Omicron pushing COVID from pandemic to endemic: EU agency

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Intl desk, Jan 12: The European Medicines Agency, the region’s drug regulator, says the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant across the continent is pushing COVID-19 towards being an endemic disease that humanity can live with.

“With the increase of immunity in population – and with Omicron, there will be a lot of natural immunity taking place on top of vaccination – we will be fast moving towards a scenario that will be closer to endemicity,” Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based regulator, told journalists on Tuesday.

Other major developments:

  • The United Kingdom’s Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky News that the UK government is hopeful the country will be among the first in the world to “transition” from pandemic to endemic.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts more than half of the people in Europe could catch Omicron by March.
  • The WHO has also said that repeating boosters is not a good strategy against emerging variants of the virus, and that more effort has to be made to ensure poorer countries get their first course of the vaccines.

More than half of people in Europe could be infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the next six to eight weeks, the World Health Organisation warned Tuesday, amid “a new west-to-east tidal wave sweeping across the region.”

“The region saw over 7 million cases of COVID-19 in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period,” Hans Kluge, the agency’s regional director for Europe, said at a news conference.

While coronavirus vaccines remain remarkably effective at preventing severe illness and death, the agency cautioned against treating the virus like the seasonal flu, since much remains unknown — particularly regarding the severity of the disease in areas with lower vaccination rates, such as Eastern Europe.

The WHO has cautioned for months that booster shots could worsen vaccine equity around the world, but Kluge said Tuesday that they would play an essential role in protecting the most vulnerable people from severe disease and should also be used to protect health workers and other essential employees, including teachers.

Since omicron was first detected in late November, it has torn across the planet at a pace unseen during two years of the pandemic. As friends, co-workers and family members test positive, the reality that the virus is moving quickly and widely has been a defining feature of this wave of infection.

But the steep rise that Kluge cited, based on forecasts by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, is a stark paradigm shift. Although the institute’s models have frequently been criticised by experts, it is clear that the virus is spreading quickly. Even if many people avoid severe illness, the virus promises to cause societal disruption across the continent.

Source: News Agencies