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Covid news summary, 28 January: vaccine mandate, Omicron variant symptoms, home tests, CDC...

Update:
Covid news live updates: vaccine mandate, Omicron variant symptoms, home tests, CDC...

Covid-19 Omicron variant: live updates

Covid-19 Omicron variant headlines

- Scientists developing "pan-coronavirus" vaccine, Dr Fauci says

Moderna begins trial for Omicron-targeted booster shot

- US Labor Dept withdraws vaccine requirement for large employers

- Pfizer and BioNTech announce trial of Omicron-specific vaccine

Hong Kong may maintain covid isolation until 2024

- Over 1m children diagnosed with covid-19 in single week, according to American Academy of Pediatrics

General news and information

Free at-home tests can be ordered on US government website covidtests.gov 

- Americans can also request free covid-19 tests on hotline 1-800-232-0233

- Denmark declares end to the pandemic

- Pandemic should end "in a month," says engineer who predicted its progression

- How long should you wait after an infection with Omicron before getting a covid-19 booster vaccine?

- Experts suggest there may be an increased risk of long covid from the Omicron variant

Supreme Court rules against vaccine mandates for workplaces with over 100 employees

- Why do I have armpit pain after receiving the covid-19 vaccine?

Key websites:

-  World Health Organisation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Lancet

Further covid-related reading:

New covid-19 vaccines show promise

Two covid-19 vaccine trials that still need to peer reviewed are showing promise to provide protection against the virus. One would be less expensive to produce, while the other would be more acceptable to those with needle phobia.

Researchers at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City have developed a vaccine which could be mass produced locally at existing influenza vaccine manufacturing plants around the world. The NDV-HXP-S vaccine could be produced much like flu vaccines at low cost in chicken eggs. Initial data shows that it induces proportionally more antibodies that can neutralize the virus than the current mRNA vaccines.

Trials in mice of an intranasal booster vaccine using the virus spike proteins could help quickly restimulate the body's learned immunity to covid-19. Mice given the booster that had waning immunity after receiving two doses of mRNA vaccines showed strong immune responses. Furthermore, their viral load was lower than expected which would help reduce transmission of the virus.

What's wrong with this covid-19 vaccination picture?

The covid-19 vaccine rollout has been incredibly fast with 10 billion doses administered worldwide. However, the distribution has been uneven as the map presented by former CDC Director Tom Frieden of the share of population receiving at least one dose shows.

Exagerated numbers in Canadian vaccine protest by truckers

A number of truckers are participating in a protest of covid-19 vaccination rules imposed by Canada for drivers who cross the border, but not anywhere near the 50,000 to 250,000 being posted on social media. Politifact contacted local and national police to get an official count of trucks in "the Freedom Convoy" but no exact data was available.

Even so from the limit information they were able to cobble together participants were in the hundreds, perhaps thousands, but a far cry from those being touted.

Pfizer, BioNTech to study Omicron-based covid-19 vaccine

A clinical study has been initiated to evaluate the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of an Omicron-based vaccine candidate in healthy adults between 18 and 55 years of age, according to a Pfizer press release.

The study will have 3 cohorts examining different regimens of the current Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine or an Omicron-based vaccine and will use participants from the phase 3 covid-19 booster study.

“While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with Omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address omicron and new variants in the future,” said Kathrin U. Jansen, PhD, senior vice president and head of Vaccine Research & Development at Pfizer, in the press release.

Staying vigilant against the virus requires us to identify new approaches for people to maintain a high level of protection, and we believe developing and investigating variant-based vaccines, like this one, are essential in our efforts towards this goal.”

Covid vaccine mandate: New York State

Kathy Hochul, the Governor of New York State, has said that she will extend her "Mask or Vaccine" policy for businesses through until 10 February. The mandate had been set to lapse on the first of the month.

As Lewke reports, the idea is that it will be reevaluated every fortnight.

Understanding vaccines

There are so many untrained people claiming to know more about the effectiveness of vaccines than those who have spent most of their life studying them and viruses.

And they are consistently making it easy for others to poke fun at them.

Vaccine mandate protests

 A convoy of trucks crossing Canada, protesting vaccine mandates for truckers, could be a world-record setter, but there are doubts about the actual size of the convoy. 

