When the world was first alerted to the Omicron variant of Covid-19 on 24 November, the great fear was that its armoury of vaccines would no longer be effective. The variant has an unusually large number of mutations, a significant number of which affect the spike protein targeted by most vaccines.
But data from the latest Covid-19 vaccine surveillance report shows that over the four weeks to 12 December – the latter half of which coincided with Omicron’s rapid spread – vaccines have continued to offer significant protection against hospitalisation. For the age group 80 and older, the rate of hospitalisation was 181 hospital admissions per 100,000 unvaccinated individuals, compared to just 37 for vaccinated individuals.
There are also tentative signs that the Omicron wave may be slowing down. Having initially soared since the variant was first detected in the UK in late November, the daily UK caseload has now been largely unchanged for nearly a week, with 90,629 reported on Tuesday (1,115 lower than the previous day).
Prime Minister Boris Johnson nevertheless warned that there continued to be “uncertainty” over exactly how severe Omicron is, given that it typically takes around two weeks for initial infections to develop to the point of hospitalisation.