Friday, December 17, 2021

Omicron is 'markedly resistant' to COVID vaccines and boosters shots may only give 'slight protection', Columbia University study finds

In a study published Wednesday by Dr. David Ho and 20 other researchers, the scientists discovered that Omicron's 'extensive' mutations can 'greatly compromise' all major COVID-19 vaccines - Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca - even neutralizing them.

The report also found that while booster shots provided an additional layer of protection, the variant 'may still pose a risk' for those who get the third shot.'

'These findings are in line with emerging clinical data on the Omicron variant demonstrating higher rates of reinfection and vaccine breakthroughs,' the scientists wrote.

'Even a third booster shot may not adequately protect against Omicron infection.'

The study looked at the effectiveness of each major vaccine against the Omicron variant, finding several cases where they failed to provide the needed protection against infection.

While the booster shots proved to be overall consistent, some recorded instanced put it right at the threshold of actually being effective.

Ho and the Columbia research team, who worked along side the University of Hong Kong, said the study delivers a grave warning about the future of COVID and its variants.

'It is not too far-fetched to think that this [COVID-19] is now only a mutation or two away from being pan-resistant to current antibodies,' the researchers wrote.

'We must devise strategies that anticipate the evolutional direction of the virus and develop agents that target better conserved viral elements.'

The warning came as confirmed US Omicron cases jumped by a third overnight, from 241 on Wednesday to 319 on Thursday. But experts have warned those are the tip of the iceberg, and that American cases likely already number in the tens of thousands.

White House COVID tsar Dr. Anthony Fauci even remarked on the variant's 'extraordinary' ability to spread, before revealing that cases will double every three days.

The number of people testing positive in New York also has doubled in three days, from 3.9 per cent of all swabs coming back positive on December 9, to 7.8 per cent on December 12. More than four fifths of New York

Bill de Blasio's senior public health adviser Dr. Jay Varman, a Cornell epidemiology professor, tweeted the news, saying: 'Um, we've never seen this before in #NYC. Test positivity doubling in three days.'

A total of 81 per cent of New Yorkers are fully-vaccinated, and 18.5 per cent have received their booster shots - but a worrying new study from Columbia University suggests that neither may be sufficient in protecting from Omicron.

Immunologists have also forecast a potential triple-whammy of Omicron, Delta and regular flu infections this winter. Two doctors interviewed by said those who haven't received a booster shot should consider returning to Spring 2020-style self-isolation, when COVID's Alpha variant raged through the US, and no vaccines were available.

Speaking on Good Morning America on Thursday, Fauci also confirmed Omicron was on track to be the dominant Covid strain in America within weeks.

He said: 'Certainly what [Omicron] is showing us in other countries [is that it spreads faster than other variants] and I believe soon in our own country.

'It has an extraordinary ability to transmit efficiently and spread. It has what we call a doubling time of around three days.

'And if you do the math on that, if you have just a couple of percentage of the isolates being Omicron, very soon it's going to be the dominant variant. We've seen that in South Africa, we're seeing it in the U.K. and I'm absolutely certain that's what we're going to be seeing here relatively soon.'

The doubling time of three days is slightly longer than the 2.5 days reported by British and South African health officials. On Thursday, the UK recorded its second-consecutive day of record infections - 88,376 - 24 hours after Wednesday's total of 78,610. That is a 74 per cent jump in a week, with 15 people who've been infected with Omicron so-far hospitalized in the UK.

The US is much larger, with most of its landmass not as densely populated as the UK or South Africa.

But Omicron is believed to represent up to 13 per cent of new diagnoses in New Jersey and New York - states with extremely well-populated areas - giving a possible early taste of what's to come with the new strain.

Fauci continues to urge Americans to get vaccinated, and boosted, to protect themselves from the virus, especially now with the new threat of Omicron circulating. A total of 16.5 per cent of Americans have so-far had the booster shot.

'We need to do everything that we have been talking about up to now, and even more so,' he said.

He spoke hours after the CDC agency released forecasts on Wednesday night showing that weekly Covid cases will increase by 55 percent to 1.3 million per week - or 185,714 per day - by Christmas.

It also predicted deaths will jump by 73 percent to up to 15,600 per day by early January - or 2,228 deaths per day.

Some of that predicted surge is already appearing in parts of the country, with Florida revealing 6,381 new cases on Thursday - the state's largest single day Covid increase since September.

The Delta variant is still the dominant Covid strain in the U.S., accounting for around 97 percent of sequenced cases. Omicron is quickly making up ground, though, with the newly discovered variant jumping seven-fold in a week from making up 0.4 percent of cases to 2.9 percent of case, according to the most recent CDC data.

Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, has warned of a nightmare scenario where Delta, Omicron and regular seasonal flu could combine to inflict the winter from hell on US hospitals already struggling to cope with an influx of patients.

She told CNN: 'It's the combination. It's kind of the perfect storm of public health impacts here with Delta already impacting many areas of the country and jurisdictions. We don't want to overwhelm systems more.'

Early data also shows that people who are only fully vaccinated, but have not yet received their booster, are still extremely vulnerable to the virus, with Johnson & Johnson's single-dose shot offering effectively no protection.

Booster shots have been deemed effective against the variant, though, with both Moderna and Pfizer revealing data in recent days showing their vaccines will cause massive increases in antibody levels and up to 75 per cent protection from Covid symptoms.

But confusion remains about just how effective boosters are against a strain that was only identified after Americans began receiving them en-masse.

A new study by Columbia University in New York, published on Thursday, said: 'Even serum from persons vaccinated and boosted with mRNA-based vaccines exhibited substantially diminished neutralizing activity against (omicron),'

Only around 16.5 percent of Americans have received the additional vaccine dose so far though - as they were not widely available until late November - meaning that more than 80 percent of Americans are at risk from Omicron.

Dr Chris Thompson is an infectious disease expert at Loyola University of Maryland. He told on Thursday that people who have not received their booster dose yet may want to bring back some early pandemic habits like social distancing, masking, frequent hand washing and more.

