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Coronavirus Update: Omicron caused spike in deaths in vaccinated people, analysis finds, though unvaccinated remain most at risk

The omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 that has swept across the U.S. since late last year has taken a grimmer toll than earlier variants, including in people who were vaccinated and even had booster shots.

That’s according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that found that 42% of COVID fatalities in January and February were of vaccinated people, compared with 23% of the dead in September, when the delta variant was still dominant.

The data is based on the date of infection and limited to a sampling of cases in which vaccination status was known, the paper reported. The deaths were mostly in elderly people or those with compromised immune systems. Almost two-thirds of those people who died during omicron were aged 75 and older.

Omicron, and the growing number of its subvariants, have proved to be far more infectious than earlier strains. The rise in fatalities is thought to be linked to vaccine protection waning over time making it harder for those patients who are most at risk to avoid contracting it.

The data also show that unvaccinated people remain at far higher risk than the vaccinated, and are far more likely to die if they do become ill, and they are at more risk than people who have had their booster shot.

“It’s still absolutely more dangerous to be unvaccinated than vaccinated,” Andrew Noymer, a public health professor at the University of California at Irvine who studies covid-19 mortality, told the newspaper.

“A pandemic of — and by — the unvaccinated is not correct. People still need to take care in terms of prevention and action if they became symptomatic.”

COVID cases are still rising across the U.S. after their steep decline early in the year. The U.S. is averaging 60,953 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, up 55% from two weeks ago. The country is averaging 17,220 hospitalizations a day, up 16% from two weeks ago, but still close to the lowest since the first weeks of the pandemic. The daily death toll has fallen below 400 to 331 on average.

In a sign of how the trend has changed, New York City on Monday raised its COVID risk level to medium from low. The city is averaging 2,654 cases a day, compared with about 600 a day in early March. The number may be even higher as many people are now testing at home and the data is not all being collected. 

See now: South Africa hit by new subvariants of omicron that have been detected in the U.S. in small numbers

Vice President Kamala Harris will return to work in person on Tuesday after testing negative for COVID-19, her press secretary said in a statement.

“Today, the Vice President tested negative for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test,” said press secretary Kirsten Allen in a statement. “Following CDC guidelines, she will wear a well-fitting mask while around others through the ten-day period,” Allen said.

Harris tested positive for COVID on April 26, and Allen said at the time that the vice president would return to work at the White House once she tested negative for the virus.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Beijing is preparing new hospital facilities to deal with a spike in COVID-19 cases, even though the numbers of new cases remain low, the Associated Press reported. State media reported Tuesday a 1,000-bed hospital at Xiaotangshan in the northeastern suburbs built for the 2003 SARS outbreak has been refurbished in case it’s needed. Unofficial reports online say thousands of beds have been prepared in a centralized quarantine center near the airport, but state media has not confirmed those preparations in what could be an attempt to avoid stoking public fears.

Beijing is racing to test more than 20 million people as residents scramble to stock up on food. WSJ’s Jonathan Cheng shows what life is like in the capital and unpacks the likely ripple effects if officials can’t control the fast-spreading virus. Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

• Shanghai is easing some of its COVID restrictions as cases fall and the city loosens a draconian lockdown that’s now in its second month, Barron’s reported. Nearly 2,000 companies in China’s financial capital have been given the green light to restart work—albeit under restrictive conditions, such as requiring workers to live at factories and undergo weekly if not daily nucleic acid testing.

• Pfizer
PFE,
+2.68%

posted far stronger-than-expected earnings for the first quarter Tuesday, boosted by sales of its COVID vaccine and antiviral. COVID vaccine revenue grew to $13.2 billion from $3.2 billion, while sales of its antiviral Paxlovid rose to $1.5 billion. The company said it expects COVID vaccine sales of about $32 billion in 2022 and antiviral sales of about $22 billion.

• Wedbush analyst Dan Ives cut his rating on e-signature stock DocuSign
DOCU,
-1.62%

to underperform from neutral, citing a more challenging landscape for a company that was a big winner early in the pandemic. “[W]e believe the company is seeing a much more difficult selling environment as the company expands into broader CLM [contract-lifecycle-management] deals with e-signature going through a major growth transition in the field,” Ives wrote. The stock was last down 2.8%.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 514.3 million on Friday, while the death toll rose above 6.23 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 81.4 million cases and 994,013 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 219.8 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66.2% of the total population. But just 100.7 million are boosted, equal to 45.8% of the vaccinated population.

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