A healthcare worker at a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site in Brazil.Share on Pinterest
A healthcare worker at a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site in Brazil. Victor Moriyama/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • The coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
  • Known as SARS-CoV-2, the virus has resulted in more than 342 million infections and over 5.5 million deaths.
  • Keep up to date with the latest research and information about COVID-19 here.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently monitoring five variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron.

01/21/2022 10:29 GMT — Does Sinovac work against Omicron?

Globally, millions of people have taken the Chinese-manufactured Sinovac (CoronaVac) COVID-19 vaccine. A recent study, which appears in Nature Medicine, questions how well it performs against the Omicron variant. The scientists found that after two doses of the vaccine, “Neutralization of Omicron was undetectable.” 

The researchers also showed that in people who received two Sinovac shots followed by a Pfizer–BioNTech booster, there was “a 1.4-fold increase in neutralization activity against Omicron, compared to two-dose mRNA vaccine.” However, other research has already shown that two doses of mRNA vaccine offer limited protection against Omicron.

The authors conclude:

“Our findings have immediate implications for multiples countries that previously used a CoronaVac regimen and reinforce the notion that the Omicron variant is associated with immune escape from vaccines or infection-induced immunity, highlighting the global need for vaccine boosters to combat the impact of emerging variants.”  

01/21/2022 09:31 GMT — COVID-19 in children: Age, previous illness, and other factors affect risk

Severe outcomes among pediatric patients with SARS-CoV-2 infections are poorly understood. A new study identified risk factors for severe outcomes in children. They include a preexisting chronic illness, a previous episode of pneumonia, and presenting to the hospital 4–7 days after symptom onset.

Read more about the study here.

1/20/2022 11:37 GMT — 91% reduced risk of death from an Omicron infection compared with Delta

A recent preprint, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, analyzed data from 52,297 people with a SARS-CoV-2 infection. Researchers found that, compared with the Delta variant, people with an Omicron infection had a 74% reduced risk of needing treatment in the ICU and a 91% reduced risk of death.

The scientists also concluded that there was a 53% reduced risk of hospitalization compared with Delta infections.

Additionally, hospital stays were reduced in those with the Omicron variant. The authors explain that the “[m]edian duration of hospital stay for patients admitted with symptomatic Omicron variant infections was approximately 70% [around 3.4 days] shorter than that observed among patients with symptomatic Delta variant infections.”

01/20/2022 11:30 GMT — Active, possibly infectious virus persists after 10 days

A new study suggests that the recent trend of shortening isolation and quarantine periods for COVID-19 may be in error. The authors conclude that more than 1 in 10 people who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 retained active infections for more than 10 days.

Read more about the study here.

01/19/2022 13:28 GMT — COVID-19 could be over as a health emergency in 2022, WHO says

If COVID-19 vaccine and medication inequities are addressed quickly and resources are shared fairly, the world could leave behind the worst of the pandemic and declare it over as a public health emergency, the head of emergencies at the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

Speaking at a panel hosted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Dr. Michael Ryan acknowledged, “We may never end the virus” because these viruses “end up becoming part of the ecosystem.”

But, he said, we have “a chance to end the public health emergency this year if we do the things that we’ve been talking about.”

Also speaking at the WEF, top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said it was still too early to predict whether Omicron would push the pandemic into an endemic phase.

Of the five stages — the active pandemic, deceleration, control, elimination, and eradication — we are still in the first stage, Dr. Fauci pointed out.

“If you look at the history of infectious diseases, we’ve only eradicated one infectious disease in man, and that’s smallpox. That’s not going to happen with this virus,” he said.

Dr. Fauci warned that another, less dangerous or disruptive strain of the virus will likely emerge before COVID-19 becomes endemic.

“Hopefully it will be at such a low level that it doesn’t disrupt our normal social, economic, and other interactions,” he said.

Read more about how past pandemics compare with COVID-19 here.

01/19/2022 12:08 GMT — US to make 400 million N95 masks available for free

People across America will be able to pick up highly protective N95 masks for free from their local pharmacies and community health centers starting from next week.

President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will make 400 million masks available around the United States. It plans for the program to be fully running by early February.

