The World Health Organization chief on Tuesday urged people to not dismiss the highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus as mild, and restated his plea for a fairer global vaccine distribution.
“Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril,” said Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, speaking during a televised address from Geneva.
“Omicron is probably in most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet,” he added.
Tedros said that even if the variant did cause less severe disease, a large number of cases could overwhelm unprepared health systems.
The chief of the U.N. agency also called into question booster programmes which are being rolled out to entire adult populations in some countries.
“WHO is concerned that such programmes will repeat the vaccine hoarding we saw this year and exacerbate inequity,” he said.
He suggested that giving boosters to groups at low risk of severe disease or death was endangering the lives of those at high risk who were waiting for their first or second doses.
“Let me be very clear: WHO is not against boosters. We are against inequity. Our main concern is to save lives, everywhere,” he said.
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