“Seventy-seven 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,” WHO’s Director General Tedros Adhanom announced a media briefing on Wednesday.
Adhanom opened his presentation by underscoring just how fast Omicron is being transmitted and expressed concern over people 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.”
The emergence of Omicron has prompted some countries to roll out booster programmes for their entire adult populations, despite there being sufficient evidence that supports the effectiveness of boosters against this variant.
Adhanom voiced his concern regarding such programmes by noting that this could possibly repeat the vaccine hoarding that took place earlier in this year and exacerbate inequity.
Reiterating his point from his last briefing held some weeks ago, Adhanom reiterated, “WHO is not against boosters. We’re against inequity. Our main concern is to save lives, everywhere. It’s a question of prioritization. Giving boosters to groups at low risk of severe disease or death simply endangers the lives of those at high risk that are still waiting for their primary doses because of supply constraints.”
Adhanom added that 41 countries have still not been able to vaccinate 10% of their populations, and 98 countries have not reached 40%.
In Adhanom’s closing remarks he stressed, “If we end inequity, we end the pandemic. If we allow inequity to continue, we allow the pandemic to continue.”