Scientists have already shown that the English variant is much more transmissible. But is it also more deadly? According to the authors of a new English pre-published study, it is.
Boris Johnson had already stated a few weeks ago that the English variant seems to be more lethal
Following this announcement, many scientific studies were published on this variant and all pointed to higher transmissibility but not lethality. Scientists at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine published a statistical study showing that the English variant is indeed more lethal than earlier strains, which are losing ground. This work has not yet been peer-reviewed by the scientific community, so conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt and may change with a future publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
A higher risk of death with the English variant
For this study, the researchers used data from OpenSAFELY, a platform that aggregates patient medical records managed by the NHS, which is 40% of the English population. Included in this analysis were people diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 between November 16, 2020, and January 11, 2021, who had not been vaccinated, or 184,786 people, of whom 91,775 were infected with the English variant and 93,011 with the other strains. In general, the English variant infects people who are younger and less affected by comorbidity factors. In total, 419 deaths were attributable to the English variant and 418 to the other strain.
For this sample, the researchers first calculated the relative risk of death for the English variant and earlier strains. After adjusting for age and comorbidities, the relative risk of death was two-thirds higher than that calculated for the others. In simpler terms, the researchers explain that for every three deaths caused by the earlier strains in a given population, the English variant would cause five deaths in the same population.
This estimate is consistent with that of the Danish researchers, who also suggested that the English variant is associated with an increased risk of hospitalizations.
A risk that increases with age
The absolute risk of dying 28 days after confirmation of infection was also estimated for the English variant and the other strains. It is higher in men than in women and increases with age and the number of comorbidities. The absolute risk of dying after 28 days is highest in men aged 80 years with two or more comorbidities.
The investigators intentionally excluded vaccinated subjects from this study to quantify the difference in mortality in the absence of vaccination. Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines have been shown to be effective against the English variant, so the numbers presented here should be different in a vaccinated population.