Omicron is Spreading at a Rate We have Not Seen Before

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Taking Omicron Lightly is Not an Option

  • 77 countries have now reported cases of Omicron, and the reality is that Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet. Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.
  • Let me be very clear: WHO is not against boosters. We’re against inequity. Our main concern is to save lives, everywhere. It’s really quite simple: the priority in every country, and globally, must be to protect the least protected, not the most protected.
  •  There remains a vast gap in rates of vaccination between countries. 41 countries have still not been able to vaccinate 10% of their populations, and 98 countries have not reached 40%. If we end inequity, we end the pandemic. If we allow inequity to continue, we allow the pandemic to continue.
GENEVA – COVID-19 Update – The World Health Organization (WHO) reported today that 77 countries have 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.

We’re concerned that people are 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.

I need to be very clear: vaccines alone will not get any country out of this crisis.

Countries can – and must – prevent the spread of Omicron with measures that work today.

It’s not vaccines instead of masks.

It’s not vaccines instead of distancing.

It’s not vaccines instead of ventilation or hand hygiene.

Do it all. Do it consistently. Do it well.

Vaccines are tools that have the greatest impact when they are used to protect those who are most at risk, in all countries.

In the past 10 weeks, COVAX has shipped more vaccines than in the first 9 months of the year combined.

Most countries are using vaccines as fast as they get them.

A small group of countries are facing challenges rolling out vaccines and scaling up rapidly, and WHO and our partners are working closely with those countries to overcome bottlenecks.

Although we expect further improvements in supply, there are no guarantees, and the hard-won gains we have made are fragile.

We continue to call on donors and manufacturers to put COVAX and AVAT first.

At the same time, evolving evidence suggests a small decline in the effectiveness of vaccines against severe disease and death, and a decline in preventing mild disease or infection.

The emergence of Omicron has prompted some countries to roll out booster programmes for their entire adult populations, even while we lack evidence for the effectiveness of boosters against this variant.

WHO is concerned that such programmes will repeat the vaccine hoarding we saw this year, and exacerbate inequity.

It’s clear that as we move forward, boosters could play an important role, especially for those at highest risk of severe disease death.

Let me be very clear: WHO is not against boosters. We’re against inequity. Our main concern is to save lives, everywhere.

It’s a question of prioritization. Who gets what vaccines, in what order?

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.

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.

Together, we will save the most lives by making sure health workers, older people and other at-risk groups receive their primary doses of vaccines.

In most countries, those being hospitalized and dying are those who have not been vaccinated. So the priority must be to vaccinate the unvaccinated, even in countries with most access to vaccines.

It’s really quite simple: the priority in every country, and globally, must be to protect the least protected, not the most protected.

There remains a vast gap in rates of vaccination between countries.

41 countries have still not been able to vaccinate 10% of their populations, and 98 countries have not reached 40%.

We also see significant inequities between population groups in the same country.

If we end inequity, we end the pandemic. If we allow inequity to continue, we allow the pandemic to continue.

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