Brace Yourself, Boost Yourself, and Mask up

Americans are hearing warnings to get boosted and mask up, as UK data questions whether Omicron infections lead to less severe illness than other variants.

  • While South Africa so far reports fewer severe cases linked to Omicron, the UK is seeing a 30% spike in hospitalizations over last week, Vox reports.
  • Milder illness seen in South Africa could be due to preexisting immunity; 70%+ of the population in South Africa’s Omicron hot spots report previous exposure to SARS-CoV-2; ~40% have at least one COVID-19  vaccine dose, according to Nature.

Bottom line: It will take more time to get a clear picture of severity and how much of a threat Omicron poses, but rapidly-spreading Omicron infections still threaten to swamp hospitals—fueling anxiety about holiday celebrations and travel.

On vaccines: If you’re in the 60% of Americans who are eligible for a booster but haven't yet gotten one, “Do not wait,” outgoing NIH Director Francis Collins told CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday.

  • Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, with boosters, appear capable of blocking infections. Moderna reported today that a 50 microgram booster (the currently authorized dose) saw a 37-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies, according to Bloomberg
  • Other vaccines, which much of the rest of the world depends upon—including those from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and vaccines manufactured in China and Russia—seem to “do little to nothing to stop the spread of Omicron,” the New York Times reports.
  • Chinese researchers said that Sinopharm’s COVID-19 booster appears “significantly” weaker against Omicron, Reuters reports.

Meanwhile, some treatments falter: Go-to treatments for early Covid, Regeneron and Eli Lilly, are unlikely to work against Omicron, doctors warn; GlaxoSmithKline’s drug appears more promising but is in short supply in the US and other places. AP
And, tests are hard to find: Americans are finding long lines for tests and struggling to find in-home rapid tests, according to CNN, threatening a key component of holiday season safety plans.

Ed Yong: I Canceled My Birthday Party Because of Omicron – The Atlantic

The science is clear: the case for more Covid restrictions is overwhelming – The Guardian
‘It is embarrassing’: CDC struggles to track Covid cases as Omicron looms – Politico
Omicron may be less severe in South Africa. That may not be the case for the U.S. – NPR Goats and Soda

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