Vaccines 'very likely' to protect against severe disease and death with Omicron variant

Dr Catherine Smallwood said that while there may be a loss of protection against infection, it was still unknown how great that loss will be
Vaccines 'very likely' to protect against severe disease and death with Omicron variant

Olivia Kelleher

People who are vaccinated against Covid-19 will still have sufficient protection against severe disease and death even with the arrival of the Omicron variant, a senior emergency officer from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

Dr Catherine Smallwood said that while there may be a loss in terms of protection against infection with Covid-19 with the new variant, it was still unknown how great that loss will be.

"But it is very likely that people who have had their vaccinations will still be given sufficient protection against severe disease and death," she told the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk.

Dr Smallwood emphasised that protecting the vulnerable, who are most at risk of severe Covid-19 disease, and vaccine equity were both equally important.

There has been close to half a million people who have had their lives saved through vaccination

"What we want to do as the WHO is protect around the world all those who have a risk of severe disease from Covid-19. Whether they be in Mozambique, whether they be in Ireland, or here in Copenhagen where I am. That is our fundamental purpose," she said.

"That will really mean that we avert people dying from Covid-19. And in Europe we know that has worked because we have a study which we have released a week or so ago, that shows between December last year and November this year, [the] WHO and the ECDC have shown that there has been close to half a million people who have had their lives saved through vaccination."

Vaccine equity

Dr Smallwood said that in Ireland alone this year, the lives of over 9,000 people have been saved through the Covid-19 vaccine.

"This is really important and this needs to continue. But of course we have to ensure that this is in place around the world," she said.

"We really want to put higher attention on equity, not only because it means that people around the world will have their lives saved, but it also means that it lessens the chances of rampant transmission leading to new variants that might come back to bite us."

She added the big issue at this juncture is whether the Omicron variant will outcompete the Delta variant.

"We haven't seen yet Omicron spread in a context of high intensity and transmission which we are currently seeing in Europe. And in Europe we have Delta, which is the dominant strain. We don't [know] how Omicron will evolve in terms of its spread," she said.

"We don't know yet that it is more transmissible than Delta. Certainly it is easily caught and very infectious. I don't know if we can say for sure yet about how it will outcompete Delta or not. There is a possibility of higher transmissibility."

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