Outcomes of laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection in the Omicron-driven fourth wave compared with previous waves in the Western Cape Province, South Africa

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OBJECTIVES: To compare COVID-19 outcomes in the Omicron-driven fourth wave with prior waves in the Western Cape, the contribution of undiagnosed prior infection to differences in outcomes in a context of high seroprevalence due to prior infection, and whether protection against severe disease conferred by prior infection and/or vaccination was maintained. METHODS: In this cohort study, we included public sector patients aged ≥20 years with a laboratory confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis between 14 November-11 December 2021 (wave four) and equivalent prior wave periods. We compared the risk between waves of the following outcomes using Cox regression: death, severe hospitalization or death and any hospitalization or death (all ≤14 days after diagnosis) adjusted for age, sex, comorbidities, geography, vaccination and prior infection. RESULTS: We included 5,144 patients from wave four and 11,609 from prior waves. Risk of all outcomes was lower in wave four compared to the Delta-driven wave three (adjusted Hazard Ratio (aHR) [95% confidence interval (CI)] for death 0.27 [0.19; 0.38]. Risk reduction was lower when adjusting for vaccination and prior diagnosed infection (aHR:0.41, 95% CI: 0.29; 0.59) and reduced further when accounting for unascertained prior infections (aHR: 0.72). Vaccine protection was maintained in wave four (aHR for outcome of death: 0.24; 95% CI: 0.10; 0.58). CONCLUSIONS: In the Omicron-driven wave, severe COVID-19 outcomes were reduced mostly due to protection conferred by prior infection and/or vaccination, but intrinsically reduced virulence may account for a modest reduction in risk of severe hospitalization or death compared to the Delta-driven wave.

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Volume 27
Issue number 6
Pages 564-573
Available online
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