By Isabel Saco
Geneva, Dec 20 (EFE).- The World Health Organization on Monday confirmed that there is robust evidence that people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or who have been infected in the past can contract the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is quickly spreading around the world.
At a press conference exclusively for the international press in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the information that is being analyzed on Omicron indicates that “There is now consistent evidence that Omicron is spreading significantly faster” than the Delta variant, and it is more likely people vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 could be infected or re-infected.
The top WHO official called on everyone to be aware of this situation during the upcoming yearend holiday season, saying that it is better to cancel celebrations and gatherings now and “celebrate life tomorrow” than to celebrate today and “be mourning tomorrow.”
He said that the situation is “very serious” and that WHO is very concerned about Omicron, adding that the reports showing that the variant causes a more moderate infection than the Delta variant – which is, for now, the predominant strain worldwide – may not be representative.
Thus, he called on governments to take the maximum precautions in the coming weeks and avoid large-scale in-person gatherings that could become “super-spreader” events for the virus.
Dec. 31 will mark the two-year point since the WHO received the first notification of an unknown type of pneumonia detected in China which was found to be caused by a new coronavirus that, to date, has killed 5.5 million people around the world, according to official figures, and infected 272 million people.
In terms of infections and deaths, the second year of the pandemic was worse than the first, given that over the past 12 months there were 3.3 million deaths, exceeding the number of people who died worldwide from malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, put together.
Tedros said that if the world wants to end the pandemic’s acute phase in 2022 it should resolve the problem of inequality in nations’ access to the tools needed to quell the disease, including vaccines, diagnostic tests and treatments.
He said that the common objective for mid-year 2022 should be to get 70 percent of the world’s population vaccinated, a target that had originally been set for the end of 2021, but which has not been attained.
WHO experts said that they are not against administering booster shots for Covid and they do not deny the beneficial role that they play in increasing protection against the virus from those who receive them, but they noted that the decision of rich countries to offer them to their entire adult populations works against giving the at-risk groups in poor countries access to the vaccines.
Some 80 percent of the people recently hospitalized with Covid are people who have been vaccinated, according to figures compiled by the WHO on the international level.
How often people should be vaccinated against Covid is one of the key questions at this stage of the pandemic which the WHO cannot answer, although it has said that this depends on a series of factors, including the type of vaccine, since various vaccines differ slightly in their effectiveness against the disease.
Other factors will be the characteristics of future variants that will appear and the individual factors of patients (such as age, underlying health problems and the status of their immune systems).
Studies continue to show that there is a reduction in immunity among people who have been vaccinated after about six months.
At present, WHO is thinking that booster shots should be given only to people with weak immune systems and to the elderly, the health organization’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said.
Omicron has surprised scientists, among other reasons, because it was not thought that a variant more transmissible than Delta could appear, thus showing that “this virus is unpredictable,” she said, adding that nobody can predict what future variants will be like but it is certain that the virus will continue evolving and thus the only way to short-circuit the pandemic is to halt or limit transmission.
Tedros also said that China, where the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, must be more transparent with data and information on the virus’s origin to aid the world’s response to it.
“We need to continue until we know the origins, we need to push harder because we should learn from what happened this time in order to (do) better in the future,” Tedros said.