The new omicron Covid variant poses a greater risk for those who have not been vaccinated and there is reason to believe that the current vaccines will be “quite effective,” a former White House adviser said Monday.
“What we know for sure is that it is a dangerous variant for people who have not been vaccinated,” Andy Slavitt told CNBC.Squawk Box Asia. “
“What we need to learn is whether or not Omicron – how it spreads in an environment where the delta is strong,” he said.
Anecdotal reports suggest that Omicron may cause milder disease compared to other variants, but that could be due to “pre-existing immune responses,” said Dr. Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute.
He told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia on Monday that a “significant part” of the world had been vaccinated or infected with Covid-19 before Omicron even appeared.
“Having a vaccine or previous infection … will mitigate any disease that occurs,” he said, adding that not many people are exposed to Omicron who have not yet been vaccinated or infected.
“We really can’t say if it’s actually more severe in a natural setting or if it’s less severe now because of pre-existing immune responses,” said Kim.
The Omicron strain was first identified by South African scientists and has been proven in several countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany.
Health professionals are concerned on the transferability of the Omicron variant in view of its unusual constellation of mutations and profiles that differ from earlier, worrying variants. Scientists are also trying to find out how effective the current vaccines are in protecting people from serious illnesses due to the new strain.
“I think we have good reason to believe that the vaccines will be effective, if not as effective, and that they will be quite effective with a booster,” Slavitt told CNBC. “But Pharma is also going back to the drawing board.”
Slavitt said it was possible for updated vaccines to become available if needed in the next few months before the Omicron variant begins to meaningfully spread.
However, the main problem the world is facing right now is vaccine inequality. Information compiled by Our World In Data showed that only around 44% of the world’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19. But only a small percentage of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.
WHO has set a goal of vaccinating 70% of people in all countries by mid-2022. Kim of the International Vaccine Institute said there are also inequalities in Covid testing and sequencing, but that such differences would “hopefully” be resolved over time. He also said it was important to focus on developing vaccines that can prevent transmission.
Slavitt stated that it was too early to say how Omicron will fare compared to the deadly Delta Tribe.
“We get to a point where we have a variant to replace Delta that is not severe or easily medicated, then it will be a whole new day for this pandemic. We can knock on wood what happens now if so. ” not with omicron, it might be next, “he said, adding that such a scenario could potentially make Covid more like a cold.