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  • More than 6 million people globally have died from COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 booster shots are now available for people ages 12 and older in the United States.
  • More than 65 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

  • Globally, there have been more than 454 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 6 million associated deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • The United States has reported more than 79 million confirmed cases and more than 965,000 associated deaths.
  • Currently, more than 254 million people in the United States have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with more than 216 million people fully vaccinated. More than 95 million people have received a booster dose.

Healthline stopped updating this story on March 11, 2022.

In February, federal regulators announced they would evaluate Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for young children but backed out 10 days later, citing doubts about vaccine effectiveness in that age group, according to the New York Times.

Then, reports surfaced that the vaccine demonstrated weak defense against the Omicron variant in children 5 to 11 years old, while offering little defense against moderate COVID-19 illness for children ages 12 to 17.

However, the Times noted that Pfizer and Moderna plan to release results soon of their vaccine trials in young children.

The results, if positive, should lead to a new round of regulatory reviews as early as April that could approve vaccinations for young children.

Study finds COVID-19 claimed higher than reported death toll

New research has concluded that 18 million lives were lost worldwide to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 3 times the official death toll.

The researchers based their estimate on the number of excess deaths, which they say were caused directly or indirectly by the pandemic.

The total was calculated by analyzing the difference between deaths recorded from all causes and the expected number based on previous patterns.

“The full impact of the pandemic has been much greater than what is indicated by reported deaths due to COVID-19 alone,” the study authors wrote.

China locks down city of 9 million people due to Omicron surge

According to CNN, China is experiencing its biggest COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic began.

On Friday, China ordered 9 million residents in the city of Changchun to lock down amid the latest surge in Omicron variant cases in the area, reported the Associated Press.

This lockdown, which includes Yucheng, a city with 500,000 people, shows China is sticking to a “zero COVID” policy toward the pandemic — despite earlier indications that authorities would begin implementing more targeted measures against disease spread.

A new study, published in preprint, describes three patients in France who contracted a version of SARS-CoV-2 that combined an Omicron spike protein with the body of a Delta variant.

According to researchers, it’s similar to a hybrid variant found in another 15 cases identified since January 2022 in Europe.

“Structural analysis of the recombinant spike suggested its hybrid content could optimize viral binding to the host cell membrane,” the study authors wrote.

They added that these findings should prompt further studies of the new hybrid virus.

Kansas surpasses 8,000 pandemic deaths

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the more than 8,000 state residents who have died due to the pandemic.

“I’m deeply saddened as I order flags to half-staff for the eighth time since the pandemic began,” Kelly said in a statement.

She also reminded Kansans to get vaccinated to prevent further “unnecessary deaths.”

“We have the tools to stop this virus and prevent further unnecessary deaths of our loved ones,” Kelly said. “Whether you are considering your first shot, or your third, I urge all Kansans to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Navy ship can‘t deploy because commander refuses to get vaccinated

As the violence intensifies in Eastern Europe, vaccine hesitancy among U.S. troops has emerged as another threat to national security.

According to the Navy Times, ongoing litigation regarding whether the military can force troops to be vaccinated against COVID-19 has prevented the deployment of a destroyer because its commander cannot be fired for disregarding an order to get inoculated.

In February, Judge Steven D. Merryday issued an order banning the Navy and Marine Corps from taking disciplinary action against an unnamed Navy warship commander and a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel for refusing the vaccine.

“No military can successfully function where courts allow service members to define the terms of their own military service, including which orders they will choose to follow,” a government filing in the case cautioned.

Recent research finds that breathlessness experienced even months after having COVID-19 might be caused by “persistent immune injuries” in the lungs.

The findings suggest that COVID-19 survivors develop an altered landscape of immune cells in the lungs along with signs of persistent lung damage.

According to researchers, recovery from the disease could be accelerated using treatments that dampen our immune system and reduce inflammation.

“These findings suggest that persistent breathlessness in our group of COVID-19 patients is being caused by failure to turn off the immune response, which leads to airway inflammation and injury,” joint senior author Dr. Pallav Shah, a professor at Imperial College of London’s National Heart & Lung Institute, said in a statement.

FL goes against CDC and doesn’t recommend COVID-19 vaccine for healthy children

On March 8, the Florida Department of Health released new guidance recommending that healthy children from ages 5 to 17 are not required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

This makes Florida the first state to disregard CDC recommendations that everyone ages 5 years and older receive the vaccine.

“Based on currently available data, healthy children aged 5 to 17 may not benefit from receiving the currently available COVID-19 vaccine,” reads the guidance.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) disagreed with the Florida guidance in an emailed statement.

“The decision to recommend against the COVID-19 vaccine for children is disturbing,” said Dr. Daniel P. McQuillen, president of the IDSA.

“Especially given the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the vaccine for children as young as five based on data showing it is highly effective preventing hospitalization and death in that age group,” he continued.

ID to lift COVID-19 disaster declaration

On March 8, Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced he would lift the state’s public health emergency disaster declaration by April 15.

According to the governor’s office, activation of a statewide public health emergency enabled the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover costs associated with the distribution of critical resources, including ventilators, medical staffing, and vaccine distribution.

“We’re hopeful the recent decrease in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths means we are on a downward trend with the pandemic,” said Little. “The April 15 timeframe provides an important bridge for hospitals and other healthcare providers to plan for the transition.”

A new study finds your blood type is associated with your risk of hospitalization or death. Researchers analyzed more than 3,000 blood proteins to link six with increased risk of severe COVID-19.

However, they also found eight proteins that might protect against severe illness.

According to researchers, this supports previous findings regarding an association between blood groups and a higher likelihood of death.

They identified an enzyme (ABO) that determines blood group was causally associated with both an increased risk of hospitalization and need for respiratory support and three adhesion molecules as being associated with decreased risk of severe illness.

“What we have done in our study is provide a shortlist for the next stage of research,” study co-author Gerome Breen, PhD, said in a statement.

New support for boosters

The World Health Organization (WHO) now supports COVID-19 boosters as a way to fight the virus. In a statement from a technical advisory group for the WHO, the group said that they “strongly supports urgent and broad access” to vaccines and boosters to fight COVID-19.

Last year the director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called for boosters to be paused so that more initial COVID-19 vaccines could be sent to countries with low vaccination rates.

COVID-19 may cause brain shrinkage

An Oxford University study finds COVID-19 infection could cause our brains to shrink in areas that control the sense of smell, memory, and emotion.

According to researchers, these effects were observed regardless if patients were hospitalized or not.

Findings suggest that even in mild cases, study participants showed “worsening of executive function” responsible for focus and organizing. On average their brain sizes shrank between 0.2 and 2 percent.

“Whether this deleterious impact can be partially reversed, or whether these effects will persist in the long term, remains to be investigated with additional follow up,” the study authors wrote.

WHO warns about COVID variants arising from infected animals

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) joint statement, animals that have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are unable to pass the disease to people — but they might incubate future variants that will.

Other organizations included in the statement include the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

“FAO, OIE and WHO call on all countries to take steps to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission between humans and wildlife with the aim of reducing the risk of variant emergence and for protecting both humans and wildlife,” the statement says.

According to the most recent data from Johns Hopkins University, COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 6 million people during the pandemic.

Death rates worldwide remain highest among unvaccinated people, Tikki Pang, PhD, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore’s medical school and co-chair of the Asia Pacific Immunization Coalition, told CBS News.

“This is a disease of the unvaccinated — look what is happening in Hong Kong right now — the health system is being overwhelmed,” said Pang. “The large majority of the deaths and the severe cases are in the unvaccinated, vulnerable segment of the population.”

NYC mayor announces next stage in pandemic response

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced several changes to the city’s COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to protect the health and safety of all residents while boosting economic recovery.

“I’ve said time and time again that the numbers and science will guide us as we continue to recover and rebuild, and now New York City is back, and vaccinations are why we’re back,” Adams said in a statement.

According to the new plan, beginning March 7, indoor venues that include restaurants, fitness facilities, and entertainment spaces are no longer required to check for proof of vaccination before customers enter.

Masks will no longer be required on public school grounds for students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

However, NYC employees are still required to get vaccinated, unless they’ve received reasonable accommodation from their employer.

“Now it’s time for us to follow his lead and support a return to the next normal,” former FDA Associate Commissioner Peter Pitts told Healthline in an emailed statement.

“If some New Yorkers are nervous about taking their masks off, they should continue to do what makes them feel safe, but with respect for the decisions of others who feel differently and are supported by the science,” continued Pitts, who is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Many people experiencing long-term symptoms after COVID-19

New research from Denmark suggests more than 50 percent of people report at least one ongoing symptom between 6 and 12 months after having COVID-19. The research is not yet peer-reviewed.

The questionnaire-based study found the most commonly reported long-term symptoms were fatigue and an altered sense of smell and taste.

According to researchers, study participants reported general health problems that included mental or physical exhaustion, sleep problems, or cognitive issues.

“These symptoms have collectively been known under many different names including long-COVID, and has now been included in the WHO International Classification of Diseases under the name post COVID-19 condition,” the study authors wrote.

The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is calling for more data on the spread of COVID-19 misinformation.

Murthy has put in a request for information from the public to report instances of COVID-19 misinformation. Information that is received can help federal officials combat health misinformation that spreads in the future.

U.S. updates strategy against COVID-19

One day after his State of the Union, the Biden administration released its new National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.

The plan specifies initiatives and investments to drive down serious illness and deaths from COVID-19, prepare for potential new virus variants, and give employers and schools needed resources so they can remain open.

“We know how to keep our businesses and our schools open with the tools that we have at our disposal,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients during a March 2 press briefing.

This announcement follows President Biden’s comments about the pandemic during his first State of the Union address on March 1.

“We are not going to just ‘live with COVID.’ Because of our work, we are no longer going to let COVID-19 dictate how we live,” the president said.

Study finds COVID-19 may ‘hide’ in the body

Researchers have found that the coronavirus can “hide” in our bodies, similar to other viruses, making it difficult for people with an infection to clear it entirely.

“Our results showed that one can have several different virus variants in one’s body,” Kapil Gupta, PhD, senior research associate in biochemistry at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

Gupta and team discovered that the coronavirus can evolve in different cell types to adapt its immunity inside the body.

“Some of these variants may use kidney or spleen cells as their niche to hide, while the body is busy defending against the dominant virus type. This could make it difficult for the infected patients to get rid of SARS-CoV-2 entirely,” Gupta explained.

Health study finds Black New Yorkers more severely affected by Omicron surge

According to a recent New York Health Department report, New York’s Black residents were hospitalized at twice the rate of white residents during the Omicron surge.

The report attributed significantly higher hospital admissions to lower vaccination and booster rates for this demographic.

“We observed delays in primary series vaccination among Black New Yorkers and lower rates of booster doses among eligible Black New Yorkers by winter 2021 when the omicron surge began,” said the report.

Cases of the “stealth” Omicron variant, BA.2, are doubling every week in the United States, according to data from the CDC.

CDC data shows that BA.2 was responsible for 8 percent of coronavirus infections in the United States last week, an increase from 4 percent the prior week and 2 percent the week before that, according to U.S. News.

However, federal health officials aren’t yet alarmed over this subvariant.

Citing “widespread population immunity,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced the agency’s decision to adjust its COVID-19 guidance to determine when masking is required, reported U.S. News.

Biden announces U.S. can deploy new vaccines within 100 days

During the State of the Union address on March 1, President Joe Biden said the United States is ready to rapidly deploy new vaccines in the event another coronavirus variant emerges.

“I cannot promise a new variant won’t come, but I can promise you we’ll do everything within our power to be ready if it does,” Biden said. “If necessary, we’ll be able to deploy new vaccines within 100 days instead of many more months or years.”

The president also reassured Americans still working from home that they can safely return to the office.

“With 75 percent of adult Americans fully vaccinated and hospitalizations down by 77 percent, most Americans can remove their masks, return to work, stay in the classroom, and move forward safely,” Biden said.

More free tests available to Americans next week

According to Biden, Americans will be able to order more free rapid COVID-19 tests from the government beginning next week.

“If you already ordered free tests, tonight, I’m announcing you can order another group of tests,” Biden said during the State of the Union address. “Go to starting next week and you can get more tests.”

While there was an initial limit of four tests per household, the website currently says every home in the United States can order another set of four tests starting next week.

According to a new report from the CDC, in the United States, more than 43 percent of adults and more than 58 percent of children have had COVID-19.

In total, the CDC estimates that over 140 million people in the United States have had COVID-19.

The high number of COVID-19 cases and current levels of vaccination could mean the disease is unlikely to spread as quickly and widely as it did in previous waves.

Pfizer vaccine only 12% effective against Omicron in young children

Pfizer-BioNTech’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine offered little protection for children ages 5 to 11 during the Omicron surge in New York, reports not yet peer-reviewed research.

The study, conducted by the New York State Department of Health, found vaccine effectiveness dropped from 68 percent to 12 percent for children in that age group during the state’s Omicron surge from Dec. 13, 2021, to Jan 24., 2022.

Public health officials involved in the study said the drop in vaccine effectiveness was likely due to the lower dosage children received.

Children ages 5 to 11 receive two 10-microgram doses, while older children are given 30-microgram doses of the vaccine.

“In the Omicron era, the effectiveness against cases of BNT162b2 declined rapidly for children, particularly those 5-11 years,” study authors wrote. “These results highlight the potential need to study alternative vaccine dosing for children.”

They also emphasized that vaccination of children ages 5 to 11 was still protective against severe disease and is recommended.

COVID-19-related diabetes may be temporary

Many people with COVID-19 who also received a new diabetes diagnosis may overcome diabetes in time, according to a new study.

Researchers found about half of study participants with newly diagnosed diabetes saw blood sugar levels return to normal after leaving the hospital for COVID-19, with about 8 percent still needing insulin after 1 year.

“Diabetes diagnosed at COVID-19 presentation is associated with lower glucose but higher inflammatory markers and ICU admission, suggesting stress hyperglycemia as a major physiologic mechanism,” study authors wrote.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Sunday that the state will end school mask requirements on Mar. 2.

Hochul based her decision on an analysis of key COVID-19 data trends and consultation with health and education experts, parents, teachers, and school administrators, according to a press release from her office.

“With more New Yorkers getting vaccinated, and the steady decline over the past several weeks in cases and hospitalizations from Omicron, we are now entering a new phase of the pandemic,” Hochul said in a statement.

California, Oregon and Washington will also end mask requirements for schools on Mar. 11, but they’ll still be recommended.

“Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “We cannot predict the future of the virus, but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward.”

New evidence pandemic began in animals

Two, not yet peer-reviewed studies show more evidence that the coronavirus spread to humans from animals at a market in Wuhan, China.

One study used spatial analysis to find the earliest known COVID-19 cases, diagnosed in late 2019, were centered on the market.

Researchers also reported that environmental samples testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 were significantly associated with live-animal vendors.

The second study finds at least two events where SARS-CoV-2 crossed from animals to humans to create two major viral lineages.

“As the original outbreak spread to other countries, the diversity of SARS-CoV-2 quickly increased and led to the emergence and identification of multiple variants of concern, but the beginning of the pandemic was marked by two major lineages denoted ‘A’ and ‘B,’” the study authors wrote.

Researchers concluded that the first event likely occurred in late November or December 2019, and the second lineage infected humans within weeks of the first event.

CDC releases new mask guidance

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines for communities where the pandemic is easing, with less focus on positive test results and more attention toward what’s happening at hospitals.

However, the agency still recommends people wear masks in communities where infection risk remains high. They also don’t change mask requirements for travelers on public transportation, or indoors at airports and train or bus stations.

“We should all keep in mind that some people may choose to wear a mask at any time based on personal preference,” Dr. Greta Massetti from the COVID-19 Incident Management Team said during a CDC telebriefing.

She emphasized that people wearing high quality masks are “well protected,” even if others around them aren’t masking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could relax guidelines for indoor mask use as early as Friday, AP reported.

This means soon, many Americans might no longer be advised to wear masks in indoor public settings.

The CDC may shift from relying on COVID-19 case counts, to a more broad analysis of risk from COVID-19 to a community, reported the news service.

Under new guidelines, the majority of Americans will no longer reside in areas that recommend indoor masking in public, based on current data, reported AP.

Bill Gates praises Australian pandemic response

Bill Gates has warned of a new pandemic looming on the horizon and he believes Australia has already laid out a blueprint for successfully mitigating it, CNBC reported.

“If every country does what Australia did, then you wouldn’t be calling [the next outbreak] a pandemic,” Gates said at the annual Munich Security Conference, according to the network.

According to CNBC, Gates cited Australia’s COVID-19 response as the gold standard to follow, which achieved great results despite protests by thousands of residents.

A new COVID-19 vaccine developed by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) appears to offer 100 percent protection against hospitalization in a phase 3 study, the drugmakers announced yesterday.

According to GSK, a phase 3 primary series trial looked at results of two doses of the Sanofi-GSK vaccine being given to people.

During the study time frame, those given the vaccine had 100 percent protection against severe disease and hospitalization.

“We’re very pleased with these data, which confirm our strong science and the benefits of our COVID-19 vaccine. The Sanofi-GSK vaccine demonstrates a universal ability to boost all platforms and across all ages,” Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president of Sanofi Vaccines, said in a statement.

Sanofi and GSK plan to seek regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as soon as possible.

NH ceases indoor masking recommendation

According to New Hampshire state officials, the state will no longer recommend face masks be worn in indoor public spaces, including schools, due to a continuing decline in cases.

“As the risk decreases, we can pull back on some of the recommended prevention strategies,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, told WMUR. “We are no longer recommending universal face masks for people in indoor public locations, unless required in specific situations.”

State health officials added that while COVID-19 continues to circulate, the risk of serious illness has declined sufficiently that mask use is no longer necessary.

Deaths higher than at any time during pandemic, unvaccinated at highest risk

With decreasing COVID-19 cases across the United States leading states to lift mask mandates and more discussion about removing restrictions, more people are dying from COVID-19 now than during most of the pandemic, reported CNN.

More than 2,000 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the United States for each day of the past month, according to the network.

An expert emphasized that unvaccinated people are most affected.

“I’ve long since lost track of the number of people I’ve seen die of the disease, but the reality is that almost everybody who is critically ill, in the ICU or dying now remains unvaccinated,” Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, medical director of the infectious diseases program at Baptist Memorial Health Care in Memphis, told CNN.

A new study finds that the ZIP codes people with COVID-19 lived in had a lot to do with how sick they became when they were hospitalized, and the degree of care they required once there.

Researchers studied the social vulnerability index (SVI) of study participants’ home ZIP codes to find it still made a difference even after accounting for their underlying health.

“Once they’re getting that care, there are equal outcomes, which is encouraging. This analysis zooms in on individual patients, and zooms out on what’s influencing their outcomes in their neighborhood,” lead study author Dr. Renuka Tipirneni said in a statement.

CDC says to avoid travel to these 4 Asian nations

The CDC has added four Asian nations to its list of countries to avoid visiting due to high levels of COVID-19 transmission, reported UPI.

According to UPI, the nations are Bhutan, Brunei, Iran, and Malaysia.

They were added to the CDC’s Level 4: COVID-19 Very High list, which currently includes about 140 nations.

“If you must travel to these destinations, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel,” the CDC warned.

As Hong Kong reels from its worst COVID-19 outbreak, city leaders have announced plans to test the entire population for the virus in March, according to AP.

The population of about 7.5 million will be tested three times in March, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told the news outlet, adding that testing capacity will be boosted to roughly 1 million residents per day.

“Since we have a population of some 7 million people, testing will take about 7 days,” she said.

Officials consider fourth booster shot recommendation

Health officials said late last year that a fourth vaccine dose wasn’t yet needed, emphasizing that it was too early to discuss the option for most people, according to CNN.

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “is indeed continually looking at the emerging data on the pandemic and variants in the United States and overseas in order to evaluate the potential utility and composition of booster doses,” FDA spokesperson Alison Hunt told CNN in an email.

She confirmed that Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said there is a possibility that a fourth dose might be recommended this fall.

“As more data become available about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed,” Hunt wrote.

“Any determination that additional booster doses are needed will be based on data available to the agency,” she added.

Healthcare worker vaccine mandate had little effect on rural hospital staffing

The expected staffing crisis due to the healthcare worker vaccine mandate hasn’t happened due to education efforts and religious exemptions for the hesitant, reported Politico.

Nearly 30 rural hospital officials and state hospital association leaders told Politico they’ve only lost a fraction of their staff due to the federal requirement mandating healthcare workers in all states except Texas to receive at least one vaccine dose by last week.

“There was certainly a worst-case scenario that was, quite frankly, scary, and I’m just glad that didn’t come to pass,” Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association, told Politico. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand should soon begin easing COVID-19 measures at a Monday press conference.

She specified that COVID-19-related health measures could only be eased once the country has reached the other side of peaking cases, something not expected to occur for another 3 to 6 weeks.

“It’s likely then, very soon, we will all know people who have COVID, or we will potentially get it ourselves,” she said.

Omicron at NYC Comic Con didn’t lead to superspreader event

One of the first U.S. Omicron cases was detected after an attendee of Comic Con in New York City tested positive in December.

But a new report from the CDC found that despite this positive case, the highly transmissible variant did not cause a superspreader event at the convention.

Researchers say mitigation measures including masking, vaccination, and booster requirements helped stop the variant from spreading widely.

COVID-19 recovery and myocarditis risk

Doctors and researchers have discovered much about heart health and COVID-19, including myocarditis risk, reported the Miami Herald.

“We were very concerned early on in the pandemic about myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle,” Dr. Juan Carlos Brenes, a Memorial Healthcare System cardiologist, told the Herald.

After 2 years of research, doctors have learned it’s relatively uncommon.

Recent reports show just 1 to 3 percent of people with COVID-19 have identifiable heart issues like myocarditis during the recovery phases rather than at the time of infection, Dr. Jeffrey Goldberger, chief of UHealth’s cardiovascular division, told the Herald.

He added that the numbers have decreased with the Omicron variant.

“When you have a pandemic with as many people getting infected as we have, a small incidence in a very large population can be potentially a big burden,” said Goldberger.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Feb. 17 the state’s SMARTER Plan, the next phase of California’s pandemic response.

“The SMARTER Plan will guide California’s strategic approach to managing COVID-19 while moving the state’s recovery forward,” Newsom said in a statement.

The plan aims to help people manage the coronavirus as COVID-19 becomes a more endemic disease.

Stealth Omicron variant potentially vaccine resistant

New, not yet peer-reviewed research finds a sub-variant of Omicron called BA.2 or “stealth Omicron,” which not only spreads faster but may also be more dangerous and able to bypass currently available COVID-19 vaccines.

“Neutralization experiments show that the vaccine-induced humoral immunity fails to function against BA.2,” the study authors wrote.

Researchers also found that BA.2 has a transmission advantage over Omicron, so it could spread faster through populations.

However, the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency (HSA) advises that vaccines are equally effective at preventing the symptomatic disease from BA.2 as with the original Omicron variant.

Adidas to drop vaccine requirement for workers

According to CBS, with some of the largest U.S. companies dropping mask mandates for vaccinated workers, other companies are announcing plans to discard COVID-19 vaccine requirements altogether.

Adidas advised U.S. workers on Feb. 14 that they are no longer required to be vaccinated against the virus, reported CBS.

“Though no longer required, we strongly encourage all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and will continue to require all employees in the U.S. to submit their vaccination status by March 1,” an Adidas spokesperson told CBS in an email.

Omicron led to increase of hospitalization of children under the age of 4

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the spread of Omicron led to more children being hospitalized than during previous COVID-19 waves. Compared to the Delta wave, the rate of children and adolescents being hospitalized was four times higher in the Omicron wave.

For the first time, medical experts saw a significant rise in children under the age of 4 being hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms.

The researchers also found that children ages 12 to 17 were more protected since they were the only group to have access to vaccines before the Omicron wave started. Unvaccinated children in that age group were six times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 compared to their fully vaccinated counterparts.

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada recently released a lab study showing a new, inhalable COVID-19 vaccine was safe and stimulated a robust immune response in test animals.

“What we’ve discovered from many years’ research is that the vaccine delivered into the lung induces all-around protective respiratory mucosal immunity, a property that the injected vaccine is lacking,” co-lead author Dr. Zhou Xing, a professor at the McMaster Immunology Research Centre and Department of Medicine, said in a statement.

Besides being needle-free, the inhaled vaccine is so efficient it can achieve maximum protection with a fraction of the dose used in current vaccines, according to a press release from McMaster University.

Study finds COVID-19 antibodies improve over time

Antibodies produced by the Pfizer mRNA vaccine become more effective over time, according to new research from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

However, researchers caution this does not mean that recommended booster doses aren’t necessary.

“Our work does NOT mean that we did not need the booster immunization that was recommended a few months ago. That booster was brought by the emergence of highly infectious variants of concern, such as the Delta variant,” co-author Ali Ellebedy, PhD, posted on social media.

Fauci says potential vaccine booster shot requirement ‘‘being monitored’’

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), addressed COVID-19 booster recommendations in a Feb. 17 press briefing.

“The potential future requirement for an additional boost or a fourth shot for mRNA or a third shot for J&J is being very carefully monitored in real time. And recommendations, if needed, will be updated according to the data as it evolves,” he said.

During the press briefing, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noted that the pandemic is easing significantly. Fauci emphasized that vaccination must continue to play a critical role.

“Vaccination and boosting will be critical in maintaining that downward trajectory, particularly when you’re talking about the red curve of severe disease leading to hospitalization,” he said.

Hong Kong hospitals are struggling to deal with COVID-19 patients as the city sees record numbers of new infections while adhering to a “zero COVID” strategy, according to The Associated Press.

Hong Kong is facing its worst outbreak of the pandemic, surpassing 2,000 new cases every day this week. The city government has already set strict rules restricting gatherings to no more than two households, reported AP.

Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng said that government “should earnestly assume the main responsibility and regard the rapid stabilization and control of the epidemic as the current overriding task,” reported AP.

NY’s COVID-19 state of emergency extended to March

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order this week sustaining the emergency powers granted to the state’s government.

One reason given to extend the emergency is that New York’s rate of infection and COVID-19-related hospital admissions have risen sharply.

However, new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents have actually declined from 8.87 on Jan. 15 to 2.19 by Saturday, according to recent data.

“This is by any definition dishonest, disproven and wrong. Emergency powers rest on the existence of a defined state of emergency. By this very order, we are not in an emergency,” Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro posted to social media on Feb. 14

Moderna CEO says pandemic may be reaching final stage

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC that it’s “reasonable” to assume we’re approaching the final stages of the pandemic.

“There’s an 80 percent chance that as Omicron evolves or SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves, we are going to see less and less virulent viruses,” Bancel continued.

Bancel also emphasized that COVID-19 will never be completely eradicated.

“The fact that this virus is not going away, as we’ve been saying since almost the beginning — this virus is going to stay with humans forever, like flu and we’d have to live with it,” he told CNBC.

As the Omicron variant spreads, drugmakers continue clinical trials of shots tailored to fight the highly infectious variant, reported Nature. However, early animal studies find Omicron-specific boosters perform no better than a third dose of current vaccines.

“What we’re seeing coming out of these preclinical studies in animal models is that a boost with a variant vaccine doesn’t really do any better than a boost with the current vaccine,” David Montefiori, PhD, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, told Nature.

According to Montefiori, these studies are teaching researchers the “rules of engagement of the immune system” when boosted with a variant vaccine.

“Those rules suggest that [a] single boost of a variant-matched vaccine probably isn’t the solution,” he said. “There are important questions that still need to be addressed. Hopefully Pfizer and Moderna’s Omicron studies in humans will do that.”

Over 1,400 NYC workers fired due to mandate

New York City Mayor Eric Adams fired more than 1,400 government workers who refused to show proof of being vaccinated on Monday, reported the New York Post. This is less than 0.4 percent of the total city workforce, which numbers over 370,000.

According to the New York Post, that number included 36 NYPD personnel, 25 Fire Department workers, and 914 Department of Education staffers.

“City workers served on the frontlines during the pandemic, and by getting vaccinated, they are, once again, showing how they are willing to do the right thing to protect themselves and all New Yorkers,” said Adams in a statement, reported the Post.

California mask mandate ends tomorrow

The California Department of Public Health announced that the state’s indoor mask requirement for vaccinated people will end Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Instead, there will be a “strong recommendation” for vaccinated people to mask indoors.

However, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said at a Monday press conference that California still requires masks in schools and childcare settings.

He clarified that it’s not a matter of if, but when the school mask mandate will be lifted.

“On Feb. 28, we anticipate being able to share what the next period of time will look like and with some specificity, give a date when masking requirements will move to a recommendation,” he said.

Research published today in The Lancet finds that 1 month after a third dose, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is more effective at preventing infection and hospitalizations than only two doses of the vaccine.

The study was conducted by Kaiser Permanente. In it, researchers assessed two doses of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine’s effectiveness against infection, hospitalization, and death up to 8 months after vaccination, compared with two doses and a ‘booster’ shot.

“When we looked at the effectiveness of the 2 doses of Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine versus 3 doses, we see a benefit with 3 doses that exceeds that achieved with 2 doses alone,” Sara Y. Tartof, PhD, an epidemiologist with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation, said in a statement.

U.K. delays plan to vaccinate kids ages 5 to 11

The announcement of expanded COVID-19 vaccinations for all U.K. children ages 5 to 11 has been delayed due to an impasse between the British government and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the nation’s vaccinations “watchdog.”

According to The Guardian, ministers are deciding whether to accept JCVI’s recommendation, with a decision expected in just over a week when Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to announce his long-term strategy for COVID-19.

“No decisions have been made by ministers on the universal offer of a COVID-19 vaccine to all 5- to 11-year-olds. We are committed to reviewing the JCVI’s advice as part of wider decision-making ahead of the publication of our long-term strategy for living with COVID-19,” said a government spokesperson to the news outlet.

The Food and Drug Administration has delayed a meeting to discuss authorizing vaccines for children under 5 years old. The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee had been scheduled to meet on Feb. 15 to discuss allowing vaccines for young children.

Originally, the committee was going to look at data from two doses but now said it would look at data from three doses. That data will likely not be available until this spring.

Thousands of New York City workers face job loss over vaccine mandates

A group of New York City municipal workers opposed to the city’s vaccination mandate has asked a federal judge to suspend thousands of firings expected Feb. 11, reported the Daily News.

The workers argued in Brooklyn Federal Court that the mandate violates “fundamental religious and constitutional rights” and that they’re being subjected to “heresy inquisitions” and “religious harassment,” reported the newspaper.

According to CBS, termination notices have already been sent to city workers who were placed on unpaid leave for disobeying New York’s vaccine requirement.

“We’re not firing them. People are quitting,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said on Feb. 10 during a news conference.

Balancing the benefits of mask wearing

Healthline spoke with Dr. Adrianna Bravo, FAAP, pediatrician, school health consultant, and senior medical adviser for Inspire Diagnostics, about the recent trend to lift mask mandates.

She emphasized that the same careful planning that schools, businesses, and entertainment venues used in developing risk mitigation strategies to open and stay open over the past 2 years needs to be applied to much of the “undoing” of risk mitigation measures, including that of mask-wearing.

“Balancing the benefits and risks of mask-wearing is the challenge right now,” said Bravo.

She noted the need to recognize that the COVID-protective benefits of mask-wearing may be partly offset by the “social-emotional-developmental” restrictions that mask-wearing might sometimes present.

“Yet, with COVID-19 rates falling in many places, how much do we need to continue to disrupt lives in order to mitigate that declining risk?” Bravo asked. “There is no one size fits all answer or solution that fits every scenario.”

She described her method to determine when and if to mask. She called it the “four A’s”:

  • Audit the COVID risk presented by the particular environment.
  • Assess your own personal COVID risk and your tolerance for that risk.
  • Acknowledge and adjust for the social emotional challenges that mask-wearing may present.
  • Act when you can to reduce risk and ease concerns of others.

Gov. Newsom allocates nearly $2 billion to California’s COVID-19 response

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Feb. 11 that he signed a $1.9 billion “early action measure” to meet the state’s immediate COVID-19 response needs, according to a press release from his office.

The measure will include funding to raise the state’s testing capacity and vaccination efforts, as well as support frontline workers, strengthen the healthcare system, and fight misinformation while focusing those efforts on the “hardest-hit communities.”

“California has led the nation’s fight against COVID-19 with a comprehensive response that has saved countless lives. As we emerge from the Omicron surge, we’re not letting our guard down,” Newsom said in a statement.

According to documentation posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), should the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine receive emergency use authorization (EUA) for children 6 months to 5 years old, the agency plans to initially distribute 10 million vaccine doses.

That distribution will be split into two 5 million-dose batches.

“Similar to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout for 5–11-year-olds, jurisdictions should plan their ordering strategy now and identify priority locations to vaccinate children ages 6m–4 years,” states the document.

The agency warns that all providers and facilities that order the initial distribution must be ready to receive vaccine shipments on Feb. 21, Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday.

Prince Charles tests positive for COVID-19

Britain’s Prince Charles is self-isolating after having tested positive for COVID-19, according to an announcement posted on social media.

Accordingly, he will cancel his events scheduled for today.

“HRH is deeply disappointed not to be able to attend today’s events in Winchester and will look to reschedule his visit as soon as possible,” read the post.

According to AP, Charles previously contracted the coronavirus in March 2020, and is currently “triple vaccinated.”

A Reuters analysis finds an average of over 2 million COVID-19 cases are being reported daily, with global cases surpassing 400 million on Feb. 9.

According to the news service, it took over a month for pandemic cases to rise to 400 million from 300 million. That’s compared to 5 months for cases to reach 300 million from 200 million.

So far, the pandemic has killed more than 6 million people worldwide, reported Reuters, with only about 62 percent of the world’s population having received at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Small case study looks at possibility that antihistamines help with long COVID symptoms

A case study involving two people has researchers investigating whether antihistamines may help with symptoms of long COVID.

Two women developed COVID-19 and had relatively mild initial cases. Weeks to months later they developed symptoms of long COVID or post-acute sequelae of SARS-Co-V 2 infection.

Symptoms included brain fog, fatigue, and rash. Both women ended up taking antihistamines for other reasons and found that it appeared to help their long COVID symptoms.

More study is needed to understand if this medication can help treat others with long COVID.

Sweden ends wide-scale COVID-19 testing

Sweden has stopped wide-scale testing, including for people who show signs of COVID-19, reported AP.

Experts say that this policy could spread as expensive testing provides less benefit with the highly infectious but milder Omicron variant.

“We have reached a point where the cost and relevance of the testing is no longer justifiable,” Swedish Public Health Agency chief Dr. Karin Tegmark Wisell told Swedish national broadcaster SVT this week.

CDC director says not time to relax COVID-19 measures in areas with high levels of transmission

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told NPR radio show WYPR that this is not the time to change COVID-19 recommendations or loosen restrictions aimed at preventing the disease in areas with high levels of disease.

According to Walensky, the CDC continues to recommend that all schools encourage students to use well-fitting masks.

“That’s consistent with our guidance that still also recommends that people mask in public indoor settings in areas of high or substantial transmission,” she explained.

Walensky also warned that the United States is still experiencing about 290,000 cases “every single day,” and hospitalization rates are now “higher than they even were at the peak of our Delta surge.”

Only a small fraction of drugmaker Novavax’s planned 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines has been delivered worldwide in 2022, and the company will delay first-quarter shipments to Europe and lower-income nations like the Philippines, reported Reuters.

According to Reuters, while Maryland-based Novavax has never before launched a product, the company sought to supply COVID-19 vaccines worldwide and had promised to deliver them by mid-2021.

The drugmaker told Reuters it has only delivered about 10 million doses so far but will move quickly to ship supplies for this quarter.

Novavax spokesperson Amy Speak told the news service that some shipments are being held up by regulatory processes and are awaiting distribution from the warehouse to healthcare professionals.

Oregon mask mandate to end in March

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has announced the end of statewide mask mandates beginning in March.

“Oregonians have stepped up during the Omicron surge — wearing masks, getting vaccinated and boosted, and keeping each other safe. Because of your actions, Oregon will lift mask requirements no later than March 31,” she posted to social media.

The Oregon Health Authority confirmed in a press release that by late March, health scientists expect a return to hospitalization levels seen before the Omicron variant began to spread.

“We’re likely to see as many cases on the way down from the Omicron peak as we saw on the way up. That means we need to keep taking steps to prevent more hospitalizations and deaths,” warned Dr. Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist, in a statement.

Dozens of Olympic athletes in isolation for COVID-19

According to The Associated Press, Olympic organizers said today that more than 30 athletes at the Winter Olympics are being isolated in facilities after testing positive for COVID-19.

“We will allow as many people out of isolation as we can, but only as many as we can do safely,” said Brian McCloskey, chairman of the expert medical panel for the Beijing Games, told AP.

He added that 50 athletes have been released from isolation so far, and the vast majority of athletes currently isolating are asymptomatic and don’t require any medical treatment.

Johnson & Johnson temporarily stops COVID-19 vaccine production

A pharmaceutical plant in the Netherlands that makes Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine has stopped production, according to The New York Times.

The pharma plant has started making an experimental vaccine for a different disease.

While production of the COVID-19 vaccine is expected to resume in the next few months, the pause could lead to hundreds of millions of fewer vaccines available.

The J&J vaccine is thought to be vital for middle- and low-income countries that have not had as much access to COVID-19 vaccines as higher-income countries.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommendation to approve Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The director’s recommendation follows the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to approve Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 18 years and older.

“We now have another fully approved COVID-19 vaccine,” Walensky said in a statement.

“If you have been waiting for approval before getting vaccinated, now is the time to join the nearly 212 million Americans who have already completed their primary series,” she added.

Health authorities consider lengthening time between COVID-19 shots

Officials are weighing changes to vaccine guidance that would extend the time between shots to 8 weeks. The change is intended to lower the risk of heart inflammation for immunocompromised people.

The CDC made the recommendation, which applies to both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, during a Feb. 4 meeting with the ACIP.

CDC official Dr. Sara Oliver told the ACIP that an extended interval appears to reduce the risk of heart inflammation, a risk that could be minimized if the vaccines are given 8 weeks apart.

CVS and Walgreens will no longer limit number of rapid tests available for purchase

Pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens announced they will no longer limit the number of rapid COVID-19 tests customers can buy, according to HealthDay News.

The companies said more supply meant they could drop restrictions.

Only about 30 percent of parents say they’ll vaccinate their under 5-year-old child as soon as a COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for that age group, according to the most recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) vaccine monitor.

This is up from only 20 percent of parents last July, data shows.

The KFF vaccine monitor also finds that 29 percent of parents will “wait and see” before considering vaccination for this age group, which is down from 40 percent in July.

About 12 percent of parents reported that they would vaccinate their child only “if required,” while just over 25 percent confirmed that they would “definitely not” vaccinate their young child.

Austria signs sweeping vaccine mandate into law

Austria is now the first country in Europe to institute a national COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults after President Alexander Van der Bellen signed it into law on Feb. 4.

Austria’s new vaccine measures mean that people without a vaccine certificate or exemption could be fined 600 euros ($680), reported the network, and enforcement checks will begin on March 15, CNN reported.

The new law will last until Jan. 31, 2024, and unvaccinated people could face a maximum fine of 3,600 euros ($4,000) up to four times a year if they’re not on a vaccine register by their assigned vaccination date.

COVID-19 deaths surge in low-vaccination states

Nearly 900,000 people have died in the United States due to COVID-19 as of Feb. 4, according to an NBC News tally, with data showing that states with low vaccination rates have reported the largest number of deaths during the past 6 weeks.

According to NBC News, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania reported the highest number of deaths when adjusted for population, and Pennsylvania is the only one to have fully vaccinated over 60 percent of its population.

New research, published in the journal Cell, explains why some people with COVID-19 lose their sense of smell.

The findings indicate that infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 indirectly “dials down” the action of olfactory receptors, which are proteins on nerve cells in the nose that detect molecules associated with odors.

The study, led by researchers from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Columbia University, may also explain the effects of COVID-19 on other types of brain cells, and the neurological effects of COVID-19 that include brain fog, headaches, and depression.

“Our findings provide the first mechanistic explanation of smell loss in COVID-19 and how this may underlie long COVID-19 biology,” co-corresponding author Benjamin tenOever, PhD, professor in the departments of medicine and microbiology at NYU Langone Health, said in a statement.

UK approves Novavax COVID-19 vaccine candidate

Today, the United Kingdom has approved Novavax’s two-dose COVID-19 vaccine, Nuvaxovid, for use in people ages 18 years and older, according to a press release from the drugmaker.

“The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has granted conditional marketing authorization (CMA) for Nuvaxovid™ COVID-19 Vaccine (recombinant, adjuvanted) for active immunization to prevent COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2 in individuals 18 years of age and older in Great Britain,” the company announced.

Nuvaxovid is the first protein-based vaccine to be authorized for use in the United Kingdom.

“We thank the agency for its thorough review process and are tremendously grateful to the clinical trial participants and trial sites in the U.K., as well as the Vaccines Taskforce, for their ongoing support and vital contributions to this program.” Stanley C. Erck, president and CEO of Novavax, said in a statement.

Drugmaker Novavax announced on Feb. 2 that it has submitted its application for emergency use authorization (EUA) of its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Novavax is intended for the immunization of individuals 18 years of age and older against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We’re extremely proud of the work of our teams and we look forward to FDA’s review of our EUA request. We believe our vaccine offers a differentiated option built on a well-understood protein-based vaccine platform that can be an alternative to the portfolio of available vaccines to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stanley C. Erck, president and CEO of Novavax, said in a statement.

Austria institutes Europe’s strictest COVID-19 mandate

Austria will introduce the European Union’s (EU) strictest COVID-19 vaccine mandate this week when it will become compulsory for everyone over 18 years old to be vaccinated against the virus.

Even as other EU countries have instituted mandates for groups such as older adults and healthcare staff, Austria is the first EU member to establish such a sweeping measure, according to the BBC.

Dr. Klaus Markstaller, head of the Department of Anesthesia and Intensive Care at the Medical University of Vienna, told the BBC that vaccines significantly reduce disease severity.

“It’s clearly shown that the vaccination impedes severe courses of the disease, and therefore it reduces ICU admissions significantly,” he said. “So if you want to reduce your personal risk significantly, and the risk for your loved ones, get vaccinated.”

Study finds single droplet can lead to COVID-19

The exposure to a single nasal droplet containing the novel coronavirus was enough to cause people to develop COVID-19 in a U.K. study, according to the Guardian. The trial involved healthy volunteers who were intentionally exposed to the virus.

Pfizer might submit an application for emergency use authorization (EUA) of its vaccine for children younger than 5 years old as early as Feb. 1, reported CNN.

Federal regulators encouraged the drugmaker to seek authorization for a two-dose regimen that could be approved this month. However, waiting on data for a three-dose regimen could extend the timeline until March, according to new reports.

“Getting two doses into a child can provide baseline immunity that protects them from severe disease from hospitalization,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and current Pfizer board member, told Face the Nation on Jan. 31.

“I think that may be why federal health officials are rethinking this if, in fact, they decide to authorize this on the basis of two doses,” he continued. “It could be out much sooner, perhaps as early as early March.”

San Francisco allows second dose of J&J vaccine in break with federal guidelines

USA Today has reported that San Francisco’s Department of Health will allow anyone who received their first Johnson & Johnson shot at a location within the city to receive a third booster dose.

The agency describes the third dose as “an accommodation” based on recent studies finding a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, is needed to maintain protection as immunity wanes.

“San Francisco’s Department of Public Health has always been a vanguard of the way things should be from a scientific perspective,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of California, San Francisco told USA Today.

Denver mask mandate to expire before end of week

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock announced on Feb. 1 that Denver’s mask order will expire on Feb. 3.

The public health order, mandating indoor mask use or proof of vaccination in lieu of face coverings, had been implemented in November and extended in December.

“I want to thank all of our residents who have gotten vaccinated and boosted, and complied with the public health order, for doing their part to slow the spread of this virus,” Hancock said in a statement.

He also emphasized the importance of vaccination as COVID-19 becomes endemic.

“The tool that provides the best protection from COVID-19 – the vaccine and boosters – is free and widely and readily available. It’s imperative that we all utilize these tools, to protect and prepare ourselves for life with COVID,” Hancock said.

Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the approval of a second COVID-19 vaccine.

Previously known as the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the newly FDA-approved vaccine will be marketed as Spikevax. It’s approved to prevent coronavirus infection in people ages 18 and older.

“The FDA’s approval of Spikevax is a significant step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, marking the second vaccine approved to prevent COVID-19,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

According to Moderna, the FDA decision is based on “the totality of scientific evidence shared by the Company” in its submission package, including follow-up data from the phase 3 COVE study.

The drugmaker reported that Spikevax has received approval from regulators in more than 70 countries so far.

As Olympic participants arrive in China, cases mount

According to Reuters, China has detected 119 COVID-19 cases among athletes and personnel involved in the Winter Olympics over the last 4 days. Authorities have imposed a “closed loop” bubble to isolate participants, staff, and media from the public.

On Monday, Olympic organizers announced 71 new COVID-19 cases detected over the weekend, with most cases detected upon arrival at the airport, reported the news service.

The “closed loop” system will allow participants to travel on official transport between their accommodations and Olympic venues while preventing free movement among the public, reported Reuters.

“The epidemic and control measures of the Beijing Winter Olympics are the epitome of China’s successful experience in fighting the epidemic, and are also a focused demonstration of China’s spirit and China’s strength,” said an opinion piece in Chinese newspaper People’s Daily, according to Reuters.

NY nurses charged with forging vaccine certificates

CNBC reported that two Long Island, New York, nurses have been charged with faking COVID-19 vaccination cards and entering false information in the state’s database.

The nurses were identified as Julie DeVuono, 49, the owner and operator of Wild Child Pediatric Healthcare in Amityville, and her employee, Marissa Urraro, 44. They are both charged with one count of forgery in the second degree.

According to CNBC, the nurses forged vaccination cards from November 2021 to January 2022 while charging between $85 and $220 for the fake documents that they’d enter into New York’s Immunization Information System database.

Man turns down kidney transplant over hospital vaccine mandate

According to, a North Carolina man has turned down his opportunity for a lifesaving kidney transplant because of the hospital’s requirement that he receive the COVID-19 vaccine before the procedure.

The patient, Chad Carswell, is a double amputee who undergoes dialysis up to three times a week, reported WRAL. He says he’s already had COVID-19 twice and is not willing to get the vaccine, even if it means losing his chance for a new kidney.

“They said the last thing we need talk about is your vaccination status,” Carswell told WRAL. “And that’s when I politely told him there was nothing really to talk about. It wasn’t up for debate that I wasn’t getting it. And then he told me, you know you’ll die if you don’t get it. And I said I’m willing to die.”

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee has announced that the state will distribute an additional 500,000 COVID-19 rapid tests.

“Our whole of government COVID response team is focused on making it more convenient for Rhode Islanders to get tested when they need to,” McKee said in a statement. “Our team remains committed to working closely with municipal leaders and community partners to ensure a strong pandemic response and recovery.”

According to McKee, 350,000 at-home tests will be distributed by cities and towns, based on each community’s population size.

Another 150,000 tests will be distributed by about 30 community organizations in areas of the state where people may otherwise not have the means to purchase tests.

Sweden decides not to recommend COVID-19 vaccinations for younger children

Officials in Sweden have decided against recommending COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 to 11 years old.

The Health Agency has argued that the benefits did not outweigh the risks.

“With the knowledge we have today, with a low risk for serious disease for kids, we don’t see any clear benefit with vaccinating them,” Health Agency official Britta Bjorkholm said at a news conference.

She added that this decision could be revisited if the research changed or with the arrival of a new variant.

Walensky: ‘Milder’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘mild’ illness

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Jan. 27 that even though COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant are considered “milder,” that doesn’t mean the illnesses are necessarily “mild.”

She added that the latest surge is still putting a strain on hospitals and other healthcare cases even though most people are experiencing relatively minor symptoms.

She and other White House officials also noted that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have decreased this past week, although the number of deaths has risen.

A new report in the New England Journal of Medicine analyzed lung transplant trends during the pandemic and how people with respiratory failure from COVID-19 fared.

Researchers looked at data from 3,000 lung transplants that occurred from August 2020 to October 2021.

They found that 7 percent of lung transplants studied involved recipients who had respiratory failure from COVID-19. These people had similar outcomes as others who received lung transplants.

“Our analysis suggests lung transplants may be a safe option for select patients with the most severe, irreversible lung damage from COVID-19,” Dr. Reinaldo Rampolla-Selles, medical director of the Lung Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai and one of the study authors, said in a statement.

“However, our hope is that no one has to go through ECMO or lung transplant because of COVID-19. The best protection we have against severe, aggressive disease is vaccination,” he said.

Hospital surfaces unlikely to harbor live coronavirus

According to a new study, concerns about getting COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces in hospitals may not have been justified.

Researchers found that much of the cleaning and disinfection efforts during the pandemic were unnecessary because the risk of infection from surfaces was negligible.

“Early on in the pandemic, there were studies that found that SARS-CoV-2 could be detected on surfaces for many days,” senior study author Dr. Deverick Anderson, a professor of medicine at Duke University, told UPI.

“But this doesn’t mean the virus is viable,” he continued. “We found there is almost no live, infectious virus on the surfaces we tested.”

Fauci says there are ‘promising candidates’ for universal COVID-19 vaccine

In a White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the National Institutes of Health has designated tens of millions of dollars to research into COVID-19 vaccines, and some of them would be universal or at least aim at protecting against multiple virus variants.

Fauci said some vaccine candidates are already being tested in animals. If successful, they could then be tested in a phase 1 clinical trial with a small number of people being given the vaccine candidates.

Fauci stressed much more research will need to be done before these vaccines are authorized for use by the general public.

“I don’t want anyone to think that pan-coronavirus vaccines are literally around the corner in a month or two. It’s going to take years to develop in an incremental fashion,” he said.

Following a recent Supreme Court decision, the Biden administration will cancel vaccination and testing requirements aimed at large U.S. businesses, reported CNN.

“The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is withdrawing the vaccination and testing emergency temporary standard issued on Nov. 5, 2021, to protect unvaccinated employees of large employers with 100 or more employees from workplace exposure to coronavirus,” said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in a statement.

According to OSHA, the withdrawal is effective today.

Fewer people are getting COVID-19 boosters

According to The Associated Press, the COVID-19 booster drive is losing steam. Worried health experts are pleading with Americans to get the extra shot to increase protection against the Omicron variant.

Fewer than half of fully vaccinated people have received their booster dose, according to the CDC. The average number of boosters given per day in the United States has dropped from 1 million in early December to about only 490,000 by last week.

“It’s clear that the booster effort is falling short,” Jason Schwartz, PhD, a vaccine policy expert at Yale University, told AP.

Researchers find 2/3 of Omicron cases in study were reinfections

A study out of the United Kingdom has found that about two-thirds of people who had COVID-19 during the Omicron surge said they had COVID-19 previously, according to the BBC.

The Omicron wave has peaked in the United Kingdom and cases are now decreasing, although they remain elevated.

Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker ruled Jan. 25 that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s temporary mask mandate is not enforceable, reported CNN.

Rademaker argued that New York was no longer under a state of emergency when the mask mandate was announced, therefore the governor and health commissioner did not have additional authority to order the mandate.

“While the intentions of Commissioner Bassett and Governor Hochul appear to be well aimed squarely at doing what they believe is the right to protect the citizens of New York State, they must take their case to the State Legislature,” Rademaker wrote, reported the network.

Hochul announced her determination to overturn the ruling.

“My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately,” she said in a statement.

New ‘stealth’ variant under investigation

Health authorities are investigating a new COVID-19 variant called “stealth Omicron,” according to the Independent.

Also called BA.2, the new variant is a sub-lineage of original Omicron (BA.1) but has specific differences that make it potentially faster at spreading and more difficult to detect, reported the news outlet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the BA.2 sub-variant is increasing in many countries.

“Investigations into the characteristics of BA.2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently,” WHO said on its website.

FDA decision stops monoclonal antibody treatment for Omicron

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Jan. 24 that monoclonal antibody treatments bamlanivimab and etesevimab (administered together) and REGEN-COV (casirivimab and imdevimab) will be limited to use only when a patient is likely to have contracted or been exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments.

According to the FDA, since these drugs show limited efficacy against Omicron (now the dominant strain), these treatments are no longer authorized in any “U.S. states, territories, and jurisdictions at this time.”

“Importantly, there are several other therapies – Paxlovid, sotrovimab, Veklury (remdesivir), and molnupiravir – that are expected to work against the Omicron variant, and that are authorized or approved to treat patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19,” the FDA wrote.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, it’s dangerous to assume the pandemic is nearing its end, and conditions are “ripe” for more coronavirus variants, reported CNBC.

“It is dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we’re in the endgame,” he warned, reported the network. “On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge. To change the course of the pandemic, we must change the conditions that are driving it.”

“If countries use all of [the WHO’s] strategies and tools in a comprehensive way, we can end the acute phase of the pandemic this year — we can end COVID-19 as a global health emergency, and we can do it this year,” Tedros added.

4th vaccine dose raises resistance to serious illness for older adults

According to Reuters, a preliminary study from Israel’s Sheba medical center has found a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot can increase antibodies to even higher levels than the third vaccine dose in people over 60 years old, but likely not to the point that it could completely protect against the Omicron variant.

“We see an increase in antibodies, higher than after the third dose,” Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, a professor and lead researcher in the study, told The Times of Israel.

“However, we see many infected with Omicron who received the fourth dose. Granted, a bit less than in the control group, but still a lot of infections,” she continued.

