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Omicron: Everything You Need to Know about Coronavirus Variant

Omicron Coronavirus Variant

A new strain of the coronavirus that causes the deadly Covid-19 illness is causing havoc around the world, alarming health officials. Some have already labeled omicron as the “most alarming” variation since the delta variant, which fueled waves of infection throughout the globe a few months ago. Because of its higher transmissibility, the B.1.1.529 mutation is deemed harmful. Countries rushed to put an end to air travel, markets plummeted, and scientists convened emergency meetings to assess the consequences, which were still largely unknown.

Omicron has already been classified as a variation of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the World Health Organization, omicron poses a bigger risk than delta.

What is it called?

The variety was formerly known as B.1.1.529, but the World Health Organization identified it as a variant of concern (VOC) on Friday due to “concerning” changes and “preliminary evidence suggesting an increased risk of reinfection with this variant.” The WHO approach allocates a Greek letter to such variants in order to provide a non-stigmatizing label that does not link such variants to the location where they were initially discovered. Omicron is the name of the new variation.

When was the Omicron variant first detected?

The B.1.1.529 strain was discovered on Tuesday and labeled as a potential threat because of its large number of changes, which could allow it to bypass immunity. It was also related to a recent increase in case of numbers in the Gauteng province of South Africa, which includes Pretoria and Johannesburg. These two elements rapidly drew the attention of international watchdogs, with the UK Health and Security Agency’s top medical adviser calling the variety as the “most concerning we’ve encountered.”

Where did it come from?

Although the variation was first connected to Gauteng, it did not necessarily originate there. On November 11th, the first sample with the variation was collected in Botswana. The odd constellation of mutations suggests it may have evolved during a protracted infection in an immunocompromised person, such as an untreated HIV/Aids patient, according to scientