COVID-19 Updates: WHO Reports 55% Jump in COVID-19 Cases Last Week

A patient being treated for COVID-19 is tended to by a healthcare worker in a hospital.
  • 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 62 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated.

Update on COVID-19 numbers

  • Globally, there have been more than 315 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 62.7 million confirmed cases and more than 843,000 associated deaths.
  • Currently, more than 247.3 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 207.9 million people fully vaccinated. More than 76.3 million people have received a booster dose.

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

1/12/22 2:14 p.m. PST — WHO reports 55% jump in COVID-19 cases last week

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.

1/11/22 1:11 p.m. PST CDC considers updating mask guidance

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

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

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

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

Over half of Europe may contract Omicron in next 2 months

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

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

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

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

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

1/10/22 3:03 p.m. PST — COVID-19 hospitalizations for very young children on the rise

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.”

1/7/22 1:59 p.m. PST — CDC finds vaccinated people had 0.0033% risk of death from COVID-19

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.

1/6/22 12:42 p.m. PST — Health workers with COVID-19 allowed to treat patients in France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walmart slashes paid leave for COVID-19-positive employees

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

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

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

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

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

1/5/21 1:22p.m. PST — Biden doubles order of Pfizer antiviral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paramedic arrested for selling stolen vaccine cards

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

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

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

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

1/4/22 1:37p.m. PST—U.S. breaks global daily record for COVID-19 cases

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

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

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

‘Flurona’ case in Israel draws attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Judge rules against military vaccine mandate

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

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

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

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

1/3/22 10:01 a.m. PST — FDA approves COVID-19 booster for children 12 to 15

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.

12/23/21 10:06 a.m. PST — France halts use of Merck COVID-19 pill

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.

12/22/21 9:22 a.m. PST — Researchers say new COVID-19 vaccine may offer strong protection against variants

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.

12/21/21 10:05 a.m. PST — President Biden announces new steps to combat latest COVID-19 surge

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.”

12/20/21 2:38 p.m. PST — Moderna vaccine booster likely effective against Omicron

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.”

12/17/21 2:31 p.m. PST — Breakthrough infection builds ‘super immunity,’ study finds

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.

12/16/21 3:36 p.m. PST — CDC panel recommends people get Moderna or Pfizer vaccine instead of J&J

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.

12/15/21 2:11 p.m. PST — EU official says Omicron will be dominant variant by January

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

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

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

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

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

Google warns employees to get vaccinated or risk being fired

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

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

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

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

Johnson & Johnson vaccine offers almost no antibody protection against Omicron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/14/21 1:55 p.m. PST — Pfizer says its COVID-19 pill reduces risk of hospitalization and death by 89%

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

12/13/21 1:55 p.m. PST — COVID-19 deaths will soon reach 800,000 in U.S.

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.

12/10/21 2:56 p.m. PST — Everyone 16 years and older ‘strongly encouraged’ to get booster, CDC director says

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.

12/9/21 1:16 p.m. PST — FDA clears Pfizer-BioNTech booster for teens aged 16 and 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Study finds Omicron may be more infectious

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

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

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

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

12/8/21 1:55p.m. PST— Preliminary studies show three doses of Pfizer vaccine may neutralize Omicron

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omicron may reduce effectiveness of certain COVID-19 tests

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

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

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

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

12/7/21 3:48 PST Increased infection risk associated with Omicron variant

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.

12/6/21 1:16 p.m. PST — Omicron detected in more states, vaccination and boosters crucial against outbreaks, says CDC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand jury indicts South Carolina nurse in phony vaccine card scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/3/21 12:29 p.m. PST — Yearly COVID shot becoming more likely, says Pfizer and BioNTech CEOs

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

12/2/21 3:09 p.m. PST — Biden announces new COVID-19 strategy

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.”

Spain detects first case of infection with Omicron variant

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.

12/1/21 1:09 p.m. PST— First case of Omicron detected in the U.S.

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.

11/30/21 3:10 p.m. PST — Omicron variant was in Europe before being detected in South Africa

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.

11/29/2021 11:40 a.m. PST — Global health officials declare concerns about COVID-19 Omicron variant

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.”

11/24/21 9:40 a.m. PST — German officials begin COVID-19 crackdown on public transportation

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

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.

11/23/21 10:15 a.m. PST — Officials still uncertain how often COVID-19 booster shots will be needed

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.

11/22/21 10:45 a.m. PST — Austria imposes new lockdowns as COVID-19 cases rise

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.

11/19/21 12:54 p.m. PST — OSHA suspends enforcement of Biden vaccine mandate

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.

11/18/21 3:12 p.m. PST — Boosters could become new standard for full vaccination, says Fauci

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.

11/17/21 3:07 p.m. PST — New Yorkers face renewed pandemic restrictions as cases spike

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.

11/16/21 2:13 p.m. PST — Study finds people taking common antidepressant are less likely to die from COVID-19

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.

11/15/21 4:01 p.m. PST — Austria locks down unvaccinated people amid surging cases

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.

11/12/21 1:36 p.m. PST — COVID-19 cases increase in the Mountain West while improving in Florida and Texas

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.”

Under the plan, unvaccinated Austrians will face severe pandemic restrictions once 30 percent of intensive care beds are filled with COVID-19 patients, according to CNN.

11/11/21 1:38 p.m. PST — Sleep apnea associated with severe COVID-19 outcomes, study finds

According to research published Wednesday in the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open, people with obstructive sleep apnea or other breathing difficulties that cause reduced oxygen during sleep are at greater risk of severe COVID-19.

The study, which tracked over 5,400 people with breathing issues, found about one-third of them tested positive for COVID-19 during the observation period, although severity of breathing symptoms did not affect infection risk.

However, those with more severe apnea were found to have a significantly higher risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.

“In this cohort of patients from a large integrated health system, sleep-related hypoxemia was identified as a risk factor for increased severity of COVID-19 clinical outcomes, including hospitalization and mortality,” the study authors wrote.

COVID-19 cases rise slightly in the U.S.

Despite the wide availability of COVID-19 vaccines, cases are rising slightly in the U.S. The 7-day average is just over 74,000 according to the Centers Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s up from the 7-day average of about 63,000 cases towards the end of October.

At-home COVID-19 tests can make holiday gatherings safer

When combined with vaccination, at-home COVID-19 testing kits can add a “layer of safety and reassurance” by offering rapid results during the holiday season, reported the Associated Press.

“We will be using rapid tests to doublecheck everybody before we gather together,” Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists, who is planning a holiday meal with six vaccinated family members, told the news outlet. “We’ll be doing it as they come in the door.”

According to Volk, while home testing kits aren’t as accurate as hospital-administered PCR tests, their advantage is getting results in minutes instead of days.

11/10/21 3:44 p.m. PST — Pfizer asks FDA to approve booster shots for everyone over 18

Drugmaker Pfizer has asked U.S. regulators to allow booster shots of its COVID-19 vaccine for everyone 18 years and older.

According to Pfizer, the request is based on results from its phase 3 randomized controlled trial that evaluated the efficacy and safety of a 30-microgram booster dose of vaccine.

The trial enrolled more than 10,000 participants during a period when the Delta variant was prevalent.

Pfizer’s trial concluded that a booster could restore protection against symptomatic infection to about 95 percent, even as the Delta variant surged.

Health officials have told The Washington Post this request might be approved by the last week of November.

Air pollution decreased during the pandemic shutdown

NASA reported that the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent global travel and other restrictions “drastically” decreased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions within just a few weeks.

According to the new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dropped by 5.4 percent in 2020, although the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere continued growing at about the same rate as in previous years.

The study also found that nitrogen oxides, associated with increased atmospheric ozone, decreased significantly.

However, researchers found pollutant levels rebounded as pandemic restrictions were lifted.

“This suggests that reducing activity in these industrial and residential sectors is not practical in the short term” as a means of cutting emissions, the study authors noted.

“Reducing these sectors’ emissions permanently will require their transition to low-carbon-emitting technology,” they concluded.

Pandemic spotlighted ‘outdated’ infection control practices

A review published Nov. 9 in the Annals of Internal Medicine states that some longstanding infection control tactics used at healthcare facilities are “outdated.”

According to the review, it’s been traditionally accepted that most respiratory viruses, like influenza and the common cold, are mainly transmitted by respiratory droplets, which are relatively heavy particles expelled as people breathe.

They fall to the ground within feet from a person with an infection. Wearing a mask can stop these particles from traveling.

Other viruses, like measles and tuberculosis, are “aerosols,” meaning they can be transmitted through tiny particles that remain in the air for a longer time, and can accumulate in poorly ventilated areas.

According to the review’s authors, an increasing body of evidence questions this distinction.

“The primary risk factors for nosocomial (hospital originated) transmission are community incidence rates, viral load, symptoms, proximity, duration of exposure, and poor ventilation,” the authors wrote. “Failure to appreciate these factors may lead to underappreciation of some risks.”

The authors suggest that healthcare professionals consider wearing N95 masks in the care of all patients with a respiratory infection, and not only during aerosol-generating procedures, like intubation.

They also recommend a review of minimum ventilation standards, and increasing standards for nonclinical areas of the hospital and those outside of patient care.

11/9/21 2:26p.m. PST — Novavax COVID-19 vaccine candidate has no major side effects

A protein-based vaccine platform previously used against hepatitis and shingles could be a pandemic “game-changer,” according to the Boston Herald.

The drugmaker announced their submission to the World Health Organization for emergency use November 4.

“Today’s submission reflects our continued focus on accelerating access and equitable distribution as we work to bring our vaccine to people in need around the globe,” said Stanley C. Erck, president and chief executive officer of Novavax, in a statement.

“We continue to work with urgency to deliver our COVID-19 vaccine,” he added. “Built on a proven, well-understood vaccine platform, because no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

According to a not yet peer-reviewed study of 30,000 people, the Novavax shot offered over 90 percent protection against symptomatic COVID-19.

Pfizer and BioNTech will seek an EUA for a COVID-19 booster for everyone over 18

While COVID-19 booster shots have been authorized for some people in the United States, including people at high risk for getting COVID and those over 65, Pfizer and BioNTech will seek authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for everyone over the age of 18.

The Washington Post says the request could be made as soon as this week, but it will have to be vetted by officials before they recommend everyone get a booster shot.

Currently, people over age 65, people with underlying conditions, or those at risk of developing COVID-19 due to their job are among people who can get a booster shot. Additionally, people over 18 who had the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine can get a booster shot.

11/8/21 2:35 p.m. PST — Travel restrictions lifted for vaccinated travelers to U.S.

After almost 2 years of strict border and travel restrictions in place due to the pandemic, the U.S. government lifted those restrictions for vaccinated travelers from a long list of countries.

The change will allow travel from 33 nations, most them in Europe, but also includes Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, according to United Press International (UPI).

U.S. citizens returning home won’t have to show proof of vaccination, but those who don’t must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 1 day.

Grim milestone: Global COVID-19 cases pass 250 million

Global COVID-19 cases surpassed 250 million on Monday, reported Reuters. Some Eastern European countries are experiencing record outbreaks, even as the Delta variant surge dies down and many nations resume normal travel and trade.

According to a Reuters analysis, the daily average number of cases has fallen 36 percent over the past 3 months, yet 50 million people still contract the Delta variant COVID-19 every 3 months.

Experts say next year may see some improvement.

“We think between now and the end of 2022, this is the point where we get control over this virus… where we can significantly reduce severe disease and death,” Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, an epidemiologist leading the World Health Organization (WHO), told Reuters.

White House encourages schools to host vaccination clinics, inform parents

The Biden administration is encouraging school districts to host COVID-19 vaccination clinics for children and offer parents information on the benefits of the shots as the White House works toward rapidly distributing COVID-19 vaccines to kids aged between 5 and 11 years, reported the Associated Press (AP).

Officials are also reminding school districts that billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief money are available to support the pediatric vaccination effort, reported the news outlet.

According to AP, there are about 28 million kids in this age group that are now eligible for shots, and the Pfizer vaccine is approved for them. The federal government has procured enough of the vaccine for every child.

11/5/21 3:10 p.m. PDT — New Pfizer drug reduces hospitalization, deaths by almost 90%

Drugmaker Pfizer announced today that its new, oral COVID-19 drug has been found to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk people by nearly 90 percent.

“The scheduled interim analysis showed an 89% reduction in risk of COVID-19-related hospitalization or death from any cause compared to placebo in patients treated within three days of symptom onset,” said the company in a press release.

According to Pfizer, if the new drug, called Paxlovid, is approved or authorized, it would be the first oral antiviral of its kind.

The drugmaker says Paxlovid is meant to be prescribed at the first signs of infection or awareness of exposure, and can potentially help people avoid severe illness. It works by blocking an enzyme the coronavirus needs to replicate.

“Today’s news is a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic,” Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer, said in a statement.

“These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorized by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations,” he continued.

Germany sees steep rise in COVID-19 cases

Health officials in Germany warn that the country is experiencing a “very worrying” spike in cases, and unvaccinated people face severe risks.

This warning comes after the European nation recorded its second new record in daily infections, according to CNN.

More than 37,000 new cases were reported today — 3,000 more than recorded yesterday, reported CNN.

The spike in infections is occurring during a significantly slower vaccine rollout than seen in other large European nations.

