According to scientists in the United States and those over at the World Health Organization, the omicron variant of the coronavirus is no worse than other COVID-19 strains. However, they did go on to caution that more research is needed in order to truly judge the severity of the illness.
This hopeful assessment, which, to be honest, is quite uncommon coming from WHO these days, comes about as concern over the new variant continues to grow, leading a number of countries to once again impose border restrictions and to consider the possibility of lockdowns that could crush their economies.
“In fact, if anything, the direction is towards less severity,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan went on to stated during an interview on Tuesday, still insisting that more research was necessary.
Ryan then remarked that it was “highly unlikely” that the omicron variant could fully sidestep protections that were provided by the current crop of COVID vaccines.
“We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalization… There’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t be so” for omicron, he added, pointing to initial data from South Africa, where the strain was first reported.
However, Ryan acknowledged that it was possible that existing vaccines might prove less effective against omicron, which counts more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that dots the surface of the coronavirus and allows it to invade cells.
Top US scientist Anthony Fauci echoed the WHO’s view, saying omicron did not appear worse than prior strains based on early indications — and was possibly milder.
The new variant is “clearly highly transmissible,” very likely more so than delta, the current dominant global strain, Fauci told AFP.
“It almost certainly is not more severe than delta,” he commented. “There is some suggestion that it might even be less severe.”
He then noted that it’s important not to “over-interpret” the information because the populations that are currently being followed tended to skew young and were therefore less likely to be hospitalized from the illness. Severe illness can also take up to several weeks to fully develop.
“Then, as we get more infections throughout the rest of the world, it might take longer to see what’s the level of severity,” he added.