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Just before the FDA announced that it had officially approved Pfizer’s COVID pill for patients 12 years and older (although the drug will likely only be used in high-risk patients), new data came in from both South Africa and Scotland showing that the hospitalization risk with Omikron is significantly lower than with Delta.

Preliminary data from a Scottish study suggest that the newer variant is two-thirds less likely to be hospitalized. However, it was warned that the variant could cause further problems due to its increased infectivity.

The Scottish study used health data from 5.4 million people in Scotland. Another study published online comes from researchers at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases, who have consistently published data on Omikron since the WHO first confirmed the existence of Omikron. Similarly, it has been found that people infected with Omikron are 70 to 80% less likely to require hospital treatment than people infected with previous variants, including Delta.

One thing that is still unclear about Omikron is whether it is actually less virulent than other strains. However, the South African data suggest that the Omikron variant also reduces the risk of ventilation or a similarly invasive procedure.

We reported yesterday that the FDA was only a day or two away from a decision that was expected (which it did) on Wednesday.

The Pfizer drug, called Paxlovid, is approved for COVID patients 12 years and older who are prone to serious illness. Admission requirements are likely to remain high.

Paxlovid appears to be significantly more effective than a similar antiviral pill from Merck known as molnupiravir, which is pending FDA approval, although it was said to be approved this week. The US and now the UK governments have just ordered new batches of millions of pills from both manufacturers.


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