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  • More than 5.5 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.
  • Over 63 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

  • Globally, there have been more than 345 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 5.5 million associated deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • The United States has reported more than 69.5 million confirmed cases and more than 863,000 associated deaths.
  • Currently, more than 250 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 210 million people fully vaccinated. More than 83 million people have received a booster dose.

Healthline updates this page on weekdays. For up-to-date information about the virus, go here.

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 NorthJersey.com 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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’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.”

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

U.S. President Joe Biden announced a new COVID-19 plan today.

The announcement comes amid fears over the new Omicron variant, which scientists have yet to fully understand.

Biden outlined his strategy to fight COVID-19 during the winter months, and it will include strict testing requirements for international travelers and call for insurers to cover the cost of COVID-19 home tests.

“We have more tools today to fight the Omicron variant than we have had to fight previous variants, including Delta,” confirmed the Biden administration in a statement. “Nearly 60 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, booster shots are authorized for all adults, and a vaccine is authorized for kids aged 5 and older.”

Regional authorities in Madrid announced Thursday that they’ve detected Spain’s first domestic case of the new Omicron variant in a vaccinated person with no links to risk countries, reported The Guardian.

According to The Guardian, this is the fourth confirmed case of Omicron variant in Spain, but it’s the first that proves that the new variant is already circulating in the country.

The affected person is 62 years old and experiencing mild symptoms. They had been fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine and had not had close contact with anyone from countries where the variant has been detected, according to reporting from Reuters.

The news outlet confirmed that two other cases are currently being investigated that also involve people with mild symptoms and have no history of travel to risk countries.

Health officials have detected the first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the United States. A person traveling from South Africa to San Francisco tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 29, according to officials from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Genomic sequencing found that they had developed COVID-19 from the Omicron variant.

All close contacts of the person who was sickened have tested negative and the person has mild symptoms, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the case highlighted the importance of getting vaccinated.

U.S. vaccine mandate for healthcare workers blocked by federal judge

A preliminary injunction issued Nov. 30 stops President Joe Biden’s national vaccine mandate for healthcare workers roughly a week before it was set to begin.

Written by U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe Division, Judge Terry A. Doughty, the injunction expands a separate order issued Nov. 29 by a federal court in Missouri, which had applied to only 10 states.

Those states had joined in a lawsuit against the president’s mandate requiring all health workers in hospitals and nursing homes to receive at least a first shot by Dec. 6 and be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million health care workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty.

“It is not clear that even an act of Congress mandating a vaccine would be constitutional,” he added.

Immune-compromised who are fully vaccinated at high risk of breakthrough infection, study finds

While it’s unusual for the fully vaccinated to experience COVID-19 infection, an analysis published Nov. 30 in the Journal of Medical Economics finds those with weakened immune systems are at significantly greater risk.

Researchers analyzed a large collection of U.S. healthcare administrative data, including healthcare records of 1,277,747 people age 16 or over who were fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine between Dec. 10, 2020, and July 8, 2021.

According to the study findings, although immune-compromised patients represented only 18 percent of study participants, they accounted for nearly 40 percent of breakthrough infections.

Fully vaccinated participants with weakened immune systems also made up almost 60 percent of all hospitalizations and 100 percent of deaths caused by breakthrough infections.

“Our study results advance the understanding of post-vaccination outcomes and support recent recommendations to provide a third primary series dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine to patients with weaker immune systems after the initial two doses”, co-author Manuela Di Fusco, lead author from the Pfizer Health Economics and Outcomes Research team, said in a statement.

CDC to toughen COVID-19 testing requirement for entry to U.S.

According to the Associated Press (AP), President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing to toughen COVID-19 testing requirements for international travelers arriving into the United States to include both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers in response to the new Omicron variant.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Nov. 30 that it was working toward requiring that all air travelers entering the U.S. test for COVID-19 a day before boarding a flight.

Current guidelines require fully vaccinated passengers to present a test taken within 3 days of boarding.

