Risk of death from Covid for over 70s has decreased by tenfold compared to a year ago


Research shows the risk of death from Covid for over 70s has decreased by tenfold compared to a year ago, thanks to vaccines, natural immunity, treatments, and the replacement of Delta by the mild Omicron variant.

In younger age groups the decline is sharper with the risk of death to healthy teens “almost zero”.

Professor Anthony Brookes, an expert in genetics and health data at University of Leicester, helped compile the research based on Office of National Statistics, Government and NHS infection reports.

He said Covid no longer posed a significant threat to “the vast majority of people”

“We will not be in anything like the same place in January 2022 as we were in January 2021. Infected individuals are at dramatically less risk of becoming seriously ill or dying than a year ago,” he said.

He added: “Over the last month the risk has been dropping further thanks to Omicron now accounting for around 95 per cent of cases in England. Omicron is around 4-fold less dangerous – it’s like nature’s vaccine.”

Professor Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious disease at the University of East Anglia said: “There is no doubt the illness we are seeing now is less severe than at the start. We are seeing a big shift towards covid becoming the common cold due to a range of factors including prior infection and vaccines.

Good news from New York City re vaccine protection against hospitalisation


Covid booster 88% effective against hospital treatment with Omicron


A booster vaccine is 88% effective at preventing people ending up in hospital with Covid-19, new data from the UK Health Security Agency suggests.

The new data confirms that two doses of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna vaccines offers little protection against being infected with Omicron.

But protection against severe disease appears to be holding up much better against the new variant.

Health officials said this reinforces the importance of getting a third dose.

The health secretary Sajid Javid said: “This is more promising data which reinforces just how important vaccines are. They save lives and prevent serious illness.

“This analysis shows you are up to eight times more likely to end up in hospital as a result of Covid-19 if you are unvaccinated.”


Vaccine wall continues to grow in UK as 75% of eligible adults have received their booster vaccine



Moderna says booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine appears protective against Omicron


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Moderna’s Covid-19 booster shot elicits a strong antibody response against the Omicron variant of coronavirus, appearing to increase antibody levels even further than a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

The Boston-based biotech said its half-dose booster increased antibody levels 37-fold, compared with people who received just two doses, showing a similar level of immune response as when tackling the Delta variant. Two doses did induce a less robust result, down 2.9-fold against Omicron, compared with the wild type of the virus.

BioNTech and Pfizer have previously said their booster lifts antibody levels 25-fold, though the studies are not directly comparable. The pair are also preparing a shot targeted to Omicron, which it has said will be available by March.

But Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive, on Monday said Moderna would also continue to invest in developing a vaccine targeted to the Omicron variant, in case it became necessary in the future, putting it into clinical trials early next year.

The Cautious Case for Omicron Optimism


As the world awaits more data on Omicron, early reports out of South Africa — where the coronavirus variant was first reported and is driving a massive spike in new cases — have consistently characterized symptoms from most cases as either nonexistent or relatively mild. On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci described Omicron as “almost certainly” not as severe as Delta, based on the preliminary data.

What should we make of very early data, or Dr. Fauci’s comments today, that suggest Omicron may be less deadly than Delta?

It’s very encouraging that ten days after Omicron was first reported, physicians on the ground in South Africa are still saying that most of the people who were hospitalized were unvaccinated and mostly seem to have very mild disease. That’s kind of persistent. It’s not changing. That is not what happened with Delta. In March, there was a 4 percent vaccination rate in India, and there was not this prolonged period where people were like, “Oh, it isn’t that bad.” It was really very terrible in terms of hospitalizations, severe illness, oxygen requirements, and deaths. This is a very different feeling. I find it really funny that people are saying, “Oh, well, it’s early. Let’s not trust them.” Why wouldn’t I trust my South African colleagues? I’m a long-standing HIV doctor and researcher who knows many of these investigators. I think that we should trust them.

I think there are two reasons that this could be happening. One is that the virus could have evolved to become less virulent, which we’ll need experiments to show. Or the second reason is that there’s just more immunity now, in December 2021, so it manifests more mildly. I don’t think we know the answer yet.

