Covid-19: “There is no red flag at this stage on the severity of infections with Omicron”

Salim Abdool Karim is a South African epidemiologist specializing in infectious diseases and HIV in particular. He headed the interministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 in South Africa until March 2021. A reference figure in the South African scientific landscape, he reviews the recent emergence of the Omicron variant.

In three weeks, South Africa has gone from 200 to 300 new cases of Covid-19 per day to more than 15,000. Is the Omicron variant more contagious than the others?

Omicron immediately worried me because it has mutations that allow it to spread faster and evade antibody immunity. We expected it to be more transmissible, and our comparisons show that the number of infections is actually doubling faster than in previous waves.

Does being vaccinated or having already had Covid-19 protect against this variant?

We are seeing a lot of people infected who have had Covid-19 in the past. We have a system that identifies these cases and we estimate that the reinfection rate with Omicron is 2.4 times higher than in previous waves, so people who have already had Covid-19 do not seem to be protected. facing Omicron. Regarding vaccines, we know that they are not 100% effective, and we have also seen a few cases of infection in people who have been vaccinated, but it is too early to know if this is happening more often than we could. wait. Laboratory studies are also underway to find out how well antibodies kill this variant. [Des résultats préliminaires publiés mercredi 8 décembre montrent un affaiblissement de la protection immunitaire offerte par les vaccins contre ce variant après deux doses, mais la vaccination semble mieux protéger avec trois doses.]

Read our decryption: Article reserved for our subscribers Why it takes time to assess the dangerousness of the Omicron variant

The first clinical observations seem to suggest that Omicron causes mostly mild infections. What do you think ?

I am very hesitant to draw any conclusions about the severity of the infections. Severe forms in patients usually appear two to four weeks after the onset of a wave. At the moment, we see the majority of mild infections, but that was expected. Omicron has only been emerging for a fortnight. It is not known if we are going to have a lot of severe cases in the next two weeks. At the moment, the doctors tell me that the patients present the same clinical profile as the previous infections. All that means is that there is no red flag at this point, but that doesn’t mean that Omicron only causes mild infections.

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Covid-19: “There is no red flag at this stage on the severity of infections with Omicron”