Vaccine, infection data marks small wins in battle for Omicron

  • AstraZeneca and Novavax say their shots protect Omicron
  • UK data suggests fewer hospitalizations than Delta’s
  • Do not extrapolate from similar African data -African CDC
  • WHO also called for caution before drawing firm conclusions
  • Biden moves too little, too late for Omicron experts

JOHANNESBURG / LONDON, Dec.23 (Reuters) – Two vaccine makers have said their shots are shielded from Omicron, as UK data suggested it could cause proportionally fewer hospital cases than the Delta coronavirus variant, although public health experts have warned the battle against COVID-19 is far from over.

Equally encouraging signs regarding hospitalization rates emerged in South Africa on Wednesday, but the head of a leading African health agency has joined the World Health Organization in warning it is too early to draw general conclusions.

“Let’s be careful not to extrapolate what we’re seeing in South Africa across the continent or across the world,” African Centers for Disease Control (CDC) chief John Nkengasong said during a briefing. hurry.

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Coronavirus infections have skyrocketed wherever highly infectious Omicron has spread, sparking new restrictions in many countries.

First identified last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong, the variant is becoming dominant across much of Europe, including Britain, where new daily infections have exceeded 100,000.

In France, daily cases of the coronavirus – currently close to 90,000 – could number in the hundreds of thousands in January, a scientific adviser to President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday, while Germany reported its first death of Omicron. Read more

In Italy, the first western country to be hit by the pandemic last year, the National Institute of Health said Omicron would soon prevail, while Greece banned public Christmas festivities to curb its spread. The two countries have also made it compulsory to wear an outer mask. Read more

But the increase in hospitalizations and deaths in South Africa and Britain since Omicron’s arrival appears to have been only gradual, and AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Novavax (NVAX.O) have joined. to other vaccine makers to say their injections protected against this.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh who followed 22,205 Omicron patients said on Wednesday that the number of patients who needed to be hospitalized was 68% lower than they expected, based on the rate of patients with Delta.

Researchers at Imperial College London have reported evidence of a comparable 40% to 45% reduction in the risk of hospitalization.

“DO NOT OVER INTERPRET”

Raghib Ali, senior clinical research associate at Cambridge University, said scientists have warned that with increasing cases in the UK, even a small proportion of hospitalizations could overwhelm the healthcare system.

However, the data was encouraging and “could help justify the government’s decision not to extend restrictions on social gatherings at Christmas in England,” he said.

UK data backs up Wednesday’s findings from the South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). Read more

A separate study supported by the South African government, which has not yet been peer reviewed, of health workers who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (JNJ.N) identified a “clear and early decoupling” of hospitalizations of Omicron versus Delta cases.

However, CDC’s Nkengasong said NICD data, suggesting that Omicron was 70% to 80% less severe than Delta, should be interpreted “with great caution.”

A woman carries her luggage amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic at central station in Berlin, Germany on December 22, 2021. REUTERS / Annegret Hilse

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“This is the beginning and the practice of public health is local,” he said, adding that particular factors such as the young median age of the South African population could be at play.

Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical officer for COVID-19, on Wednesday said the data on Omicron was still too “messy” to draw firm conclusions.

Case data on the spread of Omicron due by the UK Health Security Agency later Thursday should offer further clues to its severity.

VACCINE HOPES

AstraZeneca said a three-course dose of its COVID-19 vaccine offered protection against the variant, citing data from a laboratory study at the University of Oxford.

The study results, which have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, match those of competitors Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N), (22UAy.DE) and Moderna (MRNA.O) .

Hours earlier, Novavax Inc. (NVAX.O) said the first data showed that its vaccine – cleared for use by the European Union and WHO but not yet approved by the United States – was also generating a immune response against Omicron.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration cleared Merck & Co’s antiviral pill (MRK.N) for COVID-19 for certain high-risk adult patients, a day after giving the green light to similar treatment from Pfizer Inc (PFE .N) for high risk patients over 12 years of age. find out more

But President Joe Biden’s measures to support hospitals and distribute coronavirus test kits are too late to stem a wave of Omicron-related infections over Christmas, health experts have said. Read more

A day after Biden announced plans to distribute 500 million home coronavirus test kits, Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at UCLA, praised the focus on testing.

“Unfortunately, it is slow to come and it will be a small drop in the bucket compared to the tsunami of cases on the horizon,” she said.

Major Wall Street indices opened higher on Thursday after data suggested Omicron is less severe than expected. read more But the old Delta variant continues to spread.

The death toll from coronaviruses in Russia, where authorities had detected only 41 cases of Omicron, topped 600,000 on Thursday, according to Reuters calculations based on official data, after a wave of infections linked to Delta. Read more

Only the United States and Brazil have recorded more deaths from coronaviruses.

In India, where daily infections reached nearly 7,500 on Thursday with just 23 cases of Omicron, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to meet with heads of state to discuss how to counter a possible rise in Omicron ahead of the holidays. the end of the year. Read more

Global Coronavirus Spread Interactive Chart: Open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser.

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Reports from Reuters offices around the world; Writing by John Stonestreet; Editing by Catherine Evans, Edmund Blair, Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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