Omicron COVID Variant Symptoms and Severity in Vaccinated Adults Explained

A New York City emergency room physician has said that the Omicron variant of COVID seems less severe than other strains, but that how bad the infection gets depends on the vaccination status of each person.

Craig Spencer, a Manhattan doctor who rose to fame on social media during the early stages of the pandemic by documenting the spread of the virus, wrote on Twitter: "Every patient I've seen with Covid that's had a 3rd 'booster' dose has had mild symptoms. By mild I mean mostly sore throat. Lots of sore throats. Also some fatigue, maybe some muscle pain.

"No difficulty breathing. No shortness of breath. All a little uncomfortable, but fine."

Spencer added, however, that he had observed a seemingly linear relationship between the severity of COVID symptoms experienced and the number of vaccinations an infected person had received.

The ER doctor continued: "Most patients I've seen that had 2 doses of Pfizer/Moderna still had 'mild' symptoms, but more than those who had received the third dose. More fatigued. More fever. More coughing. A little more miserable overall.

"But no shortness of breath. No difficulty breathing. Mostly fine."

Patients who had suffered from COVID before or had received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccination tended, from his experience, to have more severe symptoms, he said.

The worst symptoms, he concluded were reserved for the unvaccinated. Spencer wrote: "And almost every single patient that I've taken care of that needed to be admitted for Covid has been unvaccinated.

"Everyone with profound shortness of breath. Everyone whose oxygen dropped when they walked. Everyone needing oxygen to breathe regularly."

Mark Jit, professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), told Newsweek: "According to the latest analyses from U.K. Health Security Agency two doses without a booster don't provide much protection against Omicron infection, particularly if it has been several months since vaccination.

"But they do seem to give moderate protection against being hospitalized with Covid. Two doses and a booster provide good protection against both infection and hospitalization with Omicron."

Jit added that these are statistical averages and there will always be some unvaccinated people who have mild disease and fully vaccinated people with severe disease. He continued: "But on average getting fully vaccinated is a great way to protect yourself and others from severe Covid."

ER doctor Spencer said that people still need to get vaccinated despite the soaring rate of COVID infections. Cases in the state of New York rose by 243 percent over the past 14 days, according to the New York Times COVID tracker.

This increase in cases has seen COVID-related hospitalizations in the state reach their highest level since January 2021.

What Are the Common Omicron Symtoms?

A 254 percent surge in cases across the U.S. over the last two weeks, driven by the spread of Omicron, has Americans questioning if there is a difference between the symptoms of Omicron and other strains, particularly the previously dominant Delta variant.

Infectious diseases specialist and vaccinologist at the Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist medical center in North Carolina and member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices Dr. Katherine Poehling, told NBC News that symptoms of Omicron include a cough, fatigue, congestion and a runny nose.

Poehling added that a common symptom of infection with other COVID variants, the loss of smell and taste, doesn't seem to be common with Omicron patients.

While the comments of many doctors such as Spencer come from personal experience and not peer-reviewed science, results from the first study conducted to assess the risk of fatalities presented by Omicron seemed to show it is a milder version of COVID.

The authors of the study even went as far as to say that the new variant may be the "harbinger" of the endemic phase of the virus that sees it become a background disease flaring up in small geographical regions from time to time, much like influenza.

Drop in Hospital Admissions

The study, published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, revealed that hospital admissions dropped from 4.4 percent in previous waves to 1 percent during the Omicron wave.

The research, conducted in the region of South Africa where Omicron first arose, also showed that the length of hospital stays reduced from an average of 8.8 days to an average of around four days compared to previous waves of COVID.

"There have been several reports now from South Africa, the UK, and other places, indicating that Omicron causes less severe disease compared to Delta," Jit said, commenting on his study. "We need to interpret these results carefully because Omicron is more likely to infect people with prior immunity from previous Covid infections or from vaccination compared to Delta – hence they have less severe disease because their prior immunity is still giving them some protection from the worst effects of Covid."

Jit said that scientists must also compare the people getting infected with both variants in terms of their age and vulnerability before they can properly assess the severity of Omicron.

"Analyses that have been able to adjust for these differences have still found that Omicron is less severe than Delta," Jit added. "However, it is still severe enough to cause many hospital admissions and deaths in a large outbreak."

A file photo of a vial of Omicron COVID variant positive blood. An ER doctor has said vaccinated New Yorkers experience less severe symptom as a result of Omicron than their unvaccinated peers. Juan Ruiz Paramo/Getty