Cairo, 30 January 2022 – With the rapid spread of Omicron causing sharp increases in cases worldwide and leaving health systems overwhelmed, WHO urges for broader access to available COVID-19 vaccination in low coverage countries, prioritizing groups at higher risk of severe disease and death.
Weeks since its declaration as a variant of concern (VOC), the highly transmissible Omicron is now reported by almost every country in the world. While the Omicron VOC generally causes less severe disease compared to the Delta VOC, it can still lead to hospitalization and death, particularly in those who are unvaccinated.
Although millions of people have become affected by this latest VOC worldwide, there is still the good news that vaccines which have received WHO Emergency Use Listing provide a high level of protection against severe disease and death caused by Omicron, as they did with previous VOCs. Indeed, reports on deaths and hospitalization rates due to Omicron remain relatively stable in countries where vaccination rates are high.
As breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from a previous infection are common with Omicron, WHO also recommends booster doses as coverage with primary series vaccination increases gradually for priority groups – from highest to lowest risk – to maximize impact.
The current focus must remain on reducing transmission, increasing vaccine coverage, preventing severe disease and death, and protecting health systems.
Although the goal is for every country to have vaccinated 70% of its population by mid-2022, 123 out of 194 WHO Member States (63.4%) had not