BACKGROUND: Since its emergence in November, 2021, in southern Africa, the SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant of concern (VOC) has rapidly spread across the world. We aimed to investigate the severity of omicron and the extent to which booster vaccines are effective in preventing symptomatic infection.

METHODS: In this study, using the Scotland-wide Early Pandemic Evaluation and Enhanced Surveillance of COVID-19 (EAVE II) platform, we did a cohort analysis with a nested test-negative design incident case-control study covering the period Nov 1-Dec 19, 2021, to provide initial estimates of omicron severity and the effectiveness of vaccine boosters against symptomatic disease relative to 25 weeks or more after the second vaccine dose. Primary care data derived from 940 general practices across Scotland were linked to laboratory data and hospital admission data. We compared outcomes between infection with the delta VOC (defined as S-gene positive) and the omicron VOC (defined as S-gene negative). We assessed effectiveness against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, with infection confirmed through a positive RT-PCR.

FINDINGS: By Dec 19, 2021, there were 23 840 S-gene-negative cases in Scotland, which were predominantly among those aged 20-39 years (11 732 [49·2%]). The proportion of S-gene-negative cases that were possible reinfections was more than ten times that of S-gene-positive cases (7·6% vs 0·7%; p<0·0001). There were 15 hospital admissions in S-gene-negative individuals, giving an adjusted observed-to-expected admissions ratio of 0·32 (95% CI 0·19-0·52). The booster vaccine dose was associated with a 57% (54-60) reduction in the risk of symptomatic S-gene-negative infection relative to individuals who tested positive 25 weeks or more after the second vaccine dose.

INTERPRETATION: These early national data suggest that omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation compared with delta. Although offering the greatest protection against delta, the booster dose of vaccination offers substantial additional protection against the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 for omicron compared with 25 weeks or more after the second vaccine dose.

FUNDING: Health Data Research UK, National Core Studies, Public Health Scotland, Scottish Government, UK Research and Innovation, and University of Edinburgh.

Cite as

Sheikh, A., Kerr, S., Woolhouse, M., McMenamin, J., Robertson, C. & EAVE II Collaboration 2022, 'Severity of omicron variant of concern and effectiveness of vaccine boosters against symptomatic disease in Scotland (EAVE II):a national cohort study with nested test-negative design', The Lancet Infectious Diseases. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(22)00141-4

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Last updated: 30 June 2023
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