Regev-Yochay said the bottom line is that the vaccine is “excellent against the Alpha and Delta [variants],” but for Omicron it’s not good enough.

Czech folk singer, Hana Horka, 57, has died due to COVID-19. She was unvaccinated and had posted to social media that she had improved after testing positive, reported the BBC.

According to the news network, Horka’s son, Jan Rek, said she contracted the virus on purpose during the time that he and his father were positive for COVID-19 in order to get a ‘recovery pass’ to access certain venues.

Both father and son were fully vaccinated but developed COVID-19 over Christmas, reported the BBC.

“She should have isolated for a week because we tested positive. But she was with us the whole time,” Rek told the network.

Fauci hopes FDA will approve COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 5 by next month

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) head Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that he hopes the FDA approves the Pfizer vaccine for children under age 5 by next month, reported CNBC.

“My hope is that it’s going to be within the next month or so and not much later than that, but I can’t guarantee that,” Fauci told Blue Star Families, a nonprofit group supporting military families, in an interview.

Fauci later sent CNBC a statement clarifying that he’s not involved in the decision-making process at the FDA and doesn’t know when the FDA will approve the shots for this age group, reported the network.

“I did not at all mean to imply that the authorization would come within a month,” he told CNBC in an emailed statement. “I meant that we do not know… I am not involved in that decision.”

Ireland to drop all COVID-19 restrictions

According to Reuters, Ireland is preparing to drop nearly all COVID-19 restrictions, and government ministers are due to meet on Friday to finalize a timetable after public health officials give the all-clear.

Ministers had previously said that some measures, such as mask mandates on public transport or in shops, may remain in place beyond the removal of restrictions put in place late last year.

“I think it is reasonable to expect that we will be able to exit the regulations on a faster basis than would have looked likely a number of days ago,” finance minister Paschal Donohoe told Irish broadcaster RTE on Thursday, reported Reuters.

Face masks mandates in public places and COVID-19 passports will be dropped for large events, as cases level off in most of the United Kingdom, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Jan. 19, according to AP.

People will no longer be advised to work from home, and mask mandates for secondary school classrooms will stop beginning Jan. 20.

“We will trust the judgment of the British people and no longer criminalize anyone who chooses not to wear one,” Johnson said, reported the news outlet.

He added that self-isolation requirements for those with the virus to quarantine for 5 days remain, but noted that this measure will end in the coming weeks.

New Jersey healthcare workers must get booster

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an order on Jan. 19 that requires all New Jersey healthcare workers to be fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot to continue working in the state.

According to the order, regular testing in lieu of getting shots is no longer an option for unvaccinated workers. However, exemptions could be made for people with medical conditions or “deeply held” religious beliefs.

George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, told that he supports the mandate and believes universal vaccination is the best way to protect workers and speed up a return to normalcy.

“This includes ensuring that everyone has the maximum protection against the virus and its potentially devastating effects, and we have long supported vaccinations and boosters according to established science,” said Gresham.

Wearable COVID-19 tracker may soon be available

Yale University researchers have developed a wearable device able to detect low levels of COVID-19 virus in the air around you, according to research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

Researchers at the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of Public Health designed a 3D-printed air sampler that’s about 1 inch wide and collects air samples on a film inside the device.

“The Fresh Air Clip is a wearable device that can be used to assess exposure to SARS-CoV-2 in the air,” the clip’s creator, Krystal Godri Pollitt, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale, said in a statement.

While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has allowed booster shots to be made available for children ages 12 and older, the World Health Organization (WHO) says the shots may be unnecessary.

The WHO’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, said there is no evidence that healthy children and adolescents need booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine, reported Reuters.

Speaking at a Jan. 18 news briefing, Swaminathan noted that while there seems to be some waning of vaccine immunity over time against the Omicron variant, more research is needed to figure out who needs booster doses.

“There is no evidence right now that healthy children or healthy adolescents need boosters. No evidence at all,” she said, reported Reuters.

Many adverse vaccine effects due to ‘nocebo’ effect

New research published in JAMA Network Open says we can convince ourselves of almost anything.

According to the new study, which involved more than 45,000 participants, the majority of adverse reactions people experienced after being vaccinated against COVID-19 could be caused by the “nocebo” effect.

It’s like the placebo effect but involves a negative reaction instead of a positive one.

Scientists discovered that up to 64 percent of adverse effects could be due to the nocebo effect.

“Adverse events after placebo treatment are common in randomized controlled trials,” researcher Julia W. Haas, PhD, said in a statement.

White House to distribute free masks to Americans

Beginning next week, the Biden administration plans to distribute 400 million N95 masks to people in the United States for free, according to CNN.

The masks are coming from the Strategic National Stockpile and will be available at local pharmacies and community health centers, an official told CNN, who added that the program will be “up and running by early February.”

“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history,” the official continued.

The Greek government on Jan. 17 began imposing a vaccination mandate for those over 60 years old as a recent spike in cases pressures the nation’s healthcare systems, reported ABC News.

According to the network, people in this age group who aren’t vaccinated will pay a 50 euro ($57) fine this month, followed by 100 euro ($114) fine every month afterward.

The mandate was announced in late December, and according to government data, nearly 42 percent of over a half million people targeted by the measure have been fully vaccinated, reported ABC News.

Israeli trial finds fourth dose not enough to fight Omicron

Almost 1 month after Israel’s Sheba Medical Center launched a study to test the efficacy of a 4th COVID shot, the hospital announced that it was only partially effective in protecting against the Omicron variant, reported the Times of Israel.

“The vaccine, which was very effective against the previous strains, is less effective against the Omicron strain,” lead researcher professor Gili Regev-Yochay told the Times.

“We see an increase in antibodies, higher than after the third dose,” Regev-Yochay said. “However, we see many infected with Omicron who received the fourth dose. Granted, a bit less than in the control group, but still a lot of infections,” she continued.

She emphasized that although effective against Alpha and Delta variants, “for Omicron it’s not good enough.”

Travelers to Hawaii need booster shot to avoid quarantine

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said travelers to the state will need a COVID-19 booster to be considered fully vaccinated.

People who are not fully vaccinated have to quarantine for at least 5 days when visiting Hawaii, according to ABC News.

Speaking during a teleconference on Jan. 14, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Dr. Henry Walke, director of the Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections (DPEI), addressed concerns about Omicron, the rapid antigen test, and revised isolation guidelines.

According to Walensky, the CDC still doesn’t know whether those who have acquired the Omicron variant are more or less susceptible to acquiring it again.

“We have indication that if you’ve had Delta, you are susceptible to an infection with Omicron and that Omicron in the lab may protect you against infection against Delta,” said Walensky. “But we don’t yet have data, that has demonstrated at least clinically, that Omicron protects you against Omicron.”

Walke emphasized that the rapid antigen tests available to detect COVID-19 infection are best used for diagnosis early in the course of illness but have limited use in determining how long someone can pass on the virus.

He noted that the tests “really aren’t authorized by the U.S. FDA to evaluate the duration of infectiousness.

“So, the significance of a negative antigen test, for example, late in the course of an illness, after you’ve become positive is really, it’s unclear what that means,” he continued.

Walke explained that a negative antigen test doesn’t “necessarily mean that there’s an absence of virus,” and regardless of the test result, wearing a “well-fitting mask after those 5 days of isolation is still recommended.”

Biden vaccine mandate struck down by Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court justices have stopped the Biden administration’s effort to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates by requiring employees at large businesses to be vaccinated or test regularly and wear a mask on the job, reported The Associated Press.

However, the court has allowed the administration to move ahead with a vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers in the United States.

According to conservative justices on the court, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandate was unprecedented in its scope.

“OSHA has never before imposed such a mandate. Nor has Congress. Indeed, although Congress has enacted significant legislation addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, it has declined to enact any measure similar to what OSHA has promulgated here,” conservative justices wrote in an unsigned opinion.

American Health Care Association says nursing homes are facing a labor crisis

According to a letter sent by American Health Care Association to Xavier Becerra, Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, nursing homes are facing a “historic labor crisis” after losing nearly 15 percent of the workforce since the pandemic began.

“This is the worst among all health care professions and is impacting the sector’s ability to serve patients,” wrote the AHCA.

The AHCA has also released its response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling on vaccine mandates for healthcare workers.

“We respect the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court but remain concerned that the repercussions of the vaccine mandate among health care workers will be devastating to an already decimated long term care workforce,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA, told Healthline in an emailed statement.

He added that “rampant misinformation” has instilled doubt and concern among many working the frontlines of healthcare.

“We must collectively address the root cause of vaccine hesitancy rather than penalize providers who are making valiant efforts,” said Parkinson.

Authorities say the rate of COVID-19 vaccines in children 5 to 11 years old is “alarmingly” low, according to the Associated Press (AP).

By Jan. 11, only a little more than 17 percent of this age group were fully vaccinated, with over 2 months since the shots were approved for them, reported AP.

But AP also reported that there’s a wide variance in uptake between states, with Vermont reporting just under 50 percent of children vaccinated and Mississippi at only 5 percent.

Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director for the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told AP that this news is “very disturbing,” and he finds it “just amazing” that parents would take such an enormous risk that will continue to “fuel the pandemic.”

Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Overland Park, Kansas, told AP that the low vaccination rates and increasing hospitalizations of children are a “gut punch,” especially considering the efforts to keep these children well.

COVID-19 deaths will likely increase over the next month

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 is expected to be as high as 62,000 from Jan. 10 through Feb. 5, according to the latest monthly national ensemble forecast from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC data show there will be 8,000 to 14,100 deaths during the week ending Jan. 14, with 8,800 to 18,000 deaths for the week ending Jan. 22, and 8,700 to 24,700 deaths the week ending Jan. 29.

The agency also predicted up to 31,000 deaths during the week ending Feb. 5.

“The state- and territory-level ensemble forecasts predict that over the next 4 weeks, the number of newly reported deaths per week will likely increase in 33 jurisdictions,” wrote the CDC.

The agency also noted that recent national total death forecasts “have shown low reliability,” with greater than expected reported deaths “falling outside of forecast prediction intervals.”

According to the latest weekly report from the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 cases rose by 55 percent from Jan. 3 to Jan. 9.

The WHO noted that this increase corresponds to more than 15 million new cases and more than 43,000 new deaths. The organization also states that from January 9, over 304 million confirmed cases and more than 5.4 million deaths have been reported.

Regarding the highly contagious Omicron variant, the WHO reports that it continues to define the global pandemic and is displacing the Delta variant.

Omicron, first detected last November in southern Africa, currently accounts for almost 60 percent of all sequences shared with the largest, publicly accessible global virus database.

“This variant [Omicron] has been shown to have a shorter doubling time as compared to previous variants, with transmission occurring even amongst those vaccinated or with a history of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection; there is increasing evidence that this variant is able to evade immunity,” wrote the WHO.

Most people may develop COVID-19 in U.S.

At a Tuesday Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, FDA acting commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock noted that most people could contract the virus, so the focus should now be on ensuring that hospitals and essential services continue to function.

“Most people are going to get COVID, what we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function, transportation, you know, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens,” said Woodcock.

Data from Health and Human Services (HHS) show over 151,000 people are hospitalized for COVID-19 as of Wednesday morning.

HHS data also show nearly 80 percent of inpatient beds were in use on Wednesday, with over 150,000 beds in use for COVID-19 patients.

COVID-19 may already be endemic in U.K.

“The U.K. is the closest to any country in being out of the pandemic if it isn’t already out of the pandemic and having the disease as endemic,” Dr. David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, announced at a seminar hosted by Chatham House on Monday.

“Countries are now seeing population immunity build up,” he continued. “And that seems to be keeping the virus at bay, not causing serious illness or death in countries where population immunity is high.”

Heymann cited recent figures from Britain’s statistics authority on immunity, estimating that 95 percent of the English population already have antibodies against COVID-19, through vaccination or natural infection.

He also pointed out that the majority of U.K. patients currently in intensive care units are the unvaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering an update to its mask guidance that recommends people use the more protective N95 or KN95 masks if they can do so consistently, an official close to the deliberations but not authorized to speak publicly told The Washington Post.

“The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of Omicron,” said the official. “We know these masks provide better filtration.”

The CDC guidance is also expected to say that if people can “tolerate wearing a KN95 or N95 mask all day, you should.”

According to the Post, when the CDC issued its initial mask guidance in 2020, health officials were concerned public use of medical-grade face coverings might mean shortages for health workers. However, that is no longer the case, health officials say.

Over half of Europe may contract Omicron in next 2 months

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Jan. 12 that over half the population in the WHO’s European region could contract the Omicron variant in the next 2 months.

Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, said during the organization’s first COVID-19 update of 2022 that the new variant “represents a new west to east tidal wave” sweeping through all 53 countries in WHO’s Europe region.

“As of 10 January, 26 countries report that over 1 percent of their population is catching COVID-19 each week,” he said.

According to Kluge, 50 European countries have reported Omicron cases, and the variant is “quickly becoming the dominant virus in western Europe.”

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that over half the region’s population will contract the virus over the next 6 to 8 weeks, he added.

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hospitalization rates for children ages 4 and under are rising steeply.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky addressed this concerning trend during a Jan. 7 telebriefing.

“Hospitalization rates have increased for people of all ages, and while children still have the lowest rate of hospitalization of any group, pediatric hospitalizations are at the highest rate compared to any prior point in the pandemic,” she said.

“Sadly, we are seeing the rates of hospitalizations increasing for children 0 to 4, children who are not yet currently eligible for COVID-19 vaccination,” Walensky continued.

