N.J. Sees Nursing Home Surge; Virginia Schools Sue: Virus Update
(Bloomberg) -- Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said a pair of laboratory studies confirmed that three doses of their Covid-19 vaccine produce antibodies that can neutralize the omicron variant.
The World Health Organization said Europe is entering a “new phase” of the pandemic, driven by omicron’s milder symptoms, lower risk of hospitalization and the efficacy of vaccines.
The U.K. will stop requiring vaccinated travelers to take a Covid-19 test after arriving in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. Meanwhile, an Israeli study found that a fourth vaccine dose for older adults leaves them better protected against coronavirus infection.
Beijing eased a testing requirement for the Winter Olympics even as a growing number of cases associated with the games are being found.
- Virus Tracker: Cases top 353.5 million; deaths pass 5.6 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.94 billion shots administered
- Bars and gyms are bustling as Americans learn to live with Covid
- Beijing tests shoppers to root out Covid cases
- Living with Covid proving tough for a gridlocked world economy
- Is Covid becoming endemic? What would that mean?: QuickTake
Alberta Seeks End to Trucker Shot Mandate (3:30 p.m. NY)
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he’s working with U.S. governors to lobby President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for an end to trucker vaccine mandates that are disrupting shipments across the border.
The top politician in Canada’s largest oil-producing province said the group is preparing a letter to Biden and Trudeau “urging them to use common sense, and end the policy that has taken thousands of trucks off the road,” according to a post on Twitter showing empty shelves at grocery stores. “This is turning into a crisis. It requires immediate action by the Canadian and U.S. governments.”
N.J. Cites Outbreaks in Nursing Homes (2:15 p.m. NY)
Omicron has led to an increasing number of severe cases of Covid-19 among children in New Jersey and has fueled new outbreaks in nursing homes and other long-term facilities, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.
While cases and hospitalizations in the state likely peaked two weeks ago, the number of critically ill patients remains high, Persichilli said. Six children are currently hospitalized with Covid, and there have been four pediatric deaths -- including three infants -- since Christmas, she said. New Jersey has had 12 pediatric deaths from Covid since the pandemic began.
At nursing homes, health-care workers have fallen ill, fueling 560 outbreaks last week -- 10,500 cases among residents and 12,800 among staff, Persichilli said. While 81% of residents at the facilities have received their booster shot, just 44% of staff has gotten the extra shot, she said.
Statewide, booster rates are “unacceptably low” at 49.4%, Persichilli said. “We must do better.”
Governor Phil Murphy last week ordered workers in health care and at long-term care facilities to get vaccinated and boosted, and eliminated a test-out option. Murphy said Monday he has no plans to expand that mandate to other workers, such as teachers.
WHO Official Sees Europe Entering ‘New Phase’ (1 p.m. NY)
The World Health Organization said Europe is entering a “new phase” of the pandemic. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for the continent, said in a statement that omicron offers “plausible hope for stabilization and normalization” but that it’s “far too early to relax.”
Citing omicron’s milder symptoms, lower risk of hospitalization and the efficacy of vaccines, Kluge said he is still concerned about the number of unvaccinated people across the globe who are “helping to drive transmission.”
He said 2022 must be the “year of vaccine equity in the European Region and beyond.” The WHO’s European region encompasses 53 countries with varying vaccination rates and health-care systems.
FDA to Halt Use of Two Therapies for Omicron (12:01 p.m. NY)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is poised to restrict two monoclonal antibodies, saying the Covid-19 treatments shouldn’t be used in any states because they are ineffective against the dominant omicron variant, the Washington Post reported, citing two senior administration health officials.
The Biden administration will pause distribution of the therapies, manufactured by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly, to the states, the newspaper said.
Several therapies remain effective against omicron, including sotrovimab — a monoclonal antibody made by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology — and antiviral pills by Pfizer and by Merck and its partner, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, the article said, citing administration officials.
Schools Sue Virginia Governor Over Masks (11:40 a.m. NY)
Seven Virginia school districts sued new Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin over his executive order lifting a K-12 mask mandate. The districts, which includes Fairfax and Prince William counties, argue that school boards have the right to enact health policy at the local level. Youngkin, a former co-chief executive officer of Carlyle Group Inc., issued the order on Jan. 15 shortly after taking office.
Palin Tests Positive Before Defamation Trial (10:30 a.m. NY)
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin tested positive for Covid just before trial in her defamation suit against the New York Times was set to begin on Monday.
The judge announced Palin’s positive result in court Monday, noting that the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee was unvacccinated. He said she was due to take another Covid test at 10:15 a.m. If she tests positive again, the trial will be postponed until Feb. 3. If she continues to test positive, it may be months before the trial can be rescheduled, the judge said.
Palin sued the Times over an opinion piece that incorrectly described an ad by her political action committee to connect them to the 2011 shooting of former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona.
U.K. to End Tests for Vaccinated Travelers (7:55 a.m. NY)
The U.K. will stop requiring vaccinated travelers to take a Covid-19 test after arriving in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
The new rules are part of a general easing of Covid-19 restrictions as the U.K. starts to treat the virus as endemic.
“So what we’re doing on travel, to show that this country is open for business, open for travelers, you will see changes so that people arriving no longer have to take tests if they have been vaccinated, if they have been double vaccinated,” Johnson told broadcasters Monday in a pooled interview.
EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said in statement that the airline is looking ahead to what it believes “will be a strong summer.”
Pfizer, BioNTech: 3 Doses Neutralize Omicron (7:29 a.m. NY)
Pfizer and BioNTech said a pair of laboratory studies confirmed that three doses of their Covid-19 vaccine produce antibodies that can neutralize the omicron variant.
Published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, the studies also indicate that immunity provided by T-cells after two shots of the vaccine may still protect against severe disease.
A third study published on the pre-print server bioRxiv without peer review also showed restoration of antibodies, but indicated that their ability to neutralize omicron decreases by as much as two times over four months.
The partners said they’re now planning human trials of an additional dose of the original shot as well as a vaccine express-designed for the omicron variant.
WHO Needs More Funds, Director Says (7:07 a.m. NY)
The World Health Organization can’t do its job if member states and donors don’t agree to a proposed funding increase giving the international health body more autonomy to fight pandemics, its chief said.
“If the current funding model continues, the WHO is being set up to fail,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told delegates in Geneva Monday.
The organization is asking for an additional $480 million.
Iran Cases Surge Most Since Nov. (6:43 a.m. NY)
Iran on Monday reported its highest daily coronavirus infections since Nov. 10, with 7,691 cases that brought the country’s total tally to over 6.2 million.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iran have been on the rise since the start of the new year, after the health ministry confirmed the first case of the omicron variant in December.
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