Omicron crisis in US
Among people fully vaccinated between December 2020 and October 2021, only those with at least one risk factor had severe outcomes or death. File photo shows people lining up to get tested for COVID-19 at a testing site in Washington, DC Image Credit: AFP


  • Even among those with one risk factor, the instances were rare, 1.5 per 10,000 participants. 
  • All 36 vaccinated participants who died had four or more risk factors, such as being 65 and older, immunosuppression and  other underlying conditions.
  • Two data sets show “boosted” people are 14 times less likely to be hospitalised for COVID.

IF you are fully vaccinated against COVID, the risk of severe illness and death is “extremely rare”, an extensive data analysis shows, confirming that COVID vaccines are extremely safe and remarkably effective.

It demonstrates that vaccinated people without risk factors are "immune to worst of the coronavirus," according to a new Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysis of more than 1.2 million people.

Latest data released by the US infectious disease agency found that severe illness and death from COVID were extremely rare in vaccinated people: Among 1,228,664 fully vaccinated people across the US, 185 (0.015%) had severe illness and 36 (0.0033%) died.

Those who were more likely to experience poor COVID outcomes after vaccination included people who were over 65, immunosuppressed, or had other underlying conditions.

Those who were more likely to experience poor COVID outcomes post-vaccination included people who were over 65, immunosuppressed, or had other underlying conditions.

All people with severe outcomes had at least one risk factor; 78% of those who died had at least four. We can further shield the most vulnerable through boosters, masks, and ventilation.

Boosted people 14 times less likely to be hospitalised

Clinical studies on COVID are emerging at a fast pace. New US data published recently show that “boosted” people are 14 times less likely to be hospitalised for COVID than the unvaccinated, as quoted by Harvard/Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Dr Eric Feigl-Ding.

Patient data from Miami, Florida suggest that vaccine/booster and Omicron-wave hospitalisations lead to high hospital admissions among the unvaccinated — about 6 times more than two-shot vaccinated, and about 14 times more than booster vaccinated.

This also means booster shot gives more than double protection versus two-shots. He cited a similar trend in New York City — where unvaccinated hospitalisations are soaring while vaccinated have much lower hospitalisations — albeit also increasing.

After Omicron, 'acute COVID' phase may be ending for S. Africa

Meanwhile, a new study conducted by researchers in South Africa, the initial the epicentre of the world’s Omicron surge, offers a hint that the “acute phase” of pandemic may be ending.

The Omicron infection wave moved at a "rapid" clip, as seen among patients at a large hospital in South Africa: 4.5% of patients with COVID-19 died during their hospital stay in the current wave, compared with an average of 21% in earlier waves, according to the South African Medical Research Council’s website.

However, researchers found that while the variant is exceptional for carrying over 30 mutations in the spike glycoprotein, predicted to influence antibody neutralisation and spike function, they found that fewer people were admitted to intensive-care units — and hospital stays were “significantly shorter.”

Pattern to be repeated globally?

“If this pattern continues and is repeated globally, we are likely to see a complete decoupling of case and death rates,” the researchers said. That suggests “omicron may be a harbinger of the end of the epidemic phase of the COVID pandemic, ushering in its endemic phase.”

The study at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital Complex analysed records of 466 patients from the current wave and 3,976 from previous bouts of infection. Researchers that worked on it included Fareed Abdullah, a director at the council and an infectious disease doctor at the hospital.

South Africa, the first country to have a major Omicron outbreak, is being closely watched to see how infections from the variant may pan out globally. The comparatively young age of the country’s population and those hospitalised in the latest wave could also mask the severity of disease caused by the variant, the researchers said.

Still, the data add to hope among clinicians that concern over omicron’s high transmission rates is being tempered by the mildness of the disease it appears to cause and the limited number of deaths that result from its infections.

South African hospitalisations have crested at half of their record in previous waves. Weekly excess deaths, a measure of the number of deaths compared with a historical average, peaked at less than a fifth of their record during the pandemic.

If other countries have similar experiences, that may help move the pandemic to an endemic phase, where widespread exposure gives more people immunity resulting in less serious disease. Still, the virus could mutate further into a strain that causes more severe disease and more easily evades antibodies produced from prior infections or vaccinations.

Risk factors: 36 COVID deaths among 1.23m vaccinated people

In the US study, which analysed data of 1.2 million people who were fully vaccinated between December 2020 and October 2021, it found only people with at least one risk factor had severe outcomes or death, and even among those the instances were rare, 1.5 per 10,000 participants.

Besides death (0.0033% of cases), severe outcomes included hospitalisation with acute respiratory failure, need for ventilation or ICU admission.

All 36 participants who died had four or more risk factors, such as being 65 and older, immunosuppression and other underlying conditions.

High protection

The results underline the idea supported by experts that healthy, vaccinated people under 65 have extremely high protection from COVID's worst effects.

The study was conducted before the discovery of the highly transmissible omicron variant in November, but also before the widespread administration of booster shots. Although omicron has proven more transmissible than previous strains of the coronavirus, it also appears to cause less harmful disease.

211222 US covid
People wait in line for a free COVID-19 test in Los Angeles, California on December 21, 2021. Image Credit: AFP

4 million new US cases in a week

►' micron is now sweeping the US: More than 121,000 people were hospitalised with COVID-19, up nearly 30% from a week earlier, Department of Health and Human Services data show.

► It took six months for the US to record its first 4 million cases of COVID-19. It took just seven days to reach the most recent 4 million, an analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.

►  The country had 4.02 million cases in the seven-day period ending Wednesday, up 89% from the previous week. Twenty-nine states set weekly records.

us testing-1641458159975
People wait in line to receive a Covid-19 test on January 4, 2022, in New York. - The US recorded more than 1 million Covid-19 cases on January 3, 2022, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, as the Omicron variant continues to spread at a blistering pace. Johns Hopkins also reported 1,688 deaths for the same period, a day after top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci had said the country is experiencing "almost a vertical increase" in Covid-19 cases but the peak may be only weeks away. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP) Image Credit: AFP

►  The US is now averaging about 575,000 known cases per day, or 400 every minute. With asymptomatic cases, limited access to testing at facilities and home-testing results that are not reported, the real number could be far higher.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, said preliminary studies indicating the Omicron variant now sweeping the nation is less severe in many patients than previous versions of the virus should not encourage complacency.

"A certain proportion of a large volume of cases, no matter what, are going to be severe," Fauci said. "So don't take this as a signal that we can pull back from the recommendations ... for vaccination, for boostering, for wearing masks and all the other CDC recommendations."

(With inputs from AP, Bloomberg)