"National data show an exponential increase in both new infections and test positivity rates during the first three weeks of this wave, indicating a highly transmissible variant with rapid community spread of infection,”

The omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease than previous versions of the coronavirus, and the Pfizer vaccine seems to offer less defense against infection from it but still good protection from hospitalization, according to an analysis of data from South Africa, where the new variant is driving a surge in infections, AP reports.

While the findings released Tuesday are preliminary and have not been peer-reviewed — the gold standard in scientific research — they line up with other early data about omicron’s behavior, including that it seems to be more easily transmitted.

A two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination appeared to provide just 33% protection against infection during South Africa’s current omicron wave, but 70% protection against hospitalization, according to the analysis conducted by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurer, and the South African Medical Research Council.

The data were gathered from Nov. 15 to Dec. 7, during which time omicron was first spotted by scientists in South Africa and Botswana, and may change as time passes. Experts now say that omicron accounts for more than 90% of all new infections in South Africa, according to Discovery Health chief executive Dr. Ryan Noach.

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