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Omicron looking less deadly, but South Africa has a lot of natural immunity

The short: Get excited but not too excited yet.

Omicron is not putting as many people in the ICU as Delta did (so far) which is very promising, but it’s still early days, and in South Africa 60% of urban adults have already had Covid so carry the best kind of protection there is. In the UK, only 20% of the population carry these antibodies. In Australia, which has some of the most extensive testing in the world, only 0.8% of the whole population has tested positive.

Omicron appears to be fiercely contagious, which may turn out to be a good thing because it will replace the Delta strain at lightning speed. The spread is just extraordinary. Up to 4,000 Britons are catching Omicron each day, about 10% of Covid cases in the UK are already Omicron, and many of those are children. Projections are that Omicron may have completely displaced Delta by New Year in the UK. But even if hospitalizations are a third as likely, it could still overwhelm hospitals.

Hospitalizations are up 80% in South Africa in the last week. But cases in the original Gauteng region have leveled off, and are already starting to fall.

I’m still hoping Omicron is the ultimate Christmas Present for the world, but caution that all the things people worry about in the spike in vaccines could still apply to a wild virus spike. It’s still a mutated bioweapon. Watch and wait.

So, “it’s fast”:

Obviously, this could overwhelm hospitals but the solution is to raise Vitamin D levels and use antivirals like Ivermectin prophyllactically.

Covid Cases, South Africa. OWID.

Faster than any previous variant, even though South Africans already have a lot of natural protection.  |  OWID

Hospital Stats are good (but)

If Omicron was deadly in a similar way to Delta, we should have seen a rise in ICU admissions and so it is good news that we don’t. In South Africa, in previous waves as many as 10% of people in hospital¬† were on ventilators. Now with Omicron only 3% are.

OMicron cases ICU South Africa. Graph.





But: This graph may still look quite different for other countries where they have much lower levels of natural immunity (and where Vitamin D levels will current be lower because it’s winter). South Africans have also had to deal with the Beta variants as well as Delta. How many of South Africa’s cases are reinfections of people who carry some antibodies against the Beta or Delta versions of Omicron?

60% of South African adults have already got natural protection

South Africans have a high level of natural protection. Serum antibody tests show that by July this year about 60% of adults in the cities aged 35 – 60 had already had Covid. Indeed, the authors estimated that “approximately 95% of SARS-CoV-2 infections were not reported to national surveillance.”

About 20% of the UK has had Covid.

See the red line in the graph below from official UK Health data. These are the people who carry antibodies of the N kind, which means, the Nucleocapsid, or Not-the-Spike.

Vaccinated people carry antibodies only against the spike, so that’s the navy-blue line.

UK Serum antibody level, N-antibody, graph.

Natural infections are marked in red. Those with antibodies generated from a vaccine or natural infection combined are in blue.

If Omicron can get around vaccine antibodies but not so much around natural immunity things in the Northern Hemisphere may not look as good as in Africa.

DailyMail has an extraordinary headline

It’s so rare to see the non-permitted narrative in the news:

Vast majority of Britons have NO PROTECTION against Omicron:

After 100 days two AstraZeneca doses offer virtually zero defence while two Pfizer jabs provide just 37% protection against new variant – but boosters cut risk of illness by 75%

It’s still an advertisement for getting a booster, but how devastating to admit that the vaccines are already faded to nothing or worse. Surely the punters are noticing the contradictions of how two doses don’t work, but a third dose of the same thing will?

OMicron, double vaccines not effective in the UK. Graph. DailyMail.

Extraordinarily, there’s a negative scale on the graph. For weeks now the UK data has shown that vaccine protection against catching Covid becomes less than nothing — or rather, at some point vaccinees are more likely to catch Covid.

The negative scale makes the Pfizer vaccine look more useful against Omicron.

Spreading like lightning

Omicron is spreading so fast epidemiologists are now saying that nearly everyone is going to get this “in the coming weeks”. One Indian doctor estimates he got a fever within 24 hours of being exposed to Omicron (he’s 46, and feeling fine 13 days later.)

Prof Riley told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Omicron is spreading so quickly that, I think, unless you are living the life of a hermit, you are very likely to come across it in the next few weeks.

‘I don’t think anyone should be going around thinking they are not going to catch it, I think that situation has changed.’

The incubation rate has shortened so much that even if the Ro or rate of spread is “only” 2 or 3, the caseload is doubling faster than a virus with an Ro of 6 but a longer incubation.

Too soon to tell: South Africa, though cases are up, deaths are not.

But since there is a 3 to 4 lag for deaths, it’s deceptive. Three weeks ago, on November 21, there were only 500 new cases a day in South Africa and most of those were in young university students.

Still, if the incubation period is shorter, it’s fair to wonder if the whole disease process is shorter too. Fingers crossed.

Sorry for those who just want to hear “it’s over”, Omicron is the common cold come to save us. Maybe it is. It’s looking great. But hope is not data. Don’t shoot the messenger, OK?

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