What Early Data Shows – NBC Chicago

What Early Data Shows – NBC Chicago


While plenty remains to be seen about the new omicron variant and how it will affect the coronavirus pandemic, early studies are showing signs of how current COVID vaccines and booster shots perform against the strain.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday there is increased confidence that omicron “is likely to spread quickly” and already faster than the delta variant, which is behind the latest surge in the U.S., but that vaccines continue to offer at the minimum some protection.

“The early data indicates that this is probably, you know, maybe two to two-and-a-half times as easy to spread, as contagious as the delta variant,” she said.

According to an examination Tuesday of data from South Africa, where omicron is driving a surge in infections, the variant seems to not just spread more easily from person to person, but is better at evading vaccines while causing less serious illness.

The White House on Wednesday insisted there is no need for a lockdown because vaccines are widely obtainable and appear to offer protection against the worst consequences of the virus.

Arwady said the city is continuing to push for vaccinations and booster shots for that same reason, though an increase in breakthrough infections is expected and there are heightened concerns for the unvaccinated.

“We do think at this point, vaccines are very likely to continue to protect against harsh disease, but because there will be probably more transmission that makes it harder to control efforts,” she said. “And it puts everybody at some more risk.”

So far, the Pfizer vaccine seems to offer less defense against infection from the variant, but nevertheless good protection from hospitalization, according to an examination of data from South Africa, where the new variant is driving a surge in infections.

According to the data, a two-measure Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination appeared to provide just 33% protection against infection during South Africa’s current omicron wave, but 70% protection against hospitalization, according to the examination conducted by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurer, and the South African Medical Research Council.

nevertheless, the 33% marks a meaningful drop from the 80% protection against infection afforded during earlier periods.

The researchers say it’s encouraging that the study shows that people fully vaccinated with Pfizer have 70% protection against hospital admission during the omicron surge. That’s nevertheless a drop from the 93% protection seen in South Africa’s delta-pushed wave.

Arwady said she’s “feeling pretty confident” that the variant will rule to more breakthrough situations and reinfections in those who have already had COVID, but the severity of those situations remains unclear despite early breakthrough situations in the Midwest showing mild symptoms, if any.

“We think based on what we’re seeing now, omicron is doubtful to be more harsh than delta, which is which is very, very good news, but I’m nevertheless skeptical of claims that there’s considerably reduced severity,” Arwady said. “So great news, it doesn’t look like it’s making people sicker than what we have now, but I do know there are a lot of people who feel like this is really not making people sick at all and that is not however something that my team feels that the data shows.”

The data from South Africa shows that while case numbers are rising, hospitalizations are not increasing at the same rate, leading the scientists to believe that the risk of hospitalization from omicron may be lower than delta or earlier variants. Hospital admissions for adults diagnosed with COVID-19 are 29% lower compared to the wave that South Africa experienced in mid-2020, after adjusting for vaccination position, according to the examination.

But the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 technical rule, Maria Van Kerkhove, said Wednesday that increased transmission will consequence in increased hospitalizations that burden health-care systems, some of which will fail.

“Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any past variant. We are concerned that people are dismissing omicron as mild,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “Surely we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril.”

For unvaccinated populations, particularly those most prone to COVID, Arwady anticipates “accelerated transmission and then a rising number of hospitalizations for harsh illness.”

already if omicron proves milder on the whole than delta, it may disarm some of the life-saving tools obtainable and put immune-compromised and elderly people at particular risk as it begins a rapid assault on the United States.

“We know that people infected with omicron can have the complete spectrum of disease, from asymptomatic infection to mild disease, all the way to harsh disease to death,” Van Kerkhove said.

And if a dueling surge of both delta and omicron hits, experts fear hospitals and staff won’t be able to resist the increase.

“Our delta surge is current and, in fact, accelerating. And on top of that, we’re going to add an omicron surge,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School.

“That’s upsetting, because our hospitals are already filling up. Staff are fatigued,” leaving limited capacity for a possible grind of COVID-19 situations “from an omicron wave superimposed on a delta surge.”

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