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WHO says omicron has not spread widely among vulnerable, severity unclear


An advertisement for Covid-19 at Cape Town International Airport (Cape Town, South Africa) on Friday December 3, 2021.

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Wednesday’s warning by the World Health Organization was that omicron is not spreading widely to populations most at-risk. This makes it hard for the WHO to assess whether the Covid variant of the virus may be less dangerous than the previous ones.

The WHO’s Covid incident manager, Dr. Abdi Mahamud said that data from South Africa suggests that omicron can cause milder illnesses. However, younger patients have been more likely to contract the variant than older people who are less susceptible to Covid.

Although we all desire this disease to be more mild, the affected population is younger. How it behaves in the elderly population, the vulnerable — we don’t know yet,” Mahamud said during a press briefing in Geneva.

Mahamud stated that it was too soon to know how the omicron virus affects older people, patients with underlying conditions and those not vaccinated. We are optimistic but we should not over-interpret the South African data.

Mike Ryan, the executive director for WHO’s health emergencies program noted that many people in South Africa are immune to prior infections. These antibodies may provide some immunity protection. Omicron might appear milder in populations that do not have prior infections.

Ryan noted that hospitalizations in Europe are on the rise, though it’s not known if this is due to omicrons or delta. Ryan stated that omicron slowly moves into older age groups and there will be more information soon about how this is affecting those individuals.

Ryan explained that Ryan has yet to see the Omicron Wave fully establish in the larger population. I’m not confident in making positive predictions, until we know how the vaccine protects older populations and those who are more at risk.

Ryan agreed with many public health officials who warned that Omicron spreads very quickly and can cause high numbers of hospitalizations. Omicron is faster than other Covid variants, according to the WHO.

Ryan explained that Ryan was not sure how Ryan’s prediction would turn out. “It’s crucial to stop transmission of either variants of this virus in the next weeks until we determine the effects on the older, more vulnerable population.”

South African scientists studied the hospital admissions of a major hospital in Tshwane and found that omicron causes less severe diseases than other waves of infections.

At the hospital, Covid deaths were at 4.5% in omicron. This was compared to 21.3% for past waves. In addition to that, admissions to intensive-care units increased by 1% to omicron from 4.3% for past waves. About 45% of Covid ward patients needed supplemental oxygen in omicron. That’s compared to 99.5% of those who were infected in South Africa’s first wave.

Anthony Fauci (White House chief medical adviser) stated Wednesday that there are no indications suggesting that the omicron variant causes more severe diseases than its delta counterpart. Fauci advised against complacency. He noted that it was not known how omicron would impact different countries, including the United States.