It is quickly approaching as the omicron variant of COVID-19 is responsible for 70% of the new coronavirus cases in the U.S. Francis Collins, outgoing Director of the National Institutes of Health warned that COVID-19 incidences could increase to one million per day by January.
The omicron variant, according to some preliminary estimates, is about 25–50 percent more infectious than the already highly contagious delta variant. Research from Hong Kong University has shown that the omicron variation replicates in human lung tissue seven times quicker than the delta version. The high viral load may explain why the variant transmits faster between individuals.
Two doses of Moderna/Pfizer/BioNTech’s mRNA vaccines provide substantial protection against infection and greatly reduce the risk of death and hospitalization from the emergence of new cases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimated that people not vaccinated were almost five times as likely to contract the delta variant from unvaccinated individuals than those who were vaccinated. The vast majority of COVID-19 infections in the United States have happened among those unvaccinated over the past four month.
However, data obtained from the United Kingdom indicates that the omicron version is less able to overcome immunity provided by either two vaccination doses or recovery from earlier infections. Specifically, disease modeling results from researchers at Imperial College London estimate that protection against COVID-19 reinfection by omicron afforded by past infection may be as low as 19 percent. The researchers also estimate that COVID-19 vaccines only protect about 20% against symptoms and could be as effective as 0 percent.
Two doses of vaccines can still provide significant protection from severe omicron-variant infections. Researchers at Imperial College London estimate that boosters can prevent symptomatic infection by between 55 to 80 percent. People vaccinated with two doses, those who have recovered from a prior infection and the unvaccinated are all vulnerable to infection by the omicron variant which means that it has a much greater opportunity to spread even more rapidly than the delta variant has done.
Moderna and Pfizer both report that booster shots increase the effectiveness of virus-fighting antibody by over 25 and 37 percent, respectively. In addition, researchers suggest that vaccination may have primed T-cells—the next line of our bodies’ immune defenses—to fight off infections caused by the omicron variant.
Researchers are still unsure how the omicron variation will impact hospitalizations and deaths rates. According to the U.K. Health Security Agency’s recent risk assessment, “there is no data that suggests that Omicron viruses are more virulent than Delta.” The new Omicron virus could prove to be more severe than delta, and that would make it really dangerous news.
South African data suggests that this variant causes milder symptoms. COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations were actually lower in South Africa than the ones resulting from the Delta variant surge. Researchers cautioned that vaccines and previous infections could be responsible for the South African omicron infected. It’s worth noting that the Hong Kong University study revealed that the Omicron variant reproduced in human lung tissue much slower (10 times less) than the original virus, suggesting a lesser severity.
About 30 percent of Americans who have been fully vaccinated have received a COVID-19 booster vaccine. A booster shot can only be effective for about 2 weeks so get your vaccines and booster shots as soon possible. There is a new wave of omicrons and it’s growing fast.
Disclosure: The Pfizer/BioNTech booster I used in October was mixed with the two previous doses of Moderna. After assessing the impact of the Omicron Wave, my wife and I decided to cancel our planned vacation to Miami Beach this week.