Case numbers and vaccines offer small victories over omicron

December 23, 2021

FILE PHOTO: People walking past a government health campaign ad encouraging a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a bus stop during the pandemic in London, UK, 17 December 2021. REUTERS / Toby Melville

LONDON, Dec 23 (Reuters) – Two vaccine manufacturers said their vaccines offer protection against omicron, while British data suggests that the new variant of the coronavirus may lead to proportionally fewer hospitalizations than delta, supporting similar conclusions reached. in South Africa.

Coronavirus infections have exploded across much of the world as the highly infectious omicron variant has spread, prompting new restrictions in many countries. However, those responsible for the World Health Organization have stressed that it is too early to draw firm conclusions about its virulence.

First identified last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong, the variant has quickly caught on in the UK, where daily infections have soared above 100,000.

Preliminary data had indicated that omicron was more resistant to vaccines developed before its appearance. But the rise in UK hospitalizations and deaths since omicron took over has been more gradual, according to the researchers.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, who have followed 22,205 omicron-infected patients, stated late Wednesday that the number of people who needed to be hospitalized was 68% less than they would have expected, based on the rate. of patients with delta.

Researchers at Imperial College London claimed to have observed a 40-45% reduction in the risk of hospitalization in the case of omicron compared to delta in the last two weeks.

For its part, AstraZeneca said Thursday that a three-dose cycle of its COVID-19 vaccine offered protection against the variant, citing data from an Oxford University laboratory study.

The study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, showed that levels of antibodies to omicron after the booster shot were higher than antibodies in people who had been infected with COVID-19 and had recovered naturally.

Hours earlier, Novavax Inc said early data showed its vaccine elicited an immune response against omicron.

The two-dose protein vaccine developed by Novavax was licensed for use this week by regulatory bodies in the European Union and WHO. It has not yet been approved by the United States.

On Thursday, global stocks continued their recent rally, while bonds and currencies eased as markets welcomed signs that the omicron variant of COVID-19 could be less severe than feared.

UK data on hospitalizations was supported by a study published Wednesday by South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD).

However, NICD researchers included several caveats.

“It is difficult to distinguish between the relative contribution of the high levels of prior immunity in the population and the lower intrinsic virulence to the lower severity of disease observed,” they wrote.

The WHO technical director for COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, also said that the UN agency did not have enough data to draw firm conclusions.

The omicron data remains “confusing,” he told a briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

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(Information from Reuters offices around the world; edited by John Stonestreet; edited by Catherine Evans; translated by Flora Gómez)