Pfizer Stops 70% Omicron Hospitalizations in South Africa Study
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Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, as well as the shot developed by Johnson & Johnson, appear to largely prevent severe disease from the omicron variant, South African studies show.
The two-shot Pfizer course may offer 70% protection against being hospitalized with the variant that is driving the country’s fourth wave of infections, Discovery Health Ltd., the country’s largest medical-insurance provider that covers 3.7 million clients, said on Tuesday.
That protection is maintained across age groups and in the face of a range of chronic illnesses, Discovery Health Chief Executive Officer Ryan Noach said at a briefing. Pfizer is 33% effective against infection by the omicron variant, he said.
Separate studies disclosed by Pfizer on Tuesday showed that Pfizer’s experimental Covid-19 pill was highly effective at keeping patients out of the hospital, but less adept at erasing milder symptoms often associated with breakthrough infections.
Pfizer stock futures fell 0.6% and Johnson & Johnson futures contracts dropped 0.5% by 1:30 p.m. in London on Tuesday. The declines pointed to lower openings for the two drugmakers when markets open in New York.
Asian, European and U.S stocks futures fell on Tuesday as investors braced for a series of meetings of central banks later this week, where policy makers are set to decide on a timeframe for the gradual tightening of monetary policy and a wind-down of stimulus measures.
Read: South Africa Omicron and Vaccines Briefing: TOPLive Transcript
The Discovery survey included about 78,000 positive Covid-19 test results attributed to omicron infections from Nov. 15 to Dec. 7 in South Africa, the epicenter of the omicron wave. Clinical records, vaccination records and pathology-test results were examined.
While there is a relatively high risk of reinfection with the variant, hospital-admission risk linked to omicron infection was 29% lower overall for the general adult population, compared with South Africa’s first wave of infections in mid-2020, Noach said.
The study echoes the initial findings of three other hospital groups that show most Covid patients don’t need oxygen or intensive treatment for the illness. Scientists are still conducting scores of tests in order to get a better grasp of omicron’s risks, and how significant they are will only be known in the coming weeks.
Still, not withstanding the apparent lower severity of omicron, the sheer volume of infections could put “health systems under incredible pressure,” Noach said.
In contrast to adults, children under the age of 18 are more likely to end up in the hospital than during previous waves, even as the risk of children testing positive is significantly lower than in adults.
“The majority of children present with mild disease, with symptoms such as a sore throat, nasal congestion, headache and fever that resolves within three days,” Noach said.
Part of the reason for the lack of severe illness among residents of South Africa could also be the level of prior infection, where 70% or more of the population has been exposed to Covid-19 at some stage during the past 18 months.
“South Africa has seroprevalence data that shows up to 80% of the population in some parts of South Africa” have had a prior infection, Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council said at the same briefing. “We don’t know how omicron is going to evolve in countries with low vaccination or prior infection rates.”
No one has died from an infection with the strain, Gray said, citing a separate South African study that includes hundreds of thousands of health workers who received the J&J shot. More details from that study will be made available in coming days, she said.
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