Researchers with Oxford University on Tuesday announced there is currently “no evidence” to suggest that common COVID-19 vaccines won’t protect against the Omicron CCP virus variant that was recently discovered and has caused worldwide panic.
So far, Oxford University said in a statement, there is limited data on Omicron and that it would carefully review the impact the variant has on vaccines. Oxford partnered with drugmaker AstraZeneca to create one of the most commonly used vaccines in the world.
“Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that Omicron is any different,” Oxford said in a statement. “However, we have the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated COVID-19 vaccine if it should be necessary.”
It comes as the United States, European Union, Israel, Japan, and other countries announced travel restrictions targeting several southern African countries. The Omicron variant was first discovered earlier this month in South Africa and Botswana.
And last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the variant as one of concern, while courting controversy for skipping over “Xi” in the Greek alphabet when naming it the strain Omicron. In an update on Sunday, the U.N. health body said that as researchers in South Africa and other countries conduct research, it isn’t yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than either the Delta or Alpha variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus that causes COVID-19.
“The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant,” WHO said, “but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.”
A top South African doctor who helped raise the alarm over Omicron, in multiple news interviews, said the Omicron variant appears to present milder, but unusual, symptoms, as compared with the Delta variant.
“The majority of what we are presenting to primary health care practitioners are extremely mild cases, so mild to moderate. And so, these patients, it means they don’t need to be hospitalized for now,” Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told CNN on Tuesday morning.
But WHO’s assessment asserted that with Omicron, “there could be future surges of COVID-19, which could have severe consequences depending on a number of factors including where surges may take place,” and “global risk related to the (omicron variant) is assessed as very high.”
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden, flanked by COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci, said in a Monday speech that Americans should either get vaccinated or receive the booster shot.
At the same time, Biden said he doesn’t believe that states, businesses, and municipalities need to implement shutdowns, lockdowns, or stay-at-home orders that were commonplace last year but have been blamed for significant economic fallout.
“This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said at the White House. “We have more tools to fight the variant than we have ever had before.”