The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is spreading like wild fire. Case numbers are steadily rising, though hospitalizations and deaths are not. Is it inevitable you’ll catch the Omicron variant? Is that a good thing?
Rob Arnott, writing in The Wall Street Journal, makes the case for intentionally getting the Omicron variant. He says, “The prudent response to Omicron might be to encourage vaccinated people and even unvaccinated young adults to catch it, while protecting the at-risk population. One measure of a pathogen’s lethality is the case fatality rate – the ratio of the death toll to the known cases. The 28-day average case fatality rate in South Africa, the likely origin of the Omicron variant, tumbled in the past six weeks from 8% to 0.2%, barely higher than the flu. Omicron will assuredly confer new, complementary antibodies on its victims, providing an additional measure of immunity to more lethal Covid variants.”
It is clear that Omicron is fast becoming the “flu bug of the year” – although it is not an influenza virus. We certainly have never taken such extreme measures to avoid the flu in the last 100 years since the pandemic of 1918. In my lifetime of over 70 years there were never any school closings, business closings, mask or vaccine mandates to avoid the flu. In fact, despite having mostly effective flu vaccines for years, only about 40% of the general population usually took the flu vaccine.
To be sure, in an average year about 40,000 Americans die from the flu, though most are elderly and have severe co-morbidities such as immune-deficiency, pulmonary and heart diseases. Yet even in this population, only about 60% received vaccinations. We just never took the flu as seriously as we have Covid-19.
Arnott bases his thesis on the assumption that more lethal variants of Covid-19 than Omicron will come upon us in the future and getting Omicron will increase our natural immunity to these more lethal variants. This is a big unproven assumption. Furthermore, he is assuming no lasting effects from getting the Omicron variant, which is also unproven. Therefore, his “cost-benefit analysis” about Omicron is very speculative.
Cost-benefit analysis certainly could be useful in determining government policies, but sadly this never seems to enter the minds of politicians. Lockdowns are happening again in Europe and Latin America after rising case numbers, even though death rates were falling. Arnott says the latest fatality rates for Europe, the U.S. and Latin America are 0.5%, 0.4% and 0.3% respectively, down from high rates with the Delta variant of 4 to 7% in June, 2021. In truth, the real case fatality rates are much lower since there are legions of people with asymptomatic or mild cases who either never get tested or never report their home testing results. Also, many are dying in hospitals with unrelated diseases who are counted amongst the Covid deaths simply because all hospital admissions today are tested for Covid. This means the actual fatality rates for Omicron are below 0.2%, which is commonly associated with influenza.
I’ve written a lot on the harms that lockdowns cause and won’t repeat that here. (Lockdowns Historically Failed) But more lockdowns are not the answer. It is certainly true that government policies cannot prevent the spread of a highly infectious virus such as Omicron – although vaccinations will help limit the disease in most people to something similar to the common cold or flu. But I wouldn’t recommend intentionally getting the Omicron variant any more than I would recommend getting the flu. To suggest intentionally letting people catch the Omicron variant in order to save lives is a risky public health policy I doubt even our feckless public health officials would recommend.