Omicron as severe as previous COVID variants, large study finds

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The Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV2 virus is inherently as severe as previous variants, according to a preprint version of a large US study that contradicts assumptions from other studies that it was more transmissible but less severe.

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The results, which estimated the severity of Omicron after taking into account the impact of vaccines, should reinforce the importance of inoculations and boosters, experts said. The vaccines helped keep hospitalizations and deaths relatively low during the Omicron surge compared to previous variants.

The study, which is peer-reviewed at the Nature Portfolio, was published on Research Square on May 2. The authors, from Massachusetts General Hospital, Minerva University and Harvard Medical School, declined to comment until peer review was complete.

“We found that the risks of hospitalization and mortality were nearly identical” between the Omicron era and periods in the past two years when different variants were dominant, the researchers said in their report.

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The new study, based on records of 130,000 COVID patients in Massachusetts, is unique and “pretty strong,” said Dr. Arjun Venkatesh of the Yale School of Medicine and the Yale Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation, who does not did not participate in the research.

Rather than just looking at the number of deaths and hospitalizations, as previous studies have done, it took into account patients’ vaccination status and medical risk factors and compared similar groups of people, Venkatesh said. .

The authors cited potential limitations in their report, including the possibility that the analysis underestimated the number of patients vaccinated in more recent COVID waves, and the total number of infections, as it excluded patients who have carried out rapid tests at home.

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The study did not take into account treatments patients may have received, such as monoclonal antibodies or antiviral drugs “which are known to reduce hospitalizations,” Venkatesh noted. “It’s possible that if we didn’t have these treatments available today, Omicron would be even worse. »

Countries around the world have found that a significant percentage of their citizens are unwilling to get vaccinated against COVID, even during outbreaks of seemingly deadlier variants.

When the Omicron variant was first identified in late 2021, public health officials said it caused much milder symptoms in the vast majority of those infected. This may have encouraged the vaccine to hesitate that they needed an injection less.

But Venkatesh said the new preprint adds to the evidence that vaccines have helped spare people the worst impacts of Omicron.

“Don’t make the mistake” of thinking vaccines and boosters aren’t important, he said.

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