• Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurance administrator, issues a press release covering data from the first three weeks of Omicron, including results from a partnership with researchers from the South African Medical Research Council assessing effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine against Omicron. Their work is based on 211,000 SARS-CoV-2 test results, 78,000 of which were from 15 November 2021 to 7 December 2021, as Omicron infections increased dramatically. The vaccine was 33 percent effective against infection, and 70 percent effective against hospitalization from Omicron, including in people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, dropping to 67 percent among people aged 60 to 69 years and to 60 percent in people ages 70 to 79 years.

Researchers also assessed the risk of reinfection with Omicron; overall, people with a previous SARS-CoV-2 infection were more likely to be re-infected than people who had not been infected, with the risk differing by the variant people were originally infected with. People infected during the country’s first wave (by a virus with the D614G mutation) faced a 73 percent risk of reinfection; people infected during the second wave with the Beta variant were 60 percent more likely to be reinfected with Omicron, and people who were infected with the Delta variant were 40 percent more likely to be reinfected with Omicron.

The researchers noted that illness from Omicron seemed to be less severe; the risk for hospital admissions among adults was 29 percent lower than in 2020, and in-patients with Omicron were less likely to be admitted to the ICU than during earlier waves of COVID-19.

Children have been 51 percent less likely to test positive relative to adults in the Omicron period and they are at low risk of hospital admission for COVID-19 complications – which have mainly been bronchiolitis and pneumonia, sometimes with severe gastrointestinal symptoms and dehydration. Source

• In Africa, where cases on the continent have increased by 83 percent in just a week, WHO reports that the Omicron variant is causing fewer deaths than previous surges. “We are cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave, but slow vaccine rollout in Africa means both will be much higher than they should be,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti. Source

• In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s strategy of delivering coronavirus boosters at “warp speed” to cover all adults by the end of the year has already faltered, with reports of hours-long waiting times at walk in booster centers, and the government booking website crashing. To reach the target, Johnson said the NHS must beat its daily record for vaccinations, which was 844,000 in March, “day after day.” But the British Medical Association says additional measures are needed “ in a statement that said “Despite describing the current situation as an ‘emergency’ with a ‘tidal wave’ of infections on the horizon, the government’s response relying entirely on the vaccine booster program is missing the wider measures required to control the spread of Omicron,” which also warned that the NHS is “severely understaffed” and that maintaining normal services alongside the booster program is “potentially impossible.” Source

• Adagio Therapeutics issues a press release to announce a greater than 300-fold reduction in neutralizing activity of ADG20, its experimental monoclonal antibody currently in phase II/III trials for prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Based on   findings related to Omicron, Adagio plans to pause patient recruitment in its South African treatment trial and it is assessing “…the role ADG20 can play for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, particularly as the industry’s understanding of the epidemiology and impact of Omicron and potential new variants develops.” Source

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