'The data that I've seen says that you're about 33 percent protected after a two dose regimen of either of the mRNA vaccines [the Pfizer or Moderna shots] and we don't have good data from Johnson and Johnson's vaccine yet. Then if you get your booster you look like you get back up into the 75 percent protection range and for preventing disease'

Whether Delta or Omicron, U.S. is experiencing yet another surge of Covid cases during the holiday season. The nation is recording 121,188 new cases every day - a 40 percent increase over the past two weeks. Deaths are making a sharp rise as well, up 34 percent to 1,302 per week.

The number of Americans hospitalized with the virus increased over the past 14 days as well, up 21 percent to 68,079. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects that the situation will only worsen as well.


Johnson & Johnson's COVID vaccine produces virtually NO antibody protection against Omicron variant in lab study

A new study has found that Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine produced virtually no antibody response to the Omicron variant.

South African virologist Penny Moore found that a key measure of antibody levels fell fell from 303 against the original strain to undetectable levels against Omicron in those with the J&J shot, according to Bloomberg.

Among those who received the Pfizer shot, the antibody measure, called geometric mean titers, fell from 1,419 against the original coronavirus strain to 80 against Omicron.

'Omicron does indeed exhibit substantial immune escape from antibodies,' she in a presentation on Tuesday. 'The situation, I think, is even more alarming for the J&J vaccine -- there was no detectable neutralization in our assay.'

Confirmed US Omicron case numbers sit at 241 as of Wednesday, up 27 per cent from the 189 recorded the day before, according to data from various state reporting bodies.

But CDC officials have warned the true scale of Omicron infection is far higher, with around three per cent of all US COVID cases now caused by the variant, or up to 13 per cent in New York and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Cornell University in upstate New York is now suspected of being home to the largest Omicron outbreak in the US so far, with more than 900 infections, which experts anticipate will almost all have been caused by Omicron.

The J&J study was conducted under test-tube conditions with human blood plasma and has not yet been published.

It does not rule out other immune responses to Omicron in those with the J&J vaccine, such as from powerful T cells.


Is Omicron running out of steam in South Africa? Daily Covid cases rise by just 10% in a week and hospital admissions DROP for first time since strain took off

South Africa's daily Covid cases rose by just 10 per cent in a week today while hospitalisations fell for the first time since Omicron mutant strain first took off.

Data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases showed 24,785 cases were recorded in the last 24 hours, up 11 per cent on last Thursday.

It is the second smallest week-on-week rise since South African doctors raised the alarm about the variant on November 24. Cases rose by just 5 per cent in a week this past Saturday.

The NICD data shows there were 347 admissions today, down almost a quarter from 507 a week ago. It marks the first time since November 27 that admissions have declined. Just 36 Covid deaths were registered today compared to 22 last Thursday.

Scientists have cautioned against reading into one day of data but there are increasing signs that South Africa's Omicron crisis may not be growing exponentially anymore, and may have peaked.

In another promising sign, infections fell in ground zero Gauteng province by 42 per cent in a week, with 6,744 positive tests.

Today is a public holiday in South Africa, which may have played a role in the relatively low infection and hospital numbers. But there were still 80,000 tests processed today, down only slightly on yesterday.

South African scientists have been saying for weeks that the super-mutant variant is milder than its rivals, and calling on other nations including Britain not to over-react to the strain.




Thursday, December 16, 2021

More hope from ground zero: Cases in Omicron-stricken South African province are FALLING

Omicron infections may have already peaked in the South African epicentre, fresh data suggested today as an ex-Government Covid adviser claimed the UK's incoming outbreak may be no worse than flu.

The South African Government's weekly Covid surveillance report revealed that cases fell in Gauteng province last week for the first time since the nation sounded the alarm about Omicron on November 24.

There were 377 cases per 100,000 people in the week to December 11 in Gauteng, down roughly 4 per cent on the previous week. Experts told MailOnline that while the 'encouraging' drop in cases was small enough to be within the margin of error, it at the very least shows Omicron is no longer spreading exponentially.

Testing in the province has more than doubled in the past three weeks — from 541 tests per 100,000 on November 27 to 1,264 now, suggesting swabbing capacity is not the issue.

Professor Robert Dingwall, a former member of the Nervtag and JCVI panels, expects the ultra-infectious variant to infect so many Britons that it creates a work absence crisis. But he predicted that it won't overwhelm the NHS, despite gloomy warnings from No10's own scientists.

A major real-world study of Omicron in South Africa yesterday found that the mutant virus is causing two-thirds fewer hospital admissions than Delta, bolstering claims it is milder than previous strains.

Professor Dingwall, a sociologist who still sits on the Government's Moral and Ethical Advisory Group but has no input on the response to the pandemic, told MailOnline: 'Respectable experts in South Africa are telling us we're overreacting and that this is a milder virus.

He accused British scientists of 'snobbery', adding: 'The best South African scientists are as good as scientists anywhere in world and if their view is there no reason to panic, we shouldn't be so quick to disagree.'

Doctors on the ground in the South Africa have insisted for weeks that Omicron causes milder disease, likely due to immunity from earlier waves and vaccines. There are just 375 daily Covid admissions in South Africa currently, on average.

Professor Dingwall told The Telegraph last night: 'My gut feeling is that omicron is very much like the sort of flu pandemic we planned for – a lot of sickness absence from work in a short period, which will create difficulties for public services and economic activity, but not of such a severity as to be a big problem for the NHS and the funeral business.'

His comments come as a weekly Covid report from South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases found cases dropped in Gauteng last week for the first time.

The province, which includes major cities like Johannesburg and Tshwane, recorded 377 cases per 100,000 people in the week to December 11, down 3.9 per cent on the previous week.

The development comes after the first major real-world study in South Africa found that Omicron is currently leading to a third fewer hospital admissions than Delta did during its entire wave — 38 admissions per 1,000 Omicron cases compared to 101 per 1,000 for Delta.

Officials who analysed 78,000 Omicron cases in the past month estimated the risk of hospitalisation was a fifth lower than with Delta and 29 per cent lower than the original virus.

The findings lend weight to the theory that the ultra-infectious variant is weaker than previous strains, something which doctors on the ground in South Africa have been claiming for weeks.

But the reduction in severity is probably not solely down to Omicron being intrinsically milder, according to the South African Medical Research Council which led the analysis.

Around 70 per cent of South Africans have recovered from Covid already and 23 per cent are double-vaccinated, which has created high levels of immunity.

The study also found two doses of Pfizer's vaccine still provide 70 per cent protection against hospital admission or death from Omicron, compared to 93 per cent for Delta.

While this is more protection than many scientists initially feared, it still leaves 30 per cent of people vulnerable to severe Omicron disease, four times as many as Delta. Waning immunity from two Pfizer doses was found to offer just 33 per cent protection against Omicron infection, explaining why the country has seen a meteoric rise in case numbers.


Where I Live, No One Cares About COVID

This is pretty true of where I live too -- in the Australian State of Queensland. No-one chips you if you don't wear a mask or you don't check in.

The article below appeared in The Atlantic, a left-leaning mag. Many of their readers were enraged

By Matthew Walther

Outside the world inhabited by the professional classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, many Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over.

In November, my wife asked me whether I had seen an article with the remarkable headline “Is It Safe to Go to Thanksgiving Dinner?”

“Is that from last year?” I asked.

“No, it’s a few days old,” she said, her voice sinking to a growling murmur. “These people.”

I am old enough to remember the good old days when holiday-advice pieces were all variations on “How to Talk to Your Tea Party Uncle About Obamacare.” As Christmas approaches, we can look forward to more of this sort of thing, with the meta-ethical speculation advanced to an impossibly baroque stage of development. Is it okay for our 2-year-old son to hug Grandma at a Christmas party if she received her booster only a few days ago? Should the toddler wear a mask except when he is slopping mashed potatoes all over his booster seat? Our oldest finally attended her first (masked) sleepover with other fully vaccinated 10-year-olds, but one of them had a sibling test positive at day care. Should she stay home or wear a face shield? What about Omicron?

I don’t know how to put this in a way that will not make me sound flippant: No one cares. Literally speaking, I know that isn’t true, because if it were, the articles wouldn’t be commissioned. But outside the world inhabited by the professional and managerial classes in a handful of major metropolitan areas, many, if not most, Americans are leading their lives as if COVID is over, and they have been for a long while.

In my part of rural southwest Michigan, and in similar communities throughout the country, this is true not despite but without any noticeable regard for cases; hospitalization statistics, which are always high this time of year without attracting much notice; or death reports. I don’t mean to deny COVID’s continuing presence. (For the purposes of this piece, I looked up the COVID data for my county and found that the seven-day average for positive tests is as high as it has ever been, and that 136 deaths have been attributed to the virus since June 2020.) What I wish to convey is that the virus simply does not factor into my calculations or those of my neighbors, who have been forgoing masks, tests (unless work imposes them, in which case they are shrugged off as the usual BS from human resources), and other tangible markers of COVID-19’s existence for months—perhaps even longer.

Indeed, in my case, when I say for a long while, I mean for nearly two years, from almost the very beginning. In 2020, I took part in two weddings, traveled extensively, took family vacations with my children, spent hundreds of hours in bars and restaurants, all without wearing a mask. This year my wife and I welcomed our fourth child. Over the course of her pregnancy, from the first phone call to the midwife a few months after getting a positive pregnancy test until after delivery, the subject of the virus was never raised by any health-care professional, including her doula, a dear friend from New York.

Meanwhile, our children, who have continued to attend their weekly homeschooling co-op since April 2020, have never donned masks, and they are distinctly uncomfortable on the rare occasions when they see them, for reasons that, until recently, child psychologists and other medical experts would have freely acknowledged. They have continued seeing friends and family, including their great-grandparents, on a weekly basis. As far as I can tell, they are dimly aware that “germs” are a remote cause of concern, but only our oldest, who is 6, has any recollection of the brief period last year when public Masses were suspended in our diocese and we spent Sunday mornings praying the rosary at home.

The CDC recommends that all adults get a booster shot; I do not know a single person who has received one. When I read headlines like “Here’s Who May Need a Fourth COVID-19 Vaccine Dose,” I find myself genuinely reeling. Wait, there are four of them now? I would be lying if I said I knew what all the variants were or what differences exist between them. (They all sound like the latest entry in some down-market action franchise: Tom Clancy’s Delta Variant: A Jack Ryan Novel, Transformers 4: Rise of the Omicron.) COVID is invisible to me except when I am reading the news, in which case it strikes me with all the force of reports about distant coups in Myanmar.

Granted, my family’s experience of 2020 was somewhat unusual. But I wager that I am now closer to most of my fellow Americans than the people, almost absurdly overrepresented in media and elite institutions, who are still genuinely concerned about this virus. And in some senses my situation has always been more in line with the typical American’s pandemic experience than that of someone in New York or Washington, D.C., or Los Angeles.

The best example of this fact, apart from the agita about holiday travel, is outdoor masking. Prescinding from the question of whether there was ever any meaningful evidence in favor of outdoor transmission, let me point out that until I found myself in Washington, D.C., on a work trip in March, I had never seen anyone wearing a mask outside. For someone who had never worn one in any situation, it was bizarre to find thousands of people indifferently donning these garments outdoors, including those walking alone or in pairs at night after leaving bars or restaurants where they had presumably taken them off. It was even stranger seeing people recognize one another in the street and pull their masks down casually, sometimes but not always before stopping to engage in conversation, like Edwardian gentlemen doffing their top hats.

I came away from this experience with the impression that, whatever their value, masks long ago transcended public health and became a symbol, not unlike in this house we believe signs or MAGA hats. This, no doubt, is why in my part of America, the only people one ever sees with masks are brooding teenagers seated alone in coffee shops, who seem to have adopted masks to set themselves apart from the reactionary banality of life in flyover country in the same way that I once scribbled anti-Bush slogans on T-shirts. The survival of such old-fashioned adolescent angst is, at any rate, deeply heartening.

As far as my wife and I are concerned, an atmosphere of parochialism hangs upon relentless adherence to CDC directives. By European standards, hand-wringing about masks in schools is as silly and absurdly risk-averse as the American medical establishment’s insistence that pregnant women not drink coffee or wine. Indeed, there is something small-minded and puritanical and distinctly American about the whole business of obsessing over whether vaccinated teachers remove their face covering during a long school day. (When I read such things, I experience the same secondhand embarrassment I felt upon witnessing an American tourist in Rome ask a waiter at a trattoria to remove the ashtray from the outdoor table at which the employee in question had just been smoking.)

