Pfizer Shot Offers Partial Omicron Shield in Study: Virus Update
(Bloomberg) -- Omicron’s ability to evade vaccine and infection-induced immunity is “robust but not complete,” researchers in South Africa said. The data come from the first reported experiments gauging the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines against the worrisome new strain.
Denmark has the found omicron in sewage water for the first time and has given up its initial strategy to contain the variant. Slovakia, with one of the lowest inoculation rates in Europe, plans to give bonuses to vaccinated seniors. Norway tightened restrictions again.
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Positive Rate Jumps in Africa’s Biggest City (4:15 p.m. NY)
The rate of positive tests in Nigeria’s commercial hub of Lagos jumped to 6% from 0.1% in the middle of November and officials warned of the beginning of a fourth wave of infections.
Ignoring Covid protocols is leading to a surge in cases, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said in an emailed statement.
Pfizer Shot Provides Partial Omicron Shield (3:30 p.m. NY)
Omicron’s ability to evade vaccine and infection-induced immunity is “robust but not complete,” said the research head of a laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa.
In the first reported experiments gauging the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines against the worrisome new strain, researchers at the institute found that the variant could partially evade the vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. Still, its evasion wasn’t complete and a booster shot could provide additional protection, Alex Sigal said in an online presentation on Tuesday.
Norway Urges Guest Limits, Distancing (2:20 p.m. NY)
Norway is tightening restrictions again to try to regain control of the spread of the omicron variant and prevent an overloading of an hospital system already struggling with other types of illness as winter sets in.
Social distancing and limiting the number of guests in private homes to 10 is recommended again, while bars and restaurants must stop selling alcohol at midnight. Face masks are now mandatory where a meter’s distance (3 feet) can’t be maintained, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said.
Omicron Data Possible Next Week, Fauci Says (1:30 p.m. NY)
Health officials worldwide will learn more about the omicron variant as soon as next week, when test results on immune evasion or protection are available, Anthony Fauci said at a White House press briefing.
Overall, it will take at least a couple of weeks until health experts have a good handle on omicron’s profile, said Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser on the pandemic.
Early signs show it’s likely more transmissible, while anecdotal data show “we are not seeing a very severe profile of disease,” and it might be less severe. However, he warned those data could be because the early cases are among young people.
Biden Mandate for Federal Contractors Blocked (1 p.m. NY)
The Biden administration’s mandate for federal contractors’ employees to be vaccinated will be halted nationwide, amid a slew of challenges from states that say the president overstepped his authority in requiring the Covid-19 shots.
The mandate, which was set to take effect on Jan. 4, applies to roughly a quarter of the U.S. workforce and affects companies that do business with the federal government, including Lockheed Martin Corp., Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and General Motors Co.
A federal judge in Georgia blocked the mandate on Tuesday. The latest order follows a Kentucky federal judge’s grant last week of a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit involving Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio.
Slovakia to Give Bonus to Vaccinated Seniors (12:40 p.m. NY)
Slovakia’s ruling parties agreed on a lower-than-planned payment worth 300 euros ($337) to people age 60 and over for getting fully inoculated against Covid-19 to increase one of the European Union’s lowest vaccination rates.
The government is expected to give final approval on Wednesday, but that should be a formality given the cabinet’s makeup, daily newspaper Sme reported.
The coalition also agreed to relax some coronavirus measures for the vaccinated, such as access to all shops, from Friday. Children attending sixth grade and higher will switch to online learning from Monday.
The nation of 5.5 million is now in a full lockdown, with one of the world’s worst rates of new infections per capita.
Portugal Opens Vaccines to Children (11:30 a.m. NY)
Portugal’s Directorate-General for Health said it recommends vaccination for children age 5 to 11, with the priority given to those with illnesses considered to be of risk for severe Covid-19. Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s vaccine will be used, the directorate-general said in an emailed statemen.
Europe to See More Serious Cases, ECDC Says (10:50 a.m. NY)
Deaths and hospitalizations from Covid-19 will continue to rise in Europe in the coming weeks as vaccination rates remain insufficient to counter the trends, a key European health agency warned Tuesday.
European countries have taken a varying set of measures to combat the spread of the virus, including lockdowns for the unvaccinated and early closing for restaurants and bars. But Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said the toll is still growing.
“In the coming weeks, there will be increasing parameters of cases, deaths, hospitalization and ICU admissions,” she told a meeting of EU health ministers in Brussels. “The omicron variant, that makes the whole situation even more worrying.”
Denmark Drops Elimination Strategy (10:45 a.m. NY)
Denmark has the found omicron in sewage water for the first time and has given up its initial strategy to contain the SARS-CoV-2 variant, health authorities said.
Denmark has registered 398 omicron cases as of Tuesday, up by 137 cases from a day earlier, SSI, the country’s institute for infectious disease, said in a statement.
It’s no longer “proportional” to use extra resources to eliminate the omicron version of the virus, Soren Brostrom, the head of the Danish Health Authority, said at a press conference in Copenhagen.
The variant is now causing infections broadly in the Danish society and can no longer be connected to a specific contamination chain, authorities said. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said she plans to hold a press briefing on Wednesday where she may introduce new restrictions.