The news comes after the CDC updated its guidance last week and said N95 respirators with a snug fit were more effective at preventing transmission than surgical or cloth masks.

Americans can now also order up to four free COVID-19 rapid tests per residential address from COVIDtests.gov as part of Biden’s push to combat a nationwide surge in cases and limited access to testing.

Read more updates here.

01/19/2022 11:19 GMT — WHO recommends arthritis drug to treat severe COVID-19

In its latest update on drug treatments for COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has strongly recommended an arthritis drug for patients with severe or critical disease.

The latest evidence from clinical trials showed that baricitinib, a Janus kinase inhibitor, improved survival, reduced the need for mechanical ventilation, and decreased the duration of hospitalization. It did so by blocking the activity of immune signaling molecules called cytokines.

Read more about the drug here.

01/18/2022 14:01 GMT — Greece issues fines for unvaccinated over-60s

Unvaccinated people over 60 years old may now incur a fine, according to the new vaccination mandate that Greece issued on Monday.

The fine starts at 50 euros ($57) in January and may later include an additional monthly penalty of 100 euros ($114). The money collected will help fund state hospitals, according to government officials.

Head here for more details.

01/18/2022 13:41 GMT — Fourth vaccine dose may offer less protection against Omicron, suggest preliminary data

Preliminary research from Israel indicates that a fourth dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine provides limited protection against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The data come from Sheba Hospital, which delivered a fourth dose to more than 270 members of its staff. The healthcare workers had previously received either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

“Despite increased antibody levels, the fourth vaccine only offers a partial defence against the virus,” says Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the infection prevention and control unit of the hospital. 

“The vaccines, which were more effective against previous variants, offer less protection versus Omicron.”

Find out more here.

01/18/2022 12:50 GMT — Australia registers highest number of deaths since pandemic started

Australia has recorded a total of 77 COVID-19-related deaths this Tuesday, marking the pandemic’s peak in the country since it broke out.

The national surge in deaths is occurring as the Omicron variant is taking a hold of the country, driving up hospitalizations. This is making the need for vaccine boosters even more apparent, government officials say.

“There needs to be a sense of urgency in embracing the booster doses,” says Kerry Chant, chief health officer in the state of New South Wales. “For Omicron, we know that the protection is lower, and we need that next boosting to get that higher level of protection.”

Read the full story here

01/17/2022 14:34 GMT — Common cold may protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection and lead the way to new vaccines

A study recently published in Nature Communications suggests that T cells produced from prior infection by other coronaviruses — such as the common cold — may help protect against SARS-CoV-2.

That is because those T cells target internal proteins of SARS-CoV-2.

“The study is small, but the findings are interesting and consistent with other data that prior experience with other coronavirus infections can affect a person’s susceptibility to COVID-19,” Dr. Arturo Casadevall, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and chair of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health — who was not involved in this study — told Medical News Today.

Read the story in full here.

01/17/2022 14:30 GMT — Immunity problems persist 8 months after mild COVID-19

A recent study published in the journal Nature Immunology indicates that many people continue to experience immunological dysfunction 8 months after a mild-to-moderate SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“In conducting this research, we were looking for proteins in the serum,” explained co-lead author Dr. Chansavath Phetsouphanh in an interview for New Atlas

“[W]e found persistently elevated levels of Type I and Type III interferons — types of protein that cells make in response to the presence of a virus. These interferons generally disappear after an infection clears, but in patients with long COVID, we found they were present for an extended period,” he added.

Read more about long COVID here.

01/17/2022 13:45 GMT — COVAX delivers 1 billionth vaccine dose

In a press statement from January 16, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that it had delivered 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses through its equitable vaccine distribution initiative, COVAX.

The billionth dose was among 1.1 million doses delivered to Rwanda.

“As of 13 January, 2022, out of 194 member states, 36 WHO member states have vaccinated less than 10% of their population, and 88 less than 40%,” the press statement notes.

While the WHO continues to encourage more equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and works toward this through COVAX, the issue of inequity cannot be fully addressed without a more consistent commitment from high-income countries, the organization points out.