She pointed out that according to data from the CDC’s COVID data tracker, the rate of COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in unvaccinated adolescents aged 12 to 17 was roughly 11 times higher than for fully vaccinated children of the same age range.

Walensky also emphasized the need to protect those not yet able to be vaccinated from infection.

“Please, for our youngest children, those who are not yet eligible for vaccination,” she said. “It’s critically important that we surround them with people who are vaccinated to provide them protection.”

Pfizer CEO says Omicron vaccine available by March

Speaking today on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla announced that the drugmaker anticipates an Omicron-specific vaccine to be available by March.

“We are working on a new version of our vaccine,” said Bourla. “One that will be effective against Omicron as well.”

He noted that the new vaccine will not only be effective against Omicron but also other variants.

Bourla confirmed that this new version of the Pfizer vaccine will be ready by March and that Pfizer has already begun manufacturing the updated vaccine.

“It will have way, way better protection, particularly against infection,” he said.

Australia sees record number of cases

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a Jan. 10 press briefing that Australia must “push through” the current surge of Omicron cases.

He called the variant a “gear change” and confirmed that the nation is dealing with a serious volume of cases.

“The people who are predominately in hospital, who have gone there because of COVID, are unvaccinated,” Morrison said. “If you want to end up in hospital, being unvaccinated against this virus is the most likely way to end up there.”

Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, spoke at the same press briefing to confirm that there are presently 500,000 active cases, which he said is a “very different situation” compared to even a few weeks ago.

He advised anyone experiencing severe symptoms to call an ambulance.

“But that is a very, very small proportion of what we are seeing,” he continued.

According to Kelly, although the majority of those 500,000 active cases are mild or asymptomatic, sometimes “those more severe things can happen, and so seek advice and seek it early.”

In the wake of skyrocketing infection rates and breakthrough cases, a new study from the CDC finds that among vaccinated people, only those with at least one risk factor experience severe illness.

Researchers looked at over 1 million fully vaccinated people between December 2020 and October 2021 to find even among those with a risk factor, the likelihood of severe disease was rare at only 1.5 cases per 10,000 participants.

According to the study, the 36 participants who did die had at least four risk factors, including being 65 years and older, immunosuppressed, or having other underlying conditions.

“Vaccinated persons who are older, immunosuppressed, or have other underlying conditions should receive targeted interventions including chronic disease management, precautions to reduce exposure, additional primary and booster vaccine doses, and effective pharmaceutical therapy to mitigate risk for severe outcomes,” study authors wrote.

They added that increasing vaccination coverage “is a critical public health priority.”

Supreme Court to consider Biden vaccine mandates

Today, Supreme Court justices heard arguments regarding enforcement of a White House vaccine-or-testing requirement that applies to large employers and a separate mandate focused on healthcare workers, reported The Associated Press (AP).

According to the news outlet, the court decision will likely determine the fate of vaccine requirements that affect over 80 million people.

“I think effectively what is at stake is whether these mandates are going to go into effect at all,” Sean Marotta, a Washington lawyer with clients that include the American Hospital Association, told AP.

The administration’s lead Supreme Court lawyer, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, argued that mandates are needed to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and deaths.

According to Prelogar, a decision against the mandates “will likely result in hundreds or thousands of deaths and serious illnesses from COVID-19 that could otherwise be prevented,” reported AP.

The Associated Press (AP) reported that France will now allow some COVID-19-positive health workers to continue treating patients in response to an “unprecedented” explosion of cases that has strained staffing at healthcare facilities.

“If they are tired, have a scratchy throat and prefer to stay at home, nobody will force them to come to work with COVID,” Romain Eskenazi, communications director for two hospitals in the French capital’s northern suburbs, told the news outlet.

According to AP, this is a “calculated risk,” as health officials balance the risk of disease spread with what the French government explained is a need to keep essential services running.

“If the system becomes very strained and 50% of our staff are positive, the less symptomatic will come to work because the patients will still need to be cared for,” Dr. Marc Leone, head of anesthesiology at the North Hospital in the southern city of Marseille, told AP.

“But we’re not in that situation yet,” he added.

Fauci says ‘inevitable’ that more children will be hospitalized with Omicron

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) head Dr. Anthony Fauci offered grim news as Omicron variant sweeps across the United States.

He explained that while Omicron appears to be less severe than the Delta variant, its “profound transmissibility” means that many more children will face infection.

“And as many more children will get infected, a certain proportion of them — usually children that have underlying comorbidities — are going to wind up in the hospital,” he said. “That is just an inevitability.”

Fauci emphasized that one of the best ways to prevent children not yet eligible for vaccination from contracting the virus is to surround them with those who have already been vaccinated.

“Make sure that if they’re old enough to be able to tolerate a mask, put a mask on them, particularly in congregate settings,” he added. “The CDC is very clear about that. Just follow those guidelines.”

Walmart slashes paid leave for COVID-19-positive employees

Walmart workers in the United States required to isolate or who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 will now receive only one week of paid leave instead of two as the retail giant realigns its policy to reflect new CDC guidance, reported Reuters.

According to Walmart documentation, paid leave was previously offered for up to two work weeks at 100 percent of an employee’s average pay.

The company memo, seen by Reuters, was sent on Tuesday to U.S. hourly store employees and long-haul drivers.

It announced that COVID-19-positive workers and those required to quarantine by Walmart, a healthcare provider, or a government agency will be eligible for just one workweek of paid time off, reported the news outlet.

According to Reuters, a Walmart spokesperson confirmed the revised leave policy change, adding that ill workers could receive additional COVID-related pay for up to 26 weeks.

President Joe Biden emphasized the importance of being vaccinated and boosted during the Omicron surge during a Tuesday press briefing.

The president began by reminding everyone that Omicron is an unprecedented health challenge and we should expect cases to continue rising.

“Omicron is very transmissible — transmissible variant, but much different than anything we’ve seen before,” said Biden. “But you can protect yourself. And you should protect yourself, quite frankly.”

Biden pointed out that we have the means to reduce our risk of infection with the highly infectious variant.

“Be concerned about Omicron, but don’t be alarmed,” he advised, and warned that this time the danger is exclusively in the unvaccinated.

“Many of you will — you know, you’ll experience severe illness, in many cases, if you get COVID-19 if you’re not vaccinated. Some will die — needlessly die,” Biden warned.

He also said they are doubling the requested amount of Pfizer anti-viral pills to 20 million in the coming months.

Paramedic arrested for selling stolen vaccine cards

According to court documents dated Jan. 3, federal prosecutors have accused a Delaware-based paramedic of selling stolen COVID-19 vaccine cards.

According to the criminal complaint, paramedic David Hodges made about $1,300 from selling the phony proofs of vaccination.

“Beginning on or about February 22, 2021, Hodges devised a plan to obtain COVID-19 vaccination cards for the purpose of selling the cards to individuals who did not receive the vaccine,” the document reads.

The complaint also detailed how Hodges began by printing fake cards at his home and when he eventually achieved access to a vaccination site, he took blank cards from the location to create more fake vaccine cards. The document shows he could be facing 6 months in prison if convicted.

Data from Johns Hopkins University finds the U.S. reported more than one million new infections on Monday – a record single-day number.

This record is nearly twice the previous record of 590,000 set 4 days ago, according to UPI with Maryland, Alabama, Delaware, New Jersey, and Ohio seeing the most new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population.

The latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimates that Delta variant accounted for about 40 percent of cases, and Omicron for nearly 60 percent of all U.S. infections.

‘Flurona’ case in Israel draws attention

A person has tested positive for both the flu virus and COVID-19, according to CNN.

Experts had warned that it would be possible to develop both diseases at the same time. The person affected was a pregnant woman who was not vaccinated in Israel. They have been released from the hospital.

N.Y. teacher arrested for giving minor Johnson & Johnson jab

A Nassau County, New York biology teacher was arrested on Dec. 31 for administering a shot of the single dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine to a 17-year-old boy, reported NBC.

According to a Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) civic alert, defendant Laura Parker Russo, 54, administered an injection of COVID-19 vaccine to a 17-year-old male.

“The male victim went home and informed his mother what had occurred. The mother had not given permission or authority to have her son injected with a COVID Vaccine and called Police,” the NCPD said in a statement.

According to law enforcement, an investigation discovered that Laura Parker Russo is not a medical professional or authorized to administer vaccines.

She was then charged by the NCPD with unauthorized practice of a profession.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the J&J vaccine is only authorized for use in people 18 years and older.

Federal Judge rules against military vaccine mandate

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled against the Biden administration’s vaccine requirement for members of the military, according to Reuters.

Judge O’Connor issued a preliminary injunction (PI) blocking the Navy from taking action against 35 Navy Seals who sued in court to seek exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for religious reasons.

This injunction prevents the Navy from implementing policies allowing the plaintiffs to be declared non-deployable or disqualified from Special Operations.

“Several Plaintiffs have been directly told by their chains of command that ‘the senior leadership of Naval Special Warfare has no patience or tolerance for service members who refuse COVID-19 vaccination for religious reasons and wants them out of the SEAL community,’” states the PI.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine today to include children 12 to 15 years old.

According to FDA officials, the time between completion of primary vaccination and a Pfizer-BioNTech booster dose will also be shortened to at least 5 months.

The amended EUA will allow booster doses for some immunocompromised children 5 to 11 years old.

“Throughout the pandemic as the virus that causes COVID-19 has continuously evolved, the need for the FDA to quickly adapt has meant using the best available science to make informed decisions with the health and safety of the American public in mind,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, said in a statement.

Woodcock emphasized the importance of continuing to practice established disease prevention measures.

“With the current wave of the Omicron variant, it’s critical that we continue to take effective, life-saving preventative measures such as primary vaccination and boosters, mask wearing, and social distancing in order to effectively fight COVID-19,” she said.

Fauci expresses concern over possible hospitalization surge

Appearing on the ABC News show “This Week,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, warned there’s still a danger that the large number of COVID-19 cases will result in a surge of hospitalizations, even though early data suggests the Omicron variant is less severe.

“We are definitely in the middle of a very severe surge and uptick in cases,” Fauci said. “If you look at the uptick, it is actually almost a vertical increase. We’re now at an average of about 400,000 cases per day. Hospitalizations are up.”

Fauci added “there’s no doubt” that the acceleration of cases is unprecedented and has “gone well beyond anything we have seen before.”

According to Fauci, even though Omicron has shown a lower percentage of severity, the sheer number of people affected could increase the strain on healthcare resources.

“The net amount is you’re still going to get a lot of people that are going to be needing hospitalization,” he explained. “And that’s the reason why we’re concerned about stressing and straining the hospital system.”

CDC: Avoid cruise ships, even if you’re vaccinated

The CDC announced in an update that the COVID-19 Travel Health Notice level has been updated to Level 4, the highest level, to reflect surging cases on cruise ships since identification of the Omicron variant.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters onboard ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you are fully vaccinated and have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose,” CDC officials warned.

Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, pointed out a recently published study finding airborne transmission likely accounted for more than half of COVID-19 transmission aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

“The painful lessons learned during the early months of the pandemic involving cruise ships are now coming home to roost as we navigate the highly transmissible variant Omicron,” Glatter told Healthline.

According to Glatter, since some cruise ships can carry up to 3,000 people, the potential for a superspreader event is an ongoing concern.

“With superspreader events, the ‘three C’s’ are what matter most: closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded spaces, and close-contact settings,” he said.

The French health minister announced that the European nation would be canceling its order of drugmaker Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral pill due to “disappointing” trial data.

France is the first country to publicly announce its rejection of the Merck pill after the drugmaker released data in November suggesting the treatment is significantly less effective than expected.

France’s health minister noted that the government would instead seek Pfizer’s antiviral pill, which received authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week.

Fauci: Don’t underestimate Omicron

In a press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, cited two studies finding the highly contagious Omicron variant was milder than Delta, but he cautioned against believing this signals the end of the pandemic.

“I would point out that even if you have a diminution in severity, if you have a much larger number of individual cases, the fact that you have so many more cases might actually obviate the effect of it being less severe,” said Fauci.

He explained this is why President Joe Biden announced this week that the administration would supplement hospital capabilities to respond to the possibility of a surge in hospitalizations.

Fauci also emphasized the importance of preventive measures.

“However — and here, again, why we emphasize the importance of booster shots — the anti-Omicron activity is about 20- to 40-fold higher in sera from boosted vaccinees versus the peak in individuals who had a two-dose vaccine,” he said.

WHO: ‘No country can boost its way out of the pandemic’

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticized blanket COVID-19 booster programs during a press briefing, and warned that unequal access to vaccines could cause new variants that extend the pandemic.

“Blanket booster programs are likely to prolong the pandemic, rather than ending it, by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate,” said Tedros.

According to the WHO, vaccine booster policy should be based on evidence of individual and public health benefit, and “obligations to secure global equity in vaccine access as a means to minimize health impacts and transmission, and thereby reduce the risk of variants and prolongation of the pandemic.”

“No country can boost its way out of the pandemic,” Tedros warned.

According to officials at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), a series of recently published preclinical studies suggest that the Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle (SpFN) COVID-19 vaccine developed there elicits a potent immune response and could offer broad protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants and other coronaviruses.

“The accelerating emergence of human coronaviruses throughout the past two decades and the rise of SARS-CoV-2 variants, including most recently Omicron, underscore the continued need for next-generation preemptive vaccines that confer broad protection against coronavirus diseases,” Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, the director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at WRAIR and co-inventor of the vaccine, said in a statement.

The findings were published last week in Science Translational Medicine.

According to Defense One, the next step is researching how the new vaccine interacts with those previously vaccinated or infected with the novel coronavirus.

