Soft “omicron” and hard “delta”: why does the first kill Americans more often than the second?

(ORDO NEWS) — Peak coronavirus deaths in the United States have surpassed 2021 Delta records. Local authorities expect about 75 thousand deaths from him here. In South Africa, since the beginning of the dominance of the “omicron”, mortality is still 30% above the norm (without Covid-19).

How does this fit in with statements about the “softness” of the omicron strain, which one hears from almost every second expert? And how realistic is such a scenario in Russia? Naked Science will try to figure it out.

Regarding the Omicron strain, the main part of humanity has already formed a pleasant and understandable information picture: it is, they say, “light”. Easily breaks through the immune defenses – both those who have been ill and those who have been vaccinated – but this is not so important, because there are still few deaths from him, and the disease itself in his case is almost a “vaccination” against Covid-19.

And if everything is a little different about breaking through vaccine protection (at least for those vaccinated with Sputnik), then the idea of ​​\u200b\u200bthe “lightness” of the new SARS-CoV-2 line until recently looked relatively sensible.

Relatively “omicron” has raised the death rate to a level of 20-30% above the norm (the average number of deaths for this time of year) and does not lower it. Therefore, the thesis “now it’s just a cold” is excluded: not only a cold, but also the flu does not increase mortality by 20-30% over the course of months.

Nevertheless, for the world as a whole, the omicron softness scenario was still quite feasible. After all, the vaccination rate of a country is related to the average cultural level of its population, so that in South Africa there will not be fully vaccinated, and 30% of the population will be revaccinated there even less.

It is clear that the immunity of those who have been ill cannot become an obstacle to the spread of a new strain, and the immunity of vaccinated South Africans is deficient. In developed countries vaccinated by 60% or more. It seemed logical that they would die much less than in South Africa.

Why was the “micron” mortality rate in vaccinated America higher than that of the “delta”?

Let’s look at the graph: at the peak of the first covid wave of 2020 in the United States, 6.66 people per million inhabitants per day died from SARS-CoV2. During the second (winter 2020-2021), the lockdowns were softened, relying on vaccinations that had already taken place, as a result, the death rate reached 10.22 people per million per day.

Six months later, the antibody response from vaccines ended, and the American authorities could not figure out in time that revaccination was needed . Therefore, in September 2021, America saw the peak of the third wave – already the “delta”.

Then the covid mortality reached 6.25 people per million per day: the “exhausted” vaccine, although it protected less from infection, still to some extent reduced the risk of death for the vaccinated. There is nothing surprising here: smallpox vaccinations, for example, also ran out of steam.and required multiple revaccination according to a similar scenario.

Soft omicron and hard delta why does the first kill Americans more often than the second 1

Since the fall of 2021, Washington finally launched revaccination – and everything began to decline. And now, in January 2022, a new peak – already “micron” – brought the death rate from coronavirus to 7.60 people per million per day, which, recall, is noticeably higher than at the peak of the “delta” in the United States. Why couldn’t the revaccination program stop it?

Version one: “omicron” better breaks through vaccines and the immunity of those who have been ill

Statistics from Western countries have shown that those who have been ill with old strains are re-infected with a new strain many times more often than it was with the “delta”. If this is the case, then even a disease of moderate lethality can give a peak mortality higher than the “delta”.

After all, “omicron” can infect a huge part of the population, invulnerable to earlier lines of SARS-CoV-2. And then, even with a lower proportional mortality, but with a many times greater number of sick people, the absolute mortality will, of course, be higher.

This version, however, has a weak point. And it’s called South Africa – the one from where the new strain came to us.

But it still has general mortality statistics – and its mortality rate is now about 29% above the norm. This is called excess mortality, and for countries with false operational headquarters data – such as Africa or Russia – this is the only reliable criterion for real mortality from coronavirus infection.

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However, it is easy to see on the graph: during the delta wave in South Africa, mortality was much more serious than now. 93.64% higher than normal – about the same as during outbreaks in Russia. In other words, although in South Africa “omicron” dominates for two months, it does not show any overtaking of mortality from the delta strain.

The likely reason is a different level of culture. The share of those vaccinated in the USA and South Africa differs significantly, so much more people died from the “delta” in the republic. But it is difficult to accurately account for the impact of the vaccination factor. Could it be that there is something else behind the American scenario?