The Omicron variant was detected in Europe days before it was detected in South Africa. Authorities in the Netherlands said two samples taken on Nov. 19 and 23 tested positive for this coronavirus variant.

This means the variant was spreading in Europe before South African authorities announced the new variant.

Widespread travel bans to and from southern African countries after the announcement have drawn condemnation from some health experts for being punitive and ineffectual.

CDC says everyone over 18 should get a COVID-19 booster

Due to the rise of the Omicron variant, the CDC now says all adults in the United States should get a COVID-19 booster after their initial vaccine series.

Medical experts are unsure how protective vaccines will be against the new variant, but they believe vaccines are still likely to offer protection against severe illness and death.

“The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Greece announces compulsory vaccination for those over age 60

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced today that citizens over age 60 must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face a fine.

Unvaccinated residents over 60 will have until Jan. 16 to comply before being fined 100 euros (about $114) per month until they do so.

“We are focusing our efforts on protection of our fellow citizens and for this reason their vaccination will be mandatory from now on,” Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting, according to Reuters.

The island nation has had 924,506 confirmed cases and nearly 18,000 deaths since the pandemic began in 2020, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America and Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America told Healthline in a joint emailed statement that increasing vaccination is key to controlling the pandemic — not only in the United States but globally.

“Because travel restrictions have been shown to have limited ability to stop the spread of infection, the tools we already have available, such as vaccination, testing and masking, are the most effective strategies to contain the pandemic,” the organizations said in the statement.

Biden updates nation on Omicron variant

Yesterday, President Biden delivered remarks regarding the newest declared variant of concern, Omicron.

“The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in Southern Africa,” said Biden. “But while we have — that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it.”

The president also emphasized that these restrictions will give the United States time to act quickly, make sure people understand how important it is to get vaccinated, and to receive booster shots when eligible.

He added that Omicron is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and reassured everyone that existing vaccines still offer protection.

“While it will be a few weeks before we know everything we need to know about how strongly the existing vaccines protect against the new variant — Dr. Fauci, who is with me today — of our medical team, and — believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease,” said Biden.

‘This is what viruses do,’ says WHO director-general

In opening remarks today at the Member State Information Session on the Omicron variant, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the WHO Secretariat takes the Omicron variant “extremely seriously,” as should all member states.

“But we should not be surprised,” he pointed out. “This is what viruses do.”

“The longer we allow the pandemic to drag on — by failing to address vaccine inequity, or to implement public health and social measures in a tailored and consistent way — the more opportunity we give this virus to mutate in ways we cannot predict or prevent,” he continued.

Tedros also noted he’s equally concerned that certain member states have introduced “blunt, blanket measures” that are neither evidence-based nor effective, and could only worsen inequities.

“We call on all Member States to take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the International Health Regulations,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the COVID-19 mutation B.1.1.529 a variant of concern and named it Omicron.

WHO officials said this decision is based on evidence that the Omicron variant has multiple mutations that could have an impact on how easily it spreads and the severity of illness it causes.

Here’s what they know so far:

It’s “not yet clear” whether Omicron is more infectious compared with other variants, including Delta.

There’s also no firm evidence that Omicron causes more severe disease compared with other variants.

However, officials note that preliminary evidence suggests “there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron as compared to other variants of concern,” but that data is still limited.

Sharon Peacock, PhD, who led the genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, told the Associated Press that data suggests Omicron has mutations “consistent with enhanced transmissibility” but added “the significance of many of the mutations is still not known.”

Moderna announces strategy against Omicron variant

Moderna officials have announced updates to their strategy regarding COVID-19 variants of concern, in light of the newly declared Omicron variant.

Steps the company is taking include:

  • rapidly testing to determine if a larger, 100 µg dose provides superior neutralizing protection against Omicron
  • studying two booster candidates that were designed to anticipate mutations, like those observed in the Omicron variant
  • rapidly advancing creation of an Omicron-specific booster candidate

“From the beginning, we have said that, as we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves,” Stéphane Bancel, the chief executive officer of Moderna, said in a statement.

