Complete coverage at CTVNews.ca/Coronavirus
Receive the most important updates in your inbox
Track the number of people in Canada who have received doses
GENEVA — COVID-19 vaccines appear to have become slightly less effective in preventing severe disease and death but do provide "significant protection," the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.
The Omicron variant first detected in South Africa and Hong Kong last month has now been reported by 77 countries and is probably present in most worldwide, but should not be dismissed as "mild," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
"Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant," Tedros told an online briefing. "Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems."
"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," he said without giving specifics.
Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine has been less effective in South Africa at keeping people infected with the virus out of hospital since the Omicron variant emerged last month, a real-world study published on Tuesday showed.
Mike Ryan, WHO’s emergencies director, said that the vaccines are not failing and do provide significant protection against severe disease and death.
"The question is how much protection are the current vaccines that we are using, which are currently life-saving against all the variants, and to what extent do we lose any protection against severe illness and death against Omicron. The data is pointing towards there being significant protection."
Ryan said the peak of this wave of infections remains "a number of weeks" away given the very rapid spread of the Omicron variant, which has outpaced the dominant global strain Delta.
Vaccine booster shots can play a role in curbing the spread of COVID-19 as long as people most in need of protection also get access to jabs, Tedros said.
"It’s a question of prioritization. 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," he said.
Tedros noted that the emergence of Omicron had prompted some countries to roll out COVID-19 booster programs for their entire adult populations, even while researchers lack evidence for the efficacy of boosters against this variant.
"WHO is concerned that such programs will repeat the vaccine hoarding we saw this year, and exacerbate inequity," he said.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; writing by Michael Shields; editing by Gareth Jones, Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich
People queue for their vaccination at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Tracking every case of COVID-19 in Canada
Tracking variants of the novel coronavirus in Canada
Feds advise against non-essential international travel amid Omicron case surge
U.S. leads world at 800K COVID-19 deaths. Here’s how Canada ranks
Canada to advise citizens against non-essential international travel due to Omicron variant
CIBC, National Bank ask employees to work remotely as Omicron worries grow
U.K. reports record daily COVID-19 cases with Omicron spreading rapidly
Omicron variant spreading at an unprecedented rate, WHO warns
Alberta expands availability of rapid tests; eases restrictions for holidays amid Omicron variant
5 key takeaways: Real-world Omicron data show level of vaccine efficacy
Quebecers should go back to working from home as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations rise: health minister
Rapid tests can be used for added protection over holidays, but experts warn they aren’t perfect
Coronavirus vaccination tracker: How many people in Canada have received shots?
Full coverage at CTVNews.ca/Coronavirus
© 2020All rights reserved.
Surviving The 2nd Wave of Corona
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort