Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Dec 16, 2021

COVID-19 - Omicron Updates


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Matthew Harrison, Biotechnology Analyst. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, today I'll be discussing our updated thoughts on the COVID 19 pandemic and the impact of Omicron. It's Thursday, December 16th at 10:00 a.m. in New York.

Since Omicron was first discovered, we've been using the framework of transmissibility, immune evasion and disease severity to think about its impact. Over the last week, the level of evidence on all three topics has increased significantly.

So first, on transmissibility. The ability of Omicron to outcompete the prior dominant variant, Delta, now appears clear. We have evidence in South Africa, the UK and Denmark, with Omicron now dominant in central London and set to be the dominant variant in the UK over the next few days. The US is a few weeks behind Europe in terms of spread, but we would expect a similar pattern. Cases are now rising globally, driven by Omicron's transmissibility. This is a combination of factors driven by one, its innate transmissibility, and second, its immune evasion properties, which have dramatically increased the percentage of the population susceptible to infection.

We now have multiple studies, which generally come to a similar conclusion. Two doses of vaccination or a single prior infection provide little to no barrier against infection. Two doses of vaccination do, however, provide protection against severe outcomes like hospitalization or death. This is around a 70% relative reduction versus those who are not vaccinated based on preliminary data. Three doses of vaccination or two doses of vaccination and a prior infection provide a greater barrier against infection. Preliminary data here suggests a 75% relative reduction to those without three doses or two doses and a prior infection. Importantly, since a limited proportion of the population has been boosted - we estimate at about mid-teens percentage of the total US population - the vast majority of the population is again susceptible to an infection with Omicron.

And finally, on disease severity. The data out of South Africa continue to suggest the percentage of patients with severe outcomes is lower relative to the prior Delta wave. This means that there are less people in the ICU and less people on a ventilator as a proportion of the total people infected compared with Delta. That said, it's important to remember that even with a lower proportion of people having severe disease, if Omicron drives a wave of infections that is much higher than Delta, the overall disease burden could still be very high.

So this leads us to what is our outlook on infections and the ultimate impact of Omicron. The variant is likely to be dominant quickly, and we would expect to be in the steeper part of the exponential rise in cases here in the US in the next two to three weeks. We believe it is possible that the Omicron wave could have a peak in terms of total number of infections that is somewhere between 2 and 3 times higher than the prior Delta wave. However, importantly, vaccination should help protect against severe outcomes.

For more on Omicron, we also recently sat down for an interview with the Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel to discuss his views on that topic and more. You can see the full interview on

Thanks for listening! We hope you have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please be sure to rate and review us on the Apple Podcast app. It helps more people find the show.

The last week brought new evidence regarding the transmissibility, immune evasion and disease severity of Omicron, and with it, more clarity on the coming weeks and months.