Omicron spreading at rate not seen with any other COVID-19 variant, WHO says – Global News

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Vaccine booster shots can play a role in curbing the spread of COVID-19 as long as people most in need of protection also get access to jabs, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
“It’s a question of prioritization. The order matters. Giving boosters to groups at low risk of severe disease or death simply endangers the lives of those at high risk who are still waiting for their primary doses because of supply constraints,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told an online briefing.
Read more: Omicron COVID-19 variant showing milder symptoms than Delta, say South African doctors
“On the other hand, giving additional doses to people at high risk can save more lives than giving primary doses to those at low risk.”
He noted that the emergence of the Omicron variant had prompted some countries to roll out COVID-19 booster programs for their entire adult populations even while researchers lack evidence for the effectiveness of boosters against this variant.
Tedros said 77 countries had now reported cases of Omicron, “and the reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet. Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” he said.
The WHO was concerned that people were dismissing Omicron as “mild.”
“Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril. Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems,” he said.
Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, said the peak of this wave of infections was still “a number of weeks” away given the very rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
WHO vaccines expert Kate O’Brien said unvaccinated people had to be the priority as they were putting pressure on health care systems.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru, Writing by Michael Shields; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)
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