Identified for the first time a few days ago in South Africa, the Omicron variant worries the planet.
Many countries have closed their borders and suspended flights to South Africa and neighboring countries, in a bid to contain the spread of this new strain.
A new strain whose mutations could make it more transmissible, but not necessarily more virulent than the previous ones.
But the appearance of this new variant illustrates the effects of vaccine inequality across the globe and the need to vaccinate widely and on a global scale to contain the pandemic.
Planetary flip and barricades.
The announcement of the emergence of a new strain of the coronavirus, the Omicron variant, has showered our hopes of finally finding a life before Covid.
The variant, discovered a few days ago by doctors and researchers in South Africa, has prompted many states to close their borders and suspend their flights to and from southern Africa.
The goal: to try to contain the propagation of this variant.
The new variant Omicron presents "a very high risk" at the global level, warned Monday the World Health Organization (WHO), while the G7 urgently met its ministers of health in London on the question.
Is the planet right to panic?
Special concern due to its potential for higher transmissibility
If the Omicron variant is paralyzing the planet, it is because, "given the mutations that could confer escape potential to the immune response as well as possibly give an advantage in terms of transmissibility, the likelihood of Omicron spreading. globally is high, ”said WHO in a technical document released Monday. The organization, which fears "future peaks of Covid-19", had, as of Friday, classified the variant "worrying", preliminary data suggesting that it presents "an increased risk of reinfection".
In detail, Omicron “presents 32 mutations, insertions or deletions of the Spike protein [which is the key to entry of the virus into the body], in particular the N501Y mutation, which has been associated with increased transmissibility of Alpha, Beta and Gamma variants, decrypts Public Health France.
Other mutations could have an impact on the effectiveness of the immune response, ”she adds, in tune with the first findings established by the WHO.
Thus, "Omicron presents many more mutations than the Delta variant - which already presents in itself a large number of mutations, concentrated above all in an area of the protein which interacts with human cells", noted a team of researchers. of the prestigious Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome, after having established the first three-dimensional "image" of this strain.
Symptoms currently described as "lighter"
But "this does not automatically mean that these variations are more dangerous, simply that the virus has further adapted to the human species by generating another variant", specify the Italian researchers.
"Other studies will tell us if this adaptation is neutral, less dangerous or more dangerous."
Thus, “for the moment, we have no evidence to believe that it is more pathogenic.
And it is not because it has more mutations that it is more pathogenic, added Dr. Boris Hansel on Monday on BFMTV.
Some virologists even think that when a virus mutates, it can decrease its pathogenicity ”.
In South Africa, where the Omicron variant has been discovered, no serious form induced by this layer has yet been identified. "I'm not saying that there won't be serious illnesses," but "so far, even the patients we've seen who weren't vaccinated have mild symptoms," Dr Angelique said. Coetzee, president of the South African Medical Association, who has seen several patients with unusual symptoms. "Extreme fatigue", body aches, a dry cough and "itchy throat" are the few symptoms observed and described by Dr. Coetzee. Only a few had a low fever. The profile of these patients? The majority were men under the age of 40, of whom just under half were vaccinated.
Moreover, “to date, no death associated with the Omicron variant has been reported,” underlines the WHO, which nonetheless recalls the imperative need to respect barrier gestures to stem the spread of this new strain.
"There are reasons to be concerned about this new variant, but no reason to panic," US President Joe Biden reacted in a speech to the White House on Monday.
The challenge of the fight against vaccine inequality
But if there is one point on which the international scientific community agrees, it is on the importance of vaccination on a global scale. This variant "will spread all the less quickly as the surrounding population is immune", underlined Monday Professor Arnaud Fontanet, member of the scientific council and epidemiologist at the Pasteur Institute. However, in South Africa, only a quarter of the population is vaccinated.
The issue of unequal access to vaccines between rich and poor countries, regularly raised by the WHO, is becoming increasingly glaring.
“The Omicron variant reflects the threat of protracted vaccine injustice.
The longer we take to achieve vaccine equity, the more we let the Covid-19 virus circulate, mutate and become potentially more dangerous, ”lamented Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, on Twitter.
The Omicron variant reflects the threat of prolonged vaccine injustice.
The longer we take to deliver #VaccinEquity, the more we allow the # COVID19 virus to circulate, mutate and become potentially more dangerous.
- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) November 28, 2021
"I would like this new concern to serve as an electric shock so that the international community realizes the importance of vaccinating the population on a global scale," added Arnaud Fontanet.
Because "the planet will be safe only when we have reached a global immune coverage which will considerably limit the circulation and the opportunities for the emergence of variants".
On Monday, the President of the Scientific Council, Jean-François Delfraissy, called for “not to oppose vaccination with a booster in the countries of the North and vaccination in the countries of the South.
You need both ”.
"An unacceptable lack of solidarity"
“This new variant should serve as a wake-up call to governments around the world. It is no longer possible to entertain the dangerous idea that a country or a continent can fight the pandemic on its territory without worrying about the rest of the world. The only way out of this global crisis is to ensure that vaccines reach populations in poor countries as quickly as possible, ”responded Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France director of ONE.
In mid-November, the international Covax mechanism crossed the threshold of 500 million doses of anti-Covid vaccine distributed in 144 countries and territories.
In a joint statement, the African Union, the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Covax called for an improvement in the quality of vaccine donations.
Because “the majority of donations to date have been one-time, provided with little notice and with a short shelf life.
This has made it extremely difficult for countries to plan vaccination campaigns and increase absorption capacity, ”they warned.
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