The "Freedom Convoy" was reportedly organized to protest against the vaccine mandates put in place at the US-Canada border, as well as mask mandates for truckers, which orders the drivers to wear masks in trucks.

You'll be unsurprised to learn that donations were requested to reach their $8 million target.

Oh, and it's worth noting that the Canadian Trucking Alliance says it "does not support and strongly disapproves" of any protests held on public highways, roadways, and bridges. CTA also says the "vast majority" of Canada's trucking industry is vaccinated and most of them are busy working, freighting shipments between Canada and the United States, countering the idea 50,000 trucks formed a convoy anywhere in the country.

Vaccines, boosters, and mandates

No matter what you might hear on your favorite Fox News show or social media, the coronavirus vaccines are working — and boosters are working significantly better still. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week showed unvaccinated people were about 13 times as likely to die of covid as people who were vaccinated but not boosted.

They were also 53 times as likely to die compared to people who had vaccinated and boosted.

Aaron Blake reports on the political divide over the matter.

Covid vaccination: base rate fallacy

Professor of health law and science policy Timothy Caulfield has tried - likely in vain for those who need it - to help explain some of the bad information that can be shared online.

Look at the image. Think. Understand.

Merck covid pill working against Omicron

Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said today that six lab studies showed their experimental oral covid-19 drug molnupiravir was active against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The data evaluated the antiviral activity of molnupiravir and other covid-19 antiviral agents against covid-19 variants of concern. Molnupiravir is yet to be studied against Omicron in human studies, the companies said.

Molnupiravir and a rival oral pill from Pfizer Inc were authorized in the United States in December and are considered as important tools against Omicron.

Pfizer said in December lab data suggested its drug Paxlovid retained its effectiveness against Omicron. Merck said earlier this month its pill has a mechanism that can work against Omicron and any other variant.

Molnupiravir has been authorized for use in more than 10 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom and Japan.

Beware vaccine misinformation

There’s a lot of bad information out there. Anyone tuned into Fox News could hear Alex Berenson say that the vaccines don’t work. There are other talking heads on Joe Rogan saying similar things discrediting the vaccines.

There’s a lot of misinformation, and a lot of people tuning in for it.

Dr Peter Hotez, Baylor College of Medicine

Texas Omicron is not the end

Andrew Dansby spoke with Dr. Peter Hotez — dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital — who remained anxious about the delta variant of covid-19 while the Omicron variant began making news.

Weeks later, omicron shows signs of waning, but deaths remain high as does coronavirus fatigue. A recent talking point suggested that the fast spread of omicron might accelerate the pace of covid-19 from pandemic to endemic. Hotez isn’t quite convinced we are there yet.

He answered some reader questions.

German Omicron wave 'well under control'

Germany has the wave of infections from the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant "well under control" and may consider lifting some restrictions after a peak in late February, its health minister said on Friday.

Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases reported 190,148 positive tests within 24 hours on Friday, 49,988 more than a week earlier, and 170 deaths in connection with the virus, bringing the death toll to 117,484.

"I often read and hear that politicians lost control over the pandemic. However, this is not the case. We were prepared for the infection numbers we have at the moment - in fact, these are even lower than expected," Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told a news conference.

The number of daily new infections could rise to 400,000 but would then drop again, he said, adding that the protection of older people who have not been vaccinated is the country's most important task at the moment.

"Germany has a comparatively high number of unvaccinated older people - four times as many as England and three times as many as Italy," Lauterbach said.

It would be wrong to lift restrictions on aspects of public life now, but it may be possible after the peak in the second half of February or in early March if the Omicron wave remains under control, with few severe cases, he said.

Merck's covid-19 pill active against Omicron in lab studies

Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said on Friday six lab studies showed their experimental oral covid-19 drug molnupiravir was active against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The data evaluated the antiviral activity of molnupiravir and other covid-19 antiviral agents against covid-19 variants of concern. Molnupiravir is yet to be studied against Omicron in human studies, the companies said.

Molnupiravir and a rival oral pill from Pfizer Inc were authorized in the United States in December and are considered as important tools against Omicron.

