• US coronavirus cases exceed 51 million. Source

• The Israeli Cabinet votes to ban travel to Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey and the US as of 22 December. Source

• New Zealand’s COVID-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board believe that the recent death of a 26-year-old-man, which occurred within two weeks of his first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, was caused by myocarditis (an inflammation of the heart) – which is a rare side effect of the vaccine. The Board noted that COVID-19 can also cause myocarditis, saying that “…it remains safer to be vaccinated than to be infected with the virus.” Source

• The US CDC announces that Omicron has become the country’s dominant strain, jumping from 12 to 73 percent of the country’s coronavirus cases in just a week. Source

Endpoints reports that Pfizer has launched a TV advertising campaign to promote its coronavirus vaccine. One of the ads does not mention COVID-19 or the vaccine; instead, it promotes “…what we call the pursuit of normal.” The other relies on a member of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, ending with logos from Pfizer/BioNTech and the Nets. Source

• Forged COVID passes and vaccine certificates are undermining government strategies to control the pandemic in several European countries. French authorities have found more than 180,000 fake passes in over 400 investigations, some of which led to doctors. In Italy, the head of an anti-vaccine movement was arrested with a nurse, who was paid to inject people with empty syringes so they could obtain a Green Pass. Source

Endpoints News reports that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that the pause in shipping its supply of sotrovimab – the only monoclonal antibody likely to be effective against Omicron – had nothing to do with the variant. HHS later apologized for providing incorrect information, admitting that the pause was due to the rising prevalence of the variant – and the short supply of the mAB.

HHS then announced that it was immediately shipping its 50,000-dose supply of sotrovimab – which will not be adequate for a holiday surge in cases. According to Scott Gottleib, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. “The feds had no choice but to forward deploy the limited stockpiles they have of the only antibody we know is likely to be highly potent against Omicron.”

HHS advised states to be cautious with the limited supply, adding, “Until local prevalence of Omicron is greater than 20 percent, jurisdictions are encouraged to direct sotrovimab to sites that can provide IV treatment (within 48 hours of collection of a patient sample) to highest risk, eligible individuals diagnosed with a test that may identify a potential case of the Omicron variant.”

HHS expects to distribute an additional 300,000 doses in January. Source

• Moderna issues a press release to announce preliminary results on post-booster responses to the Omicron variant. Using serum from 20 people who received boosters of Moderna’s vaccine, the company’s researchers found that a 50µg booster increased neutralizing antibody levels against Omicron by 37-fold; the 100µg dose increased neutralizing antibody levels by 83-fold. Moderna said its “first line of defense against Omicron will be a booster dose of mRNA-1273 (its current vaccine).” Moderna will also continue development of an Omicron-specific variant vaccine, which will enter clinical trials in early 2022. Source

• In Lesotho, the positivity rate jumped from 0.9 percent to 13 percent in just a week; Health Minister Semano Sekatle announced that coronavirus vaccination will be required as of 1 January to enter workplaces and access services, and citizens who work in South Africa and are returning home for holidays must show proof of vaccination. Source

• A pre-print article assessing serum neutralizing activity against the Omicron variant among 292 healthcare workers who received a booster dose of the Sinopharm vaccine 8 to 9 months after their two-dose primary vaccination. Although the booster enhanced neutralizing immune responses, Omicron reduced them by 20-fold. The authors noted that their data “…provide a piece of evidence for future establishment of the booster vaccination strategy against COVID-19.” Source

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