The statement adds that “COVAX’s ambition was compromised by hoarding/stockpiling in rich countries [and] catastrophic outbreaks leading to borders and supply being locked. And a lack of sharing of licenses, technology, and know-how by pharmaceutical companies meant [that] manufacturing capacity went unused.”

01/14/2022 14:18 GMT — Does Omicron cause less damage to the lungs?

Animal studies and experiments involving cells cultured in the laboratory suggest that the Omicron variant may have a reduced ability to infect the lungs, compared with the Delta variant. In a recent feature, Medical News Today looks at the evidence.

Read the feature here.

01/14/2022 12:13 GMT — Mask rules tighten across Europe

As the Omicron wave moved to center stage in December, a number of European countries tightened their mask mandates. In Italy and Greece, people must now wear filtering facepiece (FFP2) masks on all forms of public transport. Spain and Greece have also reinstated outdoor mask mandates. 

Meanwhile, in many French cities, the outdoor mask mandate has been partially reinstated for anyone aged 6 or older.

Last week, Austrian officials also announced that people must wear FFP2 masks outdoors when it is not possible to remain at least 2 meters (6.5 feet) apart.

01/14/2022 09:05 GMT — Long COVID: Could antiplatelet therapy help?

COVID-19 affects the lining of the blood vessels. Some scientists theorize that long COVID symptoms might be associated with this pathology. A team based in South Africa recently released preliminary results of a treatment regimen using antiplatelet therapy and anticoagulants to treat people with long COVID.

Read about their research here.

01/13/2022 16:15 GMT — President Biden promises free masks to slow COVID-19 spread

01/13/2022 11:05 GMT — Quebec plans to tax unvaccinated

According to Quebec’s premier, François Legault, individuals who decide not to have a COVID-19 vaccine will soon have to pay a healthcare tax. In an announcement on Tuesday, he said, “A health contribution will be charged to all adults that don’t want to get vaccinated.”

Legault explained that although only 10% of the population are not vaccinated, they make up 50% of patients in intensive care. People who cannot have the vaccine for medical reasons will be exempt.

“All Quebec adults who refuse in the coming weeks to at least get a first dose will be getting a bill,” Legault said.

01/13/2022 10:10 GMT — mRNA booster vaccine offers best protection against Omicron

A recent study shows that two doses of an mRNA (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) vaccine or one dose of viral vector (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine was insufficient to produce adequate immunity to a lab-created Omicron variant. The study authors also found that a booster dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine provided the best immune protection.

Read more about the study here.

01/13/2022 10:08 GMT — COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy not linked to adverse birth outcomes

Vaccination rates in pregnant people remain low owing to safety concerns. However, a recent study involving over 40,000 pregnant women shows that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy did not increase the risk of adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth and smaller size than usual at birth.

Find more about the study here.

01/12/2022 15:03 GMT — Menstrual cycle and COVID-19 vaccine: Study finds temporary change

Recent research investigated the link between COVID-19 vaccines and menstrual cycles and found that some people may experience temporary increases in cycle length.

“The main finding of the study is that people who receive both doses of the vaccine in the same cycle experience, on average, a delay to their next period of 2 days,” said Dr. Victoria Male, a lecturer in reproductive immunology at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom who was not involved in the study.

Although the association was not clinically meaningful, the study helps address concerns about possible menstrual side effects.

Read MNT‘s coverage of the study here.

01/12/2022 11:29 GMT — Omicron may have reached its peak in UK, US to follow

Data so far suggest that the United Kingdom may have reached its peak with the wave of COVID-19 infections fueled by the Omicron variant. According to the same data, the United States could reach its peak soon, at which point the number of cases there may start dropping dramatically.

Current expectations are that the U.S. may see a considerable drop in the number of cases later this month “simply because everybody who could be infected will be infected,” according to Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle.

A predictive model by UW indicates that the U.S. will reach its peak at 1.2 million daily COVID-19 cases by January 19, after which it will see a rapid drop.

However, there is still a lot of uncertainty about how the next phase of the pandemic will look like for different countries.

The prediction follows comments by the U.S. top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said the country was approaching the “threshold” of entering a new phase in the pandemic.

“Omicron, with its extraordinary, unprecedented degree of efficiency of transmissibility, will ultimately find just about everybody,” he said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Read about the symptoms the Omicron variant causes here.