Version two: “omicron”, in fact, is not soft?

It should be recognized that it is difficult to reliably assess the lethality of a particular pathogen. Sometimes it takes hundreds, or even thousands of years – and we are not joking. It has only recently been established that malaria, which in Africa was considered moderate in mortality (if measured in percentages, and not in absolute numbers, of course), is actually much more insidious.

Areas where malaria has been eradicated with DDT have shown a sharp drop in mortality (including childhood) from all causes. Moreover, it seems to be unrelated to malaria, and even if the economic situation in these areas did not improve in any way.

Scientists have come to the conclusion that malaria weakens the human body so much that even small external influences, usually insufficient for death, become enough for someone to die.

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People have been suffering from malaria for thousands of years and were unaware of all this. Omicron has been with us for three months: it may well be that its apparent softness is just apparent. This is especially likely because the new strain is much easier to infect children and adolescents.

They, of course, get sick more easily than the elderly, so it turns out that there are fewer deaths per 100 who recovered after the “omicron” than after the “delta”. But it still cannot be ruled out that the overall mortality from it will not be lower – simply because it will infect several times more people than the Delta or the Huang could infect.

The fact that such an option is not excluded is also indicated by the graph of excess mortality in South Africa. In 2020, deaths from Wuhan were 30-40% higher than the norm. This is not far from 25-30% excess mortality now, during the dominance of the “omicron”.

The problem with this version is that so far it can neither be properly confirmed nor refuted. It takes at least a few months for the new strain to spread not only among highly mobile young people, but also among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus part of the population – the elderly.

Version three: it’s all about speed

It is known that the new strain multiplies in the human bronchi 70 times faster than the “delta”. This means that the infected person quickly becomes a source of large doses of the pathogen and quickly reaches the level at which it is able to infect other people. As a result, the number of omicron cases in the US is now on average three times higher than during the delta wave. Moreover, many tolerate the new strain in a mild form and do not take any tests. According to a number of assumptions, the actual number of infections per day there is ten times higher than at the peak of the delta.

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So it turns out: it seems that the risk of dying from “omicron” is 91% lower than from “delta” (although this is partly due to the fact that young people are sick more often now), but at the same time, there may be more deaths per day. Therefore, already in February, the death rate in the States will decline and everything will end, right?

Well, if we mean by “end” the epidemic in its usual form, then yes, it can end. However, we must warn you: in reality, at least hundreds of thousands of people a year will continue to die from SARS-CoV-2.

It’s forever?

Although we hear from every media outlet that “viruses decrease their ferocity over time,” although everyone tells us that it is “unprofitable for a pathogen to kill its victims,” and so on, these are all, strictly speaking, false statements.

Pathogens don’t have brains. They have no idea what works for them and what doesn’t. Their evolution is a matter of chance. The plague was at first less deadly than it became in the 16th century. Smallpox, too, was at first less deadly than it became in the sixteenth century.

The flu was far less dangerous for centuries than the Spanish flu suddenly became in 1918. Simply put, the lethality of a pathogen can both increase and decrease – even if this harms the virus itself, potentially reducing its “food base”.

A couple of years of the history of the modern pandemic points to the same. The alpha strain killed more often than the Wuhan one, the delta strain more often than the “alpha”.

“Omicron” is the first mutation of the coronavirus, in which the lethality seems to be really lower. And then we don’t know (yet) whether it’s because it more easily affects those (young people) who were simply too tough for the previous strains of coronavirus.

With some luck (which is better not to rely on), “omicron” may be the end of the epidemic in the form we are used to. This has already happened with the coronavirus that causes common colds and was introduced into the human population from somewhere in Asia in the 1890s, 130 years before the current pandemic.

All people began to get sick from a young age and eventually became immune, although in the first three years that coronavirus.

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But everything can turn exactly the opposite. The more people become infected with one or another virus, the higher the likelihood that one day in one of the many viral copies a reverse mutation will occur – and once a mild disease will again become severe, as it was with the “Spanish flu” a hundred years ago. Or very severe – as with “smallpox” five thousand years ago.

Whether the “omicron” leaves such violations and how much easier or harder they are than after the “delta” is not yet known. And in the next six months it will not be known. Meanwhile, during this year, most of those who have not yet been ill will probably still get sick. Let’s hope that they will have time to be revaccinated and, accordingly, will be able to avoid the worst.


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