• A pre-print paper describes autopsy results from 44 patients who died with or from COVID-19 up to seven months after the onset of their symptoms. Researchers from the US National Institutes of Health mapped the distribution, replication, and cell-type specificity of SARS-CoV-2 in the human body. They found that the virus was widely distributed across 79 of 85 anatomical locations, including respiratory tissue (97.7 percent); lymphoid tissue (86.4 percent); cardiovascular tissue (79.5 percent); gastrointestinal tissue (72.7 percent); muscle, skin, adipose, and peripheral nervous tissue (68.2 percent); renal and endocrine tissue (63.6 percent); in ocular tissue and humors among 22/28 cases (57.9 percent) and brain tissue among 10/11 cases (90.9 percent). Overall, the researchers discovered the virus in 36 distinct cell types across the organs they sampled. The researchers noted that their findings “…suggest viremia leading to body-wide dissemination, including across the blood-brain barrier, and viral replication can occur early in COVID-19, even in asymptomatic or mild cases.” Source

• The Guardian reports that Oxford and AstraZeneca have already taken “preliminary steps” to make an Omicron-specific version of their coronavirus vaccine. Source

• WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urges people to cancel some holiday plans, saying “An event cancelled is better than a life cancelled.”  Source

• Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s CEO, warns that three doses of its coronavirus vaccine are not enough to stop the Omicron virus, saying “We must be aware that even triple-vaccinated are likely to transmit the disease…It is obvious we are far from 95 percent effectiveness that we obtained against the initial virus,” adding, “I will not base predictions on preliminary laboratory data but on real-life data, which is much more appropriate.” BioNTech is already designing a coronavirus vaccine that uses Omicron’s spike protein and its 32 mutations as an antigen; it should be ready by March 2022. Source

• Texas reports the first Omicron-related death in the US, in an unvaccinated man. Source

• The New York Times reports on measures to stop Omicron among countries in the Asia Pacific region. Omicron has already spread to remote areas of Australia, although no further lockdowns are planned. New Zealand’s phased opening to international travelers has been delayed. To date, 22 cases of Omicron have been detected in the country, all among international travelers. Eligibility for booster shots has been moved to four months after primary vaccination.

Japan has already closed to nonresident foreigners, while Thailand is pausing its recently implemented quarantine-free travel program. Indonesia has prohibited foreign nationals from countries in Africa and Europe from entering the country. Source

• Gilead issues a press release announcing that the European Commission approved expansion of remdesivir’s the Conditional Marketing Authorization to include adults with COVID-19 who do not need supplemental oxygen and are at an increased risk of progression to severe disease. Source

• Preliminary results from the South Africa Labour Development Research Unit’s first COVID-19 Vaccine Survey (COVACS) are released. The study was done to provide high quality information on barriers and facilitators to vaccine uptake, to support vaccine demand creation strategies, and to understand who is getting vaccinated and why. Researchers interviewed 1,940 people across the country’s nine provinces; 800 ages 18–34, nearly 600 ages 35–49, 300 ages 50–59, and 200 were age 60 years and over. Just over half of all participants said they knew someone who had fallen very ill or died from COVID-19, and 84 percent of them had COVID-19 in the past, while 57 percent said that their entire households were unvaccinated.

Overall, 34 percent said they will get vaccinated as soon as possible, 21 percent said they will wait and see, 15 percent said they will only get vaccinated if required, and 25 percent said they would definitely not be vaccinated.

Barriers to vaccination were related to convenience and concerns about vaccine safety. In both the “as soon as possible” and “wait and see” groups. In the as soon as possible group, 50 percent of interviewees had concerns about side effects, 40 percent had concerns about vaccine safety, and 30 percent said that they believed the vaccine could kill them. Most said they would be willing to get the vaccine if a trained healthcare worker administered it in their home or workplace, or if vaccination sites had evening or weekend hours. An R100 voucher also increased vaccine willingness among this group. A larger proportion of the “wait and see” group had concerns about vaccine safety and side effects, although offering home/work vaccines/ extended vaccination site hours and R 100 vouchers also increased their willingness. The researchers underscored the importance “social proof” – that millions of South Africans have already been safely vaccinated, and highlighting that vaccines are free and easy to obtain is essential. Source

• The EU announces that it will standardize travel across the bloc. As of 1 February 2022, only people who have been fully vaccinated or received a booster within the previous nine months will be able travel freely, although each country can still require proof of a negative test result and/or quarantine upon arrival an impose its own domestic measures. Source

• UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces that there will be no additional restrictions over Christmas decision, in contrast to the Scottish and Welsh governments. The opposition Labour party said that Johnson appears to be “too weak” to push any new restrictions through his cabinet if needed. Source

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