WHO: Omicron may be less severe in young and old, but it is not 'mild'


WHO: Omicron may be less severe in young and old, but it is not 'mild'

 World Health Organization officials said Thursday that the most contagious Omicron type of COVID-19 appears to be producing less severe disease than the globally prevalent Delta strain, but that it should not be classified as "mild."

In November, Janet Diaz, WHO's head of clinical management, early studies showed a lower risk of hospitalizations of the type first identified in South Africa and Hong Kong than in the Delta.

There also appears to be a reduced risk of acute illness in both the young and the elderly, she said at a briefing from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The observations of a lower risk of acute disease are consistent with other data, including South Africa and England studies. 

The effect on the elderly is one of the big unanswered questions about the new alternative since most of the cases studied to date have been in younger people.

"While Omicron appears to be less dangerous compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the same press conference in Geneva.

"Just like previous variants, Omicron is getting people into hospitals, and it is killing people."

He warned of a "tsunami" of cases with global infections soaring to record levels fueled by both Omicron and Delta, health care systems overwhelmed, and governments struggling to tame the virus that killed more than 5.8 million people.

Tedros has reiterated his call for more significant global equity in the distribution and access of vaccines.

Tedros added that based on the current rate of vaccine rollout, 109 countries would miss the WHO's goal of having 70% of the world's population fully vaccinated by July. This goal is seen as helping end the acute phase of the epidemic.

"Boost by boost in a small number of countries will not end the epidemic while billions remain completely unprotected," he said.

WHO adviser Bruce Aylward said 36 countries had not reached the 10 percent vaccination coverage level. He added that among acute patients worldwide, 80% were not immunized.

Thursday, the World Health Organization said cases increased by 71%, or 9.5 million, in the week ending January 2, from the previous week, while deaths decreased by 10%, or 41 thousand.

Another variant, B.1.640 - first documented in several countries in September 2021 - is among those that are monitored by the WHO but not in widespread circulation, said Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19.

There are two other, more critical categories used by the World Health Organization to track variants https://www.who.int/en/activities/tracking-SARS-CoV-2-variants: 'variant of concern,' which includes Delta and Omicron, and 'variant of concern' interest".

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