Findings in 3 Countries: Omicron Appears Milder

Risk of hospitalization reduced compared to earlier variants, largely due to immunity
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 23, 2021 7:49 AM CST
Findings in 3 Countries: Omicron Appears Milder
People wait in line to get tested for COVID-19 outside the Stephen P. Clark Government Center building, Wednesday, in downtown Miami.   (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Three studies on populations in South Africa, Scotland, and England indicate the omicron coronavirus variant generally results in milder disease than with previous variants, and is less likely to send people to the hospital. It's reassuring news as omicron is now the dominant variant in many parts of the world, including the US and Europe. However, the lowered risk of hospitalization in each of the three countries was largely tied to immunity; just over 204 million Americans, or 62% of the US population, has received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Only 63 million Americans have received booster doses, per the New York Times.

In the South Africa study, published Tuesday, the risk of hospitalization with omicron was 80% lower than with other variants, partly due to reinfections, per CNBC. Some 70% of South Africa's population is thought to have had a prior COVID-19 infection, per the Times. Just 30% are vaccinated. In the Scotland study, published Wednesday, researchers found a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalization with omicron compared with delta, though few elderly people were involved, per the BBC. Finally, the England study, also published Wednesday, found a person infected with omicron in the first two weeks of December was on average 15% to 20% less likely to end up in a hospital than a person infected with delta, and 40% to 45% less likely to be hospitalized overnight.

There are some caveats: Researchers note the results are preliminary and based on an early wave of omicron, when hospitals were not being forced to turn people away. That could still happen due to the overwhelming number of cases overall. Omicron is thought to be two to three times more transmissible than delta, which should be especially concerning for the unvaccinated. "If you are unvaccinated and you have never been infected, [omicron] is a little less severe than delta," William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard, tells the Times. "But that's a bit like saying you're being hit over the head with one hammer instead of two hammers. And the hammers are more likely to hit you now." (More omicron variant stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.