Two British studies released on Wednesday provide some early hints that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 might be milder than the Delta variant.
The new studies bolster earlier research that suggested Omicron might not be as harmful, said Manuel Ascano Jr, a Vanderbilt University biochemist who studies viruses.
An analysis by the Imperial College London COVID-19 response team estimated the hospitalization risks for Omicron cases in England, finding that people infected with the variant are about 20 percent less likely to go to the hospital at all than those infected with the Delta variant, and 40 percent less likely to be hospitalized for a night or more.
That analysis included all cases of COVID-19 confirmed by polymerase chain reaction tests in England in the first half of this month in which the variant could be identified: 56,000 cases of Omicron and 269,000 cases of Delta.
A separate study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh and other experts suggested that the risk of hospitalization was two-thirds less with Omicron than Delta.
That study said the nearly 24,000 Omicron cases in Scotland were predominantly among adults ages 20 to 39.
Younger people are much less likely to develop severe cases of COVID-19.
“This national investigation is one of the first to show that Omicron is less likely to result in COVID-19 hospitalization than Delta,” researchers wrote.
While the findings are early observations, “they are encouraging,” the authors wrote.
The findings have not yet been reviewed by other experts.
Ascano said that the studies have limitations.
For example, the findings are specific to a certain time during a quickly changing situation in the UK, he said.
“Cautious optimism is perhaps the best way to look at this,” Ascano said.
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