Omicron live updates: New study suggests Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may only partially protect against variant

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(NEW YORK) —  As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.2 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 791,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Just 60.1% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Dec 08, 8:48 pm
Senate votes to repeal Biden mandate; won’t affect rule due to objection in House

The Senate passed a repeal of President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate on private businesses with over 100 employees by a vote of 52-48 Wednesday night, but the mandate is not threatened due to opposition in the Democrat-controlled House.

Two Democrats crossed party lines and voted with Republicans to repeal the mandate. The votes cast by Sens. Joe Manchin, . and Jon Tester, D-Mont., were expected.

While the legislation has now passed the Senate, it will almost certainly not impact the mandate.

It’s unclear if the Senate-passed repeal will even be brought up in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not required to bring it up for a floor vote, and at least 218 signatures would be needed to force consideration. Even then, if the House were to pass it, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that Biden would veto it should it land on his desk.

The mandate faces stiffer opposition in ongoing legal challenges from several Republican-led states.

-ABC News’ Allie Pecorin

Dec 08, 6:52 pm
200M Americans now fully vaccinated: CDC

Over 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to newly updated data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On average, about 1.9 million shots are being administered each day, federal data shows. About half a million of those shots are first doses and nearly 1 million are boosters.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 08, 4:59 pm

Maine governor activates national guard for state’s record hospitalizations

Maine Gov. Janet Mills said Wednesday that she’s activated up to 75 National Guard members to help hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

Maine currently has a record high of 379 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, including 60 people on ventilators, Mills’ office said. “The vast majority” of the patients aren’t fully vaccinated, the governor’s office said.

Only 42 ICU beds are available in the state, according to the governor’s office.

Besides the National Guard members, Mills said she’s requested federal COVID-19 surge response teams for two hospitals. If approved, the federal government could provide extra doctors, nurses and other staff.

Dec 08, 4:44 pm

11 medical center staffers test positive, some with omicron

Eleven staff members at Oakland Medical Center in California have tested positive for COVID-19, and most cases are omicron, Kaiser Permanente said in a statement.

Their exposure was linked to an out-of-state wedding, Kaiser Permanente said.

The staffers are isolated at home with mild symptoms, Kaiser Permanente said, adding that they’re all fully vaccinated, including boosters.

“The potential window of exposure at our facility was brief and isolated, as the few affected staff members, who are in patient-facing roles, worked briefly prior to being symptomatic or tested and all adhered to COVID-19 infection prevention guidance,” Kaiser Permanente said. “We have identified 8 patients and 8 staff who were potentially exposed; 13 have tested negative for COVID-19 and the remainder are in process. To date, there have been no COVID-19 cases among them.”

Dec 08, 4:00 pm

Forecast: US death toll could reach 837,000 by the new year

A new CDC forecast predicts that the U.S. COVID-19 death toll could reach between 821,000 and 837,000 by Jan. 1, 2022.

The U.S. death toll currently stands at 792,883.

The CDC obtains its forecasts from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub at UMass Amherst, where a team monitors and combines forecasting models from the nation’s top researchers. The team then creates an ensemble forecast, usually with a wide cone of uncertainty.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 08, 2:03 pm

Work from home advised in England

England will move to “plan B” ahead of Christmas, with the government advising people to work from home if they can beginning on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a press conference Wednesday at 10 Downing Street.

Johnson warned, “It’s become increasingly clear that omicron is growing much faster than the previous delta variant and is spreading rapidly around the world.”

He said there’s evidence that omicron cases in the U.K. could double in two or three days.

-ABC News’ Ibtissem Guenfoud

Dec 08, 1:42 pm

US sees highest daily case average since September  

The U.S. is now reporting more than 117,000 new cases each day — marking the nation’s highest daily average since September, according to federal data. Just in the last week, the daily case average has surged by 46%.

New Hampshire currently holds the nation’s highest case rate followed by Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Indiana.

On average, more than 1,100 new COVID-19 related deaths are being reported each day in the U.S. — up by 38% in the last week, according to federal data.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 08, 12:54 pm

Cases surging in South Africa

South Africa reported 19,842 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday — a 50% increase from Tuesday and a 131% increase from one week ago.

South Africa now has 360 confirmed omicron cases.

Just 24.41% of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, according to Africa CDC.

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou

Dec 08, 11:41 am

WHO on omicron: Emerging data suggests increased risk of re-infection

Emerging data from South Africa suggest an increased risk of re-infection with omicron, though more data’s needed to draw firmer conclusion, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a Wednesday press conference.

He also said there’s some evidence omicron causes milder symptoms than delta, though that is not yet definitive.

Omicron has now been reported in 57 countries. The director-general said, “we expect that number to continue growing.”

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou

Dec 08, 11:07 am

Pfizer CEO: Don’t wait for omicron-specific booster

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla agrees with experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci who have been vocal in saying Americans shouldn’t wait for an omicron-specific booster.

“People should go get their third dose now, and not wait,” Bourla told ABC News on Wednesday.

However, he stressed the importance of developing a variant-specific booster in case it is needed.

“The reason why we are doing a specific omicron vaccine is because you never know. We can’t take a chance. It’s not the first time that we do it. We have already created a vaccine for beta, and we have already created a vaccine for delta, we never used them. But we used the resources to develop them, because the scenario that eventually we need it, and we didn’t have it in hand, would be very bad. So we will continue doing that for every variant,” he said.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 08, 8:50 am
New study suggests Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may only partially protect against omicron variant

Results from an initial laboratory study show that the omicron variant can partially dodge protection from two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

The companies announced the findings in a joint press release Wednesday. The study, which was not peer-reviewed, found that omicron likely reduces efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but does not render it ineffective and that a third dose offers even greater protection against the new variant.

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” Pfizer chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement Wednesday. “Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The study was conducted in a laboratory by exposing a vaccinated individual’s blood to omicron to see whether the vaccine would neutralise the variant. Some of the participants included in the study had received two doses of the vaccine, while others had gotten a third booster dose.

For those with two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, researchers found there was a 25-fold less antibody neutralization ability of omicron compared to the original virus variant. But within a month after getting a booster shot, researchers found that antibodies were restored to a high level, even against omicron. Giving a third dose of the vaccine appeared to boost antibody levels 25-fold — roughly equivalent to a level seen after two doses against the original virus variant.

“Our preliminary, first dataset indicate that a third dose could still offer a sufficient level of protection from disease of any severity caused by the Omicron variant,” BioNTech co-founder and CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement Wednesday. “Broad vaccination and booster campaigns around the world could help us to better protect people everywhere and to get through the winter season. We continue to work on an adapted vaccine which, we believe, will help to induce a high level of protection against Omicron-induced COVID-19 disease as well as a prolonged protection compared to the current vaccine.”

The study measured antibody levels, which are only one part of a person’s overall protection. The exact percentage of vaccine efficacy against the omicron variant remains unclear.

-Sony Salzman

Dec 07, 1:50 pm
Fauci: Omicron ‘almost certainly’ not more severe than delta

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday told news agency Agence France-Presse that the omicron variant is “almost certainly” not more severe than delta.

He stressed, however, that it is important to not overinterpret early data, as the patients being followed skew younger and are less likely to become hospitalized. Severe illness can take weeks to develop.

“There is some suggestion that it might even be less severe, because when you look at some of the cohorts that are being followed in South Africa, the ratio between the number of infections and the number of hospitalizations seems to be less than with delta,” Fauci said.

He also reiterated that it would take at least several more weeks to understand key questions surrounding omicron’s severity.

Results from labs testing current vaccines against omicron should come in the “next few days to a week,” Fauci said.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 07, 11:05 pm
US daily death average surges

The daily death average in the U.S. has increased to more than 1,150 — up by 57% in the last week, according to federal data.

The U.S. is about 10,000 deaths away from reaching yet another grim milestone of 800,000 Americans lost to COVID-19.

The U.S. is now averaging approximately 103,000 new cases per day, which is a 19% increase in the last week and a 62% jump since late-October, according to federal data.

Minnesota currently holds the country’s highest case rate followed by Vermont and Wisconsin. Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Louisiana have the nation’s lowest infection rate.

-ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos

Dec 07, 10:27 am
Near pre-pandemic travel volumes expected to continue through December holidays

The TSA screened nearly 21 million travelers during the 10-day Thanksgiving holiday period. Despite new concerns over omicron, the agency expects to see the near pre-pandemic travel volumes continue through the December holidays.

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