01/12/2022 10:33 GMT — 50% of Europe could contract Omicron in next 6–8 weeks: WHO

More than half of Europe’s population could contract the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 within the next 2 months if infections continue at their current rates across the continent, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next 6–8 weeks,” Dr. Hans Kluge, the regional director of the WHO’s European office, told an online briefing Tuesday.

Dr. Kluge also expressed concern about the “full impact” of transmission of this scale in countries where levels of vaccination are lower. Hospitalizations have also been rising in many European countries.

COVID-19 cases in Europe doubled in the first week of 2022, reaching at least 7 million.

Read more about the Omicron variant and its origins here.

01/11/2022 15:47 GMT — US healthcare staff allowed to work with SARS-CoV-2 infection

More and more hospitals in the United States are allowing healthcare staff who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 to continue to work if they have mild COVID-19 symptoms or no symptoms at all. This measure is due to the severe shortage of hospital staff and the high numbers of COVID-19 cases that are occurring as a result of the Omicron outbreak.

Read more here.

01/11/2022 12:45 GMT — Omicron infection: What are the symptoms?

How are the symptoms of an Omicron infection different from those of an infection with the Delta variant? In an effort to answer this question, a new MNT Snapshot Feature reviews and compares the symptoms of the two variants. 

MNT also reached out for expert advice on preventing, detecting, and treating a mild Omicron infection at home.

Read the entire feature here.

01/11/2022 12:00 GMT — China locks down a third city

A total of 20 million people are now on lockdown in China, as the country has detected an Omicron outbreak in the city of Anyang. This is the third Chinese city to be locked down after Xi’an and Yuzhou, both of which are coping with the Delta variant.

Read more about the COVID-19 situation in China here.

01/10/2022 15:00 GMT — Is ‘Deltacron’ a real variant?

According to recent media reports, a scientist from the University of Cyprus claims to have identified a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, which they have dubbed “Deltacron.”

The researcher claims to have identified this variant in 25 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The name is a combination of “Delta” and “Omicron,” since, according to the scientist, this variant exhibits genetic similarities to both Delta and Omicron.

“We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious” than previous variants, Prof. Leondios Kostrikis — who is a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology — told Sigma TV.

Other researchers, however, have cast doubts on the legitimacy of these claims, saying that the so-called combination variant is likely the result of a laboratory error.

“This is almost certainly not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lineages,” says Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

“The apparent Omicron mutations are located precisely and exclusively in a section of the sequence encoding the spike gene […] affected by a technological artifact in certain sequencing procedures,” he says.

Nevertheless, Prof. Kostrikis has defended his initial claim, noting that the samples where the Deltacron variant appeared had undergone genetic sequencing in multiple laboratories from multiple countries.

For the time being, Deltacron’s existence remains subject to continued debate.

01/10/2022 14:46 GMT — COVID-19: Did Omicron evolve in mice?

A recent study published in the Journal of Genetics and Genomics investigates the origin of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

According to the study authors, this variant presents a pattern of mutations that is also typical of a virus that has infected mice. This suggests that Omicron may have evolved in rodents.“

We believe that Omicron likely evolved in a wild mouse population,” the senior author of the study, Wenfeng Qian, Ph.D., told Medical News Today.

Read the story in full here.

01/10/2022 12:47 GMT — Covaxin booster offers long-term protection, Bharat Biotech claims

Bharat Biotech — a biotechnology company based in India — reported on Saturday, January 8, that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, offers long-term protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

According to the Bharat Biotech press release, a phase 2, double-blind, randomized controlled trial demonstrated that, at 6 months after receipt of the second Covaxin dose, a booster dose increased neutralization titres against wild-type and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 fivefold.

Read more about Covaxin here.

01/10/2022 12:20 GMT — Pfizer vaccine can prevent multisystem inflammatory syndrome in 12–18-year-olds

recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can prevent multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) aged 12–18 years.

MIS-C is a serious inflammatory condition reported in some children and teens who have had COVID-19 or who have been exposed to the virus that causes this disease.

The exact causes of this condition remain unknown, but since it can affect many organs — including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain — and can require hospitalization, researchers are keen on finding ways to prevent it.

