Developing a COVID-19 vaccine specifically designed to target the omicron variant is “the most likely scenario,” Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla said as new coronavirus cases exploded to over 700,000 a day in the U.S. on average.
Bourla said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Monday that Pfizer is developing an omicron-targeted vaccine, in addition to a shot that includes both the previous vaccine as well the omicron-specific vaccine, or a “hybrid,” as he described.
“We will have not only data, but I think we will be ready almost to go file and launch if it’s successful and if we need the demand,” he said. “And in fact, I want to tell you that we started already producing at risk all the preparation.”
Bourla said the pharmaceutical company will have the quantities to launch the vaccine in March. And while he said “no one has a crystal ball,” the CEO said he believes the general population will have to receive an annual booster shot to keep COVID-19 at bay.
“We’ll be always ahead of the virus with the right update on the vaccine that, hopefully, we could be giving it annually, and maybe for some groups that they are high risk, more often,” he said.
The omicron variant appears to be causing milder illness than the delta variant. But COVID-19 remains a much more dangerous disease for the unvaccinated. An unvaccinated person is 10 times more likely to test positive, eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 20 times more likely to die than someone who’s been fully vaccinated and boosted, the CDC says.
Also in the news:
►10 days into the month, January 2022 is already the highest month for COVID-19 cases of the entire pandemic. Through Monday the country had reported more than 6.81 million cases, topping December 2020’s previous record of about 6.48 million cases, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows.
►Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Rochelle Walensky and others will be testifying Tuesday morning to a U.S. Senate committee about COVID-19 variants and the federal response to the variants.
►WHO Europe director Dr. Hans Kluge told reporters Tuesday that half of Western Europe could be infected with COVID-19 in six to eight weeks, and there is a “closing window of opportunity” to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.
► The CDC is considering updating its mask guidance to recommend people wear N95 or KN95 masks worn by healthcare professionals, the Washington Post reported.
📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 61.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 839,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 310 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. More than 207 million Americans – 62.6% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
📘What we’re reading: As Americans nationwide continue to scramble for access to quick, reliable COVID-19 tests amid a national shortage, state and local authorities are warning residents to be on the lookout for fraudulent pop-up sites trying to scam people out of money and personal information.
The daily rate of breakthrough COVID-19 infections among New Yorkers grew more than seven-fold in December but was still dwarfed by new infections among the unvaccinated, newly released data shows.
The number of new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 vaccinated residents rose from 29.8 in the first week of the month to 222.3 in the last week, according to data from the New York State Department of Health. In the same period, the rate of new cases in unvaccinated adults rose almost as starkly to 1,583.1 per 100,000.
The data also showed vaccine effectiveness against severe infection remained high, with just 4.59 fully vaccinated adults out of 100,000 being hospitalized for COVID-19 in the week of Dec. 27. Although that number did increase over the month of December, the hospitalization rate for unvaccinated New Yorkers is still nearly 13 times higher.
Because of rising breakthrough infections caused by the omicron variant, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a COVID-19 booster shot mandate for New York health care workers.
The mandate, which is pending approval by a state Health Department panel on Tuesday, would require workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings to get the booster shot within two weeks of becoming eligible, Hochul said.
– N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY and David Robinson, New York State Team
Chicago teachers and students were set to come back to the classroom this week after city leaders reached an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union on COVID-19 safety protocols amid a nationwide surge of cases fueled by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Teachers were expected to return to work Tuesday, and students were expected to return Wednesday for the first time in a week, city leaders said. The Chicago Teachers Union voted late Monday to suspend its labor action after the city and union reached a tentative agreement, but the union’s 25,000 members must still vote on the agreement.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city and union compromised on a metric that would automatically shift a school to remote learning if a certain number of students and staff test positive. She said she hoped teachers would ratify the agreement.
Classes came to a halt last week after 73% of the union’s members voted in favor of temporarily shifting to remote learning, and the district reacted by canceling classes entirely. The city and the union both filed complaints to a state labor board, and a group of school families filed a lawsuit in Cook County.
– Grace Hauck and Erin Richards, USA TODAY
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday he will send in more National Guard members to help hospitals, which are “filling up” as the coronavirus omicron variant “continues to burn through the commonwealth.”
With 26% of people getting tested for COVID-19 now turning up positive, hospitals have seen an increase “pretty significantly,” Beshear said, and “if we continue (our) trajectory, all of our beds will be filled very soon.”
With the new deployment, Kentucky will have 445 active guard members helping hospitals throughout the state. They will be in 27 hospitals and 10 other facilities, such as nursing homes.
“Even if omicron remains a milder disease,” Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said Monday, “With our hospitals already struggling now, the next few weeks could get much worse.”
– Sarah Ladd and Olivia Krauth, Louisville Courier-Journal
Contributing: The Associated Press