Risk of covid-19 related deaths for SARS-CoV-2 omicron (B.1.1.529) compared with delta (B.1.617.2): retrospective cohort study

Objective To assess the risk of covid-19 death after infection with omicron BA.1 compared with delta (B.1.617.2).

Design Retrospective cohort study.

Setting England, United Kingdom, from 1 December 2021 to 30 December 2021.

Participants 1 035 149 people aged 18-100 years who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 under the national surveillance programme and had an infection identified as omicron BA.1 or delta compatible.

Main outcome measures The main outcome measure was covid-19 death as identified from death certification records. The exposure of interest was the SARS-CoV-2 variant identified from NHS Test and Trace PCR positive tests taken in the community (pillar 2) and analysed by Lighthouse laboratories. Cause specific Cox proportional hazard regression models (censoring non-covid-19 deaths) were adjusted for sex, age, vaccination status, previous infection, calendar time, ethnicity, index of multiple deprivation rank, household deprivation, university degree, keyworker status, country of birth, main language, region, disability, and comorbidities. Interactions between variant and sex, age, vaccination status, and comorbidities were also investigated.

Results The risk of covid-19 death was 66% lower (95% confidence interval 54% to 75%) for omicron BA.1 compared with delta after adjusting for a wide range of potential confounders. The reduction in the risk of covid-19 death for omicron compared with delta was more pronounced in people aged 18-59 years (number of deaths: delta=46, omicron=11; hazard ratio 0.14, 95% confidence interval 0.07 to 0.27) than in those aged ≥70 years (number of deaths: delta=113, omicron=135; hazard ratio 0.44, 95% confidence interval 0.32 to 0.61, P<0.0001). No evidence of a difference in risk was found between variant and number of comorbidities.

Conclusions The results support earlier studies showing a reduction in severity of infection with omicron BA.1 compared with delta in terms of hospital admission. This study extends the research to also show a reduction in the risk of covid-19 death for the omicron variant compared with the delta variant.