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WHO Expresses Hope Worst of Omicron Wave Is Over

The number of deaths remains stable, but the agency is concerned about the impact the variant is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems. Although Omicron may be less severe, for Dr Tedros “the narrative that it is mild is misleading, hurts the overall response and costs more lives.”
Omicron continues to sweep the world, but cases seem to have peaked in some countries, which gives the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) hope that the worst of this latest wave of COVID-19 is over. 

Briefing journalists in Geneva, The Director-General of the World Health Organisation Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said that more than 18 million cases were reported last week, and the pandemic itself is far from over, so no country is out of the woods yet. 

The number of deaths remains stable, but the agency is concerned about the impact the variant is having on already exhausted health workers and overburdened health systems. Although Omicron may be less severe, for Dr Tedros “the narrative that it is mild is misleading, hurts the overall response and costs more lives.” 

Tedros noted that the virus is circulating far too intensely with many still vulnerable and argued that, for many countries, the next few weeks remain critical. He added that although vaccines may be less effective at preventing infection and transmission of Omicron than they were for previous variants, they still are exceptionally good at preventing serious disease and death.” 

“I remain particularly concerned about many countries that have low vaccination rates, as people are many times more at risk of severe illness and death if they’re unvaccinated”, Tedros said but added that he was proud that, the UN-backed COVAX facility had delivered its one-billionth dose of vaccine over the weekend. 

For him, immunization continues to be key to protecting hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Dr Tedros believes that the pandemic is nowhere near over and, with the incredible growth of Omicron, new variants are likely to emerge.

So far, more than 7 million whole-genome sequences from 180 countries have been submitted to GISAID, a global mechanism that provides open access to genomic data and was initially set up to track flu. Using all that data, new formulations of vaccines are being developed and assessed for how they perform against different strains.   Despite those efforts, Tedros is concerned that the world will enter “a second and even more destructive phase of vaccine inequity,” if it doesn’t change course. 

Last Friday, WHO recommended two new COVID-19 treatments to fight severe illness and death; a rheumatoid arthritis drug called baricitinib and a monoclonal antibody called sotrovimab. For Tedros, the challenge, once again, is that high prices and limited supply mean access is limited.  

However, WHO is currently working with its partners in ACT-Accelerator to negotiate lower prices with manufacturers and ensure supply will be available for low- and middle-income countries.