11/4/21 1:37 p.m. PDT — Biden administration announces new COVID-19 vaccine and testing guidelines

By early in 2022, most U.S. employers with at least 100 workers must ensure that unvaccinated employees be tested at least weekly and are masked in the workplace, in accordance with new Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, the White House announced today.

According to the Biden administration, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) at the Department of Health and Human Services will also require that healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid are fully vaccinated.

In an emailed statement, Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), told Healthline the CMS guidelines might worsen an already dire staffing crisis.

“While we support the overall intent of this CMS policy, we are concerned that the execution will exacerbate an already dire workforce crisis in long-term care,” he said.

“A hard deadline with no resources for providers or glide path for unvaccinated workers is likely to push too many out the door and, ultimately, threaten residents’ access to long-term care,” explained Parkinson.

This new rule will affect more than 17 million workers at approximately 76,000 healthcare facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The testing requirement for unvaccinated workers will begin after January 4, according to the White House. However, employers have until December 5 to comply with requirements like paid time off for employees to be vaccinated and masking for unvaccinated workers.

The new guidelines do not require employers to pay the cost of COVID-19 testing.

Colorado governor authorizes hospitals to turn away patients amid pandemic surge

On Sunday, Colorado governor Jared Polis signed an executive order (EO) granting healthcare workers the authority to prioritize crisis care as directed by the state’s health department.

The order will empower the governor, “in the event of an emergency epidemic that has been declared a disaster emergency,” to respond by ordering hospitals “to transfer or cease admission of patients or perform medical examinations of persons.”

According to the EO, while Colorado has a nearly 80 percent vaccination rate, hospitals are overwhelmed with unvaccinated patients experiencing severe COVID-19.

The most recent data from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard shows about 1,400 people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 as of Wednesday, a significant increase over the last month.

Cold weather brings record levels of COVID-19 to Europe

According to Reuters, the World Health Organization describes record levels of COVID-19 in Europe as a “grave concern,” as fall temperatures dip significantly.

The surge in cases, especially in Eastern Europe, is prompting debates on what pandemic restrictions, if any, to reintroduce before the Christmas season — and how to encourage more people to be vaccinated, reported the news outlet.

“The current pace of transmission across the 53 countries of the European Region is of grave concern,” regional WHO head Dr. Hans Kluge told Reuters, emphasizing that the spread was worsened by the Delta variant.

Kluge also warned that should European cases follow their current trajectory, by February there could be a half-million COVID-related deaths in the region.

11/3/21 1:44 p.m. PDT — Kids under 12 start getting COVID-19 vaccines

One day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced their approval of Pfizer’s pediatric COVID-19 vaccine, children ages 5 through 11 have started receiving their first doses.

On Tuesday, it was announced that CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) recommendation that children 5 to 11 years old be vaccinated against COVID-19 with the Pfizer pediatric vaccine.

According to the CDC press release, the agency has expanded vaccine recommendations to about 28 million children in the United States for this age group and will allow healthcare workers to begin vaccinating them immediately.

“Together, with science leading the charge, we have taken another important step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Walensky in a statement.

“We know millions of parents are eager to get their children vaccinated and with this decision, we now have recommended that about 28 million children receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” she added.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN that the United States will “hit the ground running” to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11.

“That was what the preparedness was about,” Fauci told the network. “It’s a good thing. We’ll hit the ground running, and probably by the beginning of next week, we’ll be at full speed.”

He added that the pediatric version of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will be available in pharmacies, pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals and certain community locations.

Indian drugmaker’s COVID vaccine candidate granted WHO emergency approval

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced emergency use approval of Indian drugmaker Bharat Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine, called Covaxin, reported CNBC.

According to a press release from Bharat Biotech, validation from the WHO means countries can now expedite their regulatory approval processes to import and administer Covaxin.

“The EUL [emergency use listing] authorization for COVAXIN will enable us to contribute to accelerating the equitable access of Covid-19 vaccine, and the access to our vaccine globally thereby addressing the current public health emergency,” Dr. Krishna Ella, chairperson and managing director at Bharat Biotech, said in a statement.

11/2/21 5:06 p.m. PDT — CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccine for younger kids

The CDC is formally recommending the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. A key CDC advisory panel voted in favor of the recommendation earlier Tuesday.

Pfizer announced the proposed dose for younger children is one-third the dose given to people over age 12. Children between 5 and 11 years old would receive two injections spaced about 3 weeks apart.

According to United Press International (UPI), the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) agree that children in this age range can receive the vaccine.

White House Coronavirus Response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said Monday that the Biden administration has ordered enough vaccines to cover all U.S. children in the 5–11 age range, reported the news outlet.

Vaccinations for this age group could start this week.

15 million COVID-19 shots rolled out for children by next week, says White House

On Monday, the White House announced that U.S. distribution of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 years old will begin this week, reported Reuters. However, most of the 15 million shots slated for use are unlikely to be available before next week.

According to Reuters, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that millions of doses formulated for children in that age group will start arriving at distribution centers over the next few days, and the federal government purchased enough doses for all 28 million eligible children.

“We are ready to execute, pending CDC’s decision. And starting the week of November 8th, our vaccination program for kids ages 5 through 11 will be running at full strength,” Zients told reporters at a briefing.

Kentucky governor emphasizes importance of COVID-19 booster shots

Increasing numbers of vaccinated Kentucky residents have developed COVID-19, with some being hospitalized, reported the Associated Press (AP). This signals the importance of receiving booster shots, said the state’s Governor Andy Beshear on Monday.

“I think when you look at this growth, the only natural explanation is that the immunity does lessen a little bit over time,” the governor said at a news conference, reported the AP.

“The Delta variant is part of it, right? But this means you need to get your booster,” he said.

According to AP, the governor also said 67 percent of people in Kentucky who are eligible to receive the vaccine have received at least the first dose.

“We need to push this more, but two-thirds of eligible Kentuckians isn’t bad — we just know we have to do better,” Beshear added.

11/1/21 1:37 p.m. PDT — Global pandemic deaths reach 5 million

Global deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic have reached approximately 5 million in a little less than 2 years, according to the most recent data from Johns Hopkins University.

The United States has seen the highest number of recorded deaths, losing more than 746,000 people to COVID-19.

According to the U.N. secretary-general, this number represents a failure in the worldwide fight against the pandemic.

“This devastating milestone reminds us that we are failing much of the world,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement.

“This is a global shame. It would be a mistake to think that the pandemic is over,” he said.

“As restrictions ease in many places, we must also match vaccines with vigilance — including through smart and proven public health measures like masking and social distancing,” he added.

White House press secretary tests positive for COVID-19

Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, said in a statement yesterday that she’s been diagnosed with COVID-19, reported CBS News.

Psaki is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and confirmed she’s only experiencing a mild case of the disease.

This occurred days after announcing she wouldn’t accompany President Biden on an overseas trip due to a “family emergency,” reported the network.

According to Psaki’s statement, the emergency was that members of her household tested positive for COVID-19.

“Since then, I have quarantined and tested negative (via PCR) for COVID on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday,” Psaki said. 

“However, today, I tested positive for COVID,” she continued. “While I have not had close contact in person with the president or senior members of the White House staff since Wednesday — and tested negative for four days after that last contact — I am disclosing today’s positive test out of an abundance of transparency. I last saw the president on Tuesday, when we sat outside more than six feet apart, and wore masks.”

COVID-19 vaccines do not affect children’s fertility, experts say

According to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, among parents’ chief concerns regarding vaccinating children against COVID-19 is how it could potentially affect their future fertility.

However, doctors and public health officials are united in assuring parents that the vaccines do not affect fertility.

“Unfounded claims linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility have been scientifically disproven,” the American Academy of Pediatrics confirmed in a statement.

“There is no evidence that the vaccine can lead to loss of fertility,” the organization added. “While fertility was not specifically studied in the clinical trials of the vaccine, no loss of fertility has been reported among trial participants or among the millions who have received the vaccines since their authorization, and no signs of infertility appeared in animal studies.”

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), evidence clearly shows COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, even during pregnancy.

“Pregnancy is a risk factor for severe complications from COVID-19,” cautioned ACOG in a statement.

“ACOG and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine strongly recommend that all pregnant people be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the organization added. “Leading medical organizations have repeatedly affirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines have no impact on fertility.”

10/29/21 2:49 p.m. PDT — FDA says children 5 to 11 can get COVID-19 vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

A key panel had recommended the vaccine be given to children between 5 and 11 earlier this week. The vaccine doses are likely to be available as soon as next week.

Vaccinated people can pass Delta variant at home, but it’s worse for unvaccinated people

A study published in The Lancet found fully vaccinated people can contract — and transmit — the coronavirus to other vaccinated people.

However, unvaccinated people have an even higher infection risk.

The findings suggested people who received two doses of the vaccine experience a lower, although not zero, risk of infection with the Delta variant of COVID-19 at home compared with the unvaccinated.

Researchers found that only 25 percent of vaccinated household contacts tested positive for COVID-19, compared with about 40 percent of unvaccinated household contacts.

They also confirmed that vaccinated people recover from infection more rapidly than the unvaccinated.

However, their “peak viral load,” the largest amount of the virus found in the respiratory passages, was close to that of unvaccinated people. This might explain why it’s possible for them to pass the virus in household settings.

The findings may influence decisions about pandemic measures going into the cold weather season.

“Our findings show that vaccination alone is not enough to prevent people from being infected with the Delta variant, and from spreading it onwards, in household settings,” Professor Ajit Lalvani of the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London, who co-led the study, said in a statement.

“This is likely to be the case for other indoor settings where people spend extended periods of time in close proximity, as will occur increasingly as we head into winter,” Lalvani continued.

Over one third of employers mandate vaccination, new poll finds

A new Gallup poll found that 36 percent of U.S. employers require staff without a medical exemption to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to Gallup, this percentage has increased steadily over the last 3 months, rising from only 9 percent in July.

The survey also found:

  • About 39 percent of workers say their employer encourages but doesn’t require vaccination, a decline from 62 percent in July.
  • Only 25 percent of workers say their employer doesn’t have a vaccine policy, a figure that has held steady since Gallup asked in May.

10/28/21 3:18 p.m. PDT — Antidepressant drug might boost recovery from severe COVID-19

A trial including roughly 1,500 people in Brazil found that those who took an inexpensive drug called fluvoxamine were significantly less likely to progress to severe COVID-19 and require hospitalization, according to The Associated Press (AP).

Fluvoxamine is approved to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental health conditions.

“The study is very interesting and does show a modest association between taking that SSRI and a reduction in hospitalization and death due to COVID,” Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña, director of global health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park in New York, told Healthline.

“I would be very cautious in interpreting these results,” he continued. “It is a very small study, even though it has 700 people enrolled in this arm. Those numbers are small when thinking about COVID worldwide.”

He also pointed out that the study was conducted at only one site in Brazil, and he’s not sure the association is backed up by a plausible mechanism of action.

“I think further study is necessary to interpret these results,” Cioe-Peña said.

WHO closely tracking AY.4.2 Delta Plus variant

The World Health Organization (WHO) is closely tracking the “Delta Plus” coronavirus variant AY.4.2 to determine whether it’s more infectious.

According to the WHO’s weekly epidemiological update, the organization also wants to determine whether this subvariant is significantly more resistant to human antibodies that fight the virus.

“Epidemiological and laboratory studies are ongoing to assess if AY.4.2 confers any additional phenotypic impacts (e.g. a change in transmissibility or a decrease in the ability of antibodies to block the virus),” reads the WHO update.

AY.4.2 has been identified in an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom, and it might be a factor in the country’s worsening COVID-19 crisis.

10/27/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — Some people may require 4th vaccine dose, CDC says

New COVID-19 vaccine guidelines released by the CDC say that people who are “moderately or severely” immunocompromised may require a fourth vaccine dose.

The fourth shot would be needed at least 6 months after the third dose. However, the CDC has not yet released guidance specific to a fourth shot.

“In such situations, people who are moderately and severely immunocompromised may receive a total of four COVID-19 vaccine doses,” reads the CDC guidance.

According to CNN, a recent study from Johns Hopkins University found that vaccinated, immunocompromised people were 485 times more likely to be hospitalized with or die from COVID-19 compared with the majority of vaccinated people.

In-N-Out location shut down over vaccine mandate defiance

An In-N-Out restaurant in Contra Costa County, California, was closed over violations of the county’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, reported The Hill.

According to The Hill, health officials shut down the restaurant yesterday after it refused to check the vaccination status of patrons who asked to eat indoors.

Officials told The Hill that the restaurant received multiple warnings before the order to close indefinitely for violating the mandate.

“The Pleasant Hill In-N-Out location received four citations in recent weeks and fines totaling $1,750, all for the same health order violation, before today’s action,” Contra Costa Environmental Health said in a statement, reported The Hill.

10/26/21 3:51 p.m. PDT — FDA panel recommends vaccines for children 5 to 11

A key advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that children 5 to 11 be able to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, according to the New York Times.

Currently, only children over age 12 are authorized to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The FDA doesn’t have to take the panel’s recommendations on, but it usually does.

Another expert panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet next week to discuss COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 to 11.

