Graph confirms optimistic Omicron trait – but 'big picture' concerns remain

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  • Rochelle Walensky
    American medical scientist

Research from the peak infectious disease body in the United States has confirmed the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is much less likely to cause hospitalisation and death than the earlier Delta strain. 

A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US bolsters the growing evidence that the now dominant strain, which emerged in Southern Africa, poses a reduced threat at an individual level. 

The findings provided “key insight” into how the newest variant operates, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said as she introduced the data, which came from a study of both Omicron and Delta infections throughout Southern California. 

The study found that, as compared to the Delta variant, Omicron resulted in a 91 percent drop in the risk of death, while the risk of hospitalisation was halved. 

The Omicron is less severe, but its infectiousness means US Covid hospitalisations are at a new high. Source: Getty
The Omicron is less severe, but its infectiousness means US Covid hospitalisations are at a new high. Source: Getty

For those who did require hospitalisation from Omicron, risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit — signalling more serious disease — was reduced by three-fourths.

Omicron infection is “associated with substantially reduced risk of severe clinical endpoints and shorter durations of hospital stay” compared to Delta, the authors found. 

Of the nearly 70,000 people in the study group (50,000 of whom tested positive for Omicron), not a single patient admitted to the hospital while battling the Omicron variant required ventilation. And the average hospital stay for an Omicron patient was only three days.

The CDC research showed Omicron
The CDC research showed Omicron

“It is going to be less severe,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s top medical adviser, said of the Omicron variant as compared to Delta, “particularly in those who are vaccinated and boosted.”

Concerns remain over 'big picture'

Due to the increased infectiousness of the strain, experts are at pains to point out that societal devastation being caused as the US reports more than a million cases a day. 

“We have to look at the big picture, and all of the aspects of the disease,” Boston University public health expert Julia Raifman told Yahoo News US. 

Only 24 percent of Americans have had their booster shot, according to the CDC, meaning they are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, especially the hypertransmissible Omicron variant.

Millions of eligible children and adults have not been vaccinated at all, meaning they have far less protection from Omicron unless they retain some natural immunity from a previous Covid-19 illness.

Dr Raifman noted that “Delta was more severe than the initial variant of Covid,” meaning that Omicron’s decreased severity may seem more dramatic than it really is.

Dr Rochelle Walensky conceded the same difficult reality as the US surpassed its Covid-19 hospitalisation record earlier this week. 

“The sudden and steep rise in cases due to Omicron,” she cautioned, “is resulting in unprecedented daily cases counts, sickness, absenteeism and strains on our healthcare system,” she said. 

Yahoo News US

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