2022: Omicron – Is this the end of it?

by | What We're Talking About

Omicron has spread with alarming speed in every state and territory apart from Western Australia.  With the collapse of PCR testing and the move to scarce rapid antigen tests, experts think that the real number of cases is five times what’s being reported.  The outbreak will peak because there won’t be many people left to infect or who haven’t recently had a booster, but there will be a long tail of hospital admissions and deaths. 

UK data found that Omicron is a third as likely to result in a hospital admission overall.  Studies from various labs around the world have also shown that Omicron is less likely to attach itself to the lungs, suggesting that’s the reason for being ‘milder’.  However, when apple were compared with apples – in  other words, it’s severity in unvaccinated people who’ve never been infected with COVID in the past, the severity was only reduced between 20 and 50%.  So, if you’re seeing a reduction of a fifth to a third but have 50 times as many cases, the mildness is soon overwhelmed which is why hospitalisations and deaths have been climbing, and general practice put under even more strain.

If you listen to governments, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was worth letting Omicron rip because it’ll make everyone immune and be the end of the pandemic.  If you’re planning the future in your practice, you’d be wise to assume it’s not the end for a few reasons.  A very high proportion of the world’s population is still not vaccinated, which means the virus can circulate and mutate further.  There are also untold numbers of immunocompromised people whether that be for medical reasons such as cancer treatment and organ transplants, or because of inadequately treated HIV infection.  In those people the virus can stay in their bodies for months, quietly mutating around the immune system.  That’s almost certainly how the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Omicron variants emerged.  

Also, the evidence is that having been infected with a past variant, does not necessarily protect you against the next one, although it may help against severe disease.

If there is a new variant that will take over from Omicron it will have to be more contagious and immune resistant but hopefully not more dangerous.  But since general practice is at the front line, it’ll be best to stay prepared.