Study finds cash lotteries for vaccines didn’t boost immunization rates

A new study finds that cash lotteries to boost COVID-19 immunization rates didn’t work. The research published in the JAMA Health Forum found that vaccine rates didn’t increase in the 19 states that started cash lotteries.

Ohio had the first lottery with a $1 million prize every week for 5 weeks.

Massachusetts lawmakers propose bonus for low-income earners who worked through pandemic

Lawmakers on Beacon Hill in Massachusetts have proposed millions of dollars toward bonuses for low-income workers who stayed on the job during the worst of the pandemic, reported WCVB News.

According to the news outlet, this would include workers at grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations who worked through the pandemic state of emergency.

The bonuses would range from $500 to $2,000 and be reserved for state residents who earn up to 300 percent above the federal poverty line.

That would include individuals with an annual income of nearly $39,000 or a family of four earning $79,500, reported WCVB.

10/25/21 2:47 p.m. PDT— Vaccination for 5- to 11-year-olds possible by early November, says Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts that children between ages 5 and 11 could be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination by early November.

“So, if all goes well, and we get the regulatory approval and the recommendation from the CDC, it’s entirely possible, if not very likely, that vaccines will be available for children from 5 to 11 within the first week or two of November,” Fauci told ABC’s “This Week.”

Biden administration to speed authorization of at-home COVID-19 tests

The Biden administration has announced a multistep plan to speed authorization of at-home tests for the coronavirus, according to NBC.

Using funds from the American Rescue Plan, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will spend $70 million for a program to accelerate test makers through regulatory hurdles, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to streamline its authorization process.

“Working hand-in-hand with FDA, NIH will produce the precise data needed to make authorization decisions quickly,” NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins said in a statement, reported ABC.

CDC study finds that vaccinated people have lower death rates from any cause

According to a new report published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 are less likely to die from any cause.

The study involved 6.4 million vaccinated people and 4.6 million unvaccinated people.

Researchers found that vaccinated people were less likely to die from any cause, not just COVID-19.

Study authors say this robust data reinforces the fact that vaccines are safe and effective.

10/22/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — CDC expands booster shot eligibility

Today, the CDC announced expanded eligibility for who received a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

According to the CDC, the following groups are eligible for a booster shot at 6 months or more after their first shots:

  • 65 years and older
  • 18 years and older who live in long-term care settings
  • 18 years and older who have underlying medical conditions
  • 18 yeas and older who work or live in high-risk settings

Boosters are also recommended for those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who are over 18 years old and were vaccinated 2 or more months ago.

Also, people may choose which vaccine they receive as a booster dose, since the CDC’s recommendations currently allow for this type of “mix and match” dosing for the shots.

“These recommendations are another example of our fundamental commitment to protect as many people as possible from COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

“The evidence shows that all three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the United States are safe — as demonstrated by the over 400 million vaccine doses already given,” she continued.

“And, they are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating Delta variant,” she said.

Pfizer vaccine over 90% effective against symptomatic infection in children ages 5 to 11

Drugmaker Pfizer said its mRNA vaccine is safe and 90.7 percent effective against symptomatic infection in children ages 5 to 11 in documents released by Pfizer-BioNTech ahead of a key meeting of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisers, reported CNN.

These results come from a clinical trial that included about 2,000 children. There were only three cases detected among the group receiving the vaccine, compared to 16 cases in the placebo group.

Pfizer is currently seeking FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) to allow children in this age group to receive a reduced dose version of its COVID-19 vaccine.

“COVID-19 is a serious and potentially fatal or life-threatening infection for children,” Pfizer said in a briefing document. “The pediatric population remains vulnerable to COVID-19, and pediatric cases have increased in the US, especially with widespread dissemination of the highly transmissible B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant.”

10/21/21 2:54 p.m. PDT — White House announces more vaccine doses will be donated

The United States donated its 200 millionth COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to fight the pandemic, reported The Associated Press (AP).

The donated vaccines include more than 120 million from the U.S. stockpile of surplus doses, and the initial deliveries of 1 billion doses purchased from Pfizer by the Biden administration for international donation by September 2022, according to the news service.

“These 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have helped bring health and hope to millions of people, but our work is far from over,” U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power said in a statement, reported AP.

India celebrates vaccination milestone

India has administered 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of today, according to Reuters.

India’s vaccination campaign started slow in the middle of January.

India has recorded 34.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 451,000 deaths since the pandemic began. Experts have said that India’s death toll is actually far higher than the recorded amount.

10/20/21 3:01 p.m. PDT — The FDA has authorized the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 booster shots

The fight to stop COVID-19 reached a key milestone today when the FDA authorized booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

The FDA also will allow a “mix-and-match” strategy for the COVID-19 vaccines in the hopes of bolstering people’s immunity against the coronavirus even further.

There are some restrictions on who has access to booster shots. People who had Moderna will only be eligible if they’re over age 65 or at high risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19 due to health conditions or where they work.

Anyone over age 18 who had Johnson and Johnson is eligible for a booster shot.

People will also be able to “mix and match” booster doses, so someone who had the Johnson & Johnson will be able to get the Moderna booster.

“Today’s actions demonstrate our commitment to public health in proactively fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD.

“As the pandemic continues to impact the country, science has shown that vaccination continues to be the safest and most effective way to prevent COVID-19, including the most serious consequences of the disease, such as hospitalization and death,” Woodcock said. “The available data suggest waning immunity in some populations who are fully vaccinated. The availability of these authorized boosters is important for continued protection against COVID-19 disease.”

White House plans vaccine rollout for children ages 5–11

Today, the White House announced their plan to get children ages 5 to 11 their COVID-19 vaccine doses from healthcare professionals and potentially in schools, once given the OK by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Biden administration has detailed plans for a vaccine authorization in this age group, as authorization for the shots is expected within weeks.

“The start of a vaccination program for children ages 5–11 will depend on the independent FDA and CDC process and timeline, but our planning efforts mean that we will be ready to begin getting shots in arms in the days following a final CDC recommendation,” reads the White House brief.

The administration also confirmed that they’ve procured enough COVID-19 vaccine doses for the country’s 28 million children that are 5 to 11 years old.

Reinstate pandemic measures to avert winter crisis, UK health officials warn

The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) warned that without “preemptive action over winter from the government and the public,” the country’s recovery from the pandemic could be at risk.

The NHS also requests the government enact a “Plan B,” that’s part of the organization’s recently unveiled winter strategy. Measures included in the plan involve mandatory mask wearing and COVID-19 certification.

According to the NHS, these measures should be implemented “sooner than later so that if cases of coronavirus still rise to worrying levels, the government can then introduce tougher measures, if needed.”

New York’s municipal employees must be vaccinated to stay employed

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Oct. 20 that all unvaccinated city workers must have received their first shot against COVID-19 by the end of October or lose their jobs.

As an added incentive, city workers will get a $500 bonus for receiving their first dose at a city-run vaccination site, an offer that expires at the end of next week.

“Vaccinations are critical to combating the COVID-19 pandemic. This mandate is a bold step that protects our families, friends, and communities, including those that are not yet eligible for the vaccine such as our City’s youngest residents,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Melanie Hartzog, in a statement.

10/19/21 1:52 p.m. PDT — FDA likely to OK vaccine mixing for booster shots

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may allow vaccine mixing for COVID-19. This means that regardless of the vaccine you first received, your booster can be any of the available vaccine brands. 

People familiar with the plan told The New York Times that no shot would be recommended over another, but the government may advise using the same vaccine as your initial doses.

“If you look at the data, it certainly looks like it might be better,” Dr. Paul A. Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told the Times regarding Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech boosters for Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients.

“I think we should move quickly on this, because it’s already happening,” he continued.

According to the Times, tens of millions more people could be eligible for extra shots in the United States after a CDC advisory committee takes up the booster issue this Thursday before issuing its own recommendations.

Colin Powell was vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age, cancer

The death of former Secretary of State Colin Powell from complications of COVID-19 has put a spotlight on vaccine effectiveness.

Although Powell was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, he was still vulnerable to the disease due to his advanced age and multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that impairs the body’s ability to fight infections or respond well to vaccines.

“It’s been repeatedly shown in patients with hematologic malignancies that the response to COVID-19 vaccine has been limited,” Dr. Craig Devoe, chief of hematology-oncology in the department of medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital, told Healthline.

“The reason for this modest response is because both the disease and the treatment itself are highly immunosuppressive,” he continued.

Research from July confirms that some people with weakened immune systems may not develop substantial levels of COVID-19 vaccine-induced antibodies.

Rise in U.K. COVID-19 cases due to slow vaccine distribution

COVID-19 transmission among children in the United Kingdom has fueled a recent rise in the nation’s cases. It’s causing concern among scientists that vaccines are being distributed too slowly to schools, risking the health of both children and adults, according to Reuters.

“The concern at the moment is that it is clear that the vaccination schedule between the ages of 12 and 15 is not going very well,” Lawrence Young, PhD, a virologist at the University of Warwick, told Reuters.

He added that the transmission of other viruses could lead to a “perfect storm” in winter for the National Health Service (NHS) if older, more vulnerable adults contract an infection.

Cases of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom as a whole are much higher than in other European countries and still on the rise, reported Reuters.

10/18/21 3:28 p.m. PDT — Colin Powell, who was undergoing cancer treatment, dies due to COVID-19

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has died at age 84, reported The New York Times.

Powell, also the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, which weakened his immune system.

He then contracted the coronavirus even though he was fully vaccinated.

He had been unable to get a booster shot, since he developed COVID-19.

Older adults and people undergoing cancer treatment are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Cancer treatment can cause the immune system to weaken, therefore making vaccines less effective.

‘Get vaccinated,’ Fauci tells police

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), reminded police officers that they, and other public workers, have a responsibility to get vaccinated.

“I’m not comfortable with telling people what they should do under normal circumstances, but we are not in normal circumstances right now,” Fauci said.

“Take the police. We know now the statistics, more police officers die of COVID than they do in other causes of death. So, it doesn’t make any sense to not try to protect yourself as well as the colleagues that you work with,” Fauci said.

His statement comes as police push back against vaccine mandates nationwide, with the most recent protest happening in Chicago.

According to CNN, up to half of Chicago police officers may face discipline due to a dispute between their union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot over a mandate requiring city employees to be vaccinated and disclose their vaccine status.

“Think about the implications of not getting vaccinated when you’re in a position where you have a responsible job and you want to protect yourself because you’re needed at your job, whether you’re a police officer or a pilot or any other of those kinds of occupations,” Fauci said.

Japan becomes COVID-19 success story

Japan has unexpectedly become a COVID-19 success story, according to The Associated Press (AP).

Japan, unlike many countries worldwide, never implemented lockdowns. Instead, the country relied on a series of states of emergency, reported AP.

Daily new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have now fallen from a peak of nearly 6,000 in mid-August to an 11-month low of fewer than 100.

Possible factors for the island nation’s success include a late but rapid vaccination campaign.

“Rapid and intensive vaccinations in Japan among those younger than 64 might have created a temporary condition similar to herd immunity,” Dr. Kazuhiro Tateda, a Toho University professor of virology, told AP.

10/14/21 11:15 a.m. PDT — Pfizer or Moderna booster might be best option for J&J vaccine recipients

A new study that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed from the National Institutes of Health found that people who received the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine experienced a stronger immune response after getting a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot.

According to Reuters, the study looked at more than 450 adults who were given their first shots with Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. The findings suggest it’s safe to mix boosters for adults.

Using booster doses differing from the initial vaccine “may offer immunological advantages to optimize the breadth and longevity of protection achieved with currently available vaccines,” researchers wrote in the study.

President Biden speaks today about White House COVID-19 response

CNN reports that President Joe Biden will speak about his administration’s COVID-19 response today.

“After the President receives a briefing from his COVID-19 response team, he will deliver an update on the progress the United States is making in its pandemic response. He will highlight that thanks to his ‘Path out of the Pandemic’ plan and the administration’s urgent push for vaccine requirements, the country is seeing a strong uptick in vaccinations, while cases and hospitalizations continue to decline,” a White House official told the network.

The White House has recently announced “tremendous progress” with COVID-19 vaccinations, as cases trend downward across the country, underscoring success through private sector efforts to institute vaccines.

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters these mandates have increased vaccination rates by more than 20 percent, “with organizations routinely seeing their share of fully vaccinated workers rise above 90 percent.”

10/13/21 2:12 p.m. PDT — Biden vaccine or testing mandate nearing approval

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Labor Department took another step toward implementing President Biden’s vaccine mandate that requires all private sector workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested regularly.

On Tuesday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) submitted initial text of the proposed standard to the White House for approval, signaling its release could soon follow, reported the Journal.

Two dozen Republican attorneys general are threatening to sue the administration over the vaccine mandate, claiming it’s “disastrous and counterproductive” in a joint letter from Sept. 16, reported Fox News.

Moderna did not meet all criteria for COVID-19 boosters, says FDA

On Tuesday, scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Moderna hadn’t completely met the agency’s criteria to support booster doses of the drugmaker’s COVID-19 vaccine, possibly because its efficacy after two doses has remained strong, Reuters reported.

According to Reuters, staff at the agency said in documents that data for Moderna’s vaccine showed that while a booster dose did increase protective antibodies, there wasn’t a wide enough difference before and after the shot.

