WHO’s Science in 5 on COVID-19: Omicron variant - WHO Youtube Channel
Dr. Anthony Fauci Discusses Omicron Spread and Holiday Gatherings - NBC News
From NYTimes: Omicron confirmed in 39 US states
Map from NYTimes 
From CNET :Vaccine and booster updates in the US
Why did the CDC panel recommend the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines over the one from Johnson & Johnson?
- On Thursday, a CDC advisory panel voted to recommend that those looking for a safe vaccine pick either Moderna's or Pfizer's because of the risk of a potentially fatal blood clot issue associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
- Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, is expected to decide as soon as today whether to accept that panel's vote.
A COVID vaccine booster is needed to guard against omicron
- "Boosters ... enhance the vaccine protection against omicron," Fauci said on Wednesday. "Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron."
- "Individuals who have received two vaccines will most likely not have significant prevention from infection or any type of disease [from the new variant]," BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin said last week. (Comirnaty, the brand name of the Pfizer vaccine, is manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech.)
- Şahin said more information is needed to confirm the company's initial laboratory findings that indicate a third Pfizer vaccine dose is important to guard against the variant.
Is an omicron-specific vaccine needed?
- Fauci on Wednesday said that there is no need for a variant-specific booster at this point. The current boosters appear to be effective against omicron.
- Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have all said they are gearing up to create a vaccine specifically designed to combat omicron if it's needed.
COVID PCR tests can identify the omicron variant
- Most PCR tests to identify the presence of COVID-19 in the body are free (COVID-19 tests for international travel are the main exception).
- So it's good news that the existing nasal swab test has been found to detect the omicron variant; a blood test or other procedure is so far unnecessary.
- "Fortunately for us, the PCRs that we mostly use would pick up this very unusual variant that has a real large constellation of mutations," Fauci said in a Nov. 29 press briefing.
Booster shots and vaccines are urged to help prevent omicron's spread
On Dec. 2, Biden announced a plan to help protect the US against the omicron variant this winter. It includes:
- Outreach programs to contact people eligible to receive booster shots.
- Making at-home COVID-19 tests "free" for everyone.
- Tighter travel restrictions that require a negative COVID-19 test 24 hours before departure.
- Paid time off for federal workers to get booster shots.
- Securing antiviral pills as a treatment for people who become infected with COVID-19 (these are recommended but not yet FDA-approved).
- Sending 200 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine to international countries in the next 100 days (280 million have already been sent).
COVID-19 booster shots: What we know today about a 4th vaccine dose
From CNet :
Would everyone be eligible for a fourth COVID vaccine dose?
- Right now, scientists are examining early test samples to determine how effective the current vaccines are, whether a variant-specific vaccine is needed to protect against omicron and other future variants and who would qualify for yet another booster shot.
- Preliminary data suggests that the omicron variant may be able to evade immunity caused either by previous infection or through a full vaccine course.
- The omicron variant is changing the definition of full vaccine protection, Ugur Sahin, CEO of BioNTech, which made the vaccine in partnership with Pfizer, said Wednesday.
- "With the data now coming for the omicron variant, it is very clear our vaccine for the omicron variant should be a three-dose vaccine," Sahin said.
- If three doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are needed to protect against the omicron variant, the timeline for a fourth shot could be pushed up to as early as March, Pfizer executives said.
- "I think it is very likely that we will need a fourth booster, possibly already this spring, particularly if omicron continues to dominate," Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer's chief scientific officer, told CBS News on Wednesday.
Do some people already qualify for a fourth dose of the COVID vaccine?
- Some countries are looking at authorizing a second booster shot for certain individuals.
- Israel, for example, is considering a fourth shot of COVID-19 vaccine for people who are immunocompromised.
- The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could authorize a fourth shot in 2022 for a similar group in the US.
Why would I need a fourth vaccine dose? Isn't one booster shot enough?
- By the second week of December, more than 201 million in the US were fully vaccinated for the COVID virus (with either two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson's), and nearly 52 million had received a booster shot.
- Even before the omicron variant emerged, disease experts were already considering the need for an annual COVID vaccine booster to top off protection as the effectiveness of the vaccine wanes.
- With omicron, the talk of another COVID booster has been pushed to the front of the line.
- "There are vaccines like polio [where] one dose is enough," Pfizer's Bourla said back in April, as the COVID-19 vaccines were becoming widely available in the US. "And there are vaccines like flu that you need every year. The COVID-19 virus looks more like the influenza virus than the polio virus."
What about those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for their first shot?
- If the definition of fully vaccinated changes to three shots, what about those who got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for their first shot?
- According to UCSF's Wachter, it's still to be determined how protected those who received the J&J vaccine are. "There's always someone who got J&J and says, 'What about me?' And the answer is, we have no idea. Do they need a third shot? I think that question is going to be important to answer."
So is Pfizer/BioNTech creating a new booster shot for omicron?
- Executives for Pfizer and BioNTech said their companies are gathering data on the effectiveness of its current vaccine against the new variant and in parallel developing an omicron-specific vaccine in case it's needed.
- The variant-based vaccine could be ready by March 2022, pending regulatory approval.
