ATHENS – While it’s unsure how effective current versions of COVID-19 vaccines are against the rising Omicron Variant around the world, Greek health officials said they are still the best defense.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned the variant brings a high risk but Maria Theodoridou, President of the National Vaccination Committee said that,
“Vaccination, despite the possible reduction in effectiveness (due to Omicron) is still a shield of protection,” said Kathimerini
“There is a growing fear that vaccines may be ineffective,” she said, noting that according to the WHO, infections are also expected among vaccinated people, but “the magnitude of the problem is expected to be small,” she said.
“We are experiencing a situation that was expected and can be addressed with the supply of vaccines in countries with low vaccination coverage,” she said, adding that the difference with Omicron “is the large number of mutations that appear in the gene of the spike protein, which the virus uses to invade the body.”
The symptoms of the new Omicron variant of Covid are mild but the cases also include young people in South Africa, she said. While data on Omicron is still in its early stages, she said that, “it appears that cellular immunity – that is, memory cells – shields from most variants.”
She underlined the importance of vaccination, adding that the committee will soon decide on whether to approve vaccination with Pfizer for children 5-11, the dosage a third of that for adults, the first batch due on Dec. 20, said the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (AMNA.)
Speaking at the same briefing, Marios Themistokleous, Secretary-General for Primary Health Care in the Health Ministry, said that as of December people will be able to get vaccinated on Sundays, except for Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Themistokleous said that a total of 7 million first-dose vaccinations have been administered, covering 79.2 percent of the adult population or 67 percent of the general population.
That’s less than the 70 percent needed to beat back the pandemic although even that has been brought into question as some countries above that level are still struggling with the pandemic.
“It is not known at this stage how contagious the virus is but it is possible that it is more contagious,” she noted, while clarifying that it is still not known if this new variant causes a more serious disease.
The makers of the Cambridge, Mass. based Moderna vaccine said there is uncertainty how effective it is but health officials are continuing to urge people to get the shots, including boosters as the effectiveness wears off.
The timing of the Omicron Variant, coming after the highly-contagious Delta Variant, was particularly troublesome as the New Democracy government has focused on the economy and ruled out any more lockdowns.
There have been some restrictions added to the unvaccinated, which includes a hard-core anti-vaxxer segment which doubts whether the vaccines are safe or effective or that they are part of an international conspiracy to alter their DNA or control their minds.
There has been a sharp resurgence in the pandemic in Greece with record numbers of cases, hospitalizations, people in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in public hospitals and deaths.
Since the health crisis began in March 2020, it has been deadly and ruinous with 931,183 cases and 18,067 deaths and ICU units filling to near capacity but the government hasn’t moved to use private clinic beds or ICUs.
The majority of patients infected is about 80 percent unvaccinated but nearly 20 percent fully vaccinated, of special worry because it shows the vaccines are wearing off and the unvaccinated are spreading the Coronavirus fast.
EU member-states are discussing the possibility of a teleconference to coordinate measures to tackle the Omicron variant where the newspaper said that the agenda will likely include talk about more financial aid and how to deal with travel in the bloc of 27 countries.