“There was boosting, sure. Was it enough boosting? Who knows? There’s no standard amount of boosting that is known to be needed, and nor is it clear how much boosting happened in the study,” John Moore, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, told the news outlet in an email.

CDC says number of new deaths from COVID-19 is likely to decrease in next few weeks

As COVID-19 cases decline in the United States, the CDC released a new report predicting that new deaths from COVID-19 will decline in the coming weeks.

The CDC said new deaths are not likely to exceed 13,100 in the week ending Nov. 6, and 740,000 to 762,000 total COVID-19 deaths are expected by that point.

10/12/21 1:34 p.m. PDT — Texas governor bans vaccine mandates

Texas governor Greg Abbott announced on Monday, Oct. 11, he would ban vaccine mandates in the state by executive order (EO), reported CNN.

Abbott’s EO was issued even as daily COVID-19 deaths in the state surge.

“No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19. I hereby suspend all relevant statutes to the extent necessary to enforce this prohibition,” reads the order.

Governor Abbott has also sent a message to the Texas State Legislature requesting them to consider passing a law banning vaccine mandates.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced,” Governor Abbott said in a statement.

According to CNN, Abbott’s policies have drawn the ire of President Joe Biden, who stressed the importance of vaccine mandates as a valuable tool to contain the pandemic.

“We’re facing a lot of pushback, especially from some of the Republican governors. The governors of Florida and Texas are doing everything they can to undermine the life-saving requirements that I’ve proposed,” Biden said last month, referring to both Abbott and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, reported the network.

Vaccine-induced immunity in children superior to natural infection, study finds

A new, not yet peer-reviewed, study finds that children vaccinated against COVID-19 have significantly higher antibody levels than children who naturally contract the virus.

Researchers looked at children between ages 7 and 11 who received the Moderna vaccine.

Findings suggest that children vaccinated with the mRNA vaccine elicit a stronger immune response than observed in children who experienced natural infection. Critically, this protection extended across all COVID-19 variants of concern.

“We observed comparable SARS-CoV-2 titers and neutralizing activity across variants of concern,” the study authors wrote. “Our data indicate that mRNA vaccination elicits robust antibody responses and drives superior antibody functionality in children.”

Britain’s lockdown came too late, report finds

According to the Associated Press (AP), the U.K.’s first comprehensive report on its pandemic response finds thousands of people died unnecessarily due to failure to impose lockdowns early in the pandemic.

“The UK did significantly worse in terms of COVID deaths than many countries — especially compared to those in East Asia, even though they were much closer geographically to where the virus first appeared,” reads the report.

The report suggests the most serious failures at the start of the pandemic include “groupthink” among scientists and government officials, as well as not considering different approaches to border controls, and test and trace efforts.

“Painful though it is, the UK must learn what lessons it can of why this happened if we are to ensure it is not repeated,” reads the report.

AstraZeneca says drug helps reduce risk of severe COVID-19

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday that their antibody treatment AZD7442 was effective at preventing severe COVID-19 in a phase 3 trial.

The double-blind study looked at 903 people. Half were given the antibody treatment, while the other half were given a placebo.

Those given the drug were half as likely to develop a severe case of COVID-19.

Massive study finds vaccines drop risk of severe COVID-19 by 94 percent

A large study based out of France is adding to the large body of evidence that vaccines are effective at preventing symptoms of severe COVID-19, according to Business Insider.

The study looked at more than 24 million people between ages 50 and 74. They found in the 5 months after being vaccinated, people were 94 percent less likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 compared to people who were unvaccinated.

10/11/21 4:19 p.m. PDT — Merck requests molnupiravir emergency use authorization

Drugmaker Merck announced on Monday that the company submitted an emergency use authorization application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its oral antiviral medication called molnupiravir.

According to Merck, this submission is based on positive results from planned interim analysis from the Phase 3 MOVe-OUT clinical trial.

The trial evaluated Molnupiravir in non-hospitalized adult patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 at increased risk of progression to severe COVID-19 or hospitalization.

Interim analysis found Molnupiravir reduced risk of hospitalization or death by about 50 percent.

“The extraordinary impact of this pandemic demands that we move with unprecedented urgency, and that is what our teams have done by submitting this application for molnupiravir to the FDA within 10 days of receiving the data,” said Robert M. Davis, the chief executive officer and president of Merck, in a statement.

A new poll finds parents split on getting younger children vaccinated

A new poll from CBS and YouGov asked parents of children ages 5 to 11 whether they plan to vaccinate their children once the vaccines are approved for that age group.

The poll found 37 percent of parents plan to get their child vaccinated against COVID-19, while 35 percent do not.

Another 26 percent are not sure if they will vaccinate their children against the disease. The FDA and CDC are expected to meet about vaccinations for children this month. If the vaccines are given emergency use authorization, they may be available by November for children ages 5 to 11.

10/8/21 2:08 p.m. PDT — Some hospitals see surge of rare COVID-19 complication that affects children

Yesterday, the CDC announced it has seen reports of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) increase by 12 percent since late August, reported CNN.

“We had a nice long break from those cases over the summer and even into the fall where we could get an occasional MIS-C case here and there,” Dr. Amy Edwards, an infectious disease specialist at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, told CNN.

“But in the last three or four weeks, there has definitely been an uptick. And I would anticipate that to continue through the next several weeks,” she said.

According to the CDC, the average age of patients with MIS-C is 9 years old, with half of MIS-C cases in children between ages 5 and 13. There have been 46 deaths so far.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) has also seen an increase in MIS-C cases in late September, occurring roughly 9 weeks after the region saw a spike in COVID-19 cases, reported CNN.

However, Jennifer Burkhardt, a CHOA spokesperson, told CNN that the condition is still considered rare, and has developed in less than 5 percent of more than 7,000 children treated for COVID-19 at CHOA.

San Francisco to ease some indoor mask mandates, announces mayor

San Francisco will start easing certain indoor masking rules beginning Oct. 15, as long as new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations decline or remain stable, city officials said, reported The Washington Post.

“I’m excited that we’re once again at a place where we can begin easing the mask requirements, which is the direct result of the fact that we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, our cases have fallen, and our residents have done their part to keep themselves and those around them safe,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement.

The full criteria for eased mask mandates can be found at

According to a press release from the mayor’s office, even as masking restrictions lift, indoor masking will remain in effect where required under state or federal rules.

This includes public transportation, hospitals, jails, homeless shelters, and schools, as well as a recommendation for everyone to mask in large, crowded outdoor settings, and as a requirement if there is an outbreak of cases.

10/7/21 1:55 p.m. PDT — Over 140,000 children lost caregivers during pandemic

New research published in the journal Pediatrics finds the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic is larger than previously believed. Black and Hispanic children experienced the greatest loss.

According to the CDC, these findings underscore “orphanhood” as an ongoing secondary tragedy caused by the pandemic.

The findings emphasize that caring for these children is a “necessary and urgent part” of our pandemic response, for as long as the pandemic continues, and in the post-pandemic era.

“We found that from April 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, over 140,000 children in the US experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver,” the study authors wrote.

According to researchers, the risk of this loss was up to 4.5 times higher for children of marginalized racial and ethnic groups, compared with non-Hispanic white children.

The highest burden of COVID-19-associated deaths of parents and caregivers happened in Southern border states for Hispanic children and Southeastern states for Black children, as well as states with reservation areas for Indigenous populations.

“During 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 120,630 children in the US experienced death of a primary caregiver, including parents and grandparents providing basic needs, because of COVID-19-associated death,” researchers wrote.

Another 22,007 children experienced death of secondary caregivers, according to researchers, bringing the total number to more than 140,000.

Finland joins Sweden and Denmark to limit Moderna vaccine

Today, Finland joined Sweden and Denmark to pause use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for younger people, reported Reuters.

Finland will now limit the vaccine’s use in younger males due to reports of a rare side effect.

“A Nordic study involving Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark found that men under the age of 30 who received Moderna Spikevax had a slightly higher risk than others of developing myocarditis,” said Mika Salminen, PhD, director of the Finnish health institute, told Reuters.

According to Reuters, both Swedish and Danish health officials announced yesterday they would pause use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for all young adults and children, citing the same unpublished study.

Pfizer announces it will seek FDA approval to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds

Today, Pfizer and BioNTech announced on social media that they have submitted a request for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of their COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

“We and @BioNTech Group officially submitted our request to @US_FDA for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of our #COVID19 vaccine in children 5 to <12,” read the company’s tweet, posted this morning.

According to The New York Times, the FDA has promised to “move quickly” on the request and has scheduled a meeting on Oct. 26 to consider it.

The FDA may rule on the request sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

“With new cases in children in the U.S. continuing to be at a high level, this submission is an important step in our ongoing effort against #COVID19,” Pfizer posted on Twitter.

10/6/21 12:00 p.m. PDT — Sweden halts use of Moderna vaccine for younger people

Sweden is pausing the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for people ages 30 and younger after reports of potential, rare side effects like myocarditis, the country’s health agency announced today, reported Reuters.

The health agency explained that data indicated an increase of myocarditis and pericarditis among previously vaccinated youths and young adults.

“The connection is especially clear when it comes to Moderna’s vaccine Spikevax, especially after the second dose,” the health agency said in a statement, reported Reuters, adding that the risk is still slight.

According to Reuters, the health agency will now recommend using Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty vaccine instead.

Also, those 30 or younger who received an initial Moderna dose, approximately 81,000 people, will not receive their second Moderna dose.

Virginia girl dies from COVID-19 at 10 years old

A 10-year-old girl died from COVID-19 after she developed symptoms in late September.

According to CNN, 10-year-old Teresa was a student at Hillpoint Elementary School in Suffolk, Virginia.

Although her parents, Nicole and Jeff Sperry, and her two older brothers are vaccinated, Teresa and a younger brother were not able to get vaccinated due to their age.

Teresa’s symptoms began Sept. 22. She had a headache followed by a fever the next day, reported CNN.

Four days later, Teresa developed a cough so bad she vomited, so she was taken to an emergency room where she tested negative for strep throat, but the results of a COVID-19 test were pending.

“They did her chest X-ray and when they came back, they said that there was no signs of COVID pneumonia, her lungs were perfect, beautiful,” her mother told CNN. “They didn’t seem concerned.”

After being discharged from the hospital, within 24 hours Teresa stopped breathing.

She was rushed to a local hospital and then transferred to Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters Norfolk where she died, reported CNN.

As of last Friday, the Virginia Department of Health recorded 12 pediatric and adolescent deaths since the pandemic began, Logan Anderson, Virginia Department of Health’s spokesperson, told CNN.

Teresa’s death brings the total to 13.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a meeting hosted by the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project that thousands of children have been hospitalized in the latest COVID-19 wave, reported CNN.

“Frankly, it’s an embarrassment in a developed country to have even 100 children, like we’ve had, die of infectious disease that’s preventable,” Marks said.

He added that no parent should have to lose their child to a vaccine-preventable illness if there is a safe and effective vaccine available.

“And we will only allow something to be authorized that we find to be safe and effective,” Marks emphasized.

10/5/21 3:32 p.m. PDT — New Zealand abandons COVID-zero policy amid Delta surge

New Zealand has abandoned its plans to completely eliminate the coronavirus amid a “persistent” Delta outbreak.

Instead, the island nation will consider COVID-19 endemic, and counter disease transmission with rising vaccination rates, according to Reuters.

“With this outbreak and Delta, the return to zero is incredibly difficult,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference, reported Reuters.

“This is a change in approach we were always going to make over time,” she continued. “Our Delta outbreak has accelerated this transition. Vaccines will support it.”

Arden added that strict lockdowns will end once 90 percent of the eligible population is vaccinated.

This policy change comes as New Zealand recorded 29 new infections yesterday, bringing the number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,357.

COVID-19 cases decline in U.S.

According to CNN, there are about 12,000 fewer COVID-19 cases than a week before.

Experts question whether the decline is an “ebb and flow of cases” or an end to high case counts.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, roughly 105,000 new cases are reported every day.

“What’s going to determine whether this is the end of this surge or not really is up to us,” Dr. Megan Ranney, associate dean of strategy and innovation for the School of Public Health at Brown University, told CNN.

She added that what’s needed is for more adults to get vaccinated, as well as masking indoors in high-transmission areas and vaccination of children.

Data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows there were 173,469 cases of pediatric COVID-19 reported from Sept. 23 to Sept. 30, and children represented almost 27 percent of weekly reported cases.

“I think we have underestimated the impact on children,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said yesterday, reported CNN. “Look at the pediatric hospitals throughout the country… they’re seeing a lot of children in the hospital with severe infection.”

Fauci added that the vast majority of people in the United States must be vaccinated to control disease transmission.

J&J seeks FDA approval for COVID-19 booster shots

Today, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve booster shots of its vaccine, reported The Associated Press (AP).

According to AP, J&J said it filed a request with the FDA to authorize boosters for people ages 18 and older who previously received the company’s one-shot vaccine.

“The available data make clear that protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in certain populations begins to decrease over time, so it’s important to evaluate the information on the use of booster doses in various populations,” Peter Marks, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.