“The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant,” he said.

New York governor urges vaccinations as COVID-19 cases increase

New York governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency due to a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in her state.

According to the executive order, New York is now experiencing COVID-19 transmission at rates the state has not seen since April 2020.

Hochul updated state residents on progress against the pandemic on Sunday, emphasizing the importance of vaccination.

“The Omicron variant poses a very real threat to the progress we’ve made,” she said in a statement. “We’re entering a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, where it’s more important than ever for every eligible New Yorker to get vaccinated.”

Beginning today, inspectors on German public transport will demand proof of vaccination, recent COVID-19 recovery, or a negative test before passengers are allowed to board, according to The New York Times.

Documents will be checked randomly and federal police will be called in if passengers who can’t show proof refuse to get off at the next stop.

“Unless passengers have been vaccinated or have recovered from a coronavirus infection, they must carry proof of a negative rapid test when using a mode of transportation,” the transport association stated. “The test must have been taken less than 24 hours ago at the start of the journey,” reported Berlin.de.

The “get tough” measures were approved as Germany grapples with a significant surge in COVID-19 cases. On Tuesday, the European nation recorded a record 66,884 cases. The average daily case rate is now above 53,000, noted The Washington Times.

The Associated Press reported that vaccine hesitancy is persistent among a “sizeable minority” of the country.

Israel strengthening its COVID-19 vaccination requirements

According to CNN, Israel has been “at the forefront” of COVID-19 vaccine rollouts for adults and teenagers as well as spearheading vaccine passports. In addition, Israel has been leading other nations in the use of booster shots.

Now, no Israeli resident is considered fully vaccinated until they’ve received their third vaccine dose once they’re eligible.

Lessons learned from Israel are influencing the world, as more nations follow the country’s example to respond to current case surges, reported CNN.

Children in Israel who are between the ages of 5 and 11 are showing increased rates of infection, according to Israeli health officials. A vaccination campaign for that age group started on Monday.

Pastor at the center of South Korea COVID-19 outbreak

A rural church in a town of 427 residents south of Seoul, South Korea, has been linked to 241 people testing positive for COVID-19, a city official told Reuters.

Roughly 90 percent of the religious community was unvaccinated, with most in close contact through communal living.

A ritual act the pastor performs is a so-called “imposition of hands on eyes” that involves poking the eyes to eliminate “secular desire,” said Jung youn-seok, head of a cult information resources think tank.

Many of those who tested positive were in their 60s and older, the city official added, with only 17 of the affected parishioners having been vaccinated.

“I believe it’s the church’s anti-government beliefs that refrained the believers to get the vaccine,” a government official told Reuters.

The town is currently under lockdown.

In a press briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said he was unsure whether more booster shots would be required in the fight against COVID-19.

“The honest answer is that we do not know at this point, but we’re collecting data,” he said. “We may not need to get boosted every 6 months or so, but if we do, we’ll address it. We’ll find the data, make it public, and address it accordingly.”

Fauci also pointed out several studies conducted around the world that have confirmed how boosters “significantly” reinforce protection from the coronavirus.

According to Fauci, the hope is that a booster dose could give our immune response “a chance to mature and strengthen,” while lasting longer than the second shot, which has been shown to wane in effectiveness within several months.

COVID-19 deaths in 2021 exceed total from 2020

The number of COVID-19 deaths this year in the United States has surpassed the total number from 2020.

Data from the CDC on Monday, Nov. 22, shows that 770,890 people have died from COVID-19 since the agency began collecting that information in February 2020.

It also shows that while 2020 had an estimated 377,883 fatalities, there have been more than 392,000 COVID-19-related deaths recorded in 2021.

Number of COVID-19 cases in children is back on the rise

The number of new COVID-19 cases in children has risen 32 percent in the past 2 weeks.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics states that nearly 142,000 children tested positive for the virus during the week that ended November 18.

That’s down from a peak of 252,000 weekly cases in early September, but still higher than 2 weeks ago.

Children currently represent about 22 percent of the total U.S. population and about 25 percent of all COVID-19 cases.

Austria restricted public gatherings Monday as the European nation entered its fourth national COVID-19 lockdown as cases continue to increase, according to Reuters.

Starting today, places such as restaurants, bars, and Christmas markets must remain closed for at least 10 days, Austrian government officials said.

According to Reuters, this makes Austria the first western European country to reimpose the health measure this fall.

“It is a situation where we have to react now,” said Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein. “A lockdown, a relatively tough method, a sledgehammer, is the only option to reduce the numbers here.”

Romania faces ‘relentless’ surge of COVID-19 cases

While standing near a line of gurneys in Bucharest University Hospital’s morgue, a Romanian healthcare professional told CNN that the pandemic has been “relentless.”

According to the news network, Bucharest University Hospital, the largest medical facility in the Romanian capital that’s treating people with COVID-19, is “struggling” through the nation’s fourth COVID-19 surge.

“I never thought, when I started this job, that I would live through something like this,” said Claudiu Ionita, a nurse at the hospital. “I never thought such a catastrophe could happen, that we’d end up sending whole families to their graves.”

The most recent data shows less than 40 percent of Romania’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Medical workers and officials attribute the low vaccination rate to factors that include distrust of authorities, strong religious beliefs, and misinformation distributed through social media.

“Look at the reality,” Dr. Valeriu Gheorghita, an army doctor running Romania’s national vaccination campaign, told CNN. “We have our intensive care units full of patients. We have lots of new cases. We have, unfortunately, hundreds of deaths every day.”

“So this is the reality,” he emphasized. “And more than 90 percent of patients who died were unvaccinated.”

Delta variant triples risk of stillbirth

According to the most recent data from the CDC, a person who contracts the Delta coronavirus variant during pregnancy nearly triples their risk of having a stillbirth.

In addition, data also shows that stillbirth risk was already nearly 50 percent higher in pregnant people who contracted the coronavirus before Delta became the most prevalent variant.

“This analysis adds to growing evidence of an association between COVID-19 in pregnancy and stillbirth,” CDC researchers wrote.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced it will suspend enforcement of its Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that mandates all businesses with 100 or more employees have them all be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“On November 12, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a motion to stay OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard, published on November 5, 2021 (86 Fed. Reg. 61402) (“ETS”),” reads the announcement on OSHA’s website.

According to the agency, the court ordered OSHA to “take no steps to implement or enforce” the ETS “until further court order.”

OSHA noted that the situation is fluid and could change pending legal action.

“While OSHA remains confident in its authority to protect workers in emergencies, OSHA has suspended activities related to the implementation and enforcement of the ETS pending future developments in the litigation,” wrote the agency.

Children under 5 to have access to COVID-19 vaccine by spring 2022, predicts Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci told Insider that children younger than 5 years old should have access to COVID-19 vaccination by early next year.

“Hopefully within a reasonably short period of time, likely the beginning of next year in 2022, in the first quarter of 2022, it will be available to them,” Fauci told Insider.

“Can’t guarantee it, you’ve got to do the clinical trial,” he admitted.

But Fauci has reason to be optimistic about when we can protect the youngest children.

In September, Pfizer estimated that key data would be available about its vaccine efficacy and safety for children ages 6 months to 5 years by the end of this year.

“Topline readouts for the other two age cohorts from the trial — children 2-5 years of age and children 6 months to 2 years of age — are expected as soon as the fourth quarter of this year,” the drugmaker announced in a press release.

Austria declares national lockdown amid surging cases; Germany may follow

According to Reuters, Austria will expand its lockdown of unvaccinated people to include the whole population as Europe sees surging COVID-19 cases.

Neighboring Germany said it might do the same.

This will be the Austria’s fourth national lockdown, noted CNBC.

Soldiers who refuse vaccination to have their careers ended

A Nov. 16 Army memo specifies that soldiers who aren’t vaccinated, and haven’t requested an exemption, can no longer reenlist, effectively ending their military careers.

