Data show that omicron is more mild and better at evading vaccinations

JOHANNESBURG, (AP) -- The omicron coronavirus variant seems to cause less severe diseases than the previous versions. According to data analysis from South Africa, the Pfizer vaccine appears to offer less protection against it, but still provide good protection from hospitalization.

Data show that omicron is more mild and better at evading vaccinations

Although Tuesday's findings are preliminary and not peer-reviewed, which is the gold standard for scientific research, they match other early data on omicron behavior. One example being that it appears to be more easily transmitted.

According to South Africa's largest private insurer and the South African Medical Research Council, a two-dose Pfizer BioNTech vaccine provided only 33% protection from infection during South Africa’s current omicron wave. However, it was able to protect 70% against hospitalization.

These data were collected between Nov. 15 and Dec. 7. This was the time when omicron was first detected by scientists in South Africa, Botswana and Botswana. They may change over time. According to Dr. Ryan Noach, chief executive of Discovery Health, experts now believe that omicron is responsible for more than 90% in all new infections in South Africa.

Around the globe, researchers are trying to determine what omicron means for the coronavirus epidemic now that it is in its second year. Pfizer announced Tuesday that the experimental pill it has developed to treat COVID-19 -- apart from its vaccine -- is effective against this new variant.

According to the company, full results from its 2,250-person study showed that the drug had shown promising early results against the virus. The drug decreased combined hospitalizations by approximately 89% in high-risk adults who took it shortly after onset of symptoms. Laboratory testing has confirmed that the drug is still effective against the omicron variant.

South Africa has seen rapid spread of the virus in the past weeks, with the majority of cases occurring in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. According to Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day average number of new cases per day in South Africa rose from 8.07 cases per 100,000 on Nov. 29, to 34.37 cases per 100,000 on Dec. 13. During the same time, the death rate has not increased.

"The fourth wave of omicron-driven new infections has a much steeper trajectory than previous waves. Noach stated that national data showed an exponential rise in new infections and test positive rates over the first three weeks, which indicates a highly transmissible variant of infection with rapid community spread."

Even though the number of cases is increasing, hospitalizations aren't increasing at the same pace. Scientists report that hospitalizations from omicron are less likely than those from earlier variants. After adjusting for vaccination status and other factors, hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients are 29% lower than the wave in South Africa that occurred in mid-2020.

This result showed that those who had received two doses from Pfizer were protected against infection by 33% in the first week of South Africa's current, omicron-driven wave. This is a substantial decrease from the 80% protection provided during earlier periods.

Researchers say that it is encouraging to see that 70% of people who have been fully vaccinated by Pfizer are protected against hospital admissions during the omicron surge. This is still less than the 93% protection that was seen in South Africa's Delta-driven wave.

This study found that there is significant protection against hospitalization even for older people, with 67% among people aged 60-69 and 60% among people 70-79.

This analysis was based upon more than 211,000 positive COVID-19 results. 41% of these were for adults who received two doses Pfizer vaccine. Omicron infections were responsible for 78,000 of the positive results.

The South African analysis supports an earlier assessment made by U.K. authorities.

According to the U.K. Health Security Agency, Friday's data confirms that omicron can be transmitted more easily than other variants. Studies have shown that the AstraZeneca vaccine and Pfizer vaccines do not prevent symptomatic infections among people who are exposed to omicron. However, preliminary data indicate that they may be more effective at preventing them.

A study found that omicron has a higher chance of reinfection. Individuals who have had COVID-19 previously are at significantly greater risk of reinfection by omicron than those who have not.

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