According to the CDC study, “Receipt of two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective in preventing MIS-C in persons aged 12–18 years.” The effectiveness rate was 91%.

Read about the long-term effects of COVID-19 here.

01/07/2022 09:54 GMT — Some gut bacteria may protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection

Scientists recently investigated whether bacteria from the human microbiome could inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They identified three bacterial metabolites that inhibited infection. Remarkably, these natural bacterial metabolites resemble drugs that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved and that clinical research is exploring as treatments for COVID-19.

Read more about the research here.

01/07/2022 09:28 GMT — IHU variant probably not cause for concern

A new coronavirus variant — the IHU variant, or B.1.640.2 — has been widely covered in the media. In a recent press briefing, Dr. Abdi Mahamud, incident manager for the World Health Organization (WHO), explained that they are monitoring the variant but do not believe it is a cause for concern.

preprint published last month brought attention to the IHU variant, following its discovery in France. However, it had first been identified weeks before Omicron. Despite this head start, the variant remains rare among the population.

The IHU variant is a “phylogenetic sister group” of B.1.640, which the WHO designated a “variant under monitoring” in November 2021. However, it could not compete with the Delta variant.

01/06/2022 14:43 GMT — More evidence of SARS-CoV-2 presence in white-tailed deer populations

In a recent study, scientiststested nasal swabs from 360 wild white-tailed deer in six locations within Ohio state. They detected SARS-CoV-2 in 129 animals (35.8%). The results, which appear in Nature, back up earlier research suggesting that white-tailed deer might become a reservoir for the virus.

“No spillback to humans was observed, but these findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 viruses have the capacity to transmit in [United States] wildlife, potentially opening new pathways for evolution,” the authors write.

“There is an urgent need to establish comprehensive ‘One Health’ programs to monitor deer, the environment, and other wildlife hosts globally.”

Read more about SARS-CoV-2 and white-tailed deer here.

01/06/2022 10:43 GMT — Italy: COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for those 50 or older

As Italy experiences a surge in SARS-CoV-2 infections, the government has made it compulsory for people aged 50 or older to get vaccinated.

Additionally, as of February 15, people over 50 who work must present a health pass proving immunization or recovery from COVID-19.

“We are making these choices in order to restrict the unvaccinated as much as possible, as this is what is causing the burden on our hospital system,” says Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza.

The country’s death toll — more than 138,000 to date — is the second highest in Europe, after the United Kingdom. Italy registered 189,109 new SARS-CoV-2 infections yesterday.

Find more live updates here.

01/06/2022 09:52 GMT — Can mental health experts help improve vaccine hesitancy?

Given that uptake of vaccines is low among young adults — and young adulthood is the age of onset for many mental health problems  mental health experts are uniquely suited to help overcome resistance to COVID-19 vaccination. This is the message of a recent opinion column that appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

Read more here.

01/05/2022 13:48 GMT — COVID-19 vaccines do not trigger preterm births, CDC study finds

Having a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of delivering babies prematurely or giving birth to atypically small babies, according to a large study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers analyzed the records of 46,079 pregnant women, of whom over one-fifth had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine dose, typically during their second or third trimester. Most had received an mRNA vaccine, either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

There were no significant differences in preterm or underweight birth rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The study adds to evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women. Furthermore, developing COVID-19 during pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk of hospitalization, intubation, and death.

Read more about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy here.

01/05/2022 11:06 GMT — US, UK break daily COVID-19 case records amid Omicron surge

The United States recorded over a million new COVID-19 cases on Monday, marking the highest figure for any country in the world since the pandemic broke out.

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed 1,082,549 people tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 on that day —around double the previous U.S. record.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Omicron variant accounted for 95.4% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. last week.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the number of confirmed daily COVID-19 cases also hit another record high on Tuesday, with 218,724 people testing positive.

The news comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the government would not impose lockdowns and would continue with its “plan B,” which involves mask mandates, daily testing, and working from home when possible.

Read more COVID-19 updates here.

01/04/2022 12:11 GMT — FDA authorizes Pfizer booster for 12–15-year-olds

On Monday, January 3, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for 12–15-year-olds.