The FDA will convene an outside panel of advisers next week to review J&J’s booster data, the first step in a review process that includes approval from leadership at the FDA and CDC, the news outlet reported.

If given FDA approval, J&J boosters could be available later this month.

10/4/21 2:11 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 deaths top 700,000 in U.S.

The number of deaths linked to COVID-19 in the United States has now topped 700,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

The COVID-19 pandemic became the deadliest pandemic in the United States last month after it surpassed the number of deaths from the 1918 flu epidemic.

While cases and deaths have been dropping in recent weeks, experts say low vaccination rates and new variants could still leave people at risk.

Coronavirus evolution could mean new vaccines needed, says BioNTech CEO

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin cautions that we might need updated COVID-19 vaccines as the coronavirus has only “just started” to evolve in ways that evade immunity.

BioNTech is the German drugmaker that partnered with Pfizer to create the only currently approved Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vaccine, Comirnaty.

“This year [a different vaccine] is completely unneeded. But by mid next year, it could be a different situation,” he told the Financial Times.

While booster shots seem to tackle current variants, he added, the virus could ultimately develop mutations that escape the vaccine-induced immune response, requiring a new version of the drug that specifically targets the new variant.

“This virus will stay, and the virus will further adapt,” he told the Times.

“We have no reason to assume that the next generation virus will be easier to handle for the immune system than the existing generation. This is a continuous evolution, and that evolution has just started,” he said.

Number of NYC teachers vaccinated jumps to 97%

Today, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the country’s largest school system went into effect.

According to the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), 97 percent of classroom instructors have complied, reported the New York Post.

This is an increase from Friday, reported the Post, when Mayor Bill de Blasio said only 93 percent of teachers had received at least one dose while issuing a last warning before enforcement of the mandate was set to begin.

Just under 4,000 Department of Education (DOE) staff, including 2,000 teachers, remained unvaccinated this morning. They will be put on unpaid leave, UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the Post.

10/1/21 2:11 p.m. PDT — CA mandates COVID-19 vaccine for all eligible students

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced today that all eligible students will need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend school.

The requirement will only take effect after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted full approval for a vaccine for younger age groups.

Currently, the FDA has only given full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people 16 and up. However, teens ages 12 to 15 are able to get the vaccine due to the FDA’s emergency use authorization.

Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh tests positive for COVID-19

The U.S. Supreme Court announced that Justice Brett Kavanaugh has tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s investiture today.

According to the court, yesterday evening, Justice Kavanaugh was told that he’d tested positive for COVID-19.

“He has no symptoms and has been fully vaccinated since January. Per current Court testing protocols, all of the Justices were tested Monday morning prior to conference, and all tested negative, including Justice Kavanaugh,” read the press release.

The court added that Justice Kavanaugh’s wife and children are also fully vaccinated, and they tested negative yesterday.

Merck announces pill to treat COVID-19

Merck announced interim trial results finding its experimental oral COVID-19 drug, called molnupiravir, reduced the odds of hospitalization or death by roughly half in people at risk of severe disease.

“With these compelling results, we are optimistic that molnupiravir can become an important medicine as part of the global effort to fight the pandemic and will add to Merck’s unique legacy of bringing forward breakthroughs in infectious diseases when they are needed most,” Robert M. Davis, CEO and president of Merck, said in a statement.

The drugmaker expects 10 million courses of treatment to be available by the end of this year, and expects to produce more doses in 2022.

9/30/21 3:01 p.m. PDT — CDC to pregnant people: Get vaccinated

The CDC issued a health advisory to increase COVID-19 vaccinations among people who are pregnant, recently pregnant, or trying to become pregnant to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19.

According to the CDC, through Sept. 27, there were more than 125,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in pregnant people, with more than 22,000 of them hospitalized. 

The CDC warned that pregnant people with symptomatic infection have:

  • a twofold risk of admission into intensive care
  • a 70 percent increased risk of death
  • an increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, such as preterm birth, stillbirth, and admission of newborn with COVID-19 into the ICU

“Pregnancy can be both a special time and also a stressful time — and pregnancy during a pandemic is an added concern for families,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said in a statement.

“I strongly encourage those who are pregnant or considering pregnancy to talk with their healthcare provider about the protective benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine to keep their babies and themselves safe,” she said.

Kids may wait until November for COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer and BioNTech submitted data this week to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the safety and efficacy of their COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than age 12, but kids may have to wait until November to get it.

The Wall Street Journal reported that an unnamed source told the news outlet that Pfizer would submit its application for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the coming weeks, even though it had targeted the end of September.

When asked by Reuters about the reported delay in expanded approval, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the FDA was working speedily and “if it [approval] goes into November, that’s because it’s necessary.”

Mu variant may no longer threaten U.S.

The Mu coronavirus variant may no longer be spreading through the United States.

Data from, a website that tracks the coronavirus and its variants globally, reveals there have been no cases of Mu variant detected in the United States over the past 7 days.

“Virus strains are competing with one another, and it is definitely survival of the fittest, essentially the virus that can infect more people faster,” Dr. Anna Durbin, director of the Center for Immunization Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Newsweek. “It is likely that Mu was not able to out-compete delta.”

However, Mu is still spreading in other countries, but currently accounts for less than 0.5 percent of cases detected worldwide, reported Yahoo.

9/29/21 3:09 p.m. PDT — YouTube says they will pull videos with vaccine misinformation

Earlier this year, video-sharing platform YouTube deleted about 30,000 videos sharing vaccine misinformation.

Starting today, the platform will remove content claiming any approved vaccine is dangerous and causes chronic health defects, reported the Guardian.

Matt Halprin, YouTube’s global head of trust and safety, told the Guardian that vaccine misinformation is a global problem.

“Vaccine misinformation appears globally, it appears in all countries and cultures,” he said.

Halprin added that the ban will also apply to content claiming vaccines cause cancer, infertility, or contain microchips.

However, he confirmed that the new guidelines will allow personal testimonies on taking vaccines, discussion of vaccine policies, and references to historical failures in vaccine programs — as long there’s no “broad” misinformation or promotion of vaccine hesitancy.

Airline to fire nearly 600 who refused COVID-19 vaccine

According to Reuters, United Airlines (UA) became the first U.S. carrier to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all domestic employees in August. The airline set a September 27 deadline for staff to provide proof of vaccination.

With that date having passed, almost 600 UA employees face termination after failing to comply with the strict COVID-19 mandate, reported the BBC.

“Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United’s US-based employees was simple — to keep our people safe — and the truth is this: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated, and vaccine requirements work,” Chief Executive Scott Kirby and president Brett Hart said on Tuesday.

9/28/21 2:21 p.m. PDT — NY Governor endorses CDC recommendations regarding booster shots

On Tuesday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced a “robust” implementation of booster doses in New York’s COVID-19 vaccination program, to ensure efficient, equitable, and effective distribution of doses to eligible New Yorkers.

“Our top priority remains staying ahead of this constantly changing virus and protecting New Yorkers with effective, long-lasting vaccines,” Governor Hochul said in a statement.

“As we’ve heard from our federal and State medical and health experts, as with many other vaccines,” she continued. “The protection from the COVID-19 vaccine can wane over time. A booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will help particularly at-risk New Yorkers stay protected from the virus for longer.”

She emphasized that while the focus of New York’s vaccination effort remains “ensuring all unvaccinated New Yorkers get vaccinated,” those eligible for a booster should get their shot as soon as possible.

Pfizer submits data to FDA from vaccine trials for children ages 5 to 11

On Tuesday, drugmaker Pfizer announced that they’ve submitted data to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from vaccine trials in children aged 5 to 11 years.

According to Pfizer, these data were shared with the FDA for initial review, and a formal submission to request Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine in children 5 to 11 years of age is anticipated in the coming weeks.

Pfizer also plans to submit data to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and other regulatory authorities.

According to CNN, FDA officials have said that once vaccine data was submitted, the agency could authorize a vaccine in a matter of weeks, but this depends on the timing and quality of the trial data.

9/27/21 2:25 p.m. PDT — Biden gets COVID-19 booster shot

President Joe Biden received his COVID-19 booster shot today in front of the press.

The president spoke to reporters while getting his booster shot. His booster eligibility is in line with new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC.

People ages 65 and up, people at high risk of developing severe COVID-19, and people at high risk of infection, and who initially got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, are now eligible for booster shots.

“The bottom line is that if you’re fully vaccinated and — you’re highly protected now from severe illness, even if you get COVID-19,” Biden told the press. “Boosters are important, but the most important thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated.”

NM authorities say 2 people have died from ivermectin misuse

Health officials in New Mexico say at least two people have died after misusing the antiparasitic treatment ivermectin.

Officials from the New Mexico Department of Health said at least 24 calls have come into poison control due to ivermectin misuse, according to The New York Times.

Of those 24 cases, at least 14 have resulted in hospitalization. 

The two people who died had COVID-19. They took ivermectin instead of proven treatments for the disease, like monoclonal antibody therapy.

Ivermectin is often given to livestock to treat parasites. It’s become the subject of COVID-19 misinformation campaigns on social media, where users falsely claim it can treat COVID-19. 

We have enough vaccine for boosters and to protect children, health authorities say

U.S. health authorities confirm that with more than 40 million COVID-19 vaccine doses available, they’re confident there will be enough vaccine to provide older people with booster shots and initial doses for younger children, who are expected to be approved for shots in the near future, reported The Associated Press (AP).

According to AP, health authorities confirmed that the available supply and steady production of more doses easily accommodates everyone seeking a booster or initial vaccination.

“I hope that we have the level of interest in the booster… that we need more vaccines,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said last week, reported AP. “That’s simply not where we are today. We have plenty of vaccines.”

Pandemic won’t end without vaccinating children, expert warns

Dr. Larry Brilliant, CEO of Pandefense Advisory, senior counselor of the Skoll Foundation, and part of the global team that helped defeat smallpox, spoke with Wired about vaccination and ending the threat of COVID-19.

“The problem we have right now is that people are continuing the myth that children don’t get it, don’t spread it,” Brilliant said.

He emphasized how in the last week, the United States had 250,000 children sick with COVID-19, while schools opened for the fall semester.

“Roughly on the first of September, plus or minus two weeks, 100,000 schools opened up,” he told Wired. “The three things that we know will keep kids safe are vaccination, testing, and masking. And of those 100,000 schools, how many do you think won the trifecta?”

According to Brilliant, by bringing children to school while they’re “unprotected and vulnerable,” we’re not doing our duty as parents and community members.

He pointed out that we should be demanding that schools open safely.

“This isn’t a time the United States has 5,000 cases a day, or 100 deaths a day,” Brilliant warned. “They’re opening at a time when we have 150,000 cases a day and 2,000 deaths.”

9/24/21 2:42 p.m. PDT — CDC director recommends booster shot for younger, at-risk workers

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Dr. Rochelle Walensky endorsed Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for younger, at-risk workers, in an unusual break with the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel.

“Today, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, MPH, endorsed the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ (ACIP) recommendation for a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in certain populations and also recommended a booster dose for those in high risk occupational and institutional settings,” the CDC said in a statement.

The ACIP had recommended the booster only for Americans 65 and older and for those over 50 with underlying medical conditions — and voted against giving doses to younger at-risk workers, reported STAT News.

However, Walensky said that the CDC can best serve U.S. public health needs by also providing booster doses for “[t]he elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19.”

Pandemic might be over in a year, says Moderna CEO

Moderna’s CEO, Stéphane Bancel, told Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung that the COVID-19 pandemic might be over in a year due to increased vaccine supplies, reported Reuters.

“If you look at the industry-wide expansion of production capacities over the past six months, enough doses should be available by the middle of next year so that everyone on this earth can be vaccinated. Boosters should also be possible to the extent required,” he told the newspaper in an interview, reported the news service.

According to Reuters, he also said Moderna is currently testing “delta-optimized” variants in clinical trials that will form the basis for the booster vaccinations in 2022.

“We are also trying out delta plus beta, the next mutation that scientists believe is likely,” he said, adding that COVID-19 vaccines could soon be available for infants.

Nurse assaulted for giving COVID-19 vaccine

On Monday, a man entered a Brunet Pharmacy in Sherbrooke, a city in southern Quebec, to accuse a nurse of vaccinating his wife without his permission, Sherbrooke Police spokesman Martin Carrier told CNN.

“Right at the beginning, the suspect was very angry, very aggressive, he asked the nurse why she vaccinated his wife without approval, without his consent,” Carrier told CNN.

“And he punched her right in the face multiple times so the nurse didn’t have the time to defend or explain herself … and she fell to the ground and the suspect left running out of the drugstore.”

Because of this incident, the pharmacy is suspending vaccinations at that location, reported CNN.

9/23/21 1:36 p.m. PDT — FDA authorizes COVID-19 booster shots for people over 65 or at high risk

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given the OK for some people to get COVID-19 booster shots.

People who have had the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least 6 months ago and who are over age 65 or at high risk of infection or severe disease can get another dose of the vaccine.

The news comes days after a key FDA panel recommended that boosters be limited to older adults and those at high risk.

Most vaccine effectiveness wanes over time, especially for older adults

Protection provided by COVID-19 vaccines appears to wane over time, especially for people 65 and older, reported CNN.

