For anyone hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine or a booster, the emergence of the omicron variant should provide enough motivation to immediately search for the nearest vaccination site.
That’s the key message from the White House COVID-19 response team, which sought to reassure Americans on Tuesday that the Biden administration is ready to push back the challenge of the latest variant of the coronavirus but needs that the public is doing their part.
“We have a lot more tools to combat the variant today than we had at this time last year,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These tools include extensive testing, a ten-fold increase in genomic sequencing from the start of the year, and improved detection of the travel-spread virus, but none are as powerful as the free vaccines that are readily available anywhere. the country. Only 63% of the eligible US population, 71% of whom are adults, are fully immunized.
Omicron was first identified in South Africa last week and much remains unknown about it, including its ability to evade vaccine protection.
Dr Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said it would likely take 2-4 weeks to learn this along with other critical information about the variant, such as its level of transmissibility and the extent of it. the disease it causes.
But Fauci said that, based on experience with other variants, the vaccines are likely to be at least partially protective against omicron, especially for those who have received booster shots.
“There is every reason to believe, as we talk about boosters, when you get a high enough level (of antibodies) that you will get at least some degree of cross-protection, especially against serious illnesses,” he said. he declared.
Like dozens of other countries, the United States is restricting entry to countries where omicron has been detected. The CDC has also expanded surveillance at four international airports – JFK in New York, Newark in New Jersey, San Francisco and Atlanta – and is working with airlines to improve contact tracing.
Fauci said as of Tuesday morning, 226 cases of omicron have been confirmed in 20 countries, but not yet in the United States, although he noted that the arrival of the variant was inevitable.
This further emphasizes the importance of improving defenses while the variant is at range. Jeff Zients, coordinator of the response team, said free booster shots, which the CDC now recommends for all adults, are available at 80,000 sites across the country.
“More than 100 million adults are now eligible for a booster but have not received one,” Zients said. “Our message is simple: if you were fully immunized before June, go get a booster today. Getting boosted will give you the highest level of protection against COVID and this new variant. ”
Also in the news:
►Lee Price III of Houston has been sentenced to more than nine years in prison on charges he used $ 1.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for a Lamborghini, Rolex watch, and trips to cars. strip clubs. Price, 30, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in September.
►China plans to donate 600 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping said. An additional 400 million doses will also be supplied by other means, notably by Chinese companies operating in Africa.
►The omicron variant “will bring challenges in terms of prevention and control” for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday. But he said he was confident the games will take place.
►Greece announced on Tuesday that it would make vaccination compulsory for all people aged 60 and over. Unvaccinated people will be liable to a monthly fine of 100 euros.
??The numbers of the day: The United States has recorded more than 48.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 779,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Global totals: Over 262.6 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. Nearly 197 million Americans – about 59.3% of the population – are fully immunized, according to the CDC.
??What we read: How serious is omicron? Is it more transmissible than delta? It will take weeks to understand the COVID-19 variant.
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FDA Advisory Board Recommends Authorization of Merck’s COVID Pill
A divided panel of experts on Tuesday recommended that the Food and Drug Administration grant emergency use authorization for a new pill from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics that would be the first antiviral treatment for COVID-19.
The drug, molnupiravir, is intended for use in unvaccinated people at risk for severe COVID-19 within five days of the onset of symptoms.
The expert panel voted 13-10 in favor of authorization, and while the FDA generally follows its recommendation, it is not obligated to do so. Committee members said the drug should not be given during pregnancy if there is another alternative.
An FDA analysis released last week found the pill to be effective against the virus, but identified several potential risks, including possible toxicity and birth defects.
– Karen Weintraub
Louisiana judge blocks nationwide vaccination mandate for healthcare workers
A Louisiana federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday that blocked National President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, a decision that amplifies a similar ruling made the day before by a Missouri federal judge.
Louisiana Western District US Judge Terry Doughty ruled on the trial led by Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry and joined by 13 other states, but Doughty added a nationwide injunction in his ruling. U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp also spoke out against the Missouri vaccination requirement on Monday, but his ruling only covered 10 states.
Doughty wrote that the Biden administration did not have the power to bypass Congress by issuing the warrant, which was due to go into effect next week.
– Greg Hilburn, announcer for the daily Lafayette
Omicron detected in Netherlands ahead of South Africa, Dutch officials say
While South Africa first alerted global health authorities to the omicron variant last week, Dutch health officials said on Tuesday they had found two cases of omicron before the alarm went off, indicating that the new variant was already spreading in parts of Europe.
Samples dated November 19 and 23 in the Netherlands were variants of omicron, the country’s health officials said. South Africa reported the variant to the World Health Organization on November 24.
France and Japan also reported their first variant cases on Tuesday. The United States has yet to report a case, but Presidential Advisor Dr Anthony Fauci said: “It will inevitably be here.”
It is not known exactly how transmissible or severe an omicron infection is, but the WHO has said preliminary evidence raises the possibility that the variant has mutations that could help it evade an immune system response and to make it more transmissible. However, many of the reported infections were in people of college age who tended to have milder cases, the WHO said.
Poll: Most employers will require workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19
The majority of U.S. employers have already requested or will require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a national survey conducted in mid-November.
The survey by Willis Towers Watson, a global consulting, brokerage and solutions firm, also found that just 3% of employers said their vaccination mandates led to an increase in quits. Almost half of the employers surveyed believe that mandates could help recruit and retain employees.
President Joe Biden issued vaccination or testing requirements for companies with 100 or more employees in November, but companies and several Republican governors and attorneys general have sued the administration over the rules.
– Craig Harris, USA TODAY
Unvaccinated federal workers will not be fired during the holiday season despite missing deadline
Most federal employees who missed the Nov. 22 deadline to be vaccinated against the coronavirus are unlikely to be suspended or lose their jobs until next year, the Biden administration said on Monday in application guidelines.
Instead, managers will pursue “strong education and counseling efforts throughout the holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process,” according to the guidelines.
Ninety-two percent of federal workers received at least one dose of the vaccine before the deadline, the administration announced last week. The others did not respect the president’s mandate or asked to be exempted for religious or medical reasons.
While some agencies may need to speed up the application if there are workplace safety issues or performance issues, agencies have been encouraged not to take actions beyond education, advice or, at most, a letter of reprimand until January.
The next step after a letter is suspension for 14 days or less. Non-exempt and unvaccinated workers may ultimately be made redundant.
– Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
Contribution: The Associated Press