The appearance of new coronavirus variants is not unexpected, and the global community, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO), are keeping a careful eye on the issue, according to WHO official.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview, Richard Pebody, WHO Europe regional spokesman, said: “Viruses do change over time. As they replicate, as they multiply, mutations happen. And we see it with all viruses, with influenza. That happens with other viruses. So it’s not a surprise.”
He said the emergence of new variants should not cause panic.
As a “very clear message” to people and governments, Pebody said the vaccination of vulnerable groups should be ensured. He, meanwhile, stressed that physical distance, respiratory and hand hygiene, and wearing of face masks should be followed to reduce the transmission of the virus.
Pebody, who leads the high threat pathogens team at WHO Europe, said the omicron variant of the coronavirus was only reported days ago, but the initial information that the WHO used to assess the virus last week suggested that “there was a possible increased risk of reinfection with this new variant.”
Also, there is a large number of mutations of the virus, particularly around what is called the spike protein, which also caused concern, he added.
Responding to a question on the effectiveness of vaccines against the omicron variant, Pebody said “vaccines continue to be a really important intervention that we should be using to prevent severe disease.”
The primary purpose, he said, is to prevent hospitalization and deaths.
The current protection has been “good, durable and long-lasting,” according to the WHO official. “And when we look at the mutations that there are in this virus, we would continue to anticipate that it will still provide protection against severe disease.”
Pebody said there are regions in Europe with a “fantastic” rate of vaccination of the vulnerable population, while some others still see “a very high proportion” of older people and healthcare workers who have not been vaccinated.
“If you’re in a vulnerable group, at risk of severe disease, so it’s so important that these groups are properly vaccinated so that they’re protected,” he said, adding the vaccination also helps to cut the spread of the coronavirus and the time it takes to mutate.