While South Africa first alerted global health authorities to the omicron variant last week, Dutch health officials said Tuesday that they have found two omicron cases from before the alarm was raised, indicating the new variant was already spreading in parts of Europe.
Samples dated from Nov. 19 and Nov. 23 in the Netherlands were omicron variants, the country’s health officials said. South Africa reported the variant to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24.
France and Japan also reported their first cases of the variant Tuesday. The United States has not yet reported a case, but presidential adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has said, ”inevitably it will be here.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday recommended that all adults get a COVID-19 booster shot following the emergence of the omicron variant.
In the past, the CDC advised that people over 50 or living in a long-term care facility “should” get a booster, while all other adults “may” get boosters at least six months after their previous shots. Now all adults should get a booster, the CDC said.
President Joe Biden said he would release a plan Thursday on how his administration planned to combat COVID-19 this winter with vaccines, boosters, masks and testing rather than lockdowns.
It remains unclear exactly how transmissible or severe an omicron infection is, but the WHO said preliminary evidence raises the possibility the variant has mutations that could help it both evade an immune-system response and make it more transmissible. Many of the reported infections, however, were in college-aged people who tended to have milder cases, WHO said.
Also in the news:
► A Food and Drug Administration panel will meet Tuesday to discuss whether it will recommend use of Merck’s antiviral COVID-19 pill. An FDA analysis released last week found the pill was effective against the virus but identified several potential risks, including possible toxicity and birth defects.
► China plans to donate 600 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping said. Another 400 million doses will also be supplied through other means, including from Chinese companies operating in Africa
►The omicron variant will “bring some challenges in terms of prevention and control” for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Tuesday. But he said he was confident the games will be held.
► Greece announced Tuesday that it would mandate vaccination for all people 60 and older. Unvaccinated people will face a monthly 100 euro fine.
► A judge blocked the federal government on Monday from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for some health care workers in ten states.
► Pfizer and BioNTech are expected to ask the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its booster shot for 16- and 17-year-olds in the next few days, The Washington Post reported.
📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 778,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 262.4 million cases and 5.2 million deaths. Nearly 196 million Americans – roughly 59.3% of the population – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we’re reading: How serious is omicron? Is it more transmissible than delta? It will take weeks to understand COVID-19 variant.
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The majority of U.S. employers already have or will require their employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a national survey conducted in mid-November found.
The survey from Willis Towers Watson, a global advisory, brokering and solutions firm, also found that just 3% of employers said their vaccination mandates have resulted in a spike in resignations. Nearly half of the employers surveyed believe the mandates could help recruit and retain employees.
President Joe Biden in November issued vaccination-or-testing requirements for companies with at least 100 employees, but businesses and several Republican governors and attorneys general have sued the administration over the rules.
– Craig Harris, USA TODAY
Most federal workers who failed to meet the Nov. 22 deadline to get vaccinated against the coronavirus will not risk being suspended or losing their jobs until next year, the Biden administration said in enforcement guidance Monday.
Instead, managers will continue “with robust education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process,” according to the guidance.
Ninety-two percent of federal workers received at least one dose of the vaccine by the deadline, the administration announced last week. The rest have either not complied with the president’s mandate or asked to be exempted for religious or medical reasons.
While some agencies may need to accelerate enforcement if there are workplace safety issues or performance problems, agencies were encouraged not to take actions beyond education, counseling or, at most, a letter of reprimand until January.
The next step after a letter is suspension for a period of 14 days or less. Workers who remain unvaccinated who have not received an exemption can ultimately be dismissed.
– Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY
Members of the Oklahoma National Guard must get vaccinated against COVID-19 regardless of their duty status or personal beliefs, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday.
The Oklahoma governor sent a letter to the defense secretary earlier this month requesting that members of the Oklahoma National Guard be exempted from the Defense Department’s vaccination mandate, which covers active-duty personnel, Guard, Reserves and civilian workers.
Austin rejected the governor’s proposal and told him in a letter that guard members who don’t get vaccinated may be barred from participating in drills and training, and their status in the Guard could be jeopardized.
“To maintain a healthy and ready military force capable of protecting the American people, the immediate vaccination against COVID-19 is an essential military readiness requirement for all components and units of the military, including the Oklahoma National Guard,” Austin said in a letter to Stitt dated Monday.
– Chris Casteel, The Oklahoman
Contributing: The Associated Press