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Rapid increase in Omicron infections in England during December 2021: REACT-1 study

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Title: Rapid increase in Omicron infections in England during December 2021: REACT-1 study
Authors: Elliott, P
Bodinier, B
Eales, O
Wang, H
Haw, D
Elliott, J
Whitaker, M
Jonnerby, J
Tang, D
Walters, C
Atchison, C
Diggle, P
Page, A
Trotter, A
Ashby, D
Barclay, W
Taylor, G
Ward, H
Darzi, A
Cooke, G
Chadeau-Hyam, M
Donnelly, C
Item Type: Working Paper
Abstract: Background: The highest-ever recorded numbers of daily severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections in England has been observed during December 2021 and have coincided with a rapid rise in the highly transmissible Omicron variant despite high levels of vaccination in the population. Although additional COVID-19 measures have been introduced in England and internationally to contain the epidemic, there remains uncertainty about the spread and severity of Omicron infections among the general population. Methods: The REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission–1 (REACT-1) study has been monitoring the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in England since May 2020. REACT-1 obtains self-administered throat and nose swabs from a random sample of the population of England at ages 5 years and over. Swabs are tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and samples testing positive are sent for viral genome sequencing. To date 16 rounds have been completed, each including ~100,000 or more participants with data collected over a period of 2 to 3 weeks per month. Socio-demographic, lifestyle and clinical information (including previous history of COVID-19 and symptoms prior to swabbing) is collected by online or telephone questionnaire. Here we report results from round 14 (9-27 September 2021), round 15 (19 October - 05 November 2021) and round 16 (23 November - 14 December 2021) for a total of 297,728 participants with a valid RT-PCR test result, of whom 259,225 (87.1%) consented for linkage to their NHS records including detailed information on vaccination (vaccination status, date). We used these data to estimate community prevalence and trends by age and region, to evaluate vaccine effectiveness against infection in children ages 12 to 17 years, and effect of a third (booster) dose in adults, and to monitor the emergence of the Omicron variant in England. Results: We observed a high overall prevalence of 1.41% (1.33%, 1.51%) in the community during round 16. We found strong evidence of an increase in prevalence during round 16 with an estimated reproduction number R of 1.13 (1.06, 1.09) for the whole of round 16 and 1.27 (1.14, 1.40) when restricting to observations from 1 December onwards. The reproduction number in those aged 18-54 years was estimated at 1.23 (1.14, 1.33) for the whole of round 16 and 1.41 (1.23, 1.61) from 1 December. Our data also provide strong evidence of a steep increase in prevalence in London with an estimated R of 1.62 (1.34, 1.93) from 1 December onwards and a daily prevalence reaching 6.07% (4.06%, 9.00%) on 14 December 2021. As of 1 to 11 December 2021, of the 275 lineages determined, 11 (4.0%) corresponded to the Omicron variant. The first Omicron infection was detected in London on 3 December, and subsequent infections mostly appeared in the South of England. The 11 Omicron cases were all aged 18 to 54 years, double-vaccinated (reflecting the large numbers of people who have received two doses of vaccine in this age group) but not boosted, 9 were men, 5 lived in London and 7 were symptomatic (5 with classic COVID-19 symptoms: loss or change of sense of smell or taste, fever, persistent cough), 2 were asymptomatic, and symptoms were unknown for 2 cases. The proportion of Omicron (vs Delta or Delta sub-lineages) was found to increase rapidly with a daily increase of 66.0% (32.7%, 127.3%) in the odds of Omicron (vs. Delta) infection, conditional on swab positivity. Highest prevalence of swab positivity by age was observed in (unvaccinated) children aged 5 to 11 years (4.74% [4.15%, 5.40%]) similar to the prevalence observed at these ages in round 15. In contrast, prevalence in children aged 12 to 17 years more than halved from 5.35% (4.78%, 5.99%) in round 15 to 2.31% (1.91%, 2.80%) in round 16. As of 14 December 2021, 76.6% children at ages 12 to 17 years had received at least one vaccine dose; we estimated that vaccine effectiveness against infection was 57.9% (44.1%, 68.3%) in this age group. In addition, the prevalence of swab positivity in adults aged 65 years and over fell by over 40% from 0.84% (0.72%, 0.99%) in round 15 to 0.48% (0.39%,0.59%) in round 16 and for those aged 75 years and over it fell by two-thirds from 0.63% (0.48%,0.82%) to 0.21% (0.13%,0.32%). At these ages a high proportion of participants (>90%) had received a third vaccine dose; we estimated that adults having received a third vaccine dose had a three- to four-fold lower risk of testing positive compared to those who had received two doses. Conclusion: A large fall in swab positivity from round 15 to round 16 among 12 to 17 year olds, most of whom have been vaccinated, contrasts with the continuing high prevalence among 5 to 11 year olds who have largely not been vaccinated. Likewise there were large falls in swab positivity among people aged 65 years and over, the vast majority of whom have had a third (booster) vaccine dose; these results reinforce the importance of the vaccine and booster campaign. However, the rapidly increasing prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infections in England during December 2021, coincident with the rapid rise of Omicron infections, may lead to renewed pressure on health services. Additional measures beyond vaccination may be needed to control the current wave of infections and prevent health services (in England and other countries) from being overwhelmed.
Issue Date: 23-Dec-2021
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10044/1/93241
Copyright Statement: © 2021 The Author(s)
Keywords: COVID-19
SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus research
Appears in Collections:Department of Infectious Diseases
Faculty of Medicine
Institute of Global Health Innovation
School of Public Health