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Is the Omicron variant more dangerous for the unvaccinated?

The new variant has refocused the drive for vaccination and although it appears to be less severe than previous variants, nothing can be ruled out.

Harborview Medical Center Doctors And Staff Continue Dealing With Influx Of Covid Patients Amid Current Omicron Wave.
Karen DuceyAFP

Despite covid-19 remaining a "dangerous virus," the World Health Organization (WHO) says the Omicron variant is not as severe as previous iterations of the virus.

While this sounds like good news as the world enters the third year of the pandemic, other factors in the virus means we are not yet out of the woods, and with so much of the world unvaccinated, especially the continent of Africa, much still needs to be done before normal life can return.

So it's plain sailing, right? Wrong.

The sheer amount of covid-19 in circulation means the ease of contracting the disease is far greater than before. Compared to the Delta variant, Omicron is estimated to be between 2.7 and 3.7 times more contagious, meaning shorter spans of time with infected people could lead to infection. Even if the virus is 20 percent less lethal, a 370 percent higher rate of infection means many more of the people who are vulnerable will be at risk.

For people with compromised immune systems, the old, or the unvaccinated, Omicron is providing a greater threat than ever before.

“This is a real-deal virus where there’s unpredictability,” Eric Topol, a professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research said to The Guardian.

“Some people can get very sick. Some people can get long Covid. Some people unwittingly will then get immunocompromised people sick.”

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It's infectiousness and lethality is represented clearly in the statistics. Daily new cases have never been higher, with a seven-day average of nearly 820,000 cases at the start of January. However, in comparison to deaths, the number is not as great as what would have been expected from this number of cases some 18 months ago.

The rolling average for deaths is just over 2,000, just over half of the number this time a year ago, where the average was over 3,500 deaths a day. As well as the Omicron variant being less severe, other aspects of the pandemic, such as greater access to vaccines and prior covid-19 recovery, mean people in the US are better prepared to deal with the virus when it enters their body.

The long term effects of contracting covid-19 are not yet known.