Is Omicron less deadly than previous variants ?
The mystery surrounding the latest Covid-19variant continues to persist into the new year. Despite numerous studies conducted by scientists, it is still unclear whether the Omicron variant is less virulent than its predecessors. Although hospitalization rates and deaths have been lower than the Delta variant, experts cautioned against dismissing Omicron as a potential threat.
Early tests and studies conducted in South Africa, where the variant was first identified, showed that the variant was less likely to cause hospitalization. Even in the case of hospitalization, most patients did not require intensive care or oxygen support. Such findings have purported the notion that Omicron is not deadly like the previous Delta variant.
However, one needs to remember that the study has not been peer-reviewed yet and should be taken with a grain of salt. Another important factor to note is that South Africa has a larger share of youth compared to the elderly. This may have been a crucial factor in explaining why the variant appeared to be milder than the Delta. This finding was also corroborated by data from the UK and Europe, which suggested that Omicron caused less severe disease than previous variants.
While there may be several factors contributing to this phenomenon, some of which still remain unknown to us. The two most discernable ones are discussed below.
- Prior immunity gained from the previous variants may have played a hand in negating the effects of Omicron. Vaccination programs would have surely contributed to this. Vaccines will have strengthened immune responses, especially those found in the lungs, providing a strong defense against Omicron. Perhaps that is why a majority of reports suggest that Omicron affected the nose and throat and not the lungs.
- Another key point observed in the new variant is that even unvaccinated people possessed strong immunity against it. This can be attributed to the mutations in omicron itself which makes it less virulent than say, the Delta. Studies have shown that the Omicron virus grew well in tissues of the nose and throat and less so in lung tissue. The studies are yet to be reviewed as of now but have shed some light as to why the new variant appears milder.
Complacency has no place
As stated many times by healthcare experts, Omicron should not be taken lightly. Although less severe than previous versions, Omicron’s extraordinarily high rate of transmission can cause problems later on. Omicron is proving to be more transmissible than other strains and in the long run, this is worrisome.
Already, scientists believe that the next variants might be deadlier than Omicron. Leonardo Martinez, disease epidemiologist at Boston University, said, “The faster Omicron spreads, the more opportunities there are for mutation, potentially leading to more variants.” And there is no guarantee that the future variants will be milder. The best we can hope for is to get ourselves vaccinated while the shots still work so that our body’s immune system is prepared for the next ones.