South African Study Suggests Omicron Less Severe Even for Unvaccinated

By Reuters Staff

January 17, 2022

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Unvaccinated people infected with the Omicron variant of coronavirus may be less prone to severe illness and requiring hospital care or dying than was the case with previous variants, a South African study showed.

The study, by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) in the Western Cape region, which was published on the medRxiv website ahead of peer review, compared about 11,600 patients from the first three COVID-19 waves with about 5,100 from the Omicron-driven wave that began in November.

Omicron globally has tended to cause less severe disease, and proportionally fewer hospital admissions and deaths, than previous variants.

Scientists are trying to determine the extent to which this is because of higher population immunity engendered by vaccination or past illness, or because Omicron is intrinsically less nasty.

The study concluded that about a quarter of the reduced risk of severe disease with Omicron was attributable to characteristics of the virus itself.

"In the Omicron-driven wave, severe COVID-19 outcomes were reduced mostly due to protection conferred by prior infection and/or vaccination, but intrinsically reduced virulence may account for an approximately 25% reduced risk of severe hospitalisation or death compared to Delta," the study said.

In second paper by a smaller group of the authors, the "profile" of deaths in the same region was examined and researchers found the Omicron wave to be associated with fewer deaths from COVID-19 pneumonia than in previous waves.

SOURCE: and medRxiv, online January 12, 2022.