Two recent British investigations offer preliminary evidence that the coronavirus’s omicron variation is gentler than the delta type.
Even if the findings of these early tests hold up, scientists warn that any decreases in severity must be balanced against the fact that omicron spreads considerably quicker than delta and is more resistant to vaccinations. Hospitals may still be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of infections.
Still, according to Manuel Ascano Jr., a Vanderbilt University biochemist who studies viruses, the new results presented Wednesday appear to support past research that shows omicron may not be as hazardous as the delta form.
“Perhaps the best way to look at this is cautious optimism,” he remarked.
Hospitalization risks for omicron cases in England were estimated by the Imperial College London COVID-19 response team, who discovered that people infected with the variant are around 20% less likely to go to the hospital at all than those infected with the delta variant, and 40% less likely to be hospitalized for a night or more.
All instances of COVID-19 verified by PCR testing in England in the first part of December in which the variation could be detected were included in the analysis: 56,000 cases of omicron and 269,000 cases of delta.
A further research conducted by academics at the University of Edinburgh and other specialists in Scotland found that omicron had a two-thirds lower risk of hospitalization than delta. However, the approximately 24,000 omicron instances in Scotland were mostly among young individuals aged 20 to 39, according to the research. Younger persons have a lower risk of developing severe COVID-19 infections.
Researchers said, “This nationwide analysis is one of the first to reveal that Omicron is less likely than Delta to result in COVID-19 hospitalization.” While the data are preliminary, the authors concluded that they are “encouraging.”
Other specialists have not yet assessed the findings, which is the gold standard in scientific study.
Ascano pointed out that the research contain flaws. The findings, for example, are particular to a certain period in time in the United Kingdom amid a rapidly changing environment, and other countries may not fare as well.
According to Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, the percentage of younger people in the omicron group was nearly twice as high as in the delta group in the Scottish study, which “could have biased the conclusions to less severe outcomes caused by omicron.”
Regardless, he said the findings were intriguing and suggested that omicron may lead to less severe illness. “It’s crucial to note, however, that even if omicron has a significantly greater transmission rate than delta, the absolute number of persons requiring hospitalization may still rise, despite less severe sickness in most cases,” he said.
According to data from South Africa, where the variation was initially discovered, omicron may be milder there. The rate of hospital admissions for omicron was significantly lower than for delta, according to Salim Abdool Karim, a clinical infectious disease epidemiologist in South Africa.
“Our total admittance rate is in the range of 2% to 4%,” he remarked, compared to earlier, when it was closer to 20%. “So, despite the fact that we’re seeing a lot of patients, we’re only admitting a small percentage of them.”