Overlapping Delta and Omicron Outbreaks During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Dynamic Panel Data Estimates

Alexander L. Lundberg, Ramon Lorenzo-Redondo, Judd F. Hultquist, Claudia A. Hawkins, Egon A. Ozer, Sarah B. Welch, P. V.Vara Prasad, Chad J. Achenbach, Janine I. White, James F. Oehmke, Robert L. Murphy, Robert J. Havey, Lori A. Post*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is more transmissible than prior variants of concern (VOCs). It has caused the largest outbreaks in the pandemic, with increases in mortality and hospitalizations. Early data on the spread of Omicron were captured in countries with relatively low case counts, so it was unclear how the arrival of Omicron would impact the trajectory of the pandemic in countries already experiencing high levels of community transmission of Delta. Objective: The objective of this study is to quantify and explain the impact of Omicron on pandemic trajectories and how they differ between countries that were or were not in a Delta outbreak at the time Omicron occurred. Methods: We used SARS-CoV-2 surveillance and genetic sequence data to classify countries into 2 groups: those that were in a Delta outbreak (defined by at least 10 novel daily transmissions per 100,000 population) when Omicron was first sequenced in the country and those that were not. We used trend analysis, survival curves, and dynamic panel regression models to compare outbreaks in the 2 groups over the period from November 1, 2021, to February 11, 2022. We summarized the outbreaks in terms of their peak rate of SARS-CoV-2 infections and the duration of time the outbreaks took to reach the peak rate. Results: Countries that were already in an outbreak with predominantly Delta lineages when Omicron arrived took longer to reach their peak rate and saw greater than a twofold increase (2.04) in the average apex of the Omicron outbreak compared to countries that were not yet in an outbreak. Conclusions: These results suggest that high community transmission of Delta at the time of the first detection of Omicron was not protective, but rather preluded larger outbreaks in those countries. Outbreak status may reflect a generally susceptible population, due to overlapping factors, including climate, policy, and individual behavior. In the absence of strong mitigation measures, arrival of a new, more transmissible variant in these countries is therefore more likely to lead to larger outbreaks. Alternately, countries with enhanced surveillance programs and incentives may be more likely to both exist in an outbreak status and detect more cases during an outbreak, resulting in a spurious relationship. Either way, these data argue against herd immunity mitigating future outbreaks with variants that have undergone significant antigenic shifts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere37377
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Volume8
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022

Keywords

  • Arellano-Bond estimator
  • B.1.1.529
  • COVID-19
  • Delta
  • Omicron variant of concern
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • disease transmission metrics
  • dynamic panel data
  • outbreak
  • stringency index
  • surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Informatics

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