The omicron variant of the coronavirus may change the course of the pandemic. It urged countries to speed up vaccination and keep infection control measures in place.
“We can avoid a global crisis,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday. “The virus evolves, but our resolve must not.”
The organization also said early evidence suggests omicron is milder than delta, but it’s too early to tell.
“Omicron’s global spread and a large number of mutations suggest it could have a major impact on the pandemic’s course,” Tedros said.
The WHO’s director of immunization and vaccines, Kate O’Brien, said the organization is aware of the study and will review the findings.
In a delta pandemic, using existing vaccines is the top priority, she said.
The third dose of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine may be required to neutralize the omicron variant, Pfizer and BioNTech said earlier on Wednesday, accelerating global booster-shot drives.
The WHO has urged countries to postpone booster shots to help poorer countries with low vaccination rates. If tests show that third shots are needed to protect against omicron, governments may be less inclined to do so.
The virus has spread to 57 countries and appears more transmissible than previous strains. While omicron appears to be more transmissible than delta, “that does not mean the virus is unstoppable,” said WHO emergency director Mike Ryan.