You talked a bit about your colleagues in South Africa, and you’ve done research there. At this point, do we know enough about Omicron, and the people who are getting sick in South Africa, to know what to expect in the United States?

A lot of people have said over the last couple of days that there’s a younger population in South Africa than in the U.S. The median age in South Africa is 28 or 29. But the median age in India is 28.4 and what we saw in India at the beginning of Delta was not subtle. As an Indian America-based physician, I really want to be clear that India was an utter disaster. Four percent of the population was vaccinated and young people, my own relatives, died. India has the same median age as South Africa and, if you look at the graphs, cases in India went up like a wall, not because they suddenly started testing but because people were flooding the hospitals with illness. So Omicron in South Africa is very different than what we saw with Delta in India, with the same median age.

Pfizer says booster shot promising against Omicron


Pfizer and BioNTech have said a booster jab of their coronavirus vaccine promises to be an effective defence against the new Omicron variant.

Three doses provide a similar level of antibodies against Omicron to that of two doses with other variants, the companies said after a small study.

The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier said vaccines should still work against severe Omicron cases.

Researchers across the world are piecing together data about Omicron.

It is the most heavily mutated version of coronavirus found so far.

In a statement on Wednesday, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said protection against the variant would be improved with a third dose of the jab.

“Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

However, Pfizer and BioNTech noted that the results were preliminary and said they would continue to collect data and “evaluate real-world effectiveness”.

They added that they were developing an Omicron-specific vaccine which would be ready for delivery within 100 days, pending regulatory approval.

Vaccines should work against Omicron variant, WHO says


Existing vaccines should still protect people who contract the Omicron variant from severe Covid cases, a World Health Organization (WHO) official says.

It comes as the first lab tests of the new variant in South Africa suggest it can partially evade the Pfizer jab.

Researchers say there was a “very large drop” in how well the vaccine’s antibodies neutralised the new strain.

But the WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan said there was no sign Omicron would be better at evading vaccines than other variants.

“We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalisation, and there’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t be so” for Omicron, Dr Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, told AFP news agency.

He said initial data suggested Omicron did not make people sicker than the Delta and other strains. “If anything, the direction is towards less severity,” he said.

The new South African study – which has not yet been peer-reviewed – found the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may result in up to 40 times fewer neutralising antibodies against Omicron than against the original Covid strain.

But Omicron’s ability to escape vaccine antibodies is “incomplete”, said Prof Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute, who led the research.

He said the results, based on blood tests from 12 people, were “better than I expected of Omicron”.

Prof Sigal said vaccination, combined with previous infection, could still neutralise against the variant. That suggests boosters may bring a significant benefit.

Scientists believe previous infection, followed by vaccination or a booster, is likely to increase the neutralisation level and will probably protect people against severe disease.

Omicron’s less severe cases prompt cautious optimism in South Africa


Medics and scientists in South Africa have welcomed early hospital data suggesting that the Omicron coronavirus variant could result in less severe illness than previous waves but warned that higher transmission rates could still overwhelm hospitals.

Early data from the Steve Biko and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, which is at the centre of the outbreak, showed that on December 2 only nine of the 42 patients on the Covid-19 ward, all of whom were unvaccinated, were being treated for the virus and were in need of oxygen.

The remainder of the patients had tested positive but were asymptomatic and being treated for other conditions.

“My colleagues and I have all noticed this high number of patients on room air,” said Dr Fareed Abdullah, a director of the South African Medical Research Council and an infectious disease doctor at the Steve Biko hospital.

“You walked into a Covid ward any time in the past 18 months . . . you could hear the oxygen whooshing out of the wall sockets, you could hear the ventilators beeping . . . but now the vast majority of patients are like any other ward.”

Although the total number of Covid-positive patients in Gauteng’s hospitals is approaching the level it reached at the same stage of the Delta wave, researchers said a large proportion received treatment for other conditions. And the number of Covid patients in intensive care is one quarter of what it was three weeks into the Delta outbreak.