The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has caused the largest increase in Covid-19 cases in the UK since the start of the pandemic, but the number of critically ill patients in hospitals has not increased significantly, a promising sign. for countries, including the United States, that are experiencing their own rapid increases in infections.
As detailed The Wall Street Journal, the key is in the differences in the way in which the variant attacks the organism, in the booster vaccination rates that protect the most vulnerable against the most serious aspects of the disease and in the best treatments that prevent the progression of Covid- 19.
“We’re waiting for the bombs to drop and they haven’t fallen yet,” Mervyn Singer, consultant for intensive care hospitals at University College London told the WSJ. “. I trust that Ómicron will not be so bad ”.
Although the numbers for intensive care are low, admissions in ordinary hospitals are increasing rapidly, putting to the test a healthcare system that is struggling with the widespread absences of medical personnel who have been infected with Omicron.
According to the most recent official data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of medical center staff in England absent due to the virus tripled in one month to 39,142 on the 2nd, making one in 12 employees in critical hospital units was unavailable.
In this scenario of lack of personnel, some 3.7 million people in the country were infected during the week that ended on December 31, 64% more than the previous week. National hospitals are also facing the highest numbers of admissions for coronavirus since last February, with a total of 18,454 admitted to the United Kingdom on the 6th, a weekly increase of 40% and the highest figure recorded since February 18, 2021.
In medical centers of the county of Greater Manchester (English Northwest) at the beginning of this week 17 hospitals had to temporarily suspend operations “non-urgent”.
Few need respirators
An important piece of information to assess the scenario is that of patients so ill that they need mechanical ventilation. As of last Thursday there were 762 cases of Covid-19 in mechanical ventilation beds in English hospitals. This is less than in early November and a fraction of the 3,700 that were reached during the previous winter wave, when the average number of daily cases peaked at about 60,000.
“I watched my unit in the first and second waves fill up with Covid-19 ventilated admissions within hours,” said David Carr, an intensive care nurse at London’s St Thomas Hospital. That hasn’t happened so far with Ómicron, he told the WSJ.
Experts warn, however, that the numbers for intensive care could rise if the variant progresses further than it has so far among vulnerable older groups. About 60% of people in intensive care units are not vaccinated, according to data from mid-December, despite the fact that last month they only represented 9% of the adult population, and doctors say that the The rest are usually people vaccinated but suffering from serious underlying diseases that are aggravated by Covid-19.
The specialists also affirm that the reduction in severe cases is mainly due to the benefits of vaccination. Vaccines appear to protect well against severe disease, although Ómicron has proven very adept at circumventing the defenses that vaccines offer against infection. Previous immunity from previous waves of Covid-19 may also be playing a role, as may better treatments like steroids and synthetic antibodies to fight the virus.
But doctors also point to the characteristics of the variant, especially research suggesting that its rate of transmission may reflect a rapid replication capacity in the nose and upper respiratory tract, but less effective deep in the lungs, where the virus can do more damage .
Even in the face of the speed of spread of the new strain, Experts from the so-called Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) believe that a fourth vaccine is not necessary yet since current booster doses continue to provide strong protection against severe disease derived from this variant in older people.
The latest official figures from the Health Security Agency of this country suggest that for the British population over 65, protection against hospitalizations for covid-19 continues to stand at 90% three months after the dose of booster or third injection.
Regarding protection against serious disease derived from the administration of two doses of the preparation, this falls to 70% three months later and to 50% after six months.
This has led the JCVI to recommend that the Boris Johnson government continue, for now, to prioritize the administration of that booster injection for all adults, instead of starting to offer a fourth dose for vulnerable groups.such as those over 80 or residents of nursing homes.
“Current data show that the booster dose continues to provide high levels of protection against serious disease, even for the oldest and most vulnerable groups,” said expert Wei Shen Lim, president of the JCVI in a statement published today in the national media. .
In statements today to Times Radio, Expert Mike Tilsdesley, from the University of Warwick, opined that the omicron variant could become endemic in a similar way to what happens with the common colds. “Although we are not at that point yet, but possibly omicron is the first ray of light,” he said.
The expert considered that right now the situation in the northeast and northwest of the country is “particularly worrying” given the numbers of hospital admissions while in London the cases are “going down”.