The new omicron Covid variant poses a greater risk to the unvaccinated and there is reason to believe the current vaccines are going to be “quite effective,” a former White House adviser said on Monday.
“What we do know for sure is that this is a dangerous variant for people who have not been vaccinated,” Andy Slavitt told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia”.
“What we need to learn is if the omicron – how it spreads in an environment where the delta is strong,” he said.
Slavitt previously served as a senior advisor to President Joe Biden’s Coronavirus Response Team and headed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services under the Obama administration.
Anecdotal reports suggest that omicron may lead to milder disease compared to other variants, but this may be due to “pre-existing immune responses,” said Dr Jerome Kim, CEO of the International Vaccine Institute .
He told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Monday that a “significant part” of the world had already been vaccinated or infected with Covid-19 at some point before the emergence of omicron.
“The presence of a vaccine or a previous infection … will alleviate any disease that arises,” he said, adding that there are not many people exposed to omicron who have not. been vaccinated or infected previously.
“We really can’t say if it’s actually more serious if it was in a natural environment, or if it’s now less serious due to the presence of pre-existing immune responses,” Kim said.
What we know about the omicron
The omicron strain was first identified by South African scientists and has been detected in several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.
Health experts are concerned about the transmissibility of the omicron variant given its unusual constellation of mutations and its profile that differs from previous worrying variants. Scientists are also trying to determine how effective current vaccines are in protecting people against serious illness from the new strain.
“I think we have good reason to believe that the vaccines are effective, if not as effective, and that with the boosters they will be quite effective,” Slavitt told CNBC. “But pharma is also going back to the drawing board.”
Covid vaccine makers Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have said they are investigating and testing the omicron variant.
Slavitt said it is possible that updated vaccines will be available, if needed, over the next few months before the omicron variant begins to spread significantly.
But the main problem the world is currently facing is vaccine inequity. Information compiled by Our World In Data showed that around 44% of the world’s population was fully vaccinated against Covid-19. But only a small percentage of the population in low-income countries has received at least one dose.
WHO aims to vaccinate 70% of people in all countries by mid-2022. Kim of the International Vaccine Institute said there are inequalities in testing and sequencing for Covid as well, but that ” I hope “that these differences will be resolved over time. He also said it would be important to focus on creating vaccines that can prevent transmission.
Slavitt explained that it’s still too early to say how the omicron will fare against the deadly delta strain.
“We’re getting to a point where we have a variant that replaces the delta that’s not serious or can be easily treated with medication, so it will be a whole new day for this pandemic. We can touch wood that is happening now. , if this is not the case with omicron, it might be the next one, ”he said, adding that such a scenario could potentially turn Covid more into a cold.