Associations Between Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Variants and Risk of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Hospitalization Among Confirmed Cases in Washington State: A Retrospective Cohort Study

Clin Infect Dis. 2022 Aug 24;75(1):e536-e544. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciac279.


Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is dominated by variant viruses; the resulting impact on disease severity remains unclear. Using a retrospective cohort study, we assessed the hospitalization risk following infection with 7 severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants.

Methods: Our study includes individuals with positive SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in the Washington Disease Reporting System with available viral genome data, from 1 December 2020 to 14 January 2022. The analysis was restricted to cases with specimens collected through sentinel surveillance. Using a Cox proportional hazards model with mixed effects, we estimated hazard ratios (HR) for hospitalization risk following infection with a variant, adjusting for age, sex, calendar week, and vaccination.

Results: In total, 58 848 cases were sequenced through sentinel surveillance, of which 1705 (2.9%) were hospitalized due to COVID-19. Higher hospitalization risk was found for infections with Gamma (HR 3.20, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.40-4.26), Beta (HR 2.85, 95% CI 1.56-5.23), Delta (HR 2.28 95% CI 1.56-3.34), or Alpha (HR 1.64, 95% CI 1.29-2.07) compared to infections with ancestral lineages; Omicron (HR 0.92, 95% CI .56-1.52) showed no significant difference in risk. Following Alpha, Gamma, or Delta infection, unvaccinated patients show higher hospitalization risk, while vaccinated patients show no significant difference in risk, both compared to unvaccinated, ancestral lineage cases. Hospitalization risk following Omicron infection is lower with vaccination.

Conclusions: Infection with Alpha, Gamma, or Delta results in a higher hospitalization risk, with vaccination attenuating that risk. Our findings support hospital preparedness, vaccination, and genomic surveillance.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; hospitalization; vaccination; variants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2* / genetics
  • Washington / epidemiology