• The BBC reports seeing minutes leaked from a meeting of the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. During the meeting, experts discussed results of data modeling indicating that at least 3,000 COVID-19 patients per day could be admitted to the hospital unless additional preventive measures are implemented. They noted that “The timing of such measures is crucial. Delaying until 2022 would greatly reduce the effectiveness of such interventions and make it less likely that these would prevent considerable pressure on health and care settings.” Source

• A pre-print paper describes immune responses to the Omicron variant among 292 healthcare workers who received two doses plus a booster of Sinopharm’s coronavirus vaccine 8 to 9 months later (when neutralizing activity was barely detectable). Although the booster significantly increased neutralizing immune responses of Sinopharm’s coronavirus vaccine, Omicron caused a 20.1-fold reduction in neutralization sensitivity, so the vaccine’s efficacy is unclear. The authors noted that “…real-world studies regarding the protection efficacy of the booster vaccination against the Omicron variant are still needed.” Source

• Novavax wins WHO emergency use approval for its protein-based coronavirus vaccine; it has already agreed to supply COVAX with 1.1 billion doses. Source

• The Economist reports that, according to Airfinity, 2.2 billion doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine have been delivered. Although demand in high-income countries has plummeted, poor countries have been using it for primary vaccination – not boosters – making it “…almost certain that it has have saved more lives than any other.” The vaccine is used in Brazil, India and Mexico, and has been rolled out in Malaysia, Nepal, Viet Nam and Thailand.

But the vaccine’s future is unclear, since it is barely effective against infection with the Omicron variant, and protection from hospitalisation is also reduced. Source

The Washington Post reports that Moderna has paused a patent dispute with the federal government over its coronavirus vaccine, saying it is “grateful” to government scientists who collaborated with the company and wants to “avoid any distraction” in the fight against the omicron variant. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, said “At Moderna, we probably didn’t think much of it because we’d offered co-ownership [to NIH]. And we’d said we weren’t enforcing the patent. But now, I regret that we didn’t resolve it, because it’s become a greed narrative.”

Zain Rizvi, research director at Public Citizen noted “…it’s important to recognize that this is, in part, Moderna kicking the can down the road” because it has not ruled out resuming the patent dispute in the future. Source

• New York reports a record-breaking daily total of 21,027 new coronavirus cases; epidemiologists suspect the Omicron variant is responsible. Virus cases in the state have risen 56 percent in the past 14 days, and the state’s positivity rate has climbed to nearly eight percent. Source

• Jeff Zients, President Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, issues a grim warning to the US’s unvaccinated population, saying “…you’re looking at a winter of severe illness and death – for yourselves, your families and the hospitals you may soon overwhelm,” noting that 160,000 unvaccinated people who have needlessly lost their lives since June. Source

The Washington Post reports that omicron cases appear to double every two days; confirmed infections have increased by over 50 percent in roughly two weeks, from 81,900 on 30 November 30 to 124,110 on 16 December. Source

• Europe has increased measures to stop the spread of Omicron. The Netherlands goes into lockdown, closing all nonessential shops, bars, restaurants, gyms, outdoor sports, cultural venues and schools until mid-January. Austria is imposing entry restrictions for travelers without booster shots; Denmark has closed theaters, concert halls and amusement parks; Germany is pushing to restrict travelers from Britain and Ireland imposed an 8pm curfew on pubs. Source

• As Omicron cases surge in London, Mayor Sadiq Khan declares a “major incident”, indicating that hospitals and emergency services cannot guarantee normal responses. Hospitalizations have increased by 29 percent in London in just a week, mostly among unvaccinated people. Source

• In the US, where just 60 percent of the population is fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 – and only 30 percent this group have received booster doses, Omicron has room to spread. Source

Return to the timeline