The Vaccines Are Still Proving Effective Against Omicron, Says WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan in 2022

The Vaccines Are Still Proving Effective Against Omicron, Says WHO’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan

The world has barely had time to react to the fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variant, dubbed Omicron, as scientists in Botswana and South Africa alerted the world. Researchers are racing to understand whether this variant, which has now been detected in over 20 countries, poses a threat to the world.

The scientific community will probably need weeks to develop a complete picture of Omicron and to discover how transmissible and severe it is, as well as its potential to evade vaccines and cause reinfections.

Senjuti Saha, a molecular microbiologist at a Dhaka foundation for child health research, says she is continually asked: Tell us more about Omicron everywhere she goes. Researchers do not understand what’s going on, and that holds, even for scientists.”


Even though the Omicron variant infections both vaccinated and unvaccinated people worldwide, WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said it appears that vaccines are still proving to be effective even though cases have increased exponentially in many countries, the severity of the disease has not increased.

According to Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, vaccinations are still proving effective because even though the number of cases is rising exponentially in most countries, the severity of the disease is not increasing.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist and the WHO’s lead scientist in infectious diseases, says it appears that vaccines are still proving effective in the face of the highly transmissible Omicron outbreak. Indeed, vaccine effectiveness varies slightly between vaccines, but out of all the WHO Emergency Use List vaccines, the majority provides very high protection against severe diseases and death, including the delta variant.

In his presentation, Dr Swaminathan said that the Omicron variant is infecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated people around the world and that vaccines are proving to be effective across the board despite exponential growth in many countries, noting that there has been no increase in severity of the disease. 

Swaminathan tweeted, “as expected, the T cell immunity against #Omicron has held up better. This will protect us against severe disease. Please get vaccinated if you haven’t.” Both vaccines and infections with COVID-19 provoke human T cell response.

During the WHO press briefing on Wednesday, Swaminathan virtually explained that vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 varies a little bit between vaccines, yet the majority of all the WHO Emergency Use Listing vaccines exhibit very high rates of protection against severe disease and death.


Biological factors are also important in determining a vaccine’s effectiveness, she added. “It includes age, underlying illnesses and co-morbidities and we know from various studies that the older one is, the worse their underlying ailments and co-morbidities increase, making them more susceptible to the disease,” she said.

According to Swaminathan, the third factor which determines the effectiveness of the vaccine is the duration of vaccinations and the waning of immunity. Although there are some small benefits for immunity, there is more waning for infections against infectious, which is why we are seeing breakthrough infections with Omicron because the virus can overcome pre-existing immunity, which requires higher levels of antibodies and protection.

She explained that there is just beginning evidence regarding Omicron and it is still premature to draw any conclusions, but all of the lab experiments are pointing to a reduction in neutralisation capacity, and it is clinically evident that people who’ve been vaccinated or who’ve previously contracted Omicron are still getting it.

The high number of infections occurring around the world today is mainly because these infections affect vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike. However, these vaccines are still proving to be protective since although the number of infections is going up exponentially in many countries, the severity of the disease has not risen significantly,” Latham said.


Hospitalizations and even within the hospitalized population, the need for ventilation or the need for critical care do not seem to be increasing proportionately, said Ms Swaminathan. She added that this is a good sign and told us that previous immunity through vaccinations or in some cases due to natural infection by the virus is providing some protection against the severe disease.

The discovery is what we were expecting because immunity and immune responses are much more complex than just neutralizing antibodies.

Further, Swaminathan stated that at this stage, the evidence surrounding Omicron is just beginning to emerge and it isn’t yet possible to draw any conclusions. However, all the lab studies so far indicate a reduction in neutralisation capacity, while it is clinically observed that people who have been vaccinated or have previously had infections are still getting Omicron infections.


In his remarks at the World Health Organization’s press briefing, Swaminathan also discussed factors that determine whether a vaccine is effective against Covid-19. According to her, the effectiveness of the vaccine will vary a little depending on the vaccine though the large majority of the WHO Emergency Use List jabs have very high protection rates against serious disease and death at least till the Delta variant.

In addition to biological factors, she indicated that vaccine effectiveness can also be influenced by environmental factors. The disease is affected by age and underlying illnesses, and we have proven it with all variations that the older you are, the more underlying illnesses and co-morbidities you have, and the more vulnerable you are to get the disease,” she said.

To refer to the third factor which determines the effectiveness of the vaccine, Swaminathan said it is the passing of time since vaccination along with waning immunity. We are aware that this symbol has a specific meaning, she said.

Nevertheless, again there is less warning of infection against infectious and that is why we are seeing a lot of breakthrough infections now, and even more with Omicron, since Omicron does possess the ability to override pre-existing immunity, thus requiring higher levels of antibodies and protection.”


On Wednesday, newly reported cases of Covid-19 in the US, France, and Denmark broke records owing to highly transmissible Omicron. The AFP reports 6.55 million infections were reported worldwide for seven days through Tuesday, which indicates Omicron’s unprecedented spread. The number of infections reported is the highest since the WHO declared a pandemic in March 2020.

In a statement, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “I am concerned that Omicron, which is more transmittable, is circulating at the same time as Delta, and may result in a tsunami of cases.”

She continued, “This will continue to place enormous pressure on health workers, and on health systems that are on the edge of collapse.”

edited and proofread by nikita sharma


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