The consistent mood music in the media coverage of COVID-19 continues to suggest that the widespread infection by the Omicron variant will signal the end of the Pandemic as we know it
Globally, the daily infection rate is now at unprecedented highs of 3.3 million per day, which is more than four times the previous peak. Meanwhile the global death rate has also climbed significantly to 9,200 per day, one third below its peak of 14,700 per day in January 2021
Global new COVID-19 World Cases = 3.3 million per day
Global new COVID-19 Confirmed Deaths = 9,200 per day
The current daily death rate in the U.S. of 2,400 per day now exceeds the Delta peak by 20%, but it is still 1,000 deaths per day less than the peak deaths of 3,400 per day this time last year. The EU has a broadly similar pattern, with less deaths at the moment, but a significantly higher daily infection rate
COVID-19 daily case rate
COVID-19 daily death rate
Looking at the above data, it is clear that Omicron is not yet over, but possibly the decline in the infections seen both in the U.S. and the UK will be followed by Europe shortly, and the death rate will also trend downwards as infections fall.
What are the Assumptions Underlying the Hope that Omicron is the End of the Pandemic?
The implicit assumption is that Omicron infections are becoming so widespread around the world that it will protect us from further infection at the same scale in the future
The logical problem with this optimistic approach is that the Omicron variant which infected vast numbers of people irrespective of vaccination status or prior infection by different strains, will now protect us against new COVID variants
It may be reasonable to assume that infection by Omicron will also protect against a new variant like BA.2 which is not so different to Omicron, which is known as BA.1 in the United States
The difficulty will be if new variants emerge which are not similar to Omicron
Vaccination with a Wuhan strain-based vaccine did not protect against infection by Omicron
Prior infection with a different variant only partially-protected against infection by Omicron
So why should we expect that the billion or more people who will get an Omicron infection will have protection against different COVID variants in the future?
The practical way to consider Omicron as the end of the pandemic is the fact that the ratio of deaths to infection has improved almost four fold from more than 1% death rate a year ago to 0.28% today
We cannot tell for certain whether the dramatic reduction in death to infection ratio is a result of prior infections, vaccinations, or Omicron itself being more benign (for which there is some evidence, as it does not appear to infect the lower respiratory tract).
Where are Vaccines Going Next?
Pfizer has admitted that their vaccine provides limited protection against Omicron and both they and Moderna are promising Omicron specific vaccines in the next three months
Based on current trends, Omicron looks as if it will have long passed its peak by the time these vaccines are available
Some cynics have argued that after earning tens of billions of dollars providing a relatively ineffective vaccine, Pfizer was losing credibility by suggesting that a fourth or even fifth dose may be necessary and hence found it necessary to introduce a new product to replace the old one that is losing credibility
Very significantly Israel, which had been Pfizer’s closest partner from the start, last week purchased 5 million doses of the newly approved Novavax vaccine, sufficient to give further booster shots to over half the population
Refana’s Chief Vaccine Advisor, Stephane Paul, says that his scientific group expects further COVID variants to arise later this year and does not expect them to be similar to Omicron
The WHO and the U.S. Army are both sponsoring vaccine candidates that might provide more broad spectrum protection against different COVID variants and possibly other Coronaviruses, but none of these are expected to be proven, approved and manufactured at scale during 2022.