A 60-year-old’s birthday party in the UK turned into a potential Omicron superspreader event, even though everyone was vaccinated — but all the cases were mild

woman with '60' baloons standing behind smiling man with cake, celebrating his 60th birthday at a table with friends in the kitchen
File image — not the actual party.

  • A 60-year-old’s birthday party turned into a likely Omicron superspreader event.
  • 15 of the 18 party-goers tested positive for COVID-19 after the party. All were vaccinated, and many were boosted.
  • “It’s highly unlikely that Delta would behave like that,” said epidemiologist Tim Spector, who suspects it was Omicron. 

A 60-year-old’s birthday party in the UK has turned into a coronavirus superspreader event — and it’s likely that the Omicron variant is to blame, according to a leading epidemiologist.

Tim Spector, who heads up the highly regarded Zoe COVID study in the UK, says the partygoers (who wished to remain anonymous) were some of the first people to use a new Omicron-tracking feature in his COVID-logging app, which hundreds of thousands of people in the UK access daily to record any COVID-19 symptoms.

Though it’s impossible at this point to know for sure that everyone who got sick after the party definitely had Omicron, here’s what we do know:

  • The party guests were all older adults in their 60s and 70s;
  • Everyone was fully vaccinated, and some were boosted too;
  • Most had used the UK’s free, rapid, lateral flow tests before the party, and nothing came up positive.

But, shortly after the party was over, they found out that a schoolmate of one of the partygoers’ children had a “probable” Omicron case, as determined by PCR testing. Soon, the parent tested positive too, and within just a few days, 15 of the 18 who’d been at the party were also COVID-positive. 

“It’s highly unlikely that Delta would behave like that,” Spector told Insider, adding “it was two days” from exposure to symptoms. With Delta, Spector would expect a longer delay between exposure and positive test, and wouldn’t expect so many fully vaccinated and boosted people to test positive after one exposure.

The UK, similarly, says that Omicron is “displaying a growth advantage” over Delta, and that the new variant is “likely to out-compete Delta in the UK and predominate.” 

“It means that nearly everyone’s going to get this,” Spector said. “Even if you’re double or triple vaxxed, it’s still not preventing infection.” 

Spector is canceling his own holiday parties, in light of Omicron 

piece being cut from a birthday cake on a platter

The good news is that early indications suggest Omicron isn’t especially dangerous to vaccinated people, compared to other versions of the virus we’ve seen before. 

“Most people will have thought they had a bad cold,” Spector said.

Among the party-goers, for example, most cases were mild, like seasonal colds, with nausea, headache, and sore throats. Two of the 15 people had to take off work for a few days, ran fevers, and lost their sense of taste. But no one sought care from a doctor, or had to go to the hospital. The story is a testament to how well the vaccines we have work against severe COVID-19, even among vulnerable, older adults, who are more susceptible to bad outcomes.  

For the most part, the symptoms the partygoers had reflect what’s been seen in the US and across Europe so far with Omicron. Reported infections have been mild, and less frequently include the characteristic loss of taste, smell, and fevers previously seen with coronavirus infections. No deaths have been recorded yet. 

Still, the worry is that because of how quickly Omicron is taking off, it could still overwhelm hospitals, especially as more unvaccinated people are exposed. 

“By the time people know they’ve definitely got it, they may have spread it,” Spector said.

In a video shared on YouTube about the birthday party, he said it “just shows you how easily one person can infect many others in a close situation, which is a worry.” 

Already, he’s making some modifications to his own holiday schedule, calling Omicron a “good argument” for reducing gathering sizes, and canceling big events. 

“Sadly we had to cancel our Christmas parties at King’s [College] and also at Zoe, which upset a lot of us,” he said. 

“This is not a reason to be really relaxed with Omicron because it’s not just like a cold, you can pass it on to other people and could still kill them.”

Read the original article on Business Insider