Maria Van Kerkhove interview: What we know about omicron so far

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Exclusive: The World Health Organization’s method pb connected covid-19 says we volition cognize however effectual our vaccines are against omicron by Christmas

Health 8 December 2021

By Helen Thomson

World Health Organization's method  pb  connected  the coronavirus pandemic, Maria van Kerkhove gestures during an interrogation  with AFP successful  Geneva connected  October 13, 2020. (Photo by Richard Juilliart / AFP) (Photo by RICHARD JUILLIART/AFP via Getty Images)

Maria Van Kerkhove is the World Health Organization’s method pb connected the coronavirus pandemic


Since it was archetypal detected by scientists successful South Africa, the omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus has spread crossed the satellite astatine an alarming speed, prompting galore countries to present caller restrictions and forcing radical to reconsider plans for ample gatherings. As it is truthful new, galore details astir however it compares to different variants aren’t yet clear. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s method pb connected covid-19, spoke to New Scientist astir what we cognize truthful far, however she is approaching the festive play and however 2022 mightiness cookware out.

What tin you archer america astir the transmissibility of omicron?

We’ll person an reply connected however transmissible it is successful days alternatively than weeks. We don’t person an reply yet connected whether it outcompetes delta [variant]. We are seeing accrued maturation of the variant successful galore countries wherever delta has diminished, but we request to spot however it co-circulates with delta successful different areas.

What bash we cognize astir the severity of illness caused by omicron?

We are getting a clearer representation here. Many patients person presented with mild illness and if you comparison it to different waves, omicron seems to beryllium much mild. We volition get much information connected that soon. But it doesn’t mean it’s only mild – we person seen the afloat spectrum of severity with the variant, and radical volition dice from it. Saying “it’s lone mild” is precise dangerous. If it is much transmissible than delta, determination volition beryllium much cases, much hospitalisations and much deaths.

How effectual are our vaccines against omicron?

There are tons of studies connected mutations successful different variants that are besides contiguous successful omicron, and immoderate amusement reduced vaccine efficacy successful presumption of prevention against terrible illness and death, but it doesn’t mean vaccines won’t work. Our existent vaccines are incredibly potent against terrible illness and death. We volition get immoderate answers connected the variant’s interaction connected vaccines earlier Christmas. One happening we request from South Africa successful peculiar is information connected severity by vaccination status, truthful we tin get a amended knowing of what happens if you are infected by omicron portion vaccinated.

You person the astir cognition of anyone successful the satellite close present astir covid-19. What is your prediction for what mightiness hap successful 2022, oregon does omicron amusement it’s wholly unpredictable?

Omicron was wholly predictable. Not the circumstantial mutations, but the thought that we’d person a variant that would look that would perchance beryllium much transmissible, a variant that had properties of immune flight [reduced extortion from vaccines and anterior infection]. In 2022, I expect to spot a important simplification successful hospitalisations and deaths successful those who are vaccinated. At the aforesaid time, the microorganism volition germinate due to the fact that we’re not doing capable to forestall its transmission. I don’t mean lockdowns, but societal distancing, disguise wearing, moving from location and improving ventilation – each the happening we’ve figured retired that help. What countries bash successful the adjacent week to 10 weeks wholly influences what happens with omicron. 2022 volition unfold however we let it to.

If idiosyncratic is readying to conscionable up with household implicit the holidays, what proposal would you give? Are you having a vacation party?

We are asking radical to beryllium truly cautious and what they should bash depends connected wherever that household is meeting, whether they are vaccinated, if they usage testing, if they are minimising contacts, if they are doing things outdoors alternatively than indoors. You request to marque definite determination is bully ventilation wherever you are meeting. Personally, I would springiness thing to walk the holidays with my family. We are having pugnacious discussions close now, conscionable arsenic galore families are. People should say: “OK, if we’re going to bash this, let’s enactment retired however tin we bash this arsenic safely arsenic possible.” We person choices and our choices person consequences: don’t springiness the microorganism the accidental to thrive.

Finally, what are you going to bash astir naming aboriginal variants erstwhile you tally retired of Greek letters?

We are considering naming them aft prima constellations, but we person received immoderate pushback. If we bash spell up with that plan, we’ll take constellations that are little good known truthful that there’s nary stigma connected the beauteous stars we spot successful the sky.

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