“I have determined that all soldiers who refuse the mandatory vaccination order will be flagged,” Secretary of the U.S. Army Christine Wormuth wrote in the memo. She added that those who do not receive the COVID-19 vaccine wouldn’t be allowed to continue serving.

Wormuth’s directive applies to active-duty troops, reservists, and National Guardsmen, including any serving under governors who do not require their state’s Guardsmen to be vaccinated.

Oklahoma National Guard Adjutant General Army Brigadier General Thomas Mancino is currently in a standoff with federal officials as he maintains that no members of the state’s Guard will be required to get the shot.

On Tuesday, America’s top infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci said COVID-19 vaccine booster shots might be the new standard for full vaccination status.

“I happen to believe as an immunologist and infectious disease person that a third shot boost for an mRNA [vaccine]… should be part of the actual standard regimen, where a booster isn’t a luxury. A booster isn’t an add-on, and a booster is part of what the original regimen should be. So that when we look back on this, we’re going to see that boosters are essential for an optimal vaccine regimen,” Fauci said in a pretaped interview aired at the 2021 STAT Summit, reported ABC News.

Massachusetts opens up booster dose access for al

According to the Massachusetts state government, everyone 18 or older who received a Pfizer or Moderna shot at least 6 months before or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least 2 months before can now get a booster dose of any available vaccine.

The governor’s office listed more than 1,000 locations where the state’s residents can get a booster shot, with appointments available to be booked immediately across Massachusetts.

Current guidance from the CDC recommends booster doses for everyone 18 years and older who received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose.

However, for those who received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, the CDC suggests boosters only for those 65 and older, who have underlying medical conditions, or who live or work in settings that place them at increased risk of COVID-19.

Gov. Kathy Hochul warned New Yorkers that new spikes in cases could mean stricter pandemic restrictions if infection rates don’t slow down.

She expressed particular concern for the situation in New York’s upstate region.

“We are seeing the spikes go up. We are seeing the numbers continue. Over 8 percent here in western New York. And a lot of it’s concentrated in our rural areas. We’re very aware that,” she said in a Tuesday press briefing.

The governor emphasized that anyone living in a high transmission area should get a booster.

“If you personally feel that risk — and it’d be hard to imagine anybody who doesn’t — because you’re among people, you’re at work, you’re in, sometimes in public transportation, you should be getting a booster shot now,” she said.

‘Fully vaccinated’ may soon mean 3 shots

Being fully vaccinated increasingly means getting a third COVID-19 vaccine dose.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced at a Monday press conference that the “most important thing people can do” to prevent the reimposition of restrictions was to receive a booster dose, reported Sky News.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that French residents over age 65 will require a third vaccine dose to revalidate their vaccination pass.

Pfizer recently asked U.S. regulators to allow boosters of its COVID-19 vaccine for anyone age 18 or older amid surging cases due to the Delta variant. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC are expected to issue recommendations on booster shots for all adults this week.

2 doses of Pfizer vaccine offer short-term protection, study finds

A new Israeli study published in Nature Communications finds that people who are fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine in January or February will have a 51 percent higher risk of COVID-19 by March and April, regardless of age.

According to researchers, the findings are consistent with other studies that show antibody levels and immune system compounds decline after 4 to 6 months.

However, according to the CDC, data shows fully vaccinated people are still less likely than unvaccinated people to develop COVID-19, and fully vaccinated people who develop an infection with the Delta variant have less severe outcomes.

A new study published in JAMA Network Open found that people who had been prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and diagnosed with COVID-19 were less likely to die from the disease.

SSRIs are prescribed to treat depression.

Specifically, study participants with COVID-19 taking a type of SSRI called fluoxetine had the lowest relative risk of dying from COVID-19.

They had a 28 percent reduced relative risk of dying from COVID-19 than the control group.

Researchers say more study is needed to verify their findings.

