Omicron variant 'will dominate Delta before Christmas' says expert

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The potential good news came from Richard Hatchett, the Chief Executive of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that vaccines should still protect people from Omicron. The first lab tests of the new variant in South Africa suggest it can partially evade the Pfizer jab.

But researchers say there was no sign Omicron would be better at evading vaccines than other variants.

In a frank admission, Mr Hatchett told Sky News that vaccines “clearly have not stopped the pandemic”.

He added: “A year ago we record 69 million cases worldwide. Today, it is about 265 million cases.

“We’re just beginning to get the first data on Omicron.

“There’s certainly a suggestion early on that it does reduce vaccine effectiveness.

“We’re seeing Omicron spread very quickly, it appears to be highly infectious.

“What we don’t know yet is how severe the virus will be and how it will compete with the dominant Delta variant.”

But despite the warning, Mr Hatchett said there could be good news in the future.

He added: “I think it’s possible that it could be good.

“If some of the early reports that the severity is less than other variants are true – and it outcompetes those variants – then it could offer a silver lining.

“It could sweep the table and reduce the more dangerous variants.

“In fact, the last pandemic in 2009, the Swine Flu, was a very mild virus.

“It wiped out all the circulating flu viruses for years, we had some very mild flu seasons.”

The expert did err on the side of caution that this was not a given and it could also turn out to be a worrying strain.

The new South African study – which has not yet been peer-reviewed – found the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may result in up to 40 times fewer neutralising antibodies against Omicron than against the original Covid strain.

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But Omicron’s ability to escape vaccine antibodies is “incomplete”, said Prof Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute, who led the research.

He said the results, based on blood tests from 12 people, were “better than I expected of Omicron”.

Prof Sigal said vaccination, combined with previous infection, could still neutralise against the variant.

That suggests boosters may bring a significant benefit.

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