Omicron appears to have a higher reinfection rate, but cause less severe symptoms, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Wednesday, December 8, while the Pfizer and BioNTech laboratories have ensured that their vaccine against Covid-19 was “still effective” after three doses against this variant.
“Preliminary data from South Africa suggests a risk of reinfection” of people cured of the disease or vaccinated “higher with Omicron, but more data is needed” to draw firmer conclusions, the boss of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “There is also some evidence that Omicron causes less severe symptoms than Delta – currently the most common variant – but again it is too early to be certain,” he added.
Pfizer and BioNTech for their part insisted on the effectiveness of their current vaccine against the Omicron variant. These announcements were preceded by those of senior scientists from the WHO and the White House, according to which the existing vaccines against Covid-19 remain a priori relevant to this variant, including the recent discovery in South Africa. arouses a wave of panic.
The American virologist Angela Rasmussen estimated that the first data published by Pfizer and other independent studies were “at least encouraging”. “A third dose will reduce the risk of infection occurring in those vaccinated,” she told Agence France-Presse. However, she urged caution, antibody levels, the only ones measured here, not being the only way to counter the disease. Thus, “the question that cannot be answered yet is the impact on the severity of the disease” caused by Omicron, she stressed.
A variant “not sufficiently neutralized after two doses”
The first results, very partial, of a study also temper this displayed optimism. According to the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), a South African organization which sponsored one of the first studies on resistance to Omicron vaccines, it “partly escapes the immunity conferred” by the Pfizer vaccine. . Dr Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergency officer, stressed that it was at the very beginning of studies of a variant which was only detected on November 24 by the South African authorities, and which has since been spotted in dozens of countries.
“The general behavior that we are seeing so far shows no increase in severity (of the disease). In fact, some places in southern Africa are reporting milder symptoms, ”said Dr. Ryan, like what had said a little earlier to Agence France-Presse Anthony Fauci, the advisor of the White House in this area. Omicron is, however, “clearly highly transmissible”, possibly more so than Delta, admitted Dr Fauci.
It is also “probably not sufficiently neutralized after two doses”, admitted Wednesday the groups Pfizer and BioNTech. But “the vaccine is still effective against Covid-19 […] if it has been administered three times, ”they said, based on unpublished studies. The two laboratories have nevertheless indicated that they would “continue to develop a specific vaccine” against Omicron, hoping “to make it available by March in case an adaptation is necessary”.
Numerous restrictive measures across Europe
Either way, forced vaccination is never acceptable, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned on Wednesday. “Under no circumstances should people be forcibly vaccinated, even if a person’s refusal to comply with a vaccination obligation may have legal consequences, such as an appropriate fine,” said Michelle Bachelet in a video message.
AstraZeneca, for its part, obtained on Wednesday an authorization from the American health authorities for its synthetic antibodies intended for certain individuals who react badly to vaccines for medical reasons, in order to protect them against Covid-19 even before any exposure to the virus. This is the first time that the United States Medicines Agency (FDA) has authorized such a pure prevention treatment as an emergency. But this is not “a substitute for vaccination,” she warned.
In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a tightening of restrictions to stop the spread of Omicron, including the return to telework on Monday and the introduction of the vaccine passport in some places. English football clubs are not spared, raising fears of further disruption in European competitions. Tottenham, with eight players and five staff tested positive, announced the cancellation of the match against Rennes in the Europa League Conference, while Leicester move to Napoli in the Europa League without seven of their players, “some of whom have had a test positive for Covid, ”according to trainer Brendan Rodgers.
Norway will for its part strengthen from Thursday and for four weeks its health measures, with in particular a limited number of people for home events, including Christmas celebrations. The Danish government has also decided on new restrictions. The Christmas school holidays have been extended by four days, teleworking will have to be set up where possible and from December 10, bars and restaurants, where wearing a mask is compulsory again, will have to close at midnight.
In Poland, whose vaccination rate is one of the lowest in the EU, the Warsaw city hall said on Wednesday that its hospitals were running out of ventilators for Covid-19 patients. In Austria, the famous Opera ball scheduled for February 24 in Vienna has been canceled for the second year in a row because of the epidemic.
Consult our file: Covid and variants: all you need to know