World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan on Monday said that compared to the delta variant of Covid-19, reinfections in the omicron variant — 90 days after the virus first strikes — are three times more common.
Speaking exclusively to CNBC-TV18, Dr Swaminathan said that while data on the virulence and transmissibility on variants would take time, what scientists know at present is that Omicron is a dominant strain in South Africa.
“Reinfections 90 days after infection are three times more common in Omicron compared to Delta. (These are) early days to decipher the clinical features of Omicron infection. There is a lag between the rise in cases and the rise in hospitalisation. We must wait for two to three weeks to study hospitalisation rates to know how severe this disease is,” she said, adding: “Cases in South Africa are rising fast with Omicron variant. Reports show that more children are getting infected by this strain in that country. South Africa is also testing more.”
Dr Swaminathan pointed out that not many vaccines are available for children currently and only a handful of countries have started vaccinations for kids and warned at a potential rise in cases due to it.
“Not many vaccines available for children and very few countries vaccinating children. Children and the unvaccinated may get more infections when cases rise. We are still waiting for data to conclude omicron variant’s impact on children,” she said.
“We need to take a comprehensive and science-based approach on vaccination. It is the same virus we are dealing with and hence measures to protect it will be the same. If we need a variant vaccine, it will depends on how much ‘immune escape’ the variant has,” she added.
All countries, she said, must study the vaccine data by age and region to assess those who have been missed and a “priority should be to vaccinate all those aged above 18 years to reduce transmission”.
Big data from the US has shown that vaccines continue to have strong protection against death, she said. “There is inequity in vaccine coverage globally. The WHO’s Covax facility has a large advance purchase order for Covishield so the Covishield supplies for WHO’s Covax facility will increase now. Its Covax facility has a contract for Covovax as well.”
The WHO’s SAGE Committee will meet on 16 December to assess Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for Covovax.
As many as 25 countries, Dr Swaminathan said, are struggling with a low vaccine coverage.
“The European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are also assessing the Novavax vaccine this month. (We) have requested the vaccine manufacturers to provide visibility on vaccine supplies. The manufacturers have in past prioritised other orders over Covax and hence the they need prior visibility on supplies,” she said.
“We want more data sharing in a pandemic and we need to support countries that are disclosing variants and data. We need a coordinated agreement among countries to not put knee jerk reactions,” she said.