Covid-19 Ireland: WHO chief says vaccines unlikely to end pandemic due to new variants

By Mark O'Brien

The head of the WHO Europe has said newer and more contagious Covid-19 variants mean vaccines are unlikely to end the pandemic.

Hans Kluge said health chiefs must now "gradually adapt our vaccination strategy" with the virus likely to be around in years to come.

Mr Kluge had previously said the pandemic would be over once there was 70% minimum coverage in vaccination but that target has now changed due to more transmissible variants.

He said: "I think it brings us to the point that the aim of a vaccination is first and foremost to prevent more serious disease, and that's mortality.

"If we consider that Covid will continue to mutate and remain with us, the way influenza is, then we should anticipate how to gradually adapt our vaccination strategy to endemic transmission and gather really precious knowledge about the impact of additional jabs."

While it is now unlikely that herd immunity will be reached with vaccination alone, Mr Kluge added that high vaccination rates were required to "unload the pressure from healthcare systems".

The Delta variant, which is 60% more transmissible than Alpha, continues to be the dominant strain in Ireland now accounting for over 90% of cases.

However, a number of new strains, Mu and Lambda have also since been identified in the country.

The world health body recently stated that Mu and other mutations could be more resistant to vaccines, although there is little evidence of this so far.

Mu currently accounts for 39% of cases in Colombia while its near neighbour Ecuador has a 13% prevalence of the variant.

The WHO's most recent bulletin read: "Since its first identification in Colombia in January 2021, there have been a few sporadic reports of cases of the Mu variant and some larger outbreaks have been reported from other countries in South America and in Europe."

"Although the global prevalence of the Mu variant among sequenced cases has declined and is currently below 0.1%, the prevalence in Colombia (39%) and Ecuador (13%) has consistently increased."

"The epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant, will be monitored for changes."

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