Coronavirus Morning News Brief – Dec. 20: The Worst of the Pandemic ‘Could Very Well Be’ Ahead of Us

Moderna Booster Works Against Omicron, Israel Bars U.S. Citizens

By Jonathan Spira on 20 December 2021
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Old Senate chamber in the Capitol

Moderna said Monday that its booster shot significantly increased levels of immune-system antibodies against Omicron in the lab tests. The drugmaker said a third dose increased levels of neutralizing antibodies against omicron 37 times more than pre-boost levels.

Three members of Congress announced Sunday that they have breakthrough infections of the coronavirus.  The three are Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker and Congressman Jason Crow.  All reported mild symptoms.  Senator Warren said in a statement that she was “grateful for the protection provided against serious illness that comes from being vaccinated and boosted.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Francis Collins, the outgoing director of the National Institutes of Health, said he had been pressured by then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans to endorse unproven coronavirus remedies such as hydroxychloroquine.  He told CBS News on Sunday that he had also been told to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the administration’s chief medical advisor, but refused.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday that plans for the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration are being reviewed as health officials there closely monitor the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant.  Current plans – announced in November – call for all attendees to be fully vaccinated but the fact that a third dose of vaccine is necessary to ward off omicron may result in a dramatic change of plans.

The World Economic Forum said it would cancel its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, citing concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant.  The meeting had been slated to be held January 17 through January 22, 2022. 

Officials in Ottawa, who had last week announced capacity limits of 50% at venues that can hold over 1,000 people, changed course on Friday and extended the rule to all theaters and cinemas, as well as most indoor settings including malls, restaurants, and sports venues.

“We need to do everything we can to slow its spread as we continue to dramatically ramp up capacity to get as many booster shots into arms as possible,” said Premier Doug Ford.

Pubs, restaurants, and other public venues in Ireland will be required to close at 8 p.m. starting Monday as the number of infections in Europe continues to surge. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that cases of the omicron variant were doubling every few days and said on RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor show that the worst of the pandemic “could very well be” ahead of us.

Israeli officials added the United States and Canada to its so-called “red list,” which now includes 58 countries.  Residents of countries on the list are barred from entering Israel.  Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on Israelis to work from home whenever possible and get children 5 years of age and older vaccinated.

Harvard University in Cambridge will go remote in January for at least the first few weeks of the year. “Public health experts anticipate the increase in COVID-19 cases to continue, driven by the Omicron variant, which we have now confirmed is already present in our campus community,” the university said in a statement.

Finally, the surge in cases is having a dramatic impact on U.S. professional sports leagues. The National Basketball League said Sunday it would postpone five additional games due to Covid outbreaks amongst players and the National Hockey League postponed 21 games between Canadian and U.S. teams citing “concern about cross-border travel.”  The National Football League will give players at-home tests to use prior to entering team or league facilities.

Now here are the daily statistics for Monday, December 20.

As of Monday morning, the world has recorded 275.2 million Covid-19 cases, an increase of 0.5 million new cases, and almost 5.4 million deaths, according to Worldometer, a service that tracks such information. In addition, 246.9 million people worldwide have recovered from the virus, an increase of 0.5 million.

The average daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States over the past 14 days is 133,012, a 31% increase.  The average daily death toll over the same period is 1,296, an increase of 9% over the same period.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic the United States has, as of Monday, recorded 51.8 million cases, a higher figure than any other country, and a death toll of 827,323. India has the world’s second highest number of officially recorded cases, over 34.7 million, and a reported death toll of 477,554.  Finally, Brazil has recorded the second highest number of deaths as a result of the virus, 617,838, and has over 22.2 million cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Monday, 241.6 million people in the United States – or 72.8% – have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Of that population, 61.4%, or 203.9 million people, are now fully vaccinated, and the total number of doses that have been dispensed in the United States is now 493.6 million. Breaking this down further, 85.1% of the population over the age of 18 – or 219.7 million people – has received at least a first inoculation and 72.4% of the same group – or 187 million people – is fully vaccinated.  In addition, 32.1% of that population, or 59.9 million people, has already received a booster shot.

Some 56.9% of the world population has received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, an increase that is largely unchanged from the prior day, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that tracks such information.  So far, 8.74 billion doses of the vaccine have been administered on a global basis.

Meanwhile, only 7.6% of people in low-income countries have received one dose, while in countries such as Canada, China, Denmark, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States, at least 65% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine. In countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti, Syria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda, for example, vaccination rates remain in the single digits, if not lower.

Figures from the World Health Organization show that well-off countries are vaccinating people at the rate of one person per second, while the majority of poor countries have yet to give a single dose to its citizens.

It is critical that the world do a better job of sharing vaccines with poorer nations.

Sharing vaccines is not merely a form of charity.  Rather, the equitable distribution of vaccines is in every country’s health and economic interest and no country will be able to move past the pandemic until other countries have recovered as well.

Anna Breuer contributed to this story.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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