Thursday, Jul 07, 2022

Study Suggests Omicron May Be As Severe As Previous Covid-19 Variants, Here Is All You Need To Know

Study says that Omicron caused fewer hospitalisations and deaths only because of high vaccination and better treatments by the time it emerged.

A person being tested in Shanghai AP

A new study has found that the Omicron variant of coronavirus is as serious as earlier variants, contradicting the popular belief that while Omicron is more transmissible than earlier variants, it is not as severe.

The study, conducted in the United States, suggests that it was not Omicron’s lack of severity that caused relatively fewer cases of severe disease and deaths, but the effect of increased vaccination rollout. 

Experts have said that this highlights the importance of vaccines, as increased vaccination has been shown to be effective in reducing severe disease and mortality even from Omicron, more transmissible than earlier strains and as severe as them. 

Here is all you need to know about the study, its significance, and how it adds to our understanding of Covid-19.

What are research findings?

The yet-to-be peer-reviewed study, uploaded on the pre-print repository Research Square, adjusted the linked state-level vaccination data with electronic health records from a large healthcare system, including 13 hospitals, in America’s Massachusetts state. The researchers studied over 1,30,000 Covid-19 patients. 

It found that when looked at in isolation from the vaccination’s effect, Omicron appears to be less severe, but the case changes when increased vaccination is taken into account. 

However, after adjusting hospitalisations and deaths for factors such as various demographics, comorbidity, and vaccination status, the study found that risks of hospitalisation and deaths were nearly identical between earlier variants’ waves and the Omicron-drive wave. 

What is the study’s significance?

Firstly, the study, which is under review by Nature journal, dismisses the belief that Omicron is less severe. It therefore comes as a sign that healthcare systems as well as people should not let their guard down.

Secondly, the study highlights that infections and deaths cannot be looked at in isolation. They have to be looked at in the broader context of vaccination status, the availability of treatment options. By the time Omicron swept the area covered in the study, vaccination had picked up and better treatments had become available to people.

Dr Arjun Venkatesh of Yale School of Medicine told Reuters that if treatments like monoclonal antibodies and antiviral drugs that are known to reduce hospitalisations were not available at the time of Omicron wave, it’s possible that Omicron could have been much worse than earlier waves. 

The study therefore highlights that one cannot skip vaccines or boosters thinking that deadly variants are a thing of past and current variants are mild. Omicron is mild because of the cumulative effect of vaccines and available treatments, not because of its lack of severity. 

How does it add to understanding of Covid-19?

It has been said that variants and sub-variants of coronavirus are getting milder with time. The study counters the argument. 

Lately, new sub-variants of Omicron have been discovered that are much more transmissible than earlier strains of Omicron and previous variants. As per the study, these variants – which are already driving surges in infections in South Africa and the United States – are not just more transmissible but also as severe as previous variants. 

This means that the only thing cushioning their blow is the increased vaccination and availability of better healthcare and treatments.