Ruth Link-Gelles, PhD, who helps lead the CDC’s Vaccine Effectiveness Team, reviewed studies looking at the overall effectiveness of vaccines in different groups between February and August to find similar patterns for Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines, which both use mRNA technology.

“For individuals 65 plus, we saw significant declines in VE (vaccine effectiveness) against infection during Delta for the mRNA products,” Link-Gelles told a meeting of CDC vaccine advisers.

“We also saw declines, particularly for Pfizer, for 65 up that we’re not seeing in younger populations. Finally, there’s evidence of waning VE against hospitalization in the Delta period,” she added.

According to Link-Gelles’ presentation, the Moderna vaccine had higher effectiveness than Pfizer-BioNTech’s, however.

Interestingly, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine effectiveness actually increased over time. This held even as the more infectious Delta variant began to spread widely in the United States.

9/22/21 2:20 p.m. PDT — Moderna vaccine still effective 5 months after being administered

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine appears to remain effective at providing protection against the coronavirus at least 5 months after it’s administered.

A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine followed more than 30,000 people, half of which were given the Moderna vaccine and the other half a placebo.

The vaccine provided 98.2 percent protection against severe disease and 93.2 percent protection against symptomatic infection.

The vaccine also provided 63 percent protection against asymptomatic infection.

U.S. to donate more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses

The Biden administration announced that it will purchase and donate an additional 500 million COVID-19 vaccines.

In total, the United States has now pledged to donate more than 1 billion vaccine doses to developing countries, according to The Associated Press.

The new doses will be purchased from Pfizer-BioNTech.

For months, vaccines have been widely available in the United States, while other countries have barely begun to give out any COVID-19 shots, even to those at high risk.

U.S. officials have been criticized by the World Health Organization and others for not donating more vaccines to developing countries.

San Diego hospitals prepare for surge of flu and COVID-19

In California, San Diego County reported 365 new COVID-19 cases and three new deaths Monday, as the region’s hospitals say they’re preparing for a “fifth surge,” reported NBC San Diego.

Dr. Christopher Longhurst, chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego Health, told NBC that medical professionals were burnt out and relief was not on the way.

“It is absolutely clear there will be a fifth surge — period,” Longhurst said. “So we are expecting a winter surge and unfortunately we talked about this last year about being concerned about a ‘twindemic’ of both flu and COVID.”

Longhurst warned NBC that relaxed pandemic measures will bring resurgent COVID-19 and flu cases.

“We did not see it last year because of the sense of masking that was in place, but we’re worried this year that we will see, with reduced public health measures, both COVID and flu making a resurgence at the same time,” he said.

Deaths from COVID-19 rise in U.S.

While U.S. COVID-19 cases are no longer surging, the daily average remains high at about 134,000. However, deaths are rising, according to data from The New York Times.

Deaths are now averaging more than 2,000 a day.

The last time the United States had such a high death rate was in February, before vaccinations were widely available.

Due to the nature of COVID-19, deaths have traditionally lagged behind trends in overall COVID-19 cases.

9/21/21 2:33 p.m. PDT — Johnson & Johnson announces booster dose confers ‘strong and long-lasting’ protection

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson announced data showing a two-dose version of its COVID-19 vaccine provides 94 percent protection against symptomatic infection.

“Our large real-world evidence and Phase 3 studies confirm that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides strong and long-lasting protection against COVID-19-related hospitalizations. Additionally, our Phase 3 trial data further confirm protection against COVID-19-related death,” said Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen division, in a statement.

“A single-shot COVID-19 vaccine that is easy to use, distribute and administer, and that provides strong and long-lasting protection is crucial to vaccinating the global population,” Dr. Paul Stoffels, chairman of the executive committee and chief scientific officer at Johnson & Johnson, said in the statement.

“At the same time, we now have generated evidence that a booster shot further increases protection against COVID-19 and is expected to extend the duration of protection significantly,” he said.

According to Mammen, while J&J’s single-shot vaccine generates “strong immune responses and long-lasting immune memory,” when a booster shot is given, the strength of protection against COVID-19 is increased further.

Nearly 26% of all COVID-19 cases nationwide in children

COVID-19 cases have continued to increase “exponentially” among children across the United States, and now account for nearly 26 percent of all cases reported nationwide.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported 225,978 new cases among children over the past week, slightly fewer than the week before, when the AAP reported 243,373 new cases.

The weekly case number reported yesterday shows a roughly 215 percent increase in COVID-19 cases among children since the week of July 22 to 29, when the AAP counted 71,726 cases.

COVID-19 is now most deadly pandemic in U.S. history

More than 18 months since the novel coronavirus was detected in China, the COVID-19 pandemic is now the most deadly in U.S. history.

The 1918 flu pandemic led to about 675,000 deaths, according to the CDC.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 677,000 people in the United States have died due to COVID-19.

9/20/21 3:11 p.m. PDT — COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds safe and effective, study finds

Today, drugmaker Pfizer announced positive results from the company’s phase 2 clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.

“Over the past nine months, hundreds of millions of people ages 12 and older from around the world have received our COVID-19 vaccine. We are eager to extend the protection afforded by the vaccine to this younger population, subject to regulatory authorization, especially as we track the spread of the delta variant and the substantial threat it poses to children,” Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer, said in a statement.

“Since July, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have risen by about 240 percent in the U.S. — underscoring the public health need for vaccination,” he said.

According to Bourla, these trial results provide a strong foundation for seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 5 to 11 years old.

“We plan to submit them to the FDA and other regulators with urgency,” he said.

According to Pfizer, the trial included 2,268 participants ages 5 to 11. Two 10-microgram vaccine doses were administered 21 days apart.

This is a smaller dose than the 30-microgram doses used for children 12 and older.

CA has lowest COVID-19 case rate in U.S.

California, at one point the country’s COVID-19 epicenter, is now the U.S. state with the lowest positivity rate per 100,000 people, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

As of Saturday evening, 24.99 new confirmed cases were reported for every 100,000 people in California.

The state reported a daily average of 8,172 new cases over the past 8 weeks and averaged 92 deaths due to COVID-19 complications per day during that time, according to the California Department of Health.

As of Saturday, more than 77 percent of California’s population is vaccinated, according to the state’s health department, reported CNN.

COVID-19 caused deaths to outpace births in Alabama

According to data from the Alabama Department of Public Health, in 2020 there were roughly 7,000 more deaths than births in Alabama, with 10,605 more total deaths in 2020 than in 2019.

The death rate in Alabama for 2020 was the highest ever recorded and surpassed the state’s birth rate, according to the state’s top doctor, who cited data going back to 1900, reported Business Insider.

“This past year, for Alabama, the year 2020… we are going to have more deaths in the state of Alabama than we have ever had in the history of the state of Alabama, by a lot,” Alabama Health Director Scott Harris told

“We’re going to have around six or seven thousand more people who died in our state this past year than any year we have ever had, going back to the year 1900. That’s how far I’ve asked our staff to go back,” he continued.

9/17/21 3:00 p.m. PDT — Key FDA panel votes to recommend COVID-19 booster shots for people over 65

Today, a key panel of both government and outside health experts convened to debate whether there’s enough evidence to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to a wide swath of people.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee met for a lengthy meeting. The committee looked at evidence from Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Israel to see whether booster shots were safe and effective.

The committee unanimously voted to recommend booster shots for people over age 65 and those who are immunocompromised.

The committee voted against recommending booster shot for the general population.

The Biden administration had touted that booster shots would be available to people in the United States starting Sept. 20, pending authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But health experts, including those from the FDA, expressed skepticism that there was enough evidence to support giving a booster shot to people who were not at higher risk of severe disease.

The FDA does not have to follow the panel’s recommendations, but it often does.

By this weekend, COVID-19 will become the deadliest U.S. pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic will become the deadliest pandemic in U.S. history this month, surpassing the 1918 flu pandemic.

More than 675,000 people died in the United States during the 1918 flu pandemic, according to the CDC.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 671,000 people have died in the United States.

There were 3,415 deaths in the last 24 hours alone, according to The New York Times.

Could ‘hybrid immunity’ offer better protection?

While the FDA debates whether all people need a booster shot, experts told Yahoo! News that they’re learning more about “hybrid immunity.”

Hybrid immunity is the “super” immune response someone gets after having COVID-19 and then getting vaccinated.

“The best thing we can hope for is that three vaccine doses will emulate the super immune response, found among those previously infected with the virus,” Dr. Paul Goepfert, an infectious disease physician and director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic, told Yahoo! News.

“This [type of immunity] will protect against variants in the future,” he added.

A June review published in Science found that people with hybrid immunity experience up to a 100-fold increase in antibody response than what they built up after having COVID-19.

Another (not yet peer-reviewed) study from August found that people who had an infection and then were vaccinated were protected against Delta, the most infectious coronavirus variant, and Beta, the most lethal.

9/16/21 3:28 p.m. PDT — Health departments plan for potential booster rollout

Local health departments across the United States are moving ahead with plans for a COVID-19 vaccine booster rollout starting next week, even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to authorize boosters for most people.

Last month, President Biden announced plans for COVID-19 booster doses to be offered starting the week of Sept. 20, subject to sign-off from the FDA and CDC.

However, health departments planning on administering boosters can’t wait for these details to be finalized, according to CNN.

“We don’t want to be unprepared,” Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN on Wednesday.

She also confirmed that local health departments are planning now to be ready after the FDA reviews Pfizer’s data, especially as health departments are currently “really overwhelmed” responding to surges of COVID-19 cases, working to get unvaccinated people inoculated, and preparing for flu season.

Moderna study supports booster shots

Drugmaker Moderna has released data suggesting that while its COVID-19 vaccine is effective in preventing serious health issues or death from coronavirus “variants of concern,” vaccine effectiveness does decrease over time.

“It is promising to see clinical and real-world evidence adding to the growing body of data on the effectiveness of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a statement.

According to Bancel, the increased risk of breakthrough infections in study participants vaccinated last year compared with participants more recently “illustrates the impact of waning immunity” and supports the need for a booster shot to maintain high levels of protection.

“We hope these findings are helpful as health authorities and regulators continue to assess strategies for ending this pandemic,” he continued.

9/15/21 3:38 p.m. PDT — Alaska’s largest hospital begins rationing care due to COVID-19

ABC News reported that Alaska’s largest hospital is beginning to ration healthcare, as the facility is overwhelmed by a surge of COVID-19 patients.

“While we are doing our utmost, we are no longer able to provide the standard of care to each and every patient who needs our help,” Dr. Kristen Solana Walkinshaw, chief of staff at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, wrote in an op-ed published by Anchorage Daily News.

According to Walkinshaw, the acuity and number of COVID-19 patients now exceeds hospital resources and ability to staff beds with professionals like nurses and respiratory therapists.

“We have been forced within our hospital to implement crisis standards of care,” she wrote.

Grim milestone: 1 in 500 Americans have died of COVID-19

The United States has reached a new milestone in the pandemic: 1 in 500 Americans have died from COVID-19.

As of Sept. 14, 663,913 people in the United States died of COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The Census Bureau lists the U.S. population was 331.4 million as of April 2020.

Health experts have hailed vaccinations as the best protection against COVID-19, noting that most people hospitalized with and killed by COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

The CDC recommends everyone, including fully vaccinated people, wear masks indoors in areas with substantial or high community COVID-19 transmission.

Side effects from COVID-19 booster will be similar to 2nd shot

Officials from Pfizer and BioNTech said people could expect to have some mild side effects after getting a COVID-19 booster, similar to the side effects people experienced after their second dose.

The data comes from a new study that was submitted to the FDA as Pfizer and BioNTech ask for authorization to give vaccine booster shots to people over age 16.

In the study that involved 300 people, about 63 percent reported feeling fatigue, around 48 percent reported having a headache, and 39 percent had muscle pain.

Most of the reactions to the vaccine booster were mild or moderate, according to CNBC.

9/14/21 3:49 p.m. PDT — U.K. to offer COVID-19 vaccine boosters for everyone over age 50

The United Kingdom will start giving COVID-19 booster shots to everyone over age 50, according to The Associated Press.

The AP reported that a U.K. medical panel on vaccinations and immunizations advised that people over age 50 be allowed to get COVID-19 booster shots, as immunity may wane over the winter months.

Healthcare workers and people who are immunocompromised will also be able to get COVID-19 vaccine boosters.

Mu variant is the most resistant to antibodies from previous infection or vaccination, study finds

A new but not yet peer-reviewed study has found that the Mu variant is the most resistant variant to antibodies from either previous infection or vaccination.

“The Mu variant shows a pronounced resistance to antibodies elicited by natural SARS-CoV-2 infection and the BNT162b2 [Pfizer-BioNTech] mRNA vaccine,” the study authors wrote.

“Since breakthrough infections are a major threat of newly emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, we strongly suggest to further characterize and monitor the Mu variant.”

Newsweek recently reported that Mu is now present in all 50 U.S. states.

However, according to the latest CDC data, the variant still represents only 0.1 percent of U.S. cases.

Job postings requiring vaccination have increased

As more people return to the workplace after months working remotely, vaccination status is becoming a condition of employment, according to CNBC.

Job postings requiring vaccination have spiked since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, according to jobs site Indeed, showing increasing numbers of employers requiring candidates be vaccinated, reported CNBC.

