WHO says omicron is life threatening for unvaccinated, elderly and people with underlying conditions

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  • Dr. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said Omicron represents a “major threat” to the lives of people who have been denied vaccination.
  • WHO’s COVID-19 technical chief Maria Van Kerkhove said the elderly and people with underlying conditions are at higher risk of death than other groups.
  • Van Kerkhove said the omicron has been detected in every country where there is good genetic sequencing and is likely to be present in every country.

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The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that the Omicron COVID variant could result in a life-threatening illness for the unvaccinated, the elderly and people with underlying conditions.

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Dr. Mike Ryan, director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said unvaccinated people face a high risk that an omicron infection will make them seriously ill and possibly even kill them.

“Omicron still represents a major threat to his life and a major threat to his health,” Ryan said without vaccination during a Q&A on WHO’s social media channels on Tuesday.

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Ryan said that on the other hand, people who are vaccinated usually experience mild illness if they get a successful infection.

“People should really look at this in the context of getting out there and seriously considering vaccination,” Ryan said.

WHO’s COVID-19 technical chief Maria van Kerkhove said the elderly and people with underlying conditions face a higher risk of death from omicrons than other groups.

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“We know that mortality increases with omicrons with increasing age,” van Kerkhove said. “We also have data from some countries showing that people with at least one underlying condition are at increased risk of hospitalization and death, even if you have Omicron, compared to Delta.”

Van Kerkhove said a lower proportion of people are dying from COVID during the omicron wave, and the risk of serious illness and hospitalization is lower than at Delta. However, he cautioned that Less Severity does not mean that Omicron causes only mild illnesses.

“It’s not just a mild illness,” Van Kerkhove said. “It’s really important because people are still being hospitalized for Omicron.”

Van Kerkhove warned that people should not become lethal and resign themselves to infection, cautioning that the long-term health effects of catching Omicron remain unknown. He said people should get vaccinated, wear well-fitted masks, avoid crowds and, if possible, work from home.

Ryan said the health consequences of a viral infection often depend on a person’s baseline level of health, including whether or not the immune system is strong. For example, people with diabetes are not as well equipped to fight off viruses.

“We can say with certainty that an omicron variant causes, on average, less severe disease in any given human being – but that’s on average,” Ryan said. “There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world in the hospital, as we speak with the Omicron version, and for them it is a very serious illness.”

Van Kerkhove said the omicron has been detected in every country where there is good genetic sequencing and is likely to be present in every country. She said that Omicron is overtaking Delta and becoming dominant around the world.

The WHO reported 15 million new infections and 43,000 deaths worldwide during the week ending 3 January.

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