“We need to evaluate it in the real-world setting and try to understand how does the vaccine perform in much larger numbers of individuals who have already been vaccinated with something else initially… or already been sick,” Modjarrad told Defense One.

Fauci to update nation on Omicron variant

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is scheduled to join other health officials on Wednesday to update Americans on the Omicron variant.

“It’s a doubling time of 2 to 3 days, closer to 2 days,” Fauci told ABC’s Good Morning America. “Which means that if you start off with a few percent of the isolates being Omicron, and you do the math and double that every couple of days.”

He added that it’s “not surprising” that only a week or two ago, Omicron was only 8 to 10 percent of cases, and it’s now 73 percent of all isolates detected.

“That’s truly unprecedented in the rapidity with which a virus spreads,” he said. “It is really extremely unusual.”

Fauci will address the nation today at 3 p.m. EST.

Israel to distribute fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses

Israel will soon distribute fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses to people ages 60 and over as well as medical workers and those with suppressed immune systems on the advice of an expert panel, announced the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday.

People in those groups are eligible for the booster, provided at least 4 months have passed since their third dose.

“We don’t really have data yet on the level of immunity, like we did when we decided on the third dose, but on the other hand, there is really scary data out there in the rest of the world, Dr. Galia Rahav, a professor and a member of the panel making the recommendation, told Army Radio.

“In a situation like this, if you don’t act immediately, you miss the train,” she added.

The White House announced that President Joe Biden will detail new measures on Dec. 21 to protect the public and help communities and hospitals battle the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

These measures include:

  • Increased support for hospitals. Biden will ensure that states and health systems nationwide have the personnel, beds, and supplies needed to handle rising Omicron hospitalizations.
  • Expanding hospital capacity. This will be done by activating Federal Emergency Management Agency response and planning teams.
  • Ongoing support to programs that help states secure sufficient hospital beds.
  • Deployment of hundreds of ambulances and emergency medical teams to transport patients to available beds.

“Vaccines are free and readily available at 90,000 convenient locations,” the White House said in a statement. “There is clear guidance on masking and other measures that help slow the spread of COVID-19. And, federal emergency medical teams are ready to respond to surges nationwide.”

Omicron variant is now responsible for 73 percent of new cases

The Omicron variant has raced ahead of other mutations to become the dominant version of COVID-19 in the United States, now accounting for 73 percent of new cases this past week, federal health officials said.

“With a lack of rapid tests available in pharmacies and long lines in major U.S. cities, the upcoming holidays represent a potential cauldron of viral spread within the U.S.,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline. “The National Guard has already been dispatched to at least six states, with many more expected in the coming weeks.”

On Dec. 20, the CDC revised its estimate for Omicron-related cases for the week that ended Dec. 11. It reported that about 13 percent of the cases that week were from Omicron, not the 3 percent previously reported.

“While Omicron may not lead to more severe illness than Delta, a rapid and massive surge in infections could still overwhelm hospitals with sick patients,” Glatter said. “People who are unvaccinated remain at highest risk, but also those who have not received a third dose of an mRNA vaccine.”

Biden tests negative after COVID-19 exposure

According to the White House, a mid-level staff member tested positive on Dec. 20 for the novel coronavirus.

Three days earlier, that staff member had spent about 30 minutes near President Joe Biden while on Air Force One.

“This morning, after being notified of the staffer’s positive test, the president received a PCR test and tested negative. He will be tested again on Wednesday (Dec. 22),” the White House confirmed in a statement. “As CDC guidance does not require fully vaccinated people to quarantine after an exposure, the president will continue with his daily schedule.”

Today, drugmaker Moderna announced that preliminary data shows booster doses of the company’s vaccine significantly increase the antibody response against the Omicron variant.

“The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant is concerning to all. However, these data showing that the currently authorized Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralizing antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels are reassuring,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a statement.

According to Moderna, a 50-microgram booster dose increases antibody levels 37-fold, and a 100-microgram dose can increase antibody levels 83-fold.

“To respond to this highly transmissible variant, Moderna will continue to rapidly advance an Omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future,” Bancel added.

‘Not a moment to panic,’ says CDC head

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave an overview of the pandemic at a White House teleconference last week. She emphasized that the Omicron variant is more transmissible, and medical experts anticipate it will lead to a rise in cases.

Walensky also reminded everyone that COVID-19 vaccines work against Omicron, especially for people who receive their booster shots.

“If you are vaccinated, you could test positive,” she said. “But if you do get COVID, your case will likely be asymptomatic or mild.”

However, Walensky warned that unvaccinated people could still overwhelm U.S. hospitals.

“For the unvaccinated, you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death for yourselves, your families, and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” said Walensky.

She confirmed that the nation is prepared to face this new challenge, and that vaccines and masking will play a critical role during the current surge.

“So, this is not a moment to panic because we know how to protect people and we have the tools to do it,” Walensky said. “But we need the American people to do their part to protect themselves, their children, and their communities.”

Fauci offers grim prediction about Omicron

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday about how the Omicron variant could change the course of the pandemic.

“It really is something that is very much unprecedented when you think about the terms of outbreaks,” noted Fauci.

He said that although vaccine effectiveness declines with Omicron, booster shots can bring it back up, and this is why the White House is concerned everyone eligible receive their dose on schedule.

“As far as I’m concerned, I make it very clear that, if you want to be optimally protected, get boosted,” he said.

Regarding President Biden’s recent prediction that unvaccinated people will see a winter of “severe illness and death,” Fauci explained why the president is right.

“This virus is extraordinary,” he said. “It has a doubling time of anywhere from two to three days.”

“Right now, in certain regions of the country, 50 percent of the isolates are Omicron, which means it’s going to take over,” Fauci continued. “And if you look at what it’s done in South Africa, what it’s doing in the U.K., and what it’s starting to do right now, the president is correct.”

Research published yesterday by Oregon Health & Science University finds that contracting a breakthrough coronavirus infection after vaccination may provide a form of “super immunity” to COVID-19.

The study, appearing ahead of print in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), shows that breakthrough infections could generate a robust immune response against the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

“You can’t get a better immune response than this,” said senior author Fikadu Tafesse, PhD, assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine, in a statement.

“These vaccines are very effective against severe disease. Our study suggests that individuals who are vaccinated and then exposed to a breakthrough infection have super immunity,” he continued.

He also believes that this immune boost should be seen with other variants, like the highly infectious Omicron variant.

“We have not examined the Omicron variant specifically, but based on the results of this study we would anticipate that breakthrough infections from the Omicron variant will generate a similarly strong immune response among vaccinated people,” said Tafesse.

Biden predicts winter of ‘severe illness and death’ for unvaccinated people

President Joe Biden said at a press briefing yesterday that he had a “direct message” for the American people.

“Due to the steps we’ve taken, Omicron has not yet spread as fast as it would’ve otherwise done and as is happening in Europe,” he said. “But it’s here now, and it’s spreading, and it’s going to increase.”

“For unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death — if you’re unvaccinated — for themselves, their families, and the hospitals they’ll soon overwhelm,” he continued.

Biden emphasized that people who are vaccinated and get their booster doses on schedule should be well protected against severe illness.

“Omicron is here, it’s going to start to spread much more rapidly in the beginning of the year, and the only real protection is to get your shots,” he said.

An expert panel for the CDC now recommends people avoid the Johnson & Johnson vaccine when getting vaccinated against COVID-19, according to NBC News.

Instead, the panel recommends people get either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine if possible.

The reason for the change is that there’s a small blood clot risk for people who get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. At least 54 people have been hospitalized for blood clots linked to the vaccine. Nine have died.

Most vaccinated people in the United States have received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

COVID-19 cases increase 40% in 1 month

A steep increase in COVID-19 cases and renewed pandemic concerns fueled by the Omicron variant have disrupted life in the United States, according to Reuters.

Nationwide, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased about 40 percent over the last month, according to a Reuters tally.

Among responses to the new case surge are canceled university events and long lines of New Yorkers waiting to be tested, reported Reuters.

While the Omicron variant has made headlines, it is not yet the dominant variant in the United States.

According to the CDC, it accounts for about 3 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States right now.

Study finds Omicron variant can grow 70 times faster than Delta in bronchial tissue

A new study has found that the Omicron variant can grow far faster than previous variants.

Researchers from Hong Kong found the Omicron variant could grow 70 times faster than the Delta variant in the human bronchus.

Researchers also found that the variant is less infectious in the lung tissue, which may explain why early evidence points to Omicron being less severe.

Navy announces unvaccinated sailors will be discharged

The U.S. Navy announced Wednesday that sailors who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 will be discharged from service during 2022, reported UPI.

According to the news service, there are currently 5,731 unvaccinated sailors as of today, representing nearly 2 percent of the active-duty force. The deadline for sailors to get vaccinated was Nov. 28.

Discharging these individuals could take up to 6 months.

“There are sailors who, in spite of our best efforts, continue to steadfastly refuse,” Rear Admiral James Waters, U.S. Navy director of military personnel plans and policy, told reporters Tuesday during a teleconference, reported Stars and Stripes.

Waters added that most separations should occur in the first half of 2022, though some may take longer.

According to UPI, unvaccinated sailors won’t face court-martial or dishonorable discharge, but they could lose education benefits, promotions, and bonus pay.

More states challenge National Guard vaccine mandate

According to Military Times, five additional states are following Oklahoma’s lead and resisting the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine policy.

On Tuesday, these states noted their objections in a letter directed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The letter, signed by the governors of Wyoming, Iowa, Alaska, Nebraska, and Mississippi, asks Austin to lift his restriction on unvaccinated Guard troops attending drill weekends or other mandatory training while under federal, state-controlled status (Title 32 status).

“Directives dictating whether training in a Title 32 status can occur, setting punishment requirements for refusing to be COVID-19 vaccinated, and requiring separation from each state National Guard if unvaccinated are beyond your constitutional and statutory authority,” the states’ governors wrote.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that Omicron is expected to become the dominant variant in the EU by mid-January, reported the Associated Press.

However, von der Leyen also said that the EU is well prepared to fight the pandemic virus, with over 66 percent of the population fully vaccinated. She added that fighting vaccine skepticism is “key,” especially in EU nations with lower vaccination rates.

U.K. Health Security Agency head Dr. Jenny Harries warned that Omicron displays a “staggering” rate of growth.

“The difficulty is that the growth of this virus, it has a doubling time which is shortening, i.e. it’s doubling faster, growing faster,” Harries told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, reported Fox.

“In most regions in the U.K., it is now under two days. When it started, we were estimating about four or five.”

Google warns employees to get vaccinated or risk being fired

CNBC reported that internal documents from tech giant Google warn employees that they’ll lose pay and face eventual termination if they don’t comply with the company’s vaccination policy.

According to CNBC, the memo specified that employees had until Dec. 3 to prove their vaccination status by uploading documentation, or to apply for medical or religious exemption.

After that date, Google will contact those who hadn’t been vaccinated or uploaded their status as well as employees whose exemption requests were rejected.

Employees not complying with the company’s mandate by Jan. 18 will be subject to 30 days of paid administrative leave, which will become unpaid for 6 months after that, followed by termination, according to the network.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine offers almost no antibody protection against Omicron

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine produced virtually no antibody protection against Omicron in a laboratory experiment, highlighting the variant’s ability to get past the body’s defenses, reported Bloomberg.

But the J&J vaccine appears to provide some small defense against Omicron, said South African virologist Penny Moore, PhD, in an online presentation on Tuesday, reported the news service.

“Omicron does indeed exhibit substantial immune escape from antibodies,” Moore continued. “The situation, I think, is even more alarming for the J&J vaccine — there was no detectable neutralization in our assay.”

Vaccine timing reduces risk of long-COVID in unvaccinated patients, study finds

A new study published in preprint finds that current vaccines could reduce the risk of long-COVID, even when administered up to 12 weeks after diagnosis.

According to the findings, patients given at least one dose of Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine prior to being diagnosed with COVID-19 were up to 10 times less likely to report two or more long-COVID symptoms compared to unvaccinated patients.

Also, people who received their first vaccine dose 4 to 8 weeks after diagnosis were 3 times less likely to report multiple long-COVID symptoms compared to those who remained unvaccinated.

This research was conducted by population health management and health intelligence platform Arcadia, in collaboration with the COVID-19 Patient Recovery Alliance.

“The reduced likelihood of long-COVID symptoms observed in our study provides a rationale for vaccination sooner rather than later, achieving improved patient health outcomes related to long-COVID,” Dr. Richard Parker, Chief Medical Officer at Arcadia, said in a statement.

“Based on the evidence, an unvaccinated person infected with COVID would benefit from immediate vaccination much like patients with rabies and hepatitis B benefit from those vaccines,” he continued.

In a new press release, Pfizer said its new treatment for COVID-19 significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death.

The risk was reduced by 89 percent if people with COVID-19 took the drug called Paxlovid within 3 days of symptoms developing. The risk was reduced by 88 percent if they took the drug within 5 days of symptoms developing.

The full data has not yet been made public for verification.

Pfizer has already asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for authorization to release the drug for emergency use.

2-dose regimen of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 70% protective at preventing hospitalization amid Omicron wave

New research finds that a two-dose regimen of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is still very effective at preventing severe symptoms of COVID-19, even from the Omicron variant.

Discovery Health Ltd., South Africa’s largest health insurance provider, said shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may reduce risk of hospitalization by 70 percent, according to Bloomberg News.

