The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a warning about the new coronavirus variant Omicron, which is spreading at an unprecedented rate around the world.
There have been confirmed cases of the heavily mutated variant in 77 countries.
However, at a press conference, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that it was most likely present in many others that had yet to be detected.
Dr. Tedros expressed concern that not enough was being done to combat the variant.
“We must have realized by now that we ignore this virus at our peril. Even if Omicron causes less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could overwhelm underprepared health-care systems once again “He stated.
The Omicron variant was discovered in South Africa in November, and the country has seen an increase in infections since then. President Cyril Ramaphosa tested positive for Covid-19 and is currently being isolated due to mild symptoms.
Following the emergence of Omicron, a number of countries imposed travel bans affecting South Africa and its neighbors, but this has not prevented it from spreading around the world.
Dr Tedros reiterated his concerns about vaccine inequity during a press conference on Tuesday, as some countries accelerate the rollout of a booster shot in response to Omicron.
Recent research on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine found that it produced far fewer neutralizing antibodies against Omicron than the original strain, but that this deficit could be corrected with a third, booster, jab.
Dr. Tedros stated that boosters “could play an important role” in limiting the spread of Covid-19, but that it was “a matter of prioritization.”
“The order is important. Giving boosters to groups at low risk of severe disease or death jeopardizes the lives of those at high risk who are still waiting for their primary doses due to supply constraints “He stated.
In recent months, supplies to the global vaccine-sharing program Covax have increased.
However, world health officials are concerned that a shortage of tens of millions of doses, similar to the one that occurred in the middle of this year when India suspended vaccine exports, could occur again.
Some vulnerable people in poorer countries have yet to receive a single dose.