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16 December 2021

Neil Ferguson1, Azra Ghani, Anne Cori, Alexandra Hogan, Wes Hinsley, Erik Volz on behalf of the Imperial College COVID-19 response team

Prof Neil M Ferguson

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WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling, MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Jameel Institute, Imperial College London. 

Updated 20-12-2021 to: (a) correct accidental transposition of S+ and S- columns in Table 3; (b) correct incorrect total S+ and S- numbers given on page 5; (c) correct the labelling of the 18-20 age band in Table 1; (d) clarify that VE analysis excluded reinfections; (e) provide separate estimates of the reinfection relative risk for vaccinated and unvaccinated cases; (f) add a comment on page 5 that the crude ratios of hospitalisations to cases give no information on severity on their own due to the differences in the age distribution of Omicron and Delta cases.


To estimate the growth of the Omicron variant of concern (1) and its immune escape (2–9) characteristics, we analysed data from all PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 cases in England excluding those with a history of recent international travel. We undertook separate analyses according to two case definitions. For the first definition, we included all cases with a definitive negative S-gene Target Failure (SGTF) result and specimen dates between 29/11/2021 and 11/12/2021 inclusive. For the second definition, we included cases with a positive genotype result and specimen date between 23/11/2021 and 11/12/2021 inclusive. We chose a later start date for the SGTF definition to ensure greater specificity of SGTF for Omicron.

We used logistic and Poisson regression to identify factors associated with testing positive for Omicron compared to non-Omicron (mostly Delta) cases. We explored the following predictors: day, region, symptomatic status, sex, ethnicity, age band and vaccination status. Our results suggest rapid growth of the frequency of the Omicron variant relative to Delta, with the exponential growth rate of its frequency estimated to be 0.34/day (95% CI: 0.33-0.35) [2.0 day doubling time] over the study period from both SGTF and genotype data. The distribution of Omicron by age, region and ethnicity currently differs markedly from Delta, with 18–29-year-olds, residents in the London region, and those of African ethnicity having significantly higher rates of infection with Omicron relative to Delta.

Hospitalisation and asymptomatic infection indicators were not significantly associated with Omicron infection, suggesting at most limited changes in severity compared with Delta.

To estimate the impact of Omicron on vaccine effectiveness (VE) for symptomatic infection we used conditional Poisson regression to estimate the hazard ratio of being an Omicron case (using SGTF definition) compared with Delta, restricting our analysis to symptomatic cases and matching by day, region, 10-year age band, sex and ethnicity. We found a significant increased risk of an Omicron case compared to Delta for those with vaccine status AZ 2+weeks post-dose 2 (PD2) , Pfizer 2+w PD2, AZ 2+w post-dose 3 (PD3) and PF 2+w PD3 vaccine states with hazard ratios of 1.86 (95%CI: 1.67-2.08), 2.68 (95%CI: 2.54-2.83), 4.32 (95%CI: 3.84-4.85) and 4.07 (95%CI: 3.66-4.51), respectively, where PD3 states are categorised by the dose 1/2 vaccine used. Depending on the Delta VE estimates used (10), these estimates translate into Omicron VE estimates of between 0% and 20% PD2 and between 55% and 80% PD3 against Omicron, consistent with other estimates (11). Similar estimates were obtained using genotype data, albeit with greater uncertainty.

To assess the impact of Omicron on reinfection rates we relied on genotype data, since SGTF is associated with a higher observed rate of reinfection, likely due to reinfections typically having higher Ct values than primary infections and therefore being subject to a higher rate of random PCR target failure. Controlling for vaccine status, age, sex, ethnicity, asymptomatic status, region and specimen date and using conditional Poisson regression to predict reinfection status, Omicron was associated with a 5.41 (95% CI: 4.87-6.00) fold higher risk of reinfection compared with Delta. This suggests relatively low remaining levels of immunity from prior infection.


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