Omicron variant of coronavirus is milder than Delta variant, more studies show

Omicron variant of coronavirus is milder than Delta variant, more studies show
A coronavirus. CDC: Dr. Fred Murphy & Sylvia Whitfield

“A new study of COVID-19 patients in California reinforces the evidence that the omicron variant, while highly contagious, is much less likely to cause serious symptoms than prior iterations of the coronavirus,” reports Reason Magazine. “Compared to people infected by the delta variant, the researchers found, people infected with omicron were half as likely to be hospitalized, one-quarter as likely to require intensive care, and less than one-tenth as likely to die. When omicron patients were admitted to a hospital, their average stay was 70 percent shorter.”

In the study, a Berkeley epidemiologist and others looked at the records of about 70,000 patients in Southern California who tested positive for the coronavirus in December. Three-quarters of all patients had the omicron strain in that period. Yet none of the 11 patients requiring ventilators had the omicron strain; all of these severely ill people had the delta strain. Only one omicron patient died, while 14 delta patients died. Berkeley epidemiologist Joseph Lewnard and his co-authors wrote that coronavirus “infections with presumed Omicron variant infection were associated with substantially reduced risk of severe clinical endpoints and shorter durations of hospital stay.”

As Reason notes,

Recent COVID-19 trends in the United States and other countries show that cases are exploding. But deaths have risen much less dramatically, making the current surge far less lethal than last winter’s. According to the New York Times COVID-19 database, the seven-day average of newly identified cases has more than sextupled in the last month, while the seven-day average of daily deaths has risen by 34 percent…[the California study’s] results suggest that omicron is inherently less dangerous than delta to any given patient, possibly because it is less apt to infect the lungs. Even among unvaccinated patients, those infected by omicron were 60 percent less likely than those infected by delta to be hospitalized with symptoms. The reduced risk from omicron also held up across age groups, and it was apparent regardless of whether patients had comorbidities or had previously been infected by COVID-19…

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Previous research also has found that omicron infection is associated with a reduced risk of severe symptoms. Between October 1 and December 6, according to a South African study, COVID-19 patients infected by omicron were 80 percent less likely to be hospitalized than patients infected by other variants. A Scottish study that looked at patients who tested positive for the coronavirus from November 1 to December 19 found that “Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation when compared to Delta.” According to an English study of people tested from December 1 through December 14, omicron patients were 41 percent less likely than delta patients to stay in the hospital overnight. A Canadian study of cases identified between November 22 and December 25 found that omicron patients were 65 percent less likely to be hospitalized than delta patients…

Like other studies, Lewnard et al. say, “our findings suggest vaccine protection against infection with the Omicron variant may be lower than protection against infection with the Delta variant.” But also consistent with other data, this study indicates that vaccination provides strong protection against severe disease caused by either variant. Among cases identified in outpatient settings, for example, delta patients who had received three vaccine doses were 85 percent less likely to be hospitalized with symptoms than unvaccinated delta patients; the risk reduction for omicron patients was 62 percent. The authors say “evidence for a reduction in severe outcomes among vaccinated cases with both Delta and Omicron variant infections in our study…suggests substantial public health benefits from continued COVID-19 vaccination.”

LU Staff

LU Staff

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