I am always tempted to ask the people who breathlessly quote what various public-health authorities are now saying about masking and boosters whether they know how the National Institutes of Health defines a “problem drinker”? The answer is a woman who has more than one “unit” of alcohol a day, i.e., my wife and nearly all of my female friends. These same authorities, if asked, would probably say that considerable risks are associated with eating crudos or kibbeh nayyeh, or taking Tylenol after a hangover. (This is to say nothing of cannabis, which is of course still banned at the federal level.) My point is that sophisticated adults are generally capable of winking at overly stringent guidelines. In the case of COVID, many are not.

I wish I could convince myself that for once in my life with COVID we were actually experiencing a healthy break from the usual pattern, according to which the latest silly novelties—no-fault divorce, factory-sliced bread, frozen meals, and, of course, infant formula—are adopted enthusiastically by the upper middle classes, who then think better of them by the time the lower orders come around.

But I am afraid that the future, at least in major metropolitan areas, is one in which sooner or later elites will acknowledge their folly while continuing to impose it on others. I, for one, would not be surprised if for years to come it were the expectation in New York and California that even vaccinated workers in the service industry wear masks, the ultimate reification of status in a world in which casual dress has otherwise erased many of what were once our most visible markers of class.

After all, you never know how they spent their Thanksgiving.




Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Good news at last! Omicron is causing up to a THIRD fewer hospitalisations than Delta and two Pfizer jabs still slash death risk of severe disease by 70%

Omicron is causing milder disease than Delta in patients in the epicentre of the new Covid variant, the first major real-world study in South Africa confirmed today.

Officials who analysed 78,000 Omicron cases in the past month estimated the risk of hospitalisation was a fifth lower than with Delta and 29 per cent lower than the original virus.

As a crude rate, Omicron is currently leading to a third fewer hospital admissions than Delta did during its entire wave — 38 admissions per 1,000 Omicron cases compared to 101 per 1,000 for Delta.

The findings lend weight to the theory that the ultra-infectious variant is weaker than previous strains, something which doctors on the ground in South Africa have been claiming for weeks.

But the reduction in severity is probably not solely down to Omicron being intrinsically milder, according to the South African Medical Research Council which led the analysis.

Around 70 per cent of South Africans have recovered from Covid already and 23 per cent are double-vaccinated, which has created high levels of immunity.

The finding will raise hopes that the UK's Omicron wave will be less severe than previous peaks, despite having an older and denser population. Unlike South Africa, the UK is rolling out booster jabs on a mass scale.

The study also found two doses of Pfizer's vaccine still provide 70 per cent protection against hospital admission or death from Omicron, compared to 93 per cent for Delta.

While this is more protection than many scientists initially feared, it still leaves 30 per cent of people vulnerable to severe Omicron disease, four times as many as Delta. Waning immunity from two Pfizer doses was found to offer just 33 per cent protection against Omicron infection, explaining why the country has seen a meteoric rise in case numbers.

Against Delta, two Pfizer jabs initially offer more than 80 per cent protection against symptomatic infection before falling to around 60 per cent within six months.

Today's study, co-run by private health insurance company Discovery Health, was based on more than 211,000 positive Covid test results from November 15 to December 7, 78,000 of which were attributed to Omicron.

Overall, four in 10 of those who tested positive had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The 70 per cent protection from severe disease figure still puts two doses well above the World Health Organization's efficacy threshold of 50 per cent.

But the researchers said that efficacy was reduced further in older age groups, falling to just 59 per cent in the 70 to 79 bracket, for example.

That could be because older people were vaccinated first in the initial rollout and there has been more time for immunity to wane than in younger people.

Protection against admission was consistent across a range of chronic illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and other cardiovascular diseases, the study said.

Children appeared to have a 20 per cent higher risk of hospital admission with complications during the fourth wave than during the first, despite the numbers still being tiny.

'This is early data and requires careful follow up,' said Shirley Collie, chief health analytics actuary at Discovery Health.

She cautioned that children were still 51 per cent less likely to test positive during the Omicron wave and the risk for them remains low.

As a crude rate, Omicron is currently causing a third fewer hospital admissions than Delta did — 38 admissions per 1,000 Omicron cases, compared to 101 per 1,000 for Delta.

However, South Africa is only a month into its Omicron outbreak and Covid admissions are steadily rising, with 422 admitted yesterday, a rise of 141 per cent compared to last week.

A total of 6,198 people are being treated for the virus now compared to the 5,562 who were in hospital on Sunday — the biggest single-day rise since the new variant took off.

Yet, despite the increasing case and hospital numbers, there were just 11 deaths attributed to Covid in the last 24 hours, up only marginally on last week.

Doctors in South Africa's Omicron ground zero maintain that Omicron patients are coming in with milder illness and being discharged quicker.

Official figures suggest the number of Covid hospital patients with severe illness is a third of the level at the same point in the country's Delta wave.

The South African doctor who first raised the alarm about Omicron last month endorsed the study today, telling MPs that it confirmed what doctors were seeing on the ground.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, told the Commons Science and Technology Committee that 'we don't have all the answers' but the clinical picture so far is that people are mostly suffering mild illness from Omicron.

Dr Coetzee said some people are getting breakthrough infections if they are vaccinated or if they have had Covid before, but cases seemed to be milder, especially for the vaccinated.

'The breakthrough infections we are seeing are mild... (and) the symptoms we are seeing in (vaccinated) people are less severe or intense than in the unvaccinated,' she said.

'On a hospital level... between 88 per cent to 90 per cent (of people) are unvaccinated.'

She said that in hospitals it is hard to differentiate between those patients with the Delta variant and those with Omicron, but that intensive care units 'are still not overwhelmed'.

Pfizer's Covid pill slashes the risk of hospitalisation and death by up to 90 per cent and will work against Omicron, the vaccine maker claimed today.

A study of more than 2,200 at-risk adults found the drug, called Paxlovid, reduced the risk of severe outcomes by 89 per cent.

And a separate trial of the pill, which the UK has already ordered 250,000 doses of, on healthy unvaccinated adults found taking it within a few days of suffering Covid symptoms cuts the chance of being hospitalised by 70 per cent, Pfizer said.

Meanwhile, laboratory tests suggest Paxlovid will still offer a 'robust' response against the Omicron variant, which is due to become dominant in the UK tomorrow.

Pfizer's boss Dr Albert Bourla said the emergence of Omicron has ‘exacerbated the need for accessible treatment options for those who contract the virus’ and the pill could be a ‘critical tool to help quell the pandemic’.

The UK's medicines regulator has so far approved one at-home pill in the fight against Covid. But molnupiravir, made by US-based Merck and Ridgeback, will only be given to older and at-risk people within 48 hours of catching the virus as part of a pilot that is expected to launch by the end of the year.

He added: 'For example, the narrative around South Africa is that Omicron may be much milder, whereas reports out of Denmark broadly suggests the opposite.

'This reflects the uncertainty of new data. Within that, factors include the different levels of exposure to Covid-19 and previous infection, levels of vaccination and potential waning of immunity, and also age ranges infected thus far.

'We know that Covid-19 is very adept at moving from younger to older populations within a few weeks.


Irish firm collaborating on delivery of world’s first inhaled COVID-19 vaccine

After months of collaborative work in the lab, China's CanSino Biologics and Irish drug delivery specialist Aerogen are taking their inhaled COVID-19 vaccine pact to the next stage.

CanSino and Aerogen are teaming up to develop and market an inhaled version of CanSino's recombinant COVID-19 shot Convidecia, which is already approved in China as a one-and-done injectable. Because aerosol delivery requires a "considerably smaller volume of vaccine," the partners' inhaled prospect could help stretch capacity and enable more patients to access the inoculation, the companies said.

Outside of China, Convidecia boasts emergency authorizations in countries such as Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Hungary and Pakistan. The shot is around 63.7% effective against COVID-19 two weeks after vaccination, and 96% effective against severe disease over that same time frame, a CanSino representative said during an October World Health Organization presentation. At 28 days, overall efficacy dropped to 57.5%, while efficacy in severe disease hovered around 91.7%.

As for the inhaled candidate, CanSino's vaccine will leverage Aerogen's vibrating mesh aerosol drug delivery technology, the companies said. The aerosolized vaccine is directly inhaled through a cup dispenser into the patient's airway, mimicking the respiratory virus's natural infection pathway. This delivery route could further help patients, thanks to the potential for mucosal immunity, the partners said.




Tuesday, December 14, 2021

U.K. Study Says Boosters Provide Substantial Defense Against Omicron

The first real-world study of how vaccines hold up against the Omicron variant showed a significant drop in protection against symptomatic cases caused by the new and fast-spreading form of the coronavirus.

But the study, published by British government scientists on Friday, also indicated that third vaccine doses provided considerable defense against Omicron.

Government scientists on Friday also offered the most complete look yet at how quickly Omicron was spreading in England’s highly vaccinated population, warning that the variant could overtake Delta by mid-December and, without any precautionary measures, cause Covid-19 cases to soar.

Four months after people received a second dose of the Pfizer-

BioNTech vaccine, the shots were roughly 35 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infections caused by Omicron, a significant drop-off from their performance against the Delta variant, the scientists found.

A third dose of the Pfizer-BioN- Tech vaccine, though, lifted the figure to roughly 75 percent.

Two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine appeared to offer virtually no protection against symptomatic infection caused by Omicron several months after vaccination. But for those recipients, an additional Pfizer-BioNTech dose paid big dividends, boosting effectiveness against the variant to 71 percent.

Still, the study’s authors said they expected that the vaccines would remain a bulwark against hospitalizations and deaths, if not infections, caused by Omicron. And the researchers cautioned that even in a country tracking the variant as closely as Britain is, it was too early to know precisely how well the vaccines would perform.

That study was released alongside new findings about how easily Omicron is managing to spread. Someone infected with the Omicron variant, for example, is roughly three times as likely as a person infected by the Delta variant to pass the virus to other members of his or her household, Britain’s Health Security Agency reported.

And a close contact of an Omicron case is roughly twice as likely as a close contact of someone infected with Delta to catch the virus.

Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said that Omicron’s ability to evade the body’s immune defenses accounted for most of its advantage over previous variants. But modeling work by his research team and other groups in Britain also suggested that Omicron was simply more contagious than Delta, by roughly 25 to 50 percent.

Covid-19 cases have been doubling every 2.5 days in England.

“I think that there’s a significant amount of immune escape,” Dr. Ferguson said, referring to the virus’s ability to dodge the body’s defenses. “But it’s also more intrinsically transmissible than Delta.”

He and other scientists have cautioned that evidence was still coming in, and that better surveillance in places where the Omicron wave is most advanced could affect their findings.

The World Health Organization said this week that some evidence had emerged that Omicron was causing milder illness than Delta, but that it was too early to be certain. Still, scientists have warned that if the variant keeps spreading as quickly as it is in England, where cases are doubling every 2.5 days, health systems around the world may be deluged with patients.

Even if Omicron causes severe illness at only half the rate of the Delta variant, Dr. Ferguson said, computer modeling suggested that 5,000 people could be admitted to hospitals daily in Britain at the peak of its Omicron wave —a figure higher than any seen at any other point in the pandemic.

Scientists said that widespread vaccination in countries like Britain and the United States would keep as many people from dying as have in earlier waves. But the experts also warned that patients with Covid and with other illnesses would suffer if hospitals became too full.

“It only requires a small drop in protection against severe disease for those very large numbers of infections to translate into levels of hospitalization we can’t cope with,” Dr. Ferguson said.

It will take several weeks to understand how the current surge in Omicron infections may translate into people needing hospital care. “I’m concerned that by the time we know about severity,” Dr. Ferguson said, “it may be too late to act.”


Three shots of Pfizer vaccine DOES protect against Omicron - but at four times lower levels than against the Delta variant, Israeli study shows

Israeli researchers have found that a three-shot course of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine provides significant protection against the new Omicron variant.