Texas doctor suspended for COVID-19 misinformation

According to The Associated Press (AP), a hospital in Houston, Texas, has temporarily suspended a doctor for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, both to her patients and on social media.

The doctor, Mary Talley Bowden, MD, is an ear, nose, and throat specialist in private practice in River Oaks. She was granted provisional privileges at Houston Methodist Hospital within the last year, reported AP.

“Dr. Mary Bowden, who recently joined the medical staff at Houston Methodist Hospital, is using her social media accounts to express her personal and political opinions about the COVID-19 vaccine and treatments,” reads a statement that Houston Methodist Hospital posted on Twitter.

NYC health officials encourage access to booster shots for everyone 18 and older

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi has issued an advisory to healthcare professionals to make sure there are no access barriers to adults who want a COVID-19 booster shot.

He cited concerns over a winter-related increase in cases as colder weather keeps people inside.

“In my own conversations with patients and family members, I know that booster doses can provide one more layer of reassurance, allowing us to breathe a bit easier, either for ourselves or our loved ones, particularly as we gather and travel around the holidays,” he posted to Twitter.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul expressed her agreement that booster shots should be made available to all who want one.

“I am strongly encouraging all New Yorkers who live or work in a high-risk setting to get the booster. I received the booster, and believe no one who feels they are at risk should be turned away from getting a COVID-19 booster shot. If you feel at risk, please get the booster,” Hochul said in a statement.

Last week, Europe recorded over half of the average 7-day infections globally and about half of the latest deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

The Austrian government said that roughly 2 million of its population of 9 million can now only leave their homes for limited reasons, which include commuting to work and shopping for essential items, reported Reuters.

The BBC reports that these restrictions will remain in place for at least 10 days, and that children 11 years or younger and people recently recovered from COVID-19 will be exempt.

Oklahoma National Guard won’t enforce Biden vaccine mandate, new commander says

Army Brigadier General Thomas Mancino was announced as Oklahoma’s adjutant general for the state and commander of the Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard, according to a Nov. 10 press release from the office of the state’s governor, J. Kevin Stitt.

According to the governor’s office, Mancino played an integral leadership role on the Governor’s Solution Task Force early in Oklahoma’s pandemic response.

On Nov. 11, the Oklahoma National Guard released a memo regarding the Guard’s vaccine policy.

“I hereby order that no Oklahoma Guardsmen be required to take the COVID-19 vaccine, notwithstanding any other Federal requirement. Oklahoma Command’s will continue to process Federal vaccine waivers in accordance with DoD policy,” reads the memo.

This hasn’t escaped the attention of the Pentagon, which warned it will respond to the situation appropriately.

“We are aware of the memo issued by the Oklahoma Adjutant General regarding COVID vaccination for Guardsmen and the governor’s letter requesting exemption. We will respond to the governor appropriately,” Pentagon representative John Kirby said in a statement to CNN.

The coronavirus Delta variant is bringing increased hospitalizations in the U.S. Mountain West, a disturbing sign of what this winter might bring, reported The Associated Press (AP).

Even as pandemic trends improve in southern states like Florida and Texas, which experienced the worst of summer’s surge, Delta is still a danger.

“We’re going to see a lot of outbreaks in unvaccinated people that will result in serious illness, and it will be tragic,” Dr. Donald Milton of the University of Maryland School of Public Health told AP.

Austria mulls lockdown of unvaccinated people

According to the BBC, Upper Austria province is days away from implementing a lockdown for its unvaccinated population as record COVID-19 cases are reported in the European nation.

Nationally, a record 11,975 COVID-19 cases were recorded in the past 24 hours.

Austria’s coronavirus commission has warned of a threat that “must be taken seriously,” reported the BBC.

The province has a population of 1.5 million, and borders Germany and the Czech Republic. It currently has Austria’s highest recorded cases and lowest vaccination rate, the BBC noted.

“It is clear that this winter will be uncomfortable for the unvaccinated,” Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg warned, reported CNN. “The lockdown could come much faster than some might think.”