“A few weeks ago, job postings on Indeed requiring vaccination started to take off and have accelerated since,” AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, told CNBC.

9/13/21 3:00 p.m. PDT — 60% of workers support vaccine requirements, survey says

According to USA Today, millions of workers face new federal vaccine rules in the wake of President Biden’s Sept. 9 order that employers of at least 100 people require staff to either be vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 testing.

Most experts say that vaccine mandates are legal as long as employees can seek accommodations for legitimate medical or religious reasons, reported USA Today.

A survey released by business management platform Qualtrics found that 60 percent of workers support vaccine requirements, although 23 percent said they’d consider quitting if their employer imposed such a rule. 

“The president’s order means employers can stop discussing whether to impose a vaccination requirement, and begin the next important step of communicating with their employees about how they will act on it,” Sydney Heimbrock, Qualtrics’ chief industry adviser for government, said in a statement, according to USA Today.

Mu variant affecting all 50 states

The Mu variant of the coronavirus is confirmed to be in all 50 U.S. states after the mutation was detected in Nebraska, reported Newsweek.

According to Outbreak.Info, as of Sept. 4, almost 6,000 Mu variant sequences have been detected worldwide. More than 2,400 of those sequences were discovered in the United States.

However, Mu is still relatively rare in the United States, despite at least one case in every state and the District of Columbia.

It’s not yet clear whether Mu is likely to have an impact similar to the highly infectious Delta variant, reported Newsweek.

Experts say even with increasing cases of Mu, the Delta variant remains the most concerning.

“In some countries, the proportion of cases with the Mu variant is increasing,” Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, WHO’s technical director for COVID-19, told Newsweek. “But in other countries, the proportion of Mu is decreasing. Where Delta is, Delta takes over really quickly.”

“I think the Delta variant, for me, is the one that’s the most concerning, because of the increased transmissibility,” she added.

Upstate NY hospital loses staff over vaccine mandate

A hospital in upstate New York is “pausing” deliveries of babies because of maternity unit employee resignations over the state’s COVID-19 vaccination requirements, health officials say, reported CNN.

According to CNN, Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville, about 60 miles northeast of Syracuse, will soon temporarily close its maternity ward.

“We are unable to safely staff the service after September 24. The number of resignations received leaves us no choice but to pause delivering babies at Lewis County General Hospital. It is my hope that the Department of Health will work with us in support of pausing the service rather than closing the maternity department,” Gerald Cayer, CEO of the Lewis County Health System, said at a news conference Sept. 10, reported CNN.

Cayer confirmed there are 165 employees throughout the Lewis County Health System who haven’t received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine yet.

He added that several other departments were at risk “based on the number of unvaccinated individuals in those departments.”

9/10/21 3:04 p.m. PDT — Pfizer to seek FDA authorization to give vaccine to kids over age 5

The pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech will soon ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for authorization to give vaccines to children over the age of 5.

The news came from a report in the German news outlet Der Spiegel.

The New York Times reported that officials will be giving data from vaccine trials to the FDA in the coming weeks and ask that the emergency use authorization be expanded to allow children over age 5 to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for use in children 12 and over.

No vaccine is available for children under 12 in the United States.

Biden gives more details on plan to use vaccine requirements to battle pandemic

According to President Biden’s Sept. 9 speech to the nation, getting every American vaccinated along with masking and expanded testing to identify infections are essential measures to win the “battle” against COVID-19.

“This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Biden said. “And it’s caused by the fact that despite America having an unprecedented and successful vaccination program, despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.”

He also lambasted elected officials actively working to undermine the fight against COVID-19.

Biden said that instead of encouraging people to get vaccinated and mask up, these officials are ordering mobile morgues for unvaccinated people who are dying from COVID-19 in their communities.

Biden confirmed that almost 75 percent of those eligible have received at least one shot. But he emphasized that the number of people who are still unvaccinated is significant. 

“That’s nearly 80 million Americans not vaccinated,” he said. “The unvaccinated overcrowd our hospitals, are overrunning the emergency rooms and intensive care units.”

Biden gave more details in his plan:

  • An emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test at least once a week.
  • Extending the vaccination requirements that the administration previously issued in the healthcare field. 
  • Requiring all executive branch federal employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated.

Texas sees most deaths since start of pandemic

In states across the South and Midwest, hospitals are once again overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated — with Texas reporting the highest number of deaths since the pandemic began, reported WABC News.

According to WABC, Christina Martinez was in a coma for 6 weeks with COVID-19. She has a message to share about why she finally got vaccinated:

“People don’t like to be told what to do but it is for your own safety,” she told WABC.

However, there’s mounting resistance to Biden’s recently announced pandemic measures.

Some Republican governors are threatening to sue the Biden administration over the new mandates, reported WABC.

But the outlet pointed out that experts say the president appears to have solid legal standing under the executive orders and emergency rules.

9/9/21 3:16 p.m. PDT — Biden plan to require many employees to be vaccinated or tested

On Thursday, Sep. 9, President Biden announced new steps in his administration’s COVID-19 response. It will involve more vaccination requirements.

Biden’s plan will require companies with 100 employees to require their employees to either get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

Biden also announced other steps including increased access to rapid tests, requiring employers to provide paid time off for vaccinations, and requiring all federal workers to get vaccinated.

Biden had strong words for people who were still unvaccinated and pushed people to get vaccinated if they’re eligible.

“We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin,” he said. “And your refusal has cost all of us. So please do the right thing.”

Risk of severe breakthrough infection higher for older adults and those with underlying conditions

For people who are fully vaccinated, the risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 is much lower than the risk for unvaccinated people, reported CNN.

As of August 30, the CDC has received reports of only 12,908 severe COVID-19 breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people that resulted in hospitalization or death.

That’s a miniscule fraction of the over 173 million people who have been fully vaccinated. It represents a less than 1 in 13,000 chance of experiencing a severe breakthrough case, reported CNN.

But in those rare cases when the fully vaccinated develop COVID-19, CDC data suggest that older adults and people with multiple underlying medical conditions are at greatest risk of severe illness.

United Airlines announces unvaccinated employees face unpaid leave, termination

United Airlines says that over half its employees who were unvaccinated last month have received their shots since the airline announced COVID-19 vaccination would be required, reported the Chicago Sun Times.

However, United Airlines has announced on Sep. 8 that most employees who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 after October 2 will face either termination or unpaid leave, reported the Independent.

According to CNBC, United said if an employee’s request for a religious exemption is denied, they must be vaccinated within 5 weeks of the denial notice and get the first shot by September 27 or face termination.

Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents, and airport customer service agents who interact with customers and are granted those exemptions can return to work “once the pandemic meaningfully recedes,” United said, without specifying the timeframe, reported CNBC.

Moderna says they’re working on joint flu and COVID-19 vaccine

The pharmaceutical company Moderna said in a presentation today that they’re working on a joint COVID-19 booster and flu shot, according to NBC News.

At this point, the joint vaccine is still in the experimental stage and it’s unclear if it will be effective at preventing disease.

The flu season is expected to start in the United States this fall.

9/8/21 2:16 p.m. PDT — More than one-quarter of new COVID-19 cases are in children

COVID-19 cases are surging, with an increasing proportion of them reported in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

More than 250,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 in just 1 week. Children now make up more than 26 percent of new COVID-19 cases, reported the AAP.

But there shouldn’t be a big increase in cases related to school reopenings “if we do it right,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We’ve gotta get the school system masked in addition to surrounding the children with vaccinated people,” Fauci told CNN . “That’s the solution.”

He also stressed vaccination for those eligible is crucial.

However, schools, especially in the South, started the new semester in August. Many districts, particularly those without mask mandates, are seeing a big jump in cases, reported CNN.

According to the network, doctors and experts warn it could happen again when students in much of the rest of the country return to school after Labor Day weekend, unless there’s strong action to keep the coronavirus in check.

Biden to deliver major speech on next phase of COVID-19 response

President Joe Biden is prepared to give a major address on the next phase of his pandemic response this week, according to a report from CNN.

The speech is expected to cover issues related to COVID-19 and schools, private companies, and requirements for federal employees.

The speech was initially slated for today, but a White House official told CNN yesterday morning that the timing is still fluid, and it would instead be presented Thursday, Sept. 9.

“On Thursday, the President will speak to the American people about his robust plan to stop the spread of the Delta variant and boost vaccinations.

“As the President has said since Day 1, his administration will pull every lever to get the pandemic under control. On Thursday, the President will lay out a six-pronged strategy that will help us do just that, working across the public and private sectors,” the official said, reported CNN.

Doctors confirm Mu variant found in at least 50 Houston patients

Doctors at Houston Methodist Hospital have discovered cases of the Mu variant among patients being treated for COVID-19, the hospital confirmed Monday, reported

Doctors confirmed cases of the Mu variant in roughly 50 patients.

“We had our first case of Mu back in May,” Dr. Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist and a clinical pathologist, told Click2Houston.

Long pointed out they didn’t refer to those cases as from the Mu variant until the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the variant as such last week.

“Once the WHO declared that this would be the Mu variant, we went and looked and saw that we had had a few cases here and there dating back all the way till May,” Long told Click2Houston.

9/7/21 2:30 p.m. PDT — U.S. tops 40 million COVID-19 cases

In less than 2 years since COVID-19 was first detected, the United States has now topped 40 million cases of the disease.

Despite widespread access to the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, only about 62 people of people over age 12 have been fully vaccinated.

Additionally, the rise of the more infectious Delta variant has led to a significant rise in COVID-19 cases.

Florida sees deadliest COVID-19 surge of the pandemic

The Associated Press (AP) reported that while Florida’s vaccination rate is slightly higher than the national average, COVID-19-related death is still on the rise.

This may be due in part to the state’s larger elderly population and a state government that’s fighting mask mandates.

According to the AP, hospitals have had to rent refrigerated trucks to store more bodies, and funeral homes have been overwhelmed.

However, one positive sign is that the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida has dropped over the past 2 weeks from more than 17,000 to 14,200 on Sept. 3, indicating the surge is easing, reported the AP.

New U.S. infections up by over 300% since last Labor Day

Daily coronavirus infections are more than four times what the United States saw on Labor Day last year, with daily deaths almost twice as high, reported USA Today.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, this is a 316 percent increase over last year’s figures.

We can blame this rise on the highly infectious Delta variant and a significant number of people in the United States refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, reported USA Today.

The newspaper emphasized that some U.S. hospitals have become so crowded with COVID-19 patients that physicians may be compelled to make life-or-death decisions on who gets an ICU bed.

9/3/21 1:28 p.m. PDT — Officials may need more time before widely recommending booster shots

According to a new report, federal officials have told the Biden administration they may need more time to review data before recommending COVID-19 booster shots to most of the U.S. public.

The New York Times reported today that Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, who heads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the Biden administration that they may only be able to recommend boosters for a subset of the U.S. population.

Reportedly, they may only have information for people who already received the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

The Biden administration had announced plans for a major push of COVID-19 booster shots pending FDA approval.

Pediatric COVID-19 cases on the rise

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), child COVID-19 cases are on the rise, with roughly 204,000 cases added last week.

For the week ending Aug. 26, children were 22.4 percent of reported weekly COVID-19 cases.

The AAP gathered COVID-19 data from 49 states, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Guam to find the rate of child COVID-19 cases was 6,374 cases per 100,000 children as of Aug. 26.

The AAP emphasized that while children are contracting infections, they’re not experiencing severe disease.

“At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children,” AAP said in a statement. “However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”

Mu variant not an ‘immediate threat,’ says Fauci

The coronavirus variant Mu, designated a “variant of interest” earlier this week by the World Health Organization (WHO), is not an “immediate threat” to the United States, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reported The Washington Post.

Fauci said at a Sept. 2 news briefing that the Mu variant is “not at all even close to being dominant,” and that the Delta variant remained the cause of almost 100 percent of U.S. cases.

However, he confirmed that “we’re keeping a very close eye on it.”

According to the Post, the WHO says the Mu variant has “a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape.”

But the organization emphasized further study is needed to find out whether the Mu variant will be resistant to currently available vaccines.

9/2/21 2:06 p.m. PDT — 1 in 7 children with COVID-19 develop long-haul symptoms

A new study out of the United Kingdom has found that about 1 in 7 children who develop COVID-19 end up having long-term symptoms, reported Reuters.

The study looked at children between the ages of 11 and 17. While children in the study rarely had severe initial symptoms, they were at increased risk of having lingering symptoms weeks or even months later.

About 14 percent of children with COVID-19 reported symptoms including fatigue and headaches 15 weeks after developing the disease.

The study is a preprint and has not yet been peer reviewed.

COVID-19 cases milder in vaccinated people, study confirms

A recent study conducted in the United Kingdom offers large-scale, real-world data on how well vaccination protects us against “breakthrough” coronavirus infections, and how well it protects against severe illness.

Researchers found that people who contracted the coronavirus after being fully vaccinated were nearly twice as likely to feel no symptoms when compared with the wider population.

According to CBS News, the results are encouraging, and this study could help policymakers and epidemiologists fill a significant gap in understanding the true effectiveness of three of the major vaccines being used worldwide.

