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Omicron appears more resistant to vaccines but causing less severe illness in South Africa, major real-world study finds

The first major real-world study of the omicron Covid-19 variant found that it appeared to cause less severe illness in South Africa, where it was first discovered last month, but that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offer reduced protection against it.

The analysis, released Tuesday by the country’s largest healthcare administrator, found that on average 29 percent fewer people were being admitted to hospital in the region than previously with the delta variant.  However, the study also found that two Pfizer jabs gave 70 percent protection against hospitalization from the new variant, compared with 90 percent seen in the delta wave.

Experts say it’s too early to say whether these findings are good or bad news for the rest of the world.

South Africa’s lower hospitalization rate could be because omicron is milder, experts say, or it could be a result of other factors such as the country’s younger population, many of whom have already been infected and therefore will have gained some natural immunity.

“This could be a confounding factor for these hospital admission and severity indicators during this Omicron wave,” Ryan Noach, chief executive of Discovery Health, said in a briefing on the study.

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