Within the next two to three months, 3 billion or more people on the planet will be infected with the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
The increased transmissibility (contagiousness) of Omicron will result in both a multiple increases in the number of reported COVID-19 infections and a global spike in hospitalizations.
However, the number of fatal outcomes would increase only slightly.
According to the predictive model of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine, in reality, the number of detected Omicron infections will be significantly lower because the vast majority of cases of COVID-19 by Omicron (approximately 90% versus the previous 40% for the Delta variant) will be asymptomatic, not forcing the use of diagnostic testing for the coronavirus.
The number of new Omicron infections will peak sometime in mid-January 2022 — over 35 million daily. And that’s triple the number of new infections at the peak of the Delta wave in India in April 2021, when that number was 12 to 13 million per day.
Given that Omicron-induced COVID-19 is now thought to be milder than previous variants, the total number of hospitalizations and deaths will be lower relative to the situation with previous waves of coronavirus. However, in absolute terms, these figures will increase because of the dramatic increase in the number of infections. Thus, an additional burden on health care systems is expected.
Omicron Variant: Latest Scientific News, Findings, Evidence, and Developments
Up-to-date scientific information about the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19.
According to current Omicron data, the ratio of infections to hospital admissions will be 90%–96% lower compared to the Delta variant, and the mortality rate will be 97%–99% lower.
The IHME experts, however, emphasize that the severity of Omicron infection is still unclear; this is due to delays in obtaining and accumulating the necessary statistics. Only by mid-January 2022 will it become more or less clear how dangerous Omicron is.
IHME experts’ recommendations to fight Omicron are generally standard. Thus, experts insist on getting a third (booster) dose of the vaccine. First, over time, the protective immunity established by inoculation weakens, although its strength to prevent hospitalization or death wanes more slowly than the decline in protection against infection itself. Second, current vaccines are much less protective against Omicron than other variants, so two doses are simply not enough to provide a reliable shield.
Protective Effectiveness of Vaccines Against Omicron
|Vaccine||Protection against Omicron infection||Protection against severe Omicron COVID-19||Technology||Developer||Country|
|Spikevax (elasomeran; mRNA-1273)||48%||73%||mRNA||Moderna||US|
|Comirnaty (tozinameran; BNT162b2)||44%||72%||mRNA||Pfizer/BioNTech||US|
|Sputnik V/Gam-COVID-Vac||44%||67%||Virus vector||Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology||Russia|
|Covovax/Nuvaxovid (NVX-CoV2373)||43%||65%||Protein subunit||Novavax||US|
|Covaxin (BBV152)||38%||57%||Inactivated whole-virion||Bharat Biotech||India|
|Vaxzevria/Covishield (AZD1222, ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, ChAdOx1-S)||36%||71%||Virus vector||AstraZeneca||UK|
|BBIBP-CorV/SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine (Vero Cell)/Hayat-Vax||35%||53%||Inactivated whole-virion||Sinopharm (China National Pharmaceutical Group)||China|
|Ad26.COV2.S||33%||57%||Virus vector||Janssen/Johnson & Johnson||US|
|Convidecia (AD5-nCOV)||32%||48%||Virus vector||CanSino Biologics||China|
|CoronaVac||24%||37%||Inactivated whole-virion||Sinovac Biotech||China|
As for the unvaccinated and those who have previously been exposed to COVID-19 caused by the non-Omicron variant of coronavirus — and there are many of them — their own immune protection levels are unlikely to be sufficient to withstand Omicron.
People should take self-protection and the protection of those around them more seriously, and this requires wearing masks with high-level protection — N95, FFP2, and KN95. It is the face mask regime that is the most effective strategy for controlling Omicron.
Those who are at higher risk due to elderly age or co-morbidities should avoid both indoor gatherings and contact in open spaces without maintaining a safe distance.
COVID-19 results briefing. IHME, December 22, 2021. [PDF]
BioPharma Media maintains a comprehensive chronology of scientific advances related to the fight against Omicron. Read our extensive and up-to-date coverage — Omicron Variant: Latest Scientific News, Findings, Evidence, and Developments.