MPA | Pharmacy News

The heavily mutated omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread further and poses a "very high" global risk, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which warned today that surges of COVID infections caused by the variant of concern could have "severe consequences" for some areas. No Omicron-linked deaths had yet been reported, though further research was needed to assess its potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, it added.

In anticipation of increased case numbers as the variant, first reported last week, spreads, WHO urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and ensure plans were in place to maintain health services.

"Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic," WHO said.

Omicron was first reported on November 24 from South Africa, where infections have risen steeply. It has since spread to more than a dozen countries.

"The impact on vulnerable populations would be substantial, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage," WHO added. In vaccinated persons, meanwhile, "COVID-19 cases and infections are expected ... albeit in a small and predictable proportion." Overall, there are "considerable uncertainties in the magnitude of immune escape potential of Omicron," and more data is expected in coming weeks.

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