The study, carried out by Sheba Medical Centre and the Health Ministry's Central Virology Laboratory, compared the blood of 20 people who had received two vaccine doses 5-6 months earlier to the same number of individuals who had received a booster a month before.

Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba, said: 'People who received the second dose 5 or 6 months ago do not have any neutralisation ability against the Omicron. While they do have some against the Delta strain.

'The good news is that with the booster dose it increases about a hundred fold. There is a significant protection of the booster dose.'

But Regev-Yochay also admitted that the booster is still less effective in protecting against Omicron versus the Delta variant. 'It is lower than the neutralisation ability against the Delta, about four times lower,' she said.

The findings were similar to those presented by BioNTech and Pfizer earlier in the week, which were an early signal that booster shots could be key to protect against infection from the newly identified variant.

The Israeli team said they worked with the actual virus while the companies used what is known as a pseudovirus, which was bio-engineered to have the hallmark mutations of Omicron.

The Israeli research follows a study from South Africa that found the Omicron variant can partially evade protection from two doses.

'People who have received the booster are better protected than those who received only the second, and of course, more than the unvaccinated,' said Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel's health department's head of public health services,

'Two doses are not effective enough.'

Alroy-Preis also announced that the health ministry in Israel is debating whether to encourage people to take their booster shot as soon as three months after receiving their second jab to ensure maximum protection.

It comes less than a month after BioNTech announced it had begun working on a Covid vaccine specifically targeting the Omicron variant.

Despite the latest news that a third shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech could provide considerable protection against Omicron, the company said in late November it could have a tailor-made vaccine against Omicron ready for distribution within 100 days.

'The first steps of developing a potential new vaccine overlap with the research necessary in order to evaluate whether a new shot will be needed,' the company said.

Moderna also announced last month it is developing a booster which it says will provide protection targeted against the Omicron variant.

Despite the news that booster jabs can provide significant protection against Omicron, Israel today announced that its citizens will be banned from travelling to Britain, Denmark and Belgium from Wednesday due to the spread of the new variant.

Alroy-Preis said the three countries are being placed on the 'red' list because of the 'significant' spread of the Omicron variant.

Since the Omicron variant was discovered, some 50 countries have been placed on Israel's red list, mostly in Africa.

Health officials said there have been 55 confirmed cases of Omicron in Israel, which motivated the government and health ministry to enforce stricter mask mandates.

It was also decided that Green Pass restrictions in the country would be introduced at shopping centres, meaning unvaccinated Israelis cannot enter.

The Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is facing calls to impose tougher restrictions in Israel over the coming days.

It comes after the spread of the virus yesterday hit a three-month peak and the R-number climbed to 1.1.

Previously, Israel imposed a two-week ban on foreigners entering the country in late November in an attempt to stem coronavirus infections.

And Israelis entering the country, including those who are vaccinated, are required to quarantine.

The country also brought back counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology in a bid to crack down on the Omicron variant.

The Shin Bet counter-terrorism agency's phone-tracking technology is used to locate carriers of the new variant in order to curb its transmission to others, Bennett said in November.

Used on and off since March 2020, the surveillance technology matched virus carriers' locations against other mobile phones nearby to determine with whom they had come into contact.

Israel's Supreme Court this year limited the scope of its use after civil rights groups mounted challenges over privacy concerns.




Monday, December 13, 2021

Omicron is dodging the immune system—but boosters show promising signs

Initial data on the new variant have experts worried about its ability to spread rapidly. But vaccine boosters still seem to be effective, as do some monoclonal antibody therapies.

Two weeks after the world first learned about the Omicron variant, scientists now agree that it spreads faster than Delta, and it seems to evade existing immunity more easily than previous variants. But whether it causes more severe illness is still up for debate.

Despite multiple travel bans, the Omicron variant has already spread to 57 countries and has now been detected in 21 U.S. states. At least for now, though, Delta remains the most prevalent variant in the world and still causes most COVID-19 deaths globally.

Omicron was first detected in South Africa, and an ongoing analysis shows that it is the most contagious variant to date in that country. By the end of November—the most recent date for which data is available—Omicron accounted for 70 percent of all South African cases; it is projected to have risen to over 90 percent by now.

At the epicenter of the Omicron outbreak is South Africa’s Gauteng Province, where daily cases of COVID-19 are doubling about every three to four days. In the town of Tshwane, active COVID-19 cases have tripled from 6,697 to 20,425 within a week. And in Gauteng, the most populous province of South Africa, one in three tests are returning positive. This positivity rate means there is high transmission in the population, and the actual number of COVID-19 cases is likely to be even higher than the officially documented number.

A virus can spread faster because it might be more transmissible or because it can evade previous immune responses.

“Some of Omicron patients are shedding a lot of virus,” says Leo Poon, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong who detected some of the first cases of Omicron outside of South Africa. Poon’s study has shown that Omicron spreads very efficiently through air, “which may be causing higher transmission.”

But the evidence is converging that the “main advantage of Omicron [over Delta] comes from immune escape,” says Tom Wenseleers, an evolutionary biologist and biostatistician at the KU Leuven University in Belgium.

Why is Omicron different from past variants?

Multiplying viruses frequently mutate because of errors in replicating their own genetic material. So with each of the hundreds of thousands of new daily infections, the virus gets that many opportunities to mutate.

“Viruses are mutation-generating machines”, says Sergei Pond, a virologist at Temple University who has shown the trends in evolution of SARS-CoV-2 lineages.

New mutations in Omicron’s spike protein are a particular cause for concern. The spike is critical for SARS-CoV-2 to infect human cells and is the main target for antibodies. Mutations there can change the appearance of the spike and make it more difficult for antibodies to recognize and bind to it, enabling the virus to evade immunity.

Omicron has undergone over 50 mutations compared to the original virus, with over 30 mutations in its spike protein.

“When you put them all together, there's so many that there's the theoretical possibility that the shape of the spike protein will be overall substantially changed,” says Herbert “Skip” Virgin, an immunologist and chief scientific officer of Vir Biotechnology, Inc., which is developing COVID-19 therapeutics.