- The vaccine-makers said they are also looking at a multivariate vaccine that could protect against other strains, such alpha (the original COVID-19 strain detected) and delta.
What has Moderna said about another booster shot to protect against the omicron variant?
- Like Pfizer, Moderna said it's testing the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine against omicron, and said it may be weeks before it knows how well its current vaccine protects against the new variant.
- The company has offered little specific information on its own vaccine so far.
- It has set out its approach to the variant, including examining the effectiveness of a 100-microgram dose of its booster against the omicron variant.
- Its current booster is a 50-microgram dose.
- If Moderna needs to develop a new vaccine specifically for the variant, the company said, it could be available early in 2022.
What has Johnson & Johnson said about a second booster shot of its vaccine?
- Johnson & Johnson has also been quieter on the effectiveness of its own vaccine and said it's begun work on a new vaccine designed for omicron and is working with scientists in South Africa and around the world to evaluate the effectiveness of its current COVID-19 vaccine against the omicron variant.
- CNET asked Johnson & Johnson for more on its vaccine development and omicron but didn't immediately get a response.
Omicron R number estimated to be between 3 and 5, says UK health adviser - The Guardian
From BBC :
The R number is a way of rating coronavirus or any disease's ability to spread.
- R is the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average.
- Measles has an R number of 15 in populations without immunity.
- That means, on average, one person will spread measles to 15 others.
- Coronavirus - known officially as Sars-CoV-2 - would have a reproduction number of about three if no action was taken to stop it spreading.
Why is a number above one dangerous?
- If the R value is higher than one, then the number of cases keeps increasing.
- But if the R number is lower the disease will eventually stop spreading, because not enough new people are being infected to sustain the outbreak.
From Reuters :Omicron thrives in airways, not lungs; new data on asymptomatic cases
Omicron multiplies faster in airways, slower in lungs:
- This is according to a formal report of the findings is under peer review for publication and has not been released by the research team.
- In a news release issued by Hong Kong University, study leader Dr. Michael Chan Chi-wai said, "It is important to note that the severity of disease in humans is not determined only by virus replication" but also by each person's immune response to the infection, which sometimes evolves into life-threatening inflammation.
- Major differences in how efficiently Omicron and other variants of the coronavirus multiply may help predict Omicron's effects, researchers said on Wednesday.
- Compared to the earlier Delta variant, Omicron multiplies itself 70 times more quickly in tissues that line airway passages, which may facilitate person-to-person spread, they said.
- But in lung tissues, Omicron replicates 10 times more slowly than the original version of the coronavirus, which might contribute to less-severe illness.
Four in 10 infected people may unknowingly spread virus:
- Infected people who show no symptoms might be contributing significantly to transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, given that they account for 40.5% of confirmed infections worldwide, according to a study published online Tuesday in the journal JAMA Network Open.
- The researchers pooled data from 77 earlier studies involving a total of 19,884 individuals with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections.
- They found that among infected people in the general community, about 40% were asymptomatic, as were 54% of infected pregnant women, 53% of infected air or cruise travelers, 48% of infected nursing home residents or staff and 30% of infected healthcare workers or hospitalized patients.
- The pooled percentage of asymptomatic infections was about 46% in North America, 44% in Europe and 28% in Asia.
News compilation: What you should now about COVID-19 this week
Pfizer Says Covid Pill 89 Percent Effective As Omicron Variant Spreads - NBC News
From DW News :
- The British government announced on Tuesday that it would lift a ban on non-citizen and legal resident arrivals from Nigeria and 10 southern African countries.
- As of early on Wednesday, all African countries on the UK's "red list" will be removed. Health Minister Sajid Javid said that the travel ban is "now less effective in slowing the incursion of omicron from abroad."
- India has said it is struggling to export the surplus of COVID-19 vaccines it has produced as logistical hurdles continue to plague the global supply chain.
- The Serum Institute of India is the world's largest vaccine maker and produces the AstraZeneca and Sputnik COVID vaccines, as well as its own Novavax.
- German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has said that the government is considering nixing testing requirements for those who have recently received their booster vaccine, saying it makes "epidemiological sense."
- The consumption of alcohol in bars and restaurants has been temporarily banned in Norway. The aim of this and other new measures is to reduce social gatherings and ultimately counter the spread of the omicron variant.
- Denmark has recorded another all-time high of coronavirus cases. The SSI national health authority reported another 8,314 cases on Tuesday, beating the previous day's record of 7,799.
- A high court judge in Kenya has temporarily suspended a vaccine mandate for citizens to access public services.
- The WHO announced a major uptick in cases across Africa on Tuesday, but said that the death rate has dropped in comparison with previous waves of the virus
- "We are cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave," said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Regional Director for Africa.
- A separate study released by Pfizer on Tuesday found that a new pill the company has been developing to fight those who already have COVID is highly effective at keeping patients out of the hospital, but less effective at helping ease the symptoms of those with mild or breakthrough infections.
Global daily statistics - Reuters COVID-19 Global Tracker
 https://www.cnet.com/health/omicron...ates-symptoms-vaccine-and-booster-protection/List of sources
PS: I will post here again next week, same time as usual. Thanks for reading, everyone.