Even before the omicron variant takes hold in the United States, coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are on the rise once more, even in heavily vaccinated areas like New England.
The combination of colder weather in the late fall, holiday gatherings, increased travel, and pandemic fatigue, as well as the failure to vaccinate a larger portion of the population, has likely played a major role in the surge. More than 35% of eligible Americans, including 28% of adults, have not received all of their vaccines.
The number of new cases in the United States has risen from nearly 95,000 per day on Nov. 22 to nearly 119,000 per day this week, with hospitalizations up 25% from a month ago. The delta variant is responsible for almost all of the increases, though omicron has been confirmed in at least 21 states and is expected to spread even further.
On average, there are nearly 1,600 deaths per day, which is close to where they were in October. And, less than two years into the pandemic, the overall death toll in the United States is expected to pass the 800,000 mark in a matter of days.
Vaccination rates have been increasing recently, with 12.5 million shots administered last week, the highest total since May. Although Pfizer-BioNTech said Wednesday that the third shot of their vaccine produces a 25-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies compared to the original two-jab regimen, it’s still unclear how effective vaccines will be at fending off the omicron variant.
The Biden administration has been promoting booster shots, with nearly 7 million administered in a single week, with a special emphasis on seniors, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Even states with high vaccine uptake, such as New England, as well as much of the less-vaccinated Midwest, are experiencing some of the worst infection surges since the pandemic began. In anticipation of a surge in COVID cases, many hospitals are deferring non-urgent surgeries.
“The virus will find you,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of Georgetown University’s WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights. “It’s looking for hosts that aren’t immune to it.” “Just because you live in New England or New York doesn’t mean you’re immune.”
CDC: Vaccinated people account for more than 75% of omicron cases in the United States, but symptoms are mild.
In the days since the omicron variant was first confirmed in the United States on December 1, one concerning development and one encouraging one have emerged.
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The new coronavirus variant appears to be capable of piercing vaccine protection, including boosters in some cases, but not of causing severe disease. The second sign is in line with what scientists have seen in South Africa, where the variant was first discovered.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that more than three-quarters of those infected with omicron in the United States had been vaccinated, and one-third had received a booster shot.
She did add, however, that almost all of the cases resulted in mild illness, with the most common symptoms being cough, congestion, and fatigue. There was only one case that required hospitalization, and there were no deaths reported.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday that 11 of the 12 people infected with omicron in an East Bay outbreak were vaccinated, boosting staffers at an Oakland hospital who were attending an out-of-state wedding. According to the newspaper, everyone is experiencing minor symptoms.
Pfizer claims that a booster shot protects against omicron.
Omicron, a troubling new variant of the coronavirus that has been confirmed in at least 21 U.S. states and more than 50 countries, appears to be protected by a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
According to preliminary lab data, two doses of the vaccine may provide protection against severe disease but may not be enough to protect against omicron infection, the companies said Wednesday. A third dose provides more reliable protection, producing neutralizing antibodies against omicron at levels comparable to those seen after two doses against the original coronavirus and other variants.
Antibody levels can predict how well a vaccine will protect against coronavirus infection, but antibodies are only one layer of the immune system’s defenses. In addition, the companies are working on an omicron-specific vaccine.
“The first line of defense with two doses of vaccination may be compromised (by omicron),” said Zlem Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, in a Wednesday news conference. “Three doses of vaccination are required to restore protection.”
To learn more about omicron, scientists and health officials are still conducting research. Early evidence suggests it may be more contagious than previous variants like delta, but also less dangerous.
Most Americans are concerned about omicron, but they will not cancel holiday travel, according to a poll.
The vast majority of Americans have heard of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which was discovered less than two weeks ago. While the majority are concerned about the variant, few say they will change their vacation plans as a result of it.
According to an Axios-Ipsos poll conducted from December 3 to 6, 94 percent of Americans have heard of omicron. 47 percent of Americans said they’ve heard of it but know very little about it.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans (71%) said the variant was at least somewhat concerning. Only 23% said they would cancel holiday travel, and 28% said they would stop socializing with people outside their households, according to the survey.
The vaccine mandate proposed by Vice President Joe Biden for federal employees has been struck down by a judge.
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In the legal battle over the enforcement of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors, a federal judge ruled in favor of seven states and several contractors.
President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring all federal contractors to have their employees vaccinated was blocked by a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge R. Stan Baker in a 28-page order released Tuesday.
“This case is not about whether vaccines are effective,” Baker wrote, quoting a federal judge in Kentucky who also granted an injunction halting the enforcement of vaccine mandates last week. “Yes, they are.” Baker also acknowledged COVID’s devastating impact in the United States and around the world.
“However, even in times of crisis, this court must uphold the rule of law and ensure that all branches of government exercise their constitutionally granted authority,” Baker wrote.
One year later, a 91-year-old British woman reflects on being the first to receive the COVID vaccine.
Margaret Keenan told the BBC on Wednesday that it’s been a “wonderful year” since she was the first person in the West to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the first mass immunization program. She continues to encourage others to get vaccinated.
On Dec. 8, 2020, Keenan, 91, received her Pfizer-BioNTech shot in the UK, which was dubbed “V-Day” or “Victory Day” by then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock – a term that typically refers to Allied victories in World War II. Images of Keenan rolling up her sleeve made headlines around the world, and hospital staff was seen applauding on video.
The coronavirus pandemic reached a watershed moment less than a year after the disease first surfaced.
When strangers approach her on the street to thank her, Keenan, a former jewelry shop employee from Northern Ireland, tells them to “please, please do have the jab.”