“We don't have any direct measurements of clinical impact of Omicron yet,” says Pond, but his preliminary analysis has identified significant changes in Omicron that are likely to influence both antibody neutralization and spike function.

Can Omicron reinfect those with natural immunity?
What has researchers most concerned is that Omicron can evade existing immunity, escaping antibodies generated through natural infection.

“Omicron, as opposed to Delta, appears to reinfect people who had previously been infected,” says Jerome Kim, head of the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, South Korea. In South Africa, Omicron seems to be reinfecting about two and a half times more people than all previous variants.

“Reinfection risk has increased markedly since the beginning of October in South Africa, and this seems to correspond with the emergence of the Omicron variant,” says Juliet Pulliam, director of the South African DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis in Stellenbosch.

Analyses of antibodies in blood samples have estimated that 60 to 70 percent of people in South Africa had already been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 before Omicron was spotted. Pulliam’s study, which is not yet peer reviewed, scoured the PCR results of 2.5 million South Africans for evidence of reinfection. Her team found that virtually all Omicron infections in November were in people who had already been positively diagnosed with COVID-19 at least twice since March 2020.

“This is what one would expect if Omicron is more resistant to neutralizing antibodies,” says Theodora Hatziioannou, a virologist at the Rockefeller University in New York City.

Are vaccines still effective against Omicron?
There are reports of post-vaccinated infections occurring with Omicron in Hong Kong, Minnesota, and Norway. In Denmark, where COVID-19 surveillance is very high, Omicron accounted for 3.1 percent of all cases in the past two weeks or so. That suggests the variant can spread even when more than 80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“I was actually one of the first verified Omicron cases outside of Africa,” says Maor Elad, a cardiologist at Sheba Medical Center, Israel, who caught Omicron during a visit to London for a conference despite wearing masks and having received three doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

“I had symptoms for 48 hours: fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and then I was weak, fatigued, unwell for two or three additional days. But after five days, I recovered completely,” says Elad. Even if vaccinated, he adds, you can still get infected. “Vaccine efficiency is not 100 percent.”

However, it’s too early to assess whether current vaccines are not going to be effective against this new variant.

In the study by Poon in Hong Kong, Omicron patients had been fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine five to six months before they caught the variant. And from a preliminary report from Tshwane by the South African Medical Research Council, six of the 38 adults who contracted COVID-19 as of early December were vaccinated, 24 were unvaccinated, and eight had unknown vaccination status.

It’s also not yet clear whether vaccination status can explain the larger proportion of younger patients catching Omicron in South Africa. Only about 25 percent of people under 35 in that country has received a COVID-19 vaccine, and just 33 percent of the population in Gauteng is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In a press release, Pfizer says that three doses of its vaccine neutralize Omicron in lab studies, while two doses may be significantly less effective. This is in line with independent but still preliminary laboratory studies that suggest Pfizer’s vaccine is less effective against Omicron relative to the ancestral virus and previous variants.

But if the company’s data holds up, booster doses of the current vaccine should still provide some immunity. And multiple vaccine-makers are now racing to modify their vaccines for Omicron specifically.

Does Omicron cause more severe disease?

It’s still too early to assess the full impact of Omicron’s effect on disease severity because it takes about two weeks from infection to development of symptoms. However, even though hospitalizations are rising rapidly in South Africa, a report documenting the first two weeks of the Omicron wave shows that deaths—which tend to rise between two and eight weeks after the start of a new COVID-19 wave—in the biggest hospital in Gauteng have not echoed the dramatic rise in cases.

According to this early report, most patients didn’t show respiratory symptoms, most were admitted to the hospital for other medical reasons, and the length of hospital stays for COVID-positive patients was 2.8 days, compared to the average of 8.5 days during past 18 months.

That could be because “Omicron is still mainly circulating among younger people. Eighty percent of the hospitalized patients in Gauteng Province are under 50,” says Wenseleers, who has modeled earlier waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Younger people typically endure milder infections than older people.

“Even now, we don't know whether Omicron could cause more severe clinical outcome or not,” says Poon. He led the team that sequenced the 2003 SARS coronavirus, established the earliest PCR test to diagnose SARS-CoV-2, and was on the international team of virologists that named the virus.

There is also no guarantee that Omicron’s impact in the U.S. and Europe—which have older populations—will be the same as in South Africa. But preliminary data as of December 8 showed that among all 337 Omicron cases detected in the European Union, symptoms were either mild or not present, and no deaths related to the new variant have been reported in member countries.

But even milder but more transmissible variants can be dangerous, according to Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program. If allowed to spread unchecked, the virus can infect greater numbers of people, who then overwhelm health systems, causing a spike in deaths. Worryingly, an analysis from the U.K. Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for Omicron than for the Delta variant.

Will current therapies still work?

Four monoclonal antibody products are currently authorized to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in non-hospitalized patients who are at high risk for progressing to severe disease or hospitalization.

In a study not yet peer reviewed, a monoclonal from GSK and Vir Biotechnology called Sotrovimab remained effective against a lab-made Omicron-like virus. “Sotrovimab is capable of neutralizing the Omicron variant, including all 37 of the mutations, [which makes us] very optimistic that Omicron can be dealt with therapeutically,” says Vir Biotechnology’s Virgin.

“Despite the considerable evolution of the virus with Omicron, we have evidence that effective therapeutics are available to control the pandemic,” says Davide Corti, a leading antibody researcher at Vir Biotechnology. That’s critical if Omicron causes a high percentage of cases in people who are vaccinated. Whether other therapeutic antibodies can block Omicron is currently unknown, but Virgin remains optimistic about available treatments.

“The vaccines are a remarkable accomplishment, even if they lose activity against a certain variant,” he says. “People should get vaccinated, and should they begin to develop symptoms that might be due to coronavirus, they should immediately seek medical attention, because it's not hopeless."




Sunday, December 12, 2021

Why Some Parts of the World Are Covid-Free

While many countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and the rest of Europe have had, and continue to have, a high number of deaths from covid 19, other countries have comparatively very few deaths.

We can see that, for example, India and the continent of Africa have a low number of deaths. In fact, the United States has so far had around 15 times more covid deaths than Africa.

While there are likely to be a number of reasons why this is the case, there could be an important link with a specific medication that has been widely used in Africa.

