- Experts cautiously welcomed the preliminary studies, one from Scotland and the other from England.
- Omicron spreads far more quickly than delta and is more resistant to immunizations.
- According to scientists, the sheer volume of illnesses might still overwhelm hospitals.
Two studies published in the United Kingdom on Wednesday found that Covid infections with Omicron are less likely to result in hospitalisation than the Delta variant, confirming a trend initially discovered in South Africa.
Experts cautiously welcomed the preliminary studies, one from Scotland and the other from England, but cautioned that any gain in milder outcomes might be overshadowed by the new strain’s heightened infectiousness, which could result to more overall severe cases.
“We’re saying that this is qualified good news — qualified because these are early findings, statistically significant, and we’re showing a lower risk of hospitalisation,” Jim McMenamin, a co-author of the Scottish study, told reporters on a phone interview.
The Scottish study looked at Covid cases from November and December and separated them into Delta and Omicron groups.
It discovered that “Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of Covid-19 hospitalisation when compared to Delta,” as well as that a booster vaccine provided significant extra protection against symptomatic infection.
The experiment was small, and there were no participants under the age of 60 hospitalised at the time, but the authors stated they used statistical methods to compensate for these limitations.
The second study, from England, discovered a 20-25 percent drop in any hospital attendance for Omicron compared to Delta, as well as a 40-45 percent reduction in hospitalizations lasting one night or longer, in other words “admissions.”
Because the Scottish study only focused at admissions, this may explain for some of the observed discrepancy.
Azra Ghani of Imperial College London, the study’s co-author, stated in a statement: “Whilst the reduced likelihood of hospitalisation with the Omicron variant is reassuring, the risk of infection remains quite high.”
“Vaccines continue to provide the highest protection against infection and hospitalisation with the addition of the booster dosage.”
Neither study has been peer reviewed, but it adds to the growing body of research concerning the effects of Omicron on disease outcomes.
It is uncertain if the lower number of severe cases reported with Omicron is due to the variant’s characteristics, or whether it seems milder because it is coming up against people with higher immunity from past infection and vaccination.
“This news does not detract from the extraordinary spread of this variant across the population, and the fact that even a small proportion of people needing hospital care for COVID may become a very large number indeed if the community attack rate continues to escalate,” said Penny Ward, a King’s College London professor of pharmaceutical medicine who was not involved in the study.