The weekly Morbidity and Mortality report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has highlighted how there have been ‘shorter hospitalizations and fewer deaths’ during the Omicron wave of the COVID pandemic.
Per Reuters, the Omicron variant has proved far more infectious than Delta, with the numbers of infections and hospitalizations peaking at record highs and putting a strain on an already heavily-burdened U.S. healthcare system. However, the steep spike has fortunately not translated into more deaths or patients requiring intensive care.
The CDC report that came out on Tuesday reveals that during the Omicron wave, the percentage of patients admitted to intensive care units was 26% lower than during the Delta wave and 29% lower than during last winter’s surge. When Omicron was at its peak during the period between December 19 and January 15, deaths per 1,000 COVID cases averaged 9%, a stark contrast to 16% per 1,000 during the previous winter surge and 13% during the Delta wave.
Experts believe the reduction in deaths and severity of the disease is a result of an increase in vaccine coverage, an uptake of booster shots, and prior infections which have resulted in a protective growth of natural immunity. Although the report points out there were relatively high hospitalizations among children during the Omicron period, it stresses that this may be related to their lower vaccination rates when compared to the adult population.
The study analyzed data taken from a large healthcare database and three surveillance systems to assess the U.S. COVID-19 characteristics between December 1, 2020, and January 15, 2022. The findings matched similar data analyzed in countries where Omicron had peaked earlier, such as South Africa, England, and Scotland.
The CDC admitted that the study was limited in that it was unable to exclude incidental infections when patients admitted to the hospital for other illnesses tested positive for COVID while in care. This may have also been responsible for inflating hospitalization-to-case ratios and affected severity indicators, meaning that hospitalizations for Omicron could have been exaggerated.
Per the Daily Mail, health officials in Massachusetts revealed last week that although their records indicated 3,200 hospitalizations for COVID, over half of these patients had been initially admitted for another health reason. Yet, even though Omicron’s mortality rate may be lower than that of Delta, the report states that it is still capable of causing serious harm and death, and vaccination is essential. It explained, “Being up-to-date on vaccination and following other recommended prevention strategies are critical to preventing infections, severe illness, or death from COVID-19.”