However, the vaccine was less effective at preventing disease completely. Early research finds people inoculated with the vaccine are 33 percent less likely to develop COVID-19 from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

New Hampshire detects its first Omicron case

On Dec. 14, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced detection of the first Omicron variant case in a New Hampshire resident.

According to the DHHS, the individual is an adult from Cheshire County who had traveled out of state. They were exposed to someone who was later found to have an infection with the Omicron variant.

“This NH resident, who was considered fully vaccinated but was not yet boosted, had a mild illness and has since recovered during home isolation,” the NHHS said in a statement.

A NH health official emphasized that everyone eligible should seek vaccination to be protected against both Delta and the Omicron variant.

“Anybody 5 years of age or older should get vaccinated against COVID-19, including people who were previously infected with COVID-19,” Dr. Benjamin Chan, NH state epidemiologist, said in a statement.

The United States will soon reach 800,000 COVID-19-related deaths as the nation braces for potential case surges from cold weather increasing time spent indoors and the Omicron variant.

Reuters reported more U.S. lives were lost to COVID-19 this year than in 2020 due to the Delta variant and a significant number of people who are not vaccinated.

The U.S. death rate in the last 11 months was over three times higher than in Canada and 11 times higher than in Japan, according to Reuters’ analysis of the data.

Researchers find Omicron may drive new infections in vaccinated people

Oxford University researchers used blood samples of fully vaccinated people from the Com-COV study and live coronavirus isolate to find that the Omicron variant could drive a further wave of infections in the population, including among the already vaccinated.

The study was published on the preprint server medRxiv.

According to researchers, the findings align with recently published data from the U.K. Health Security Agency that show two doses of COVID-19 vaccine have “reduced effectiveness” against the Omicron variant.

However, researchers also found that a third dose improved vaccine effectiveness.

“Whilst there is no evidence for increased risk of severe disease, or death, from the virus amongst vaccinated populations, we must remain cautious, as greater case numbers will still place a considerable burden on healthcare systems,” lead study author Professor Gavin Screaton, DPhil, head of the medical sciences division at Oxford University, said in a statement.

Omicron ‘evades’ some immune protections, says Fauci

Speaking with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos on Dec. 12, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the Omicron variant “clearly has a transmission advantage” in countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom, where it’s competing with the Delta variant.

According to Fauci, this is why we’re seeing transmission throughout different countries — including the United States.

“The thing that’s important is that it appears to be able to evade some of the immune protection of things like monoclonal antibodies, convalescent plasma, and the antibodies that are reduced by vaccines. That’s the sobering news,” Fauci said.

However, he noted encouraging news that preliminary research shows a third shot of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine raises protection levels high enough to “do well” against Omicron.

“Which is again, another reason to encourage people who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated, but particularly those who are vaccinated to get boosted because that diminution in protection seems to go way back up again,” said Fauci.

The CDC announced Dec. 9 that booster shot recommendations have been expanded to include people 16 years of age and older.

According to the CDC, at this time, only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is “authorized and recommended” for 16- and 17-year-olds.

“Today, CDC is strengthening its booster recommendations and encouraging everyone 16 and older to receive a booster shot,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

She emphasized the importance of receiving booster doses while the agency gathers more data on the new Omicron variant.

“Although we don’t have all the answers on the Omicron variant, initial data suggests that COVID-19 boosters help broaden and strengthen the protection against Omicron and other variants,” she said.

Walensky added that the available vaccines are safe, effective, and she “strongly encourages” adolescents 16 and older to get a booster shot if their last shot was at least 6 months ago.

Phoenix Zoo protecting animals against COVID-19

The Phoenix Zoo is the latest among many others to vaccinate animals believed susceptible to infection with the novel coronavirus from close contact with people, reported The Associated Press (AP).

Among 75 animals chosen to receive the shots are big cats, like tigers, jaguars, and lions; certain primates; and Egyptian fruit bats.

The zoo’s senior vice president of animal health and living collections, veterinarian Dr. Gary West, told AP that the big cats were vaccinated from a distance using darts.

“They [the animals] take it way better than people do,” West said. “They don’t like it, but they bounce right back and go back to their lives.”

According to AP, the Phoenix Zoo used a vaccine specifically designed for animals by drugmaker Zoetis, which donated the doses.

With the Omicron variant now more likely to evade vaccine-provided immunity compared with previous variants, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulators will now allow teenagers aged 16 and 17 to get a COVID-19 booster.

The FDA had previously authorized the use of booster shots for people over age 18.

“As people gather indoors with family and friends for the holidays, we can’t let up on all the preventive public health measures that we have been taking during the pandemic. With both the Delta and Omicron variants continuing to spread, vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement

Omicron may have ‘major impact’ on pandemic, says WHO

At a recent press conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), confirmed more data is needed to draw “firmer conclusions” about Omicron.

According to Ghebreyesus, the Omicron variant has now been reported in 57 countries, and the WHO expects that number to continue growing.

“Certain features of Omicron, including its global spread and large number of mutations, suggests it could have a major impact on the course of the pandemic,” he warned.

Study finds Omicron may be more infectious

A new study finds that the Omicron variant is 4.2 times more transmissible than the Delta variant, confirming initial fears about the highly mutated and infectious strain, Bloomberg reported.

Conducted by Dr. Hiroshi Nishiura, a Japanese professor and scientist who advises that country’s health ministry, the study hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed.

According to Bloomberg, this research was conducted using the same method used in a July study published by the Eurosurveillance medical journal on Delta variant’s predicted dominance ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

“The Omicron variant transmits more, and escapes immunity built naturally and through vaccines more,” Nishiura said in his findings, presented Wednesday at a meeting of the health ministry’s advisory panel, according to Bloomberg.

Drugmaker Pfizer announced on Wednesday that results from an initial laboratory study show that antibodies induced by their COVID-19 vaccine neutralized the new Omicron variant after only three doses.

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” said Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, in a statement.

New version of Omicron may be harder to track, say scientists

According to The Guardian, scientists announced they have discovered a “stealth” version of the Omicron variant that can’t be distinguished from others using PCR tests.

Scientists say that stealth Omicron has many mutations in common with standard Omicron but lacks a certain genetic feature that allows lab-based PCR tests to detect probable cases, the news outlet reported.

They also say it’s too early to know whether the new form of Omicron will spread in the same way as the standard variant, but that the “stealthy” version is genetically distinct, so it might behave differently, The Guardian reported.

Omicron may reduce effectiveness of certain COVID-19 tests

The Omicron variant may negatively affect COVID-19 tests because of its highly mutated nature, making some tests less able to detect the variant, according to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) update.

The FDA has identified Tide Laboratories’ DTPM COVID-19 RT-PCR Test as one that is expected to fail due to Omicron.

“Since this is a single-target test, the test is expected to fail to detect the SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant, resulting in false-negative results in patients with the omicron variant,” said the statement.

But the agency confirmed the test remains accurate to detect other known variants.

A new study that has not yet been peer-reviewed supports earlier suspicions that Omicron variant COVID-19 is more likely to evade protection gained from previous infection.

Researchers analyzed 35,670 reinfections from a group of nearly three million positive tests, to find the Omicron variant can overcome at least some of the natural immunity gained from prior infection. They estimate that protection against reinfection is reduced by about half.

However, the study doesn’t reveal whether Omicron makes currently available vaccines less effective or causes more severe symptoms.

“Omicron has blown a big hole in the controversial argument that we should simply allow the infection to spread in an attempt to create immunity,” Simon Clarke, DPhil, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology, University of Reading, said in a statement.

According to Clarke, achieving herd immunity now seems like nothing more than a “pipe dream.”

“We await a further indication as to whether Omicron has any ability to evade vaccine induced immunity,” he said.

Moderna provides improved immune response with Pfizer, AstraZeneca shot, finds study

According to research published Monday in The Lancet, patients who first received the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine, followed by a second shot with Moderna showed an improved immune response against COVID-19.

The findings suggest a more flexible approach to worldwide vaccination efforts that won’t limit people to receiving only the brand used for their initial dose, which makes it easier to protect the world against the pandemic virus.

“These data align with real-world evidence of robust effectiveness of mixed schedules against disease,” the study authors wrote.

The study of 1,070 volunteers also discovered that one dose of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine followed by a Moderna shot provided greater protection than the standard two doses of Pfizer vaccine.

“Overall the study supports the view that mixing vaccines is a sensible approach in terms of generating a higher antibody response than would otherwise be achieved,” Andrew Garrett, PhD, Executive VP, Scientific Operations, ICON Clinical Research, said in a statement.

Omicron cases in New York rising

Yesterday, New York governor Kathy Hochul announced the detection of four additional confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in New York State, for 12 confirmed cases in total.

The cases were confirmed through sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center. Two of the new cases are in Suffolk County and two from Oneida County.

“Four more cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant were just identified in New York State. With the new variant circulating, the best way to stay safe and prevent serious illness during the holiday season is by getting vaccinated or a booster shot,” said Hochul in a statement.

WHO no longer recommends convalescent plasma for mild COVID-19

The WHO now says that physicians shouldn’t use convalescent plasma to treat people with mild COVID-19 symptoms. Initially, experts had hoped that plasma from people who recovered from COVID-19 could help others. But recent evidence has found that it didn’t improve outcomes for patients.

The treatment can still be used for severe and critical COVID-19 cases.

The Omicron variant has been identified in at least 17 states since the first case identified in California on Dec. 1, reported the Washington Post. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky predicted that cases will increase.

On Sunday, Walensky told ABC News that the CDC is still uncertain about how transmissible Omicron is and how effective currently available vaccines will be against the virus.

She confirmed that the CDC knows it has more mutations than prior variants.

“Many of those mutations have been associated with more transmissible variants, with evasion of some of our therapeutics, and potentially evasion of some of our immunity, and that’s what we’re watching really carefully.”

Walensky cautioned that more mutations mean a need for greater immunity.

“We know from a vaccine standpoint that the more mutations a single variant has, the more immunity you really need to have in order to combat that variant, which is why right now we’re really pushing to get more people vaccinated and more people boosted to really boost that immunity in every single individual,” Walensky said.

Grand jury indicts South Carolina nurse in phony vaccine card scheme

A South Carolina woman, Tammy McDonald, 53, allegedly “personally filled out vaccine cards” for people she knew hadn’t received a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a press release from the South Carolina U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The nurse was charged in a three-count indictment with two counts of producing fraudulent COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards and one count of lying to federal investigators about her role in producing the cards.

“The indictment alleges McDonald defrauded and endangered the public by creating and distributing fake COVID-19 vaccination cards,” reads the press release.

“Engaging in such illegal activities undermines the ongoing pandemic response efforts,” stated Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General.

McDonald pled not guilty on all three charges and was granted a $10,000 bond. She faces up to 15 years in prison for each count of producing a fraudulent COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card and 5 years in prison for lying to federal investigators.

New York City mayor announces ‘first-in-nation’ vaccination mandate for workers

Under new rules announced today by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, city employers must mandate COVID-19 vaccination for their employees. The mandate will take effect on Dec. 27 and apply to about 184,000 businesses.

A vaccination mandate will also take effect that applies to customers at indoor dining, fitness, entertainment, and performance venues.

According to the mayor’s office, it will require children ages 5 to 11 to show proof of one vaccination dose for those venues. However, starting Dec. 27, city residents 12 and older must show proof of two vaccine doses, except for those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

De Blasio also announced that from Dec. 14, 5- to 11-year-olds must be vaccinated to participate in “high-risk extracurricular activities,” which include sports, band, orchestra, and dance.

“New York City will not give a single inch in the fight against COVID-19. Vaccination is the way out of this pandemic, and these are bold, first-in-the-nation measures to encourage New Yorkers to keep themselves and their communities safe,” said Mayor de Blasio in a statement.

The odds that we will need to have a yearly COVID-19 shot are increasing, BioNTech CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin said today at the Reuters Next conference.

Sahin also confirmed that BioNTech should be able to adapt its COVID-19 vaccine swiftly in response to the new Omicron variant.

The head of Pfizer made a similar statement yesterday to U.K. broadcaster, the BBC.

Albert Bourla, DVM, PhD, CEO of Pfizer, told the broadcaster that people will likely need an annual shot for many years to come.

This will be required to maintain a “very high level of protection,” he explained.

All vaccine-booster combos are effective, but study finds Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offer most protection

Although many vaccine and booster shot combinations can effectively increase people’s protection against COVID-19, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines may be best, according to a new study published Dec. 2 in The Lancet.

Researchers examined people initially protected against COVID-19 with either the AstraZeneca (not yet authorized in the U.S.) or Pfizer vaccine.

They gave study participants a broad range of booster doses to find that nearly all of them significantly boosted immune response, regardless of which vaccine was first used. However, the Pfizer and Moderna shots were especially effective according to the findings.

“Preliminary data on Omicron leads us to believe that it is more likely to lead to reinfection and breakthrough infections after primary vaccination,” Dr. Shereef Elnahal, CEO of University Hospital in Newark, told Healthline in an emailed statement.

“While there is still much that we don’t know about Omicron, boosters are likely to add an extra layer of protection against infection and severe disease,” he continued. “We are blasting this message out to our patients, employees, and community.”

Stricter testing requirements for travelers take effect Monday: What to know

According to a CDC order issued late Thursday, stricter testing requirements for international travelers take effect this Monday, Dec. 6 at 12:01 a.m. EST.

The new order requires passengers arriving from abroad to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result within 1 day of travel.

Under the order, passengers 2 years of age or older are prohibited on any aircraft destined to the United States from another country unless they can show a negative, pre-departure test within 1 day of travel or:

  • documentation showing they have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days
  • a letter from a licensed healthcare professional or public health official stating the passenger is cleared to travel