Health

With Omicron Dominant, COVID-19 Is Now Less Than ‘Just The Flu’

(Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Healthcare Reporter
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Thanks to the arrival of the Omicron variant, it’s now accurate to say that COVID-19 is “just the flu” for the vast majority of the population.

Before the Omicron variant, an average vaccinated 75-year-old had about a 0.5% chance of dying from COVID-19 if contracted, according to The New York Times. The typical death rate from influenza for the same age cohort, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed by the NYT, falls in a similar range between 0.6% and 1.3%.

About 48 million of the roughly 54 million American residents aged 65 and older are fully vaccinated, the CDC reports. So, for those Americans, risk of dying from COVID-19 was not significantly different from dying of the flu before Omicron came around.

Now, evidence continues to pile up that Omicron is less severe — perhaps significantly so — than prior strains of the virus. (RELATED: Omicron Can Be So Mild, Americans Are Struggling To Distinguish It From A Common Cold)

One study found that the Omicron variant is 80% less likely to hospitalize patients than earlier strains, including Delta and Alpha. The overall risk of severe disease was observed to be 70% less. A majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations in South Africa during its massive surge in Omicron cases were not actually for the virus itself.

The increase in deaths in South Africa during the Omicron wave paled in comparison to the three prior major infection waves in the country. If the most vulnerable Americans were roughly as likely to die from the flu as they were from COVID-19 prior to Omicron — assuming they were vaccinated, which almost all were — the risk from COVID-19 is even lower now that Omicron makes up nearly all cases in the United States.

For the rest of the population, risk was already lower than the elderly from both influenza and COVID-19. Hospitalization rates for unvaccinated young people, including those up to about age 30, have been lower than the vaccinated elderly throughout 2021, before the arrival of Omicron.

In other words, unvaccinated kids and young adults were already ending up in the hospital less frequently than vaccinated seniors. (RELATED: Fauci Admits Omicron Not As Severe, Says Focus Should Be On Hospitalizations, Not Daily Cases)

That’s not to say COVID-19 no longer poses any threat. The CDC is still reporting an average of more than 1,200 deaths per day from the virus, although deaths are not surging at even a fraction of the rate cases are with Omicron. The flu kills tens of thousands of people every year. But the evidence suggests COVID-19 may finally be receding as a unique civilizational threat, and becoming another seasonal virus that can be dangerous but is endemic.