Preliminary evidence on Omicron suggests “higher transmissibility”, WHO Regional Director for South East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal told NDTV today, adding that “regardless of the change in severity, increase in cases alone may pose overwhelming demand on healthcare systems and may lead to an increase in mortality.”
On a question being asked repeatedly – “do the current vaccines work on Omicron?” – Dr Khetrapal said, “While studies are going on, in view of multiple mutations in Omicron, it is reasonable to assume that the current vaccines offer protection against severe diseases and death.”
Priority should be given to populations at higher risk, including adults, healthcare workers, and those with underlying conditions, she noted.
With Omicron cases being reported among those vaccinated too, Dr Khetrapal said, “It is important to know that while vaccines prevent your chance of being infected… they don’t completely block it. This is true for all variants.”
As the debate on the need for booster doses continues to rage, she said, “Moderately and severely immunocompromised persons are more at risk and they should be offered an additional dose of the vaccine. Data, however, is needed for the general population. The benefits of booster doses vs the benefits of expanding coverage of primary vaccination in different groups are being currently reviewed.”
”The booster dose policy has to be considered in the context of preventing severe disease and death and protecting the healthcare system. WHO recommendations will be updated as more evidence becomes available.”
Data is not available yet on how Omicron affects children, she said, replying to a question.
“As children tend to have a milder disease as compared to adults unless they’re in a group at higher risk of COVID-19, it’s less urgent to vaccinate them,” she explained.
But vaccination of children means they may be a lesser chance to transmit the virus to the “at-risk” group, she concluded.