For more than 30 years the Mectizan Donation Program has been running in Africa, and a few other countries, with the aim of eliminating diseases such as River Blindness. Merk, the manufacturer of Mectizan, made a pledge to donate as much of this medication as is needed for as long as is needed.

So, what is Mectizan? Well, it’s Ivermectin. The medication that you may have heard about in the media during the last few months described as a horse dewormer, not fit for humans. The FDA in the United States even decided to include a picture of a horse on it’s website, just to remind us that this medication is for horses and not humans. This description of Ivermectin by the media and health authorities is in stark contrast to reality. In addition to the 4 billion treatments that have been given to humans, two scientists won the Nobel Prize for the use of Ivermectin in humans, and Ivermectin is so safe, it is literally given out like candy to people in Africa. Again, humans not horses.

Many people became aware of the Nobel Prize for ivermectin, so the media then set out to convince us that Ivermectin is used for parasitic infections only and has no action against viruses. However, an article published in a Nature journal is at odds with that description. The article describes the numerous antiviral properties of Ivermectin and summarises evidence to suggest that Ivermectin could be effective against, Dengue, Zika virus, Yellow Fever, West Nile Virus, and 15 other viruses, as well as covid 19.

So, before covid 19, large amounts of ivermectin were already being widely distributed in africa. could this have inadvertently protected africa from covid 19?

Well, if we look specifically at those countries that participated in the Mectizan Donation Program we can see that all of these countries have a similar, low number of deaths from covid 19.

And it's not just Africa. Many parts of India have also widely used Ivermectin, and also have a low number of covid 19 deaths compared with other so called developed countries.

The state of Uttar Pradesh in India is particularly interesting. Uttar Pradesh is India’s largest state by population, with over 200 million people. The Health Department introduced Ivermectin in August 2020, for close covid 19 contacts, health workers and patients.

Uttar Pradesh did have a spike in covid deaths in May 2021, however, at its peak, the number of deaths per day was around 10 times less than the spikes of deaths that have been seen in the USA and the UK. And since the end of July, Uttar Pradesh has had almost no covid deaths.

Not only have the number of deaths come down to zero but the number of cases too.

In fact, half of the districts in Uttar Pradesh have been officially declared covid-free. This is despite the fact that as of the beginning of November 2021 only 22% of people in Uttar Pradesh had been fully vaccinated.

For comparison, we could also look at the state of Kerala in India, Kerala is a small state in Indian terms, with 31 million people. Kerala only used Ivermectin for severe covid cases and completely abandoned the use of Ivermectin in August 2021.

Kerala is still reporting 134 covid deaths per day and a 7-day average well over 200. Despite the state being only one seventh the population size of Uttar Pradesh.

The information contained in this article is just a fraction of the data strongly suggesting that Ivermectin and other existing low-cost treatments could have provided a rapid and sustained way out of the covid 19 pandemic.

Ivermectin is a generic drug and it is very cheap to make. The safety profile of Ivermectin also means that it can be freely distributed without a medical consultation. This represents direct competition for the brand new covid 19 vaccine industry.

The author goes on to suggest conspiracies as an explanation for the demonization of Ivermectin but I suggest that it is much simpler than that: It is demonized because Trump recommended it. Trump hatred runs deep among the eite


Alarming incidence of post vaccination heart probems among young men

Journal article follows

"Epidemiology of myocarditis and pericarditis following mRNA vaccines in Ontario, Canada: by vaccine product, schedule and interval"


Objective: The objective of this study was to estimate reporting rates of myocarditis/pericarditis following COVID-19 mRNA vaccine by product, age, sex, and dose number, as well inter-dose interval.

Design: We conducted a population-based cohort study using passive vaccine safety surveillance data. All individuals in Ontario, Canada who received at least one dose of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine between December 14, 2020 and September 4, 2021 were included.

Setting: This study was conducted in Ontario, Canada (population: 14.7 million) using the provincial COVID-19 vaccine registry and provincial adverse events following immunization database.

Participants: We included all individuals with a reported episode of myocarditis/pericarditis following COVID-19 vaccine in the study period. We obtained information on all doses administered in the province to calculate reporting rates.

Exposure: Receipt of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine (mRNA-1273 [Moderna Spikevax] or BNT162b2 [Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty]).

Main Outcome(s) and Measure(s): Reported rate of myocarditis/pericarditis meeting level 1-3 of the Brighton Collaboration case definitions.

Results: There were 19,740,741 doses of mRNA vaccines administered and 297 reports of myocarditis/pericarditis meeting our inclusion criteria. Among these, 69.7% occurred following the second dose of COVID-19 mRNA vaccine and 76.8% occurred in males. The median age of individuals with a reported event was 24 years. The highest reporting rate of myocarditis/pericarditis was observed in males aged 18-24 years following mRNA-1273 as the second dose; the rate in this age group was 5.1 (95% CI 1.9-15.5) times higher than the rate following BNT162b2 as the second dose. Overall reporting rates were higher when the inter-dose interval was shorter (i.e., ≤30 days) for both vaccine products. Among individuals who received mRNA-1273 for the second dose, rates were higher for those who had a heterologous as opposed to homologous vaccine schedule.

Conclusions and Relevance: Our results suggest that vaccine product, inter-dose interval and vaccine schedule combinations may play a role in the risk of myocarditis/pericarditis, in addition to age and sex. Certain programmatic strategies could reduce the risk of myocarditis/pericarditis following mRNA vaccines.


WHO: No Deaths Reported as a Result of Omicron Variant to Date

This refers to the USA and Europe. There HAVE been a few deaths in South Africa. But details of that are scarce

The World Health Organization (WHO) has informed The Epoch Times that it has not documented any deaths from the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

According to the WHO, “for Omicron, we have not had any deaths reported, but it is still early in the clinical course of disease and this may change.”

When reached for comment by The Epoch Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sent its report on the Omicron variant in the United States from Dec. 1 through 8. It shows that there were no documented deaths from Omicron during that period.

The WHO’s latest weekly epidemiological update for Dec. 7 showed that all 212 Omicron cases documented across eighteen European Union (EU) countries were either mild or asymptomatic.