A preliminary study published on Tuesday indicates that Omicron causes milder disease but is more equipped to evade the protection of vaccines.
The study, which was conducted in South Africa by a private health insurance company, found that patients who tested positive for the omicron variant were hospitalized less often than patients who had other versions of Covid-19.
Although the study is only based on three weeks of data, it clearly indicates that vaccines are less capable of preventing breakthrough infections. Epidemiologists have stressed that waiting a few more weeks will provide a much stronger data pool, as Omicron has not become fully dominant yet and only a fraction of people with the variant have become sick enough to be hospitalized.
It is also possible that Omicron infections present milder symptoms due to immunity from prior infections or from vaccination. The mean age of the participants in the study was 34, and younger people often experience mild illness from Covid, which may mask how dangerous Omicron actually is to those at higher risk.
Nevertheless, the study found that the fourth wave of Coivd infections in South Africa–driven by Omicron– resulted in dramatically fewer hospitalizations than the first three waves: Omicron had 38 hospital admissions per 1,000 infections, Delta had 101 per 1,000, and Beta had 131 per 1,000.
Omicron to become dominant in Europe “in less than a week”
European leaders issued warnings on Friday that the Omicron variant will likely become the dominant strain of Covid-19 in less than a week.
“We expect it to overtake Delta within days, not weeks,” First minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon told the Washington Post.
The U.K. Health Security Agency has also sounded the alarm over the variant, saying that Omicron has a ”high growth rate,” that far outpaces Delta, making its dominance expected. Danish researchers have predicted that Omicron will be the dominant strain “by the end of next week.”
European health officials are also bracing themselves for a “potential tsunami of infections” as the holidays coalesce with Omicron’s spread.
The Delta variant remains the dominant strain of Covid in the United States, but officials are pointing to Omicron’s spread overseas as a sign of what will likely happen in America.
Greek health expert says it’s still too early to make conclusions
Although other European health officials are making firm predictions about Omicron’s potential dominance based on the rate of the variant’s spread alone, Greek expert Elias Mosialos said it is still too early to draw any meaningful conclusions about the Omicron variant. Mosialos insisted that we must wait for another 10 to 15 days before that can occur.
Mosialos is the Brian-Abel Smith Professor of Health Policy at the London School of Economics (LSE).
In March of 2020, the Greek expert was appointed as a representative of the Greek government to international organizations tasked with dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, Professor Mosialos was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Department of Public Health Policy of the School of Public Health of the University of West Attica (PADA), for his work on the pandemic.