Scotland Braces for Rapid Surge (10:30 a.m. NY)
Scotland is likely to face a continued and “potentially rapid” rise in coronavirus cases in the coming days amid a surge in the omicron variant in large parts of the country, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.
The doubling time for cases may be as short as two to three days, while the so-called R number that gauges how quickly the virus is transmitted may be more than 2, she told lawmakers in Edinburgh on Tuesday. Anything over 1 suggests infections are running out of control.
U.K. Finds New Omicron Cases (9:36 a.m. NY)
The U.K. found 101 new confirmed cases of the omicron variant, up from 90 the day before, according to a tweet from the Health Security Agency. The number of omicron cases in the U.K. now total 437.
De Blasio Defends NYC Mandate (9:19 a.m. NY)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his new, private-sector vaccine mandate and encouraged other cities and states to follow suit.
De Blasio, who is slated to leave office at the end of the year and is considering a run for New York governor, told CNN Tuesday that “every governor, every mayor in America” should put a similar mandate in place.
Facing criticism from business groups that the announcement came as a surprise, De Blasio reiterated that the move is a “preemptive strike” to head off a potential upsurge in cases and that businesses wouldn’t want further restrictions.
De Blasio also emphasized his decision not to impose a vaccine mandate on school-going children, saying that schooling is essential.
S. African Chain Has Fewer Severe Cases (8:51 a.m. NY)
Mediclinic International Ltd., one of South Africa’s three biggest hospital groups, said it is seeing an increased influx of Covid-19 patients, but only a few require admission for further care.
The variant “appears to be highly transmissible,” Mediclinic said in a statement Tuesday. Still, “so far, a lower percentage of admitted Covid-19 patients require intensive care and ventilation.”
EU Approves Shot Combinations (7:56 a.m. NY)
European Union regulators endorsed mixing two different Covid-19 shots for initial vaccine schedules and boosters, saying hybrid approaches can increase governments’ flexibility in responding to the new omicron variant.
Combining viral vector vaccines like AstraZeneca Plc with mRNA jabs such as Pfizer Inc. generates a good level of antibodies against Covid-19 and a higher T-cell response, another part of a person’s immune defense, compared to giving doses of the same shot, according to data analysed by the European Medicines Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. That’s true for first and second doses, as well as boosters, the agency said.
Denmark’s Health Minister Tests Positive (7:19 a.m. NY)
Denmark’s Health Minister Magnus Heunicke has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating at a hotel in Brussels, where he is currently attending a meeting with his European peers.
Heunicke, 46, arrived in Brussels Monday evening and tested positive Tuesday morning, ahead of the council meeting, his ministry said in a statement. He has only mild symptoms, including a sore throat.
Glaxo-Medicago Vaccine Effective (7 a.m. NY)
A vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline Plc and Canada’s Medicago Inc. demonstrated 71% efficacy against multiple variants.
The companies also found the plant-based vaccine showed 75% efficacy against the highly-infectious delta variant and nearly 89% efficacy against the gamma variant first identified in Brazil, according to the advanced-stage trial results published Tuesday. No vaccinated participants developed severe disease and no serious side effects were reported in the study of about 24,000 people.
U.K. Vaccine Booster Program Stuck (6:21 a.m. NY)
The operation to roll out booster shots to all adults in the U.K. is struggling to pick up speed even as the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.
Fewer U.K. adults received a third shot of vaccine on Saturday than they did seven days earlier, the day when Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an increase in the pace of the rollout. Regulators authorized booster shots for 18-39-year-olds two days later, on Nov. 29. However, those aged under 40 still can’t book a third shot of vaccine using the government’s website.
Austria to End Lockdown (6:10 a.m. NY)
Austria will end a nationwide lockdown this weekend for people who’ve been inoculated against Covid-19 or have recovered from the virus, while continuing to limit participation in public life for those who refuse to be vaccinated.
The government will meet regional leaders on Wednesday to assess the measures needed to keep the pandemic contained and turn a “tendency of falling cases into a trend,” Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters in Vienna.
South Africa Business Wants Mandates Ruling (6:01 p.m. HK)
One of South Africa’s main business lobby groups plans to seek a declaratory order from the nation’s top court on whether mandatory vaccines are constitutional.
The National Economic Development and Labor Council, a negotiating forum for the government, business and labor unions, supports the plan by Business Unity South Africa to seek the Constitutional Court order, Labor Minister Thulas Nxesi said in a speech on Tuesday.
Less Than One Death a Day in Japan (4:57 p.m. HK)
Less than one person a day is dying from Covid-19 in Japan.
The six confirmed deaths over the past week is the lowest it’s been in the country since July 2020, before the second wave of pandemic fatalities. Compared to other developed nations, such as Germany or the U.S., it’s an even more remarkable result -- no Group of 7 nation has had so few deaths since the pandemic started in earnest.
GSK Antibodies Effective Against Omicron (4:18 p.m. HK)
GlaxoSmithKline Plc said research shows its Covid-19 antibody treatment is effective against the full combination of mutations in the new omicron variant.
Tests show sotrovimab, Glaxo’s antibody treatment, stands up to all mutations in the spike protein of the omicron variant and not just the key mutations, the drugmaker said in a statement Tuesday. The tests included all 37 mutations identified to-date in the spike protein.
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