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COVID: Risk of hospitalisation with Omicron appears to be two-thirds lower than with Delta, Scotland study suggests

The risk of hospitalisation with Omicron is two-thirds lower than with the Delta variant, a small study suggests.

The study by University of Edinburgh scientists and other experts in Scotland was based on only 15 people in hospital.

It has not been peer-reviewed.

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The report says: “These early national data suggest that Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation when compared to Delta.

“Whilst offering the greatest protection against Delta, the third/booster dose of vaccination offers substantial additional protection against the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 for Omicron when compared to ≥25 weeks post second vaccine doses is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation when compared to Delta.

“Whilst offering the greatest protection against Delta, the third/booster dose of vaccination offers substantial additional protection against the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 for Omicron when compared to ≥25 weeks post second vaccine dose.”

Separate data from South Africa suggested that people contracting COVID were 80% less likely to be taken to hospital with Omicron, compared with other strains – and 70% less likely of developing severe disease when compared with Delta.

The data was reported by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. It stressed that the apparent reduced severity could be in part a result of high levels of population immunity due to previous infection and/or vaccination – and noted that the severity could be different in other populations.

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Reacting to the Scotland study, experts welcomed the news, though they urged caution given how small the sample is.

Professor James Naismith, professor of structural biology at University of Oxford, said that “although small in number, the study is good news”.

“Although two thirds reduction is significant, Omicron can cause severe illness in the doubly vaccinated. Thus if Omicron continues to double every few days, it could generate many more hospitalisations than Delta from the double vaccinated population.

“In my view the best news in the study is the observation that the booster is highly effective at reducing serious illness from Omicron.

“Put crudely we have more time to get more people boosted, we can’t waste a moment of it.

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“Everything we can do as individuals to slow spread gives us more time. In my view, there is now solid reason to favour a more optimistic outcome of Omicron in the UK than was feared.

“None of this should diminish the loss of lives that will still happen nor the work of health professionals who are exhausted.”

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