Survey says most U.S. companies could mandate COVID-19 vaccination in coming months

Over half of U.S. companies have planned to mandate COVID-19 vaccination in the workplace by the end of the year, with nearly 25 percent considering vaccination as a condition for employment, according to a national survey of nearly 1,000 employers, reported Reuters.

Google, Walmart, McDonald’s, and United Airlines are among a growing list of companies requiring some or all staff to be vaccinated, reported Fortune.

According to Reuters, the survey polled 961 U.S. companies that together employ nearly 10 million people.

The survey found that over half of employers could have one or more vaccine mandate requirements by the end of 2021, more than doubling the current number of employers requiring proof of vaccination.

9/1/12 2:08 p.m. PDT — Mu is the newest variant of interest

The World Health Organization (WHO) has added another variant of COVID-19 to its list of ‘variants of interest.’

According to The Guardian, the Mu variant (B.1.621) was added to the WHO’s watch list on August 30 after being detected in 39 countries and found to have mutations that could make it less susceptible to the immune protection many have acquired.

Data from the U.K. government shows there have already been 48 confirmed or probable cases in that country, while the Mu variant has been responsible for 852 cases in Colombia, according to information from the GISAID COVID tracking initiative.

The Mu variant has also been identified in Florida, reported WFLA News, with the new variant spreading quickly in the Jacksonville area.

Although the Mu variant makes up less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19 cases globally, it may be gaining ground in Colombia and Ecuador where it’s 39 and 13 percent of COVID-19 cases respectively.

COVID-19 will accelerate dementia pandemic, experts say

Scientists and psychiatrists warn that COVID-19’s degenerative effect on the brain will accelerate a dementia pandemic that could affect an estimated 80 million people by the end of the decade, reported the Financial Times.

On Wednesday, Sep. 1, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), the global federation of dementia associations, unveiled a specialist working group to better understand the problem’s scale and recommend ways to fight it.

“We don’t want to scare people unnecessarily,” Paola Barbarino, ADI chief executive, told the Financial Times. “But many dementia experts around the globe are seriously concerned by the link between dementia and the neurological symptoms of COVID-19.”

Recent research finds that COVID-19 damages the brain in several ways. It might attack brain cells directly, reduce blood flow to brain tissue, or trigger production of immune molecules harmful to brain cells.

“Infection with the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, can cause memory loss, strokes, and other effects on the brain,” the study authors wrote.

Woman charged for using fake COVID-19 vaccine card in Hawaii

KITV Island News reported that a 24-year-old Illinois woman is behind bars on Oahu, charged with using a fake vaccination card to bypass mandatory quarantine.

According to KITV, the woman, identified as Chloe Mrozak, presented a vaccination card showing she’d been immunized with the ‘Maderna’ vaccine — a misspelling considered a clear sign that her document was fraudulent.

KITV reported that she’ll return to court on Wednesday, with the Illinois resident facing up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $5,000, if convicted.

Two FDA officials leave as agency debates COVID-19 vaccines for children

The New York Times reports that two vaccine regulators are leaving the Food and Drug Administration.

The resignations come as the FDA is reviewing data on the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines for children under age 12.

Dr. Marion Gruber, the director of the FDA’s vaccines office and her deputy, Dr. Philip Krause, will both leave by November. The officials are leaving in part due to concerns that COVID-19 booster shots are being recommended without enough evidence they’re effective, according to the New York Times report.

8/31/21 1:46 p.m. PDT — Moderna vaccine stimulates double the antibodies than Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, study finds

Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine was able to generate more than double the antibodies of another mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech in new research directly comparing immune responses to the inoculations, reported Bloomberg.

The study involved nearly 2,500 workers at a major Belgium hospital system.

Researchers found that antibody levels among people who hadn’t contracted a coronavirus infection before receiving two doses of the Moderna vaccine averaged antibody levels of 2,881 units per milliliter, compared with only 1,108 units per milliliter in a similar group who were given two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

According to Bloomberg, the results, published in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggest a reason for the difference could be due to Moderna’s vaccine having almost three times more active ingredient than the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, and the longer interval between shots.

Florida reports more COVID-19 deaths now than all of 2020

More deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Florida this year than in 2020.

The disease is now the third leading cause of death in the state, according to a Florida Department of Health report released Aug. 27, reported USA Today.

According to USA Today, the report said cumulative COVID-19 deaths have reached 43,979 in Florida as of Aug. 26, with last year’s COVID-19 deaths recorded at only 21,673.

The latest data shows less than 9 months into 2021, 22,306 people died from the coronavirus or COVID-19-related complications, outpacing the number of dead in the last year, reported USA Today.

The first deaths from the pandemic in Florida were recorded in the first week of March 2020 and totaled 21,673 by Dec. 31, 2020.

Many other states have been reporting more COVID-19 deaths in 2021 than in 2020, even though a third of the year remains, reported USA Today.

8/30/21 2:27 p.m. PDT — 100,000 more people may die in U.S. from COVID-19 before pandemic is over

With almost 100,000 U.S. adults hospitalized due to COVID-19 and infections surging among the unvaccinated, possibly another 100,000 people could die from the disease by December, according to a recent University of Washington model.

“What is going on now is both entirely predictable, but entirely preventable,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN‘s Jake Tapper on Sunday, reported the network.

Fauci said while the outcome of this model is possible, “We know we have the wherewithal with vaccines to turn this around.”

“We could do it efficiently and quickly if we just get those people vaccinated,” he continued. “That’s why it’s so important now, in this crisis that we’re in that people put aside any ideologic, political, or other differences, and just get vaccinated.”

U.S. sticks with 8-month timeline on booster shots

The United States is sticking with its 8-month timeline for COVID-19 booster shots, at least for now, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Sunday, reported USA Today.

According to USA Today, on Friday, President Joe Biden had suggested the administration was considering whether booster shots should be given as soon as 5 months after vaccination in response to the Delta variant that’s driving up COVID-19 rates across the country. 

However, on Sunday, Fauci said health officials are open to shifting the recommendation based on evolving information, but the 8 months timeline will remain — for now.

“We’re not changing it, but we are very open to new data as it comes in. We’re going to be very flexible about it,” Fauci said, reported USA Today.

Unvaccinated, maskless teacher transmits virus to students in California

An unvaccinated California teacher transmitted the Delta variant to a group of elementary school students and others, according to a report from the CDC.

The CDC reported that the teacher from Marin County became symptomatic on May 19, and experienced symptoms such as cough, fever, and headache.

Initially attributing the symptoms to allergies, the teacher continued working — reading aloud to students without a mask or face covering, despite requirements from the school to do so when indoors, the CDC said.

The teacher tested positive for COVID-19 2 days later.

8/27/21 2:00 p.m. PDT — Florida sees largest single-day increase in deaths since pandemic began

According to the Miami Herald, on Aug. 26, Florida reported 21,765 more COVID-19 cases and 901 deaths to the CDC, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data.

All but two of the newly reported deaths occurred after July 25, with roughly 78 percent of those people dying in the past 2 weeks. The majority of deaths happened during Florida’s latest surge in COVID-19 cases, fueled by the Delta variant.

The Herald reported that this is the largest single-day increase to the death total in the state’s COVID-19 pandemic history.

‘We’ve lost hundreds of children,’ surgeon general says

According to CNN, returning to in-person learning has resulted in thousands of students across the United States being quarantined, as COVID-19 among children surges to levels not seen since winter.

With the increased threat, the U.S. surgeon general urges parents and officials to take measures that reduce children’s infection risk.

“If they are around people who are vaccinated, everyone in the household gets vaccinated, that significantly reduces the risk to our children,” Dr. Vivek Murthy said in a conversation hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, reported CNN.

In classrooms, Murthy continued, there are layers of protection that the CDC has laid out to keep children safe, including mask use, properly ventilating buildings, and regular COVID-19 testing.

“Even though our kids do better, that doesn’t mean that COVID is benign, it doesn’t mean that it’s harmless in our children,” Murthy said. “In fact, we’ve lost hundreds of children to COVID-19.”

Child dies of COVID-19 in Virginia

Yesterday, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced the death of a child in the Northern Region who had COVID-19.

According to the VDH, the child was between 0 and 9 years old. The department will not disclose more information to protect privacy and out of respect for the child’s family.

VDH confirmed that this is the first reported COVID-19 death of a child in the Northern Region in Virginia.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of this child for their tragic loss,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said in a statement.

“Across the country, COVID-19 continues to cause illness and death. The delta variant is now the most predominant strain across the country, and it spreads more easily from one person to another,” he continued.

“We urge everyone to take precautions to protect themselves and those around them. Everyone aged 12 and older who is eligible to get vaccinated is encouraged to do so as soon as possible.”

Evictions can resume, Supreme Court decides

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority is allowing evictions to resume across the United States, blocking the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban that was put in place because of the pandemic, reported The Associated Press (AP).

According to the AP, the court’s decision ends protections for about 3.5 million people in the United States who reported facing eviction in the next 2 months, according to Census Bureau data from early August.

Conservative justices ruled that the CDC lacked the authority to do so under federal law without explicit congressional authorization, reported the AP. Three liberal justices dissented.

“If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” the court wrote, reported the AP.

8/26/21 2:30 p.m. PDT — White House accelerates rollout of Regeneron’s COVID-19 treatment

According to Yahoo! News, health officials agree that if you are newly diagnosed with COVID-19 and have an above-average risk of getting seriously ill, you should quickly seek treatment with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ monoclonal antibody therapy.

“Importantly, since July 1st, we have shipped over half a million lifesaving therapeutics to treat COVID patients — half a million therapeutics that are preventing hospitalizations and saving lives,” said Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, in a recent press briefing.

He added that the administration continues to accelerate the use of these treatments.

“In fact, in just the first two weeks of August, we shipped more than 10 times the amount of treatments we shipped to states in the entire month of June,” Zients said.

Yahoo reported that the federal government is covering the costs, with some states setting up free infusion centers for the antibody cocktail that’s been shown to reduce hospitalization rates by 70 percent for people at high risk of severe COVID-19 when they’re treated within 10 days.

Firing medical workers who refuse vaccine OK, proposed NY rule says

Medical workers who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 could be fired under an emergency edict expected to win New York State Health Department approval today, reported the New York Post.

“Covered entities may terminate personnel who are not fully vaccinated and do not have a valid medical exemption and are unable to otherwise ensure individuals are not engaged in patient/resident care or expose other covered personnel,” the proposed rule states, according to the Post.

This policy was first announced by former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s health department last week.

Healthcare workers will have until Sept. 27 to receive their first vaccine dose.

“This mandate will both help close the vaccination gap and reduce the spread of the Delta variant,” New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement. “I want to thank all New York State’s healthcare workers for stepping up once again and showing our state that getting vaccinated is safe, easy, and most importantly, effective.”

Demand for monoclonal antibody treatment ‘skyrocketing’

For most of this year, reported USA Today, the drugs former President Donald Trump credited for his quick recovery from COVID-19 have sat unused on government shelves, but now demand is skyrocketing.

According to USA Today, this week about 1,200 Houston-area patients will receive REGN-COV, a monoclonal antibody made by drugmaker Regeneron.

“We’ve seen an exponential rise in demand,” Dr. Howard Huang, who has led Houston Methodist Hospital’s monoclonal antibody effort, told USA Today.

He added that demand for sotrovimab, another monoclonal antibody used under emergency use authorization for COVID-19 treatment, has spiked nearly 300 percent over the past month.

New plan: COVID-19 booster shots starting at 6 months

According to The Wall Street Journal, federal regulators will likely approve a third COVID-19 shot for fully vaccinated adults starting at least 6 months after the second dose — rather than the 8-month gap announced previously — a person familiar with the plans told the Journal.

Data from vaccine manufacturers and other countries under review by the Food and Drug Administration is based on boosters being given at 6 months, the person added.

The unnamed source also told the Journal that approval for boosters for all three COVID-19 shots being administered in the United States — those manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — is expected in mid-September.

Hospitalizations soar amid Delta surge

More than 100,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States, reported The Washington Post — a level not seen since Jan. 30 when COVID-19 vaccines weren’t widely available — as the country struggles to contain a surge of the highly infectious Delta variant.

Hospitalizations are highest across the South, where every state in the region has a higher portion of its population currently hospitalized with COVID-19 than the national level, according to a Washington Post database.

However, according to the Post, although many hospitals are under strain and report shortages of intensive care unit (ICU) beds, overall deaths are far lower.

The daily average of deaths by end of January was 3,100 and only about 1,100 as of Aug. 25.

Unvaccinated people have 29 times higher risk of hospitalization, CDC study finds

According to an Aug. 24 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on data out of Los Angeles County, unvaccinated people are nearly five times more likely to contract a coronavirus infection and over 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.

“This means that vaccinated persons are much less likely to have severe illness and may only have mild symptoms,” Dr. Sharon Balter, one of the study’s authors and an infectious disease director at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told NBC News. “This is a great reason to get vaccinated.”

Even as the highly infectious Delta variant increased from 8 percent of positive cases analyzed by the department to roughly 90 percent by the end of July, researchers found that COVID-19 vaccines were still offering effective protection against severe symptoms, reported NBC News.

“These infection and hospitalization rate data indicate that authorized vaccines were protective against SARS-CoV-2 infection and severe COVID-19 during a period when transmission of the delta variant was increasing,” said the report.

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