHO fears vaccines could be less effective against new variant
Nurse Carolina administers a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 to a fellow nurse on the first day of a new vaccination center in Lisbon, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. Long lines formed at the Portuguese capital's largest vaccination center to date as authorities there tried to encourage the 2% of the population who are not vaccinated yet, Europe's lowest rate, and to speed up the administration of booster shots. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged that antiviral vaccines could be less effective against the new Omicron variant but insisted that there should be no cause for alarm, clarifying that they would continue to protect against severe forms of the disease.
In its weekly epidemiological report, WHO, which has so far received notifications of cases of the new variant from 23 countries, indicates that some omicron mutations “could increase its ability to transmit and/or show some degree of resistance to immunity.”
In other words, it is believed that existing vaccines – which may also be modified in the coming months to accommodate the omicron variant – may be less effective in preventing the simple transmission of COVID-19.
This has already happened with the delta variant. Since it has become dominant globally (more than 99% of current global cases), it has reduced protection against infection from 60 to 40%, as indicated last week by the WHO.
According to the same WHO report, the vaccines appear to maintain their efficacy against severe forms of the disease, even in those infected with the omicron variant. However, the organization clarifies that the data are limited due to the relatively low number of omicron cases studied.
Given these preliminary data, the head of WHO’s antiviral technical cell, Maria Van Kerkhove, stressed at a press conference that it remains essential that everyone who has access to vaccines against COVID-19 should be vaccinated.
It should be noted, however, that there is another theory among noted vaccinologists and epidemiologists that the omicron variant causes mild symptoms, and trying to vaccinate against it could cause more virulent strains to emerge.
If it is found to be mild, the omicron variant could be the key to herd immunity.