Pfizer said in December lab data suggested its drug Paxlovid retained its effectiveness against Omicron.

Merck said earlier this month its pill has a mechanism that can work against Omicron and any other variant.

Molnupiravir has been authorized for use in more than 10 countries, including the United States, United Kingdom and Japan.

CORONAVIRUS

Covid-19: Denmark declares end to the pandemic

Denmark is set to lift all coronavirus restrictions in the country from 1 February despite record numbers of cases driven by the Omicron variant, with the government stating that the high percentage of vaccinated people and the less severe nature of the new strain has rendered continued curbs on society redundant.

According to the Danish administration of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, Covid-19 is no longer a “critical” illness for society, and as such rules including the obligatory use of face masks in public places and restrictions on social and cultural life will be lifted permanently, with nightclubs also set to reopen.

Full details

CORONAVIRUS

Does Omicron affect your lungs?

In recent months the Omicron variant has sparked a surge of covid-19 cases in the United States which saw the nation surpass the one million mark for daily coronavirus cases for the first time.

The Omicron variant is known to be more infectious than previous iterations of the virus and has the ability to evade vaccines more effectively too. However, a number of academic studies into the dangerous variant have suggested that it attacks the human body in a different way to the predecessors.

Read more

Bills fans who allegedly used fake vaccine cards to attend playoff game facing felony charges

A New York couple is facing felony charges after authorities said they used fake covid-19 vaccine cards to attend a Buffalo Bills playoff game last weekend, CBS affiliate WIVB reported. 

During a news conference Wednesday, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn (D) said Michael and Amber Naab gained entrance to Highmark Stadium on Jan. 15 using fake vaccine cards 

Flynn said the West Seneca, N.Y. couple was already on the team’s radar due to their social media activity, adding that an anonymous tip led authorities to investigate their attendance at the game. 

Full story via The Hill

Louisiana sees slowing Omicron

The Omicron surge of covid-19 cases has peaked in some parts of Louisiana and should peak soon in others, according to the Department of Health, though the virus’ spread remains high. 

“It’s pretty clear that different regions of the state are ahead or behind others, so the state is not exactly at the same place throughout the whole state,” Louisiana’s Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter said during a briefing on the virus’ spread Thursday. 

Experts call Hong Kong's zero-Covid policy unsustainable

With thousands of people locked down in tiny apartments, government quarantine centres filling up and many businesses shuttered, Hong Kong is scrambling to sustain a zero-Covid policy that has turned one of the world's most densely packed cities into one of the most isolated.

San Francisco eases mask restrictions as Omicron surge wanes

San Francisco will reinstate its local mask exemption that was in place before the omicron spike on 1 February. Starting Tuesday, office workers, gym members and other small, vaccinated and boosted “stable cohorts” of people may remove masks indoors again. 

The move comes as new case numbers in the city have been declining after peaking 9 January. Whether other communities in the Bay Area will follow suit in the near future is still up in the air, the high vaccination rate in San Francisco was cited by city health officials for being further ahead in easing restrictions.

Covid cases and hospitalizations continue to drop

Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, explains that very little is known right now about the new strain of covid-19. However, despite the scary-sounding name, the "stealth variant" a new-sub-variant of Omicron appears to share similar transmissibility, case severity and ability to evade immunity offered by vaccination as Omicron responsible for the largest surge in cases to date.

CORONAVIRUS

What is ‘stealth Omicron’ and where have the first cases appeared?

Last month scientists identified what has been described as a ‘stealth’ version of the Omicron variant, which is difficult to distinguish from other variants using the common PCR tests. With identifiability such an issue for experts little is known about how and where the variant has spread to so far.

Omicron has fuelled a surge of covid-19 cases in the United States and further afield in recent months with its high contagiousness allowing it to surpass vaccine immunity more frequently. The stealth version contains many of the same mutations that have made Omicron so infectious.

Full details

Hello and welcome to AS USA's dedicated covid-19 live coverage on Friday 28 January 2022, as we bring you all the latest on the coronavirus situation and Omicron variant in the United States and around the world.

We'll keep you up to date on vaccines, mandates, testing and mask-wearing as President Biden hopes the country can turn a corner after recording record-high infection rates in recent weeks.

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