By Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – The Ômicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading faster than the Delta variant and causing infections in people already vaccinated or recovering from Covid-19, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday. market.
“There is now consistent evidence that Ômicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference for journalists in Geneva at its new headquarters.
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“And it’s more likely that people vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 could be infected or reinfected,” Tedros said.
WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, said the variant is successfully preventing certain immune responses, meaning that booster campaigns being launched in many countries should target people with weaker immune systems.
Ômicron appears to be better at preventing antibodies generated by some Covid-19 vaccines, but there are other forms of immunity that can prevent infections and disease, WHO officials said.
“We don’t believe that all vaccines will become completely ineffective,” said Swaminathan.
WHO expert Abdi Mahamud added: “Although we are seeing a reduction in neutralizing antibodies, almost all the data show that the T cells remain intact, this is what we really need.”
Although the antibody defense of some vaccine schemes has been undermined, there is hope that T cells, the second pillar of an immune response, can prevent severe cases of the disease by attacking infected human cells.
Swaminathan, referring to a treatment for people with the disease, said: “Of course there is a challenge, many of the monoclonals don’t work with Ômicron.” She didn’t give details.
But the WHO team also offered some hope that 2022 will be the year the pandemic, which has killed more than 5.6 million people worldwide, ends.
“(We) hope to turn this disease into a relatively mild disease that is easily preventable, that is easily treated… and able to easily deal with this disease in the future,” said Mike Ryan, WHO’s lead emergency specialist at the briefing.
“If we can keep virus transmission to a (low) minimum, we can end the pandemic.”
However, Tedros also said that China, the region where the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, has to provide data and information regarding its origin to help in the future response to the disease.
“We need to continue until we know the origins, we need to try harder because we have to learn from what happened this time to (do) better in the future,” said Tedros.
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