Why is the number of deaths in the US in Omicron waves higher than in Delta?

Due to the vaccination program stagnation, the number of infections increased, the hospital was overloaded and the immunity decreased, the number of deaths from Omicron in the US reached a record high.

The US health agency on the morning of January 29 reported that the number of deaths in the wave of Omicron infections surpassed the peak of the Delta epidemic at the end of last year, with the risk of continuing to increase. This trend once again underscores the message that experts have mentioned before, that underestimating the severity of Omicron is a mistake.

The data suggest that Omicron is more transmissible than all other strains, partly because of its ability to evade immunity. The number of infections increased, the number of hospitalized patients increased. Even if Omicron-infected F0 faced fewer risks, the mutation would easily disrupt the new normal that Americans experience in a short period of time.

According to estimates by scientists, the US may record an average of about one million new infections per day in the near future. Omicron’s sheer infection rate puts more pressure on hospitals after two previous severe outbreaks.

The more patients infected with Omicron, the more easily the virus can spread to others and cause death. People with underlying diseases, unvaccinated or immunocompromised are still susceptible to severe disease or need to be hospitalized.

Although symptoms of Omicron infection are less severe thanks to vaccines or natural immunity, US hospitals are still full of patients and lack beds. Many places report overcrowding and crises because there are not enough staff or facilities and equipment to treat every patient. They are forced to make the difficult choice of which patient to prioritize.

According to the University of Minnesota tracking project, more than 35% of ICU beds are occupied. Illinois and Pennsylvania saw similar trends. Patients must be isolated for at least 5 days according to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This period is shorter than the previous 10-day recommendation, but can put pressure on healthcare workers, limiting their ability to care for patients. This leads to more deaths.

Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at the Scripps Research Institute, predicts that the US will record a higher number of deaths from Omicron than other countries, although the mutation is less severe. In a post on his personal page, he compared the daily number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in 7 developed countries. The US has a much higher baseline mortality rate per capita, he said.

People wait in line to be tested for Covid-19 in Queens borough, New York City, USA, December 2021. Photo: NY Times

Another reason is America’s vaccination program has stagnated compared to many countries.

For example, the Omicron wave in the UK is leveling off, according to data from John Hopkins University School of Medicine. Since last week, the daily F0 has been steadily decreasing. The UK government says about 90% of people aged 12 and over have received their first dose of the vaccine, and 83% have received two doses. About 62% received the booster dose.

The US lags behind this country in vaccination efforts. More than a year of implementation, the US only injects two doses of the vaccine for more than 60% of the population, ie, nearly 40% of the other still face high risk. Only 37% received the booster dose.

According to Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, the prolonged debate over the third dose creates mixed messages with the public, distracting from the public’s interest.

Besides that, Post-injection immunity can also decline over time. Scientists say that natural antibodies after infection with previous strains will weaken after a relatively short time.

If immunity to the virus weakens, Americans will continue to experience outbreaks large enough to keep hospitals crowded for years. To prevent this, some experts recommend an annual, fall-winter vaccination that resembles the flu vaccine.

Thuc Linh (Follow Vox, NY Times, The Hill)


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