Mexico's President Downplays Omicron, Says Bigger Problem is Poor Countries 'Abandoned'

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador downplayed the Omicron variant, saying the bigger problem is that poor countries have been "abandoned."

The Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa on November 22 and was labeled as a "variant of concern" on Friday by the World Health Organization, according to Stat. Mexican officials have said that the emergence of the new variant emphasizes the need to supply more vaccines to poorer countries.

"It's not that the new variant is terrible," López Obrador said. "It's that the poor countries of the world have been abandoned.

However, while Mexican officials were previously against administering booster shots, they said they are developing a plan to give third shots to people over 60 in an announcement Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

"It won't be long, we have the vaccines," López Obrador said, noting that plans for the boosters are still being made.

The move for booster shots is unlike the measures López Obrador's administration has refused to employ, such as mask mandates, mass testing and travel restrictions.

In August, Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell said there was no scientific evidence to corroborate the need for booster shots, and they could be a ploy to increase sales for vaccine manufacturers.

"This proposal is being strongly pushed by the pharmaceutical companies, but it has been rejected by international organizations...because there is no scientific evidence indicating the need for booster shots," López-Gatell said at the time.

Currently, only about half of the country's population, 126 million, is fully vaccinated. The death toll from COVID in Mexico is nearly 450,000.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Mexico, Booster, Omicron, Elderly
Mexican officials announced on Tuesday that they have reversed their previous position against giving coronavirus booster shots and are studying a plan to administer third doses to people over age 60. Above, people over 60 wait in observation after receiving their second dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the University Olympic Stadium in Mexico City on April 12, 2021. Marco Ugarte/AP Photo, File

The government also long resisted vaccinating minors, but recently relented and began administering shots to youths between 15 and 17 years old.

Of special concern are the nation's teachers, almost all of whom got the CanSino Chinese vaccine in the spring. There have been suggestions that the single-dose vaccine's protection begins to wane.

Mexico's test-confirmed coronavirus death toll stood at 293,950 on Tuesday, but because the country does so little testing, many people have died without tests. The government's own analysis of death certificates indicates the real toll is about 448,658.

True to form, López Obrador said there would be dance music at a massive gathering he is planning in Mexico City's vast main plaza Wednesday to celebrate his first three years in office. The president, as usual, said face masks would be optional.

"Those who want to wear face masks can do so," López Obrador said. "We are against authoritarianism."

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Booster, COVID, Omicron
The move for boosters is bit unlike the stance Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has taken against mandates and restrictions for COVID-19. Above, López Obrador talks during a parade to celebrate the 111th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution at Zocalo on November 20, 2021, in Mexico City.