Omicron much weaker coronavirus variant than Delta, says new study – but some still call for caution

Omicron much weaker coronavirus variant than Delta, says new study – but some still call for caution

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WASHINGTON – The omicron variant of coronavirus is much less likely to cause hospitalization and death than the previous Delta variant, finds a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which dramatically confirms predictions made by some virologists since the now dominant variant first appeared in southern Africa.

The results provided “key insights” into how the latest variant works, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky as she introduced the data, which came from a study of both Omicron and Delta infections throughout Southern California. The study showed that compared to the Delta variant, Omicron resulted in a 91 percent decrease in the risk of death, while the risk of hospitalization was halved. For those who needed hospitalization from Omicron, the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit – signaling more serious illness – was reduced by three quarters.

Graphic titled Kaiser Permanente Southern California Data showing three tables of data showing Omicron results in less risk of symptomatic hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, and mortality.


Omicron infection is “associated with significantly reduced risk of severe clinical endpoints and shorter duration of hospital stays” compared to Delta, the authors found. Of the nearly 70,000 people in the study group (of whom 50,000 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.

“It will be less serious,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, on the Omicron variant compared to Delta, “especially in those vaccinated and boosted.”

For some, the new findings represented little more than an attempt by the Biden administration to shift its message away from early promises to pursue a comprehensive response to end the pandemic.

“They do more to control the narrative of omicron’s severity than they do to actually control omicron,” Columbia University It wrote epidemiologist Seth J. Prins on Twitter, which expresses the view of some public health officials that major mitigation measures are needed.

“We need to look at the big picture and all aspects of the disease,” Boston University public health expert Julia Raifman told Yahoo News. Only 24 percent of Americans have had their booster shots, according to the CDC, meaning they are more susceptible to getting coronavirus, especially the hypertransmissible Omicron variant.

A child at a protest holds a sign with a face mask and a syringe with a slash through them.

A demonstration against mandates for COVID-19 vaccines outside the New York State Capitol in Albany on January 5 (Mike Segar / Reuters)

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

Raifman noted that “Delta was more severe than the original variant of COVID,” meaning that Omicron’s reduced severity may seem more dramatic than it actually is.

Walensky acknowledged more or less the same limitations to the new findings that came during a briefing by the White House pandemic response team. “The sudden and steep rise in cases due to Omicron,” she warned, “results in unprecedented daily counts, illness, absenteeism and strains on our health care system.”

Omicron’s primary challenge is not severity, but speed: it spreads much faster than Delta, thus compensating for its lower virulence in relation to its overall threat to public health. “The Omicron wave is so spectacularly fast,” evolutionary biologist Sally Otto told NPR. “I have never seen anything spread so fast in the natural world.”

Yet the data from Southern California was another sign that the setback caused by Omicron may not be as long-lasting as some may have feared. “The data in this study remain consistent with what we see from Omicron in other countries, including South Africa and the UK,” Walensky said, “and provide some understanding of what to expect in the coming weeks as cases are predicted. to top in this country. ” In both nations, the Omicron rose sharply, to fall in just over a month.

Dr.  Rochelle Walensky speaks into a microphone while wearing a face mask in front of a poster with her name on it.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky testified before a hearing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday. (Shawn Thew / Pool via AP)

A spokesman for the federal Department of Health and Human Services summed up the new results as “encouraging”.

The Biden administration knows that its political fortunes are closely linked to the duration of the pandemic. If businesses close and schools shut down, the Democratic Party is likely to take the blame. But if it could be argued that Omicron is less of a concern, Democrats could begin to shift their message away from relentless caution, toward a broader reopening of society that could turn in their favor.

Already, some public health officials in Europe – who tend to lead the United States by several weeks – are turning to a perception of coronavirus as related to influenza: that is, as an endemic disease that does not require emergency measures.

In the US, many public health experts do not believe such a move is justified yet, as evidence is still emerging as to whether Omicron peaked in parts of the Northeast before moving on to less vaccinated regions of the country.

In his Wednesday briefing, Walensky said the more than one million new cases a day recorded in the United States represent “a staggering increase” that, even with Omicron’s diminished severity, has “led to a high number of hospitalizations.” She asked people to wear masks to keep the distractions in Omicron at bay.

Raifman of Boston University expressed disappointment that the Biden administration is not doing more to provide Americans with high-quality face masks, rapid tests and other protective measures.

“We do not have to be here,” she said.


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