The federal agency also ruled that preteens and teens in this age group would be eligible to receive their booster shot after a 5-month interval from their second vaccine dose.

Furthermore, the FDA approved third COVID-19 vaccine doses for children aged 5–11 years who have a weakened immune system.

According to Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, “Based on the FDA’s assessment of currently available data, a booster dose of the currently authorized vaccines may help provide better protection against both the Delta and Omicron variants.”

01/04/2022 11:37 GMT — Israel reports its first case of COVID-19 and flu coinfection

An unvaccinated pregnant woman has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and seasonal influenza at the same time, according to a report from the Times of Israel.

The patient was discharged from the hospital on Thursday, and her doctors said that she was in good condition.

“The disease is the same disease. They’re viral and cause difficulty breathing, since both attack the upper respiratory tract,” said Prof. Arnon Vizhnitser, the director of the hospital’s gynecology department.

This coinfection has been dubbed “flurona,” and there have likely been other cases elsewhere in the world, as several studies have suggested.

Read more here about the safety of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

01/04/2022 11:11 GMT — New B.1.640.2 variant with 46 mutations discovered in France

A new SARS-CoV-2 variant, identified as B.1.640.2, has been detected in at least 12 patients in southern France, according to reports.

pre-print paper that has not yet undergone peer review found that the variant has 46 mutations compared to the original variant. Data so far suggest the variant could be Cameroonian in origin and spread via travel to Forcalquier, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region.

Researchers say it is too early to speculate about the variant’s severity or transmissibility.

Experts, such as Prof. Francois Balloux, have said the variant does not explain the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the same region, nor is it associated with ICU cases.

Health experts have not yet detected the variant in other countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has not classified it as a variant of concern (VOC).

Read more here about how we may be contributing to new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

12/23/2021 12:49 GMT — Young people less likely to have long COVID than early studies suggested

meta-analysis of studies has indicated that long COVID might be less of a risk for young people than previously thought.

Although children and young people often report persistent symptoms after SARS-CoV-2 infection, researchers found similar symptoms in those who had tested positive and negative for the virus.

However, children who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were slightly more likely to have some lingering symptoms.

Read more about the study here.

12/23/2021 12:07 GMT — COVID-19 may have a molecular link with Parkinson’s

study has found that the N-protein of SARS-CoV-2 can speed up the formation of the amyloid fibrils responsible for Parkinson’s.

The study joins a few case studies suggesting a link between COVID-19 and Parkinson’s after three relatively young people were diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease following a COVID-19 infection.

However, as this was a test-tube study, there is no evidence that this can happen in the human brain. Researchers remain skeptical.

If future studies support this finding, it could have implications for the development of next-generation vaccines against the virus.

Read more about it here.

12/23/2021 11:54 GMT — 3 in 10 COVID-19 patients not fully recovered after 1 year

A recent study found that fewer than 3 in 10 people felt they had fully recovered 12 months after leaving hospital following treatment for COVID-19.

Furthermore, researchers found that females and people with obesity, systemic inflammation, and more severe symptoms during the initial infection had an increased risk of having long COVID and related health impairments.

Read MNT‘s coverage of the study here.

If you would like to read a first-hand account of a doctor’s struggle with long Covid, head here.

12/23/2021 11:45 GMT — UK daily COVID-19 cases top 100K for the first time

The United Kingdom recorded 106,122 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection on Wednesday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The surge has been largely fueled by the more infectious Omicron variant.

The figure showed a 35% increase, compared with the past week. The previous record came on December 17, with
93,045 cases.

On Thursday, the Office for National Statistics said 1 in 45 people in England had COVID-19 last week, a rate that rose to 1 in 30 in London.

The case data comes a day after the country had administered a record 968,665 boosters and third doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

This week, the U.K. also moved to offer clinically vulnerable 5–11-year-olds a lower, pediatric dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A final decision awaits approval by ministers.

Read more about vaccines and Omicron here.

12/23/2021 11:27 GMT — US authorizes first COVID-19 pill for at-home treatment

On Wednesday, the United States authorized Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid — its first oral COVID-19 treatment — for at-home use for people aged 12 years and older at risk of severe illness.

