South African study suggests Omicron COVID variant is three times likelier to reinfect than Delta

Preliminary examination of the new variant suggests mild symptoms, potentially increased transmissibility

Updated: December 3, 2021 - 7:53am

South African scientists say the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is three-times likelier to cause reinfection than previous iterations of the ubiquitous virus.

A statistical analysis of more than 2.8 million positive coronavirus samples in South Africa showed that roughly 35,670 were suspected reinfections, which led the researchers to conclude that Omicron has a "substantial ability to evade immunity from prior infection."

"Contrary to our expectations and experience with the previous variants, we are now experiencing an increase in the risk of reinfection that exceeds our prior experience," said Juliet Pulliam, one of the study's authors.

The study has yet to be peer reviewed, and the scientists did not determine the level of protection that vaccines provide against Omicron. Pulliam, however, said that vaccines remain the best protection against severe illness and death when it comes to the new variant.

Harry Moultrie, a co-author of the study and infectious-disease specialist, said, "Our most urgent priority now is to quantify the extent of Omicron’s immune escape for both natural and vaccine-derived immunity, as well as its transmissibility relative to other variants and impact on disease severity."

Just 6% of the African population have been fully vaccinated, a figure that climbs to 30% when looking at South Africa alone.

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