More evidence is emerging that the Omicron coronavirus variant causes milder symptoms.
A World Health Organization official said on Tuesday (December 4).
Evidence suggests that the variant affects the upper respiratory tract, and that symptoms are less severe compared to previous variants.
WHO Incident Manager, Abdi Mahamud explains:
"We are seeing more and more studies pointing out that Omicron is infecting the upper part of the body. Unlike other ones, the lungs who would be causing severe pneumonia. It can be a good news, but we really require more studies to prove that."
Since the heavily mutated variant was first detected in November, WHO data shows it has spread quickly and emerged in at least 128 countries.
But, while case numbers have surged to all-time records, the hospitalization and death rates are often lower than at other phases in the pandemic.
"And we have a good number of studies coming up, proving again what we had from South Africa that the vaccine still protects you against hospitalization and severe disease and death and that's what vaccines were designed (for). The challenge has not been the vaccine but the vaccination and reaching those vulnerable populations."
However, Mahamud also sounded a note of caution when relying on data just from South Africa, as it has a young population, among other factors.
He also warned that Omicron's high transmissibility meant it would become dominant within weeks in many places, posing a threat to medical systems in countries where a high proportion of the population remains unvaccinated.
Asked about whether an Omicron-specific vaccine was needed, Mahamud said it was too early to say but voiced doubts and stressed that the decision required global coordination.