Paxlovid had an efficacy of almost 90% in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients deemed high risk. Pfizer has also said its trials suggest the pill remains effective against Omicron.

The move comes as the U.S. is experiencing a surge in Omicron cases, which now make up over 73% of all infections.

Health experts also predict Merck’s antiviral pill will get approval for use soon.

Read more about Paxlovid here.

12/22/2021 10:47 GMT — Israel set to give 4th vaccine dose to over-60s in world first

Israel could become the first country to trial a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Tuesday that the booster would be offered to anyone over the age of 60 and at-risk groups, including medical teams and people with weakened immune systems.

Eligible people will be able to receive their booster 4 months after their third dose.

“The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose, as well,” he said.

The move comes after the country’s first reported death from the Omicron variant and its rapid global spread.

Data so far do not indicate a necessity for a fourth dose, though research is ongoing.

Read more here about how vaccines stand the test against Omicron.

12/22/2021 10:27 GMT — England drops self-isolation from 10 days to 7 for those who test negative

People who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and are currently in self-isolation in England will be able to get out of their quarantine up to 3 days early if they test negative twice, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced.

To be able to end self-isolating, people will have to provide negative lateral flow test results from days six and seven.

This will apply to all people, whether they are fully vaccinated or not. Those who tested positive on Friday or started showing symptoms last week can also benefit from this change in guidance.

Javid said the government was introducing the measure to minimize disruption caused by the rapid surge and spread of the Omicron variant across the country.

Read more COVID-19 updates here.

12/21/2021 14:10 GMT — Omicron now accounts for almost 75% of COVID-19 cases in the US

Omicron, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant, now accounts for 73% of COVID-19 cases in the United States. This is according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The new variant is responsible for even more cases in some parts of the country. About 90% of infections in New York, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest are due to Omicron.

The CDC also notes that approximately 650,000 Omicron infections occurred in the U.S. last week, according to data released on Monday.

Find out more here.

12/21/2021 13:30 GMT — EU authorizes Novavax vaccine

The European Union has authorized the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine for use across its 27 nations. The vaccine received conditional marketing authorization for people aged 18 years and over on Monday.

The United States-based manufacturer announced that it is currently testing the vaccine’s effectiveness against Omicron.

Read the full story here

12/20/2021 13:55 GMT — Moderna preliminary data suggest booster effective against Omicron

On Monday, December 20, pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna published preliminary data about the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine booster against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

According to Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, “These data [show] that the currently authorized Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralizing antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels.” Bancel calls these results “reassuring.”

The United States has authorized a 50-microgram Moderna booster, which contains half the dose of a baseline Moderna COVID-19 shot.

12/20/2021 13:50 GMT — Sinopharm booster may provide little protection against Omicron

Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine booster, BBIBP-CorV — authorized for use in China and the Philippines — provides very little if any protection against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The research has not yet undergone peer review, and these results are available online in preprint form.

According to the study, the Sinopharm booster’s neutralizing antibody activity against Omicron “reduced 20.1-fold compared with its activity against a wild-type strain of the coronavirus.”

“In conclusion, a third booster dose of BBIBP-CorV [led] to a significant rebound in neutralizing immune response against SARS-CoV-2, while the Omicron variant showed extensive but incomplete escape of the booster elicited neutralization,” the study authors write. 

12/20/2021 12:21 GMT — New U.K. report claims Omicron more likely to reinfect

A newly published report from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom claims that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is more likely to reinfect than the Delta variant.

The researchers who authored this report estimate that there is a “5.41 […] fold higher risk of reinfection [with Omicron compared with Delta,” which suggests that an initial infection with the Omicron variant results in weak immune protection.

While this report used real-world data to calculate this estimate, there are nevertheless some caveats regarding these data.

Prof. Penny Ward — an independent pharmaceutical physician and visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, not involved with the report — explains that “the majority of confirmed Omicron infections reported in the dataset are from young adults, many of African descent, primarily in the London region, which is a pattern very different to that observed with Delta variant infections.”

“In particular,” she adds, “the current clustering of cases of Omicron infection in younger age adults, who are inherently less likely to be hospitalized or to die from COVID, limits the extent to which differences in severity of illness following the infection caused by these two variants can be assessed.”