Latest on Omicron: Europe Facing Rising Infection Rates in Most Countries

It is confirmed confirmed that people with basic immunity are largely protected from severe courses (but largely not from infections) of Omicron and that a booster vaccination (3rd vaccination) increases protection.

January 24, 2022

With one day delay, here again is our latest COVID-19 update. To date, more than 352 million SARS-CoV-2 infections have been officially registered, and 5,616,000 people have officially died from COVID-19. Nearly 10 billion doses of vaccine have now been administered. Through Omicron, the number of cases per day worldwide is at a record high (about 3.5 million per day).

What is the situation in Europe? Basically, case numbers are very high almost everywhere. But you can see three patterns. Countries where the wave seems to be dying down (UK, Ireland, Greece and possibly Finland), countries where it is still going up or where there is no downward trend yet (France, Russia, Italy, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Serbia, Poland, Denmark, Bulgaria, Croatia, Norway, Lithuania, Slovenia etc.) and countries where the case numbers are still below the case numbers or on par with previous waves, but where it is going up (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania etc.). Slowly, unfortunately, the number of deaths is increasing again.

In North America, the number of cases is very high, but in Canada it is already going downhill again. In the USA, a trend reversal can already be seen. In New York, the Omicron wave is almost over. Mexico, as well as most Central and South American countries are in the middle of very strong Omikron waves with partly strongly rising infection numbers.

In Asia, the situation is still mixed. In India, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Singapore, etc. Omicron has definitely arrived, and case numbers are rising. South Korea, by the way, remains very good at controlling the virus. China now has between 100 and 200 cases per day on a regular basis, I’m curious to see how much longer they can keep the virus completely under control. Vietnam is still in a severe delta wave. And a little further away, in Australia, Omicron is also causing a sharp increase in cases.

Omicron is also causing many cases in the Maghreb and the Middle East at the moment. In most countries it is going up steeply, a few (Iran, Libya) are only seeing small increases and others, such as Qatar, Israel or Turkey may already be at the peak. In most African countries, the Omicron wave is fading out.

As far as Omicron is concerned, we are learning more and more. The original assumption that omicron causes less frequent severe infections is confirmed as mentioned the other day. It also seems to be confirmed that people with basic immunity are largely protected from severe courses (but largely not from infections) and that a booster vaccination (3rd vaccination) increases protection. A 4th vaccination, as used in Israel, does not appear to further increase protection against infections, and for protection against severe infections, the data are still unclear. An Omicron-specific vaccination would therefore be necessary, which would then again provide very good protection against infections. As an aside, there is no news about the Omicron vaccination yet. It might come at the end of March/beginning of April, but there are still so many uncertainties about the approval that one should not rely on it.

However, it should be noted that Omicron can still lead to a high number of deaths, especially because there are so many infections. Most of the time it happens to people whose immune system could not react well to the vaccination and to the unvaccinated. Here is a graph from New York to illustrate the number of cases and deaths. By the way, New York City has about the same population as Austria. We had about 40,000 detected infections per day here at the peak of the Omicron wave.

What I wanted to discuss is BA.2. Omicron currently consists of two ‘lines’, BA.1 and BA.2. The majority of Omicron waves worldwide are dominated by BA.1. However, in some countries, BA.2 is now beginning to prevail. The two lineages have partially different mutations, but also share many of the mutations. At the moment, BA.2 is not expected to cause additional waves. If you read media reports about it, please do not panic. I will keep you informed in any case.

Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer
Prof. Krammer is the Principal Investigator of the Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Center (SEM-CIVIC). Currently Prof. Krammer holds a position as a Professor of Vaccinology at the Department of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He has published more than 100 papers, is member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Virology, Plos One and Heliyon and is a peer reviewer for more than 30 journals.

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