Booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine give an estimated 70 to 75 per cent protection against mild disease from the omicron variant, the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Friday, citing initial findings from a real-world study.
The findings are some of the earliest data on the protection against omicron outside of lab studies, which have shown reduced neutralizing activity against the omicron variant.
In an analysis of 581 people with confirmed omicron, two doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines provided much lower levels of protection against symptomatic infection compared with what they provide against delta.
However, when boosted with a dose of Pfizer vaccine, there was around 70 per cent protection against symptomatic infection for people who initially received AstraZeneca, and around 75 per cent protection for those who received Pfizer.
That compares with estimated protection against infection from delta following a booster of around 90 per cent.
“These early estimates should be treated with caution but they indicate that a few months after the second jab, there is a greater risk of catching the omicron variant compared to delta strain,” said Dr. Mary Ramsay, head of immunization at the UKHSA.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, the interval for coronavirus booster vaccines for all adults was shortened to three months, down from four or five, officials said on Friday, as the country struggles to fight record levels of infections.
New coronavirus infections in South Korea have exceeded 7,000 for the third consecutive day in a record-breaking surge that has crushed hospitals and threatens the country’s goals to weather the pandemic without lockdowns.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the country could be forced to take extraordinary measures if the virus doesn’t slow soon. Officials issued administrative orders requiring hospitals around the country to designate 2,000 more beds combined for COVID-19 treatment.
In the United States, individual states called on the National Guard and other military personnel to assist virus-weary medical staff at hospitals and other care centres.
People who became sick after refusing to get vaccinated are overwhelming hospitals in certain states, especially in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest.
New York on Friday announced a statewide indoor mask order, effective Monday and lasting five weeks through the holiday season.
In Michigan, health director Elizabeth Hertel warned: “I want to be absolutely clear: You are risking serious illness, hospitalization and even death,” without a vaccination.
The seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks to 117,677 by Thursday, compared to 84,756 on Nov. 25, Thanksgiving Day. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has soared to about 54,000 on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We’re entering a time of uncertainty, and we could either plateau here or our cases could get out of control,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul warned.
-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:00 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
Federal public health officials on Friday reported that COVID-19 activity is increasing — and cautioned that more severe cases could be seen if trends continue.
Over the past week, there was an average of:
- More than 3,300 new cases of COVID-19 reported daily.
- More than 1,460 people with COVID-19 in hospital each day, including more than 450 people in intensive care units.
- 20 deaths reported daily.
- A total of 29,896 deaths nationally since the beginning of the pandemic and 1,764,159 recoveries.
“As we head into the winter months with a strained health system in many areas of the country, a high degree of caution is needed to minimize spread and impact — particularly during the upcoming holiday season,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said at a modelling briefing on Friday.
-From CBC News, last updated at 2:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Friday afternoon, more than 269 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The reported death toll stood at more than 5.29 million.
In Africa, South African officials announced plans on Friday to roll out vaccine boosters as daily infections approached an all-time high. Meanwhile, scientists there said there was no sign that the omicron variant was causing more severe illness.
Hospital data show that COVID-19 admissions were rising sharply in more than half of the country’s nine provinces, but deaths were not rising as dramatically and the median length of hospital stay was more manageable.
In the past few days, a nationwide outbreak has been infecting around 20,000 people a day, with 19,018 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday but only 20 new deaths, according to data from the National Institute of Communicable Disease. About 38 per cent of adults in South Africa are fully vaccinated, more than in many other African countries.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday again took aim at the travel restrictions countries — including Canada — imposed on southern Africa after the variant was reported, saying on Twitter that “we should be concerned that some decisions are no longer informed by science.”
“This pandemic has shown how we respond to a truly global crisis. It has shown several shortcomings and weaknesses,” Ramaphosa said in a tweet, as he attended a meeting focused on accelerating equitable access to vaccines.
Meanwhile, officials in Ghana announced returning citizens and residents will be vaccinated against COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport from next Monday if they have not already received shots, its health service said, amid concerns over low take-up of vaccinations.
In the Americas, dozens of U.S. Navy medics have deployed to New Mexico to treat a delta variant-fuelled surge in patients as part of a military operation to treat virus hot spots across Western and Midwest states.
Meanwhile, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said that starting next week, face coverings must be worn inside businesses and venues unless they have implemented a vaccine requirement.
In Europe, Switzerland proposed on Friday further tightening restrictions on public life in a bid to break the momentum of rising coronavirus cases that threaten to overwhelm its health-care system, saying a limited lockdown may be needed. The government asked regional authorities to consider expanding the requirement for proof of vaccination or recovery from the virus for access to many indoor venues.
Meanwhile, tighter restrictions to curb the coronavirus came into force in Britain on Friday, as the government faced new allegations that officials flouted rules they had imposed on the nation with lockdown-breaking parties last Christmas.
Face masks are once again compulsory in indoor public spaces in England under the measures British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this week to slow the spread of the new omicron virus variant. Vaccination passes will be needed for nightclubs and large events starting next week, and residents will be told to work from home, if possible.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Friday said that the omicron variant was growing exponentially and would overtake delta as the dominant strain within days, as she tightened self-isolation rules.
In the Middle East, health officials in Jordan on Thursday reported detecting two cases of the omicron coronavirus variant.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore has detected its first locally transmitted case of the omicron variant in a member of staff at the city state’s airport, authorities said, warning that more omicron cases are likely to be detected.
Meanwhile, India has detected 25 cases of the omicron variant and all have shown mild symptoms, the health ministry said on Friday, adding that there was no immediate plan to authorize vaccine boosters.
-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:00 p.m. ET