• Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has suggested the need for a fourth vaccine dose to fight Omicron, saying “…real-world data will determine if the Omicron is well covered by the third dose and for how long. And the second point, I think we will need a fourth dose.” In the past, Mr. Bourla has said that a fourth dose likely wouldn’t be needed until a year after the third, but he said this new, faster timeline is because of Omicron. Source
• A pre-print paper estimates the effectiveness of vaccines against symptomatic COVID-19 from the Delta and Omicron variants among people who received two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccines plus a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The researchers drew information from the UK’s National Immunisation Management System, linked with national testing data. Overall, they found 581 symptomatic Omicron cases during the study period and 56,439 eligible Delta cases, plus 130,867 test negative controls.
Overall, vaccines were less effective against Omicron than Delta. Fifteen weeks after receiving the second dose of vaccine, people who got the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had no protection against symptomatic COVID-19, while two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were 34 to 37 percent effective. Adding a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine increased effectiveness against symptomatic Omicron to 71.4 among recipients of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and to 75.5 percent among people who initially received two doses of the same vaccine. Boosters also increased protection against the Delta variant.
The researchers noted that they were unable to assess vaccine effectiveness against severe COVID-19, due to a small number of Omicron cases and the amount of time between infection and its worst consequences. With Delta, vaccines maintained their protection against hospitalization despite waning protection against infection. The authors cautioned that their sample size was too small to break down by population-specific characteristics, but underscored the finding: that two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were “…insufficient to give adequate levels of protection against infection and mild disease with the Omicron variant,” and that boosters ”…provide a significant increase in protection against mild disease and are likely to offer even greater levels of protection against severe disease. As such our findings support maximising coverage with third doses of vaccine in highly vaccinated populations such as the UK.” Source
• Denmark’s Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, was interrogated by a parliamentary commission about “minkgate” – her government’s decision to cull 17 million mink over concerns that they could transmit SARS-CoV-2 back to human beings (the source of their infection). Over 5,500 jobs were lost over the decision, which the government did not have legal authority to make. Ms. Frederiksen has said she was unaware of the illegality of the decision. Source
• A fully vaccinated employee of Academia Sinica, a high-security laboratory in Taiwan, became the country’s first local case of SARS-CoV-2 in over a month, after being bitten twice by an infected lab mouse. Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said further investigation was needed to determine whether the bites had been the source of the virus’s transmission. Source
• In Singapore, two people test positive for the Omicron variant, despite being fully vaccinated and boosted. Source
• According to the UN, an estimated 2.9 million people from other countries – mainly Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe – work in South Africa. As they head home for the holidays, health authorities in these countries worry about an increase in COVID-19, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant. During the holiday season, up to 35,000 people travel across the South Africa-Zimbabwe Beitbridge border post; last year, over 50,000 people entered Mozambique at its Ressano Garcia border with South Africa in the 10 days before Christmas, with lines of returning mineworkers and vacationers that stretch for more than 12 miles.
COVID-19 cases in neighboring Zimbabwe have already hit a record-breaking high, with over one in every three people testing positive, while weekly cases have increased by 1,207 percent in Mozambique and 219% in Lesotho. Although little sequencing has been done, WHO expects that Omicron is responsible for the increasing weekly cases. Source
• Moderna issues a press release announcing that it has amended its contract with COVAX, accelerating the delivery of 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to Q4 of 2021 from Q1 of 2022, and adding a new supply agreement with Gavi for an additional 20 million doses to be delivered in Q2 of 2022. Source
• The International Council of Nurses, which represents nursing associations in 130 countries, warns that Omicron could overwhelm health systems and worsen existing staffing shortages. “I think we are at a tipping point,” said Howard Catton, who is the Council’s chief executive, “There are real concerns that next year could see a crisis of the global healthcare workforce.” Source
• Germany joins France, Italy the UK and the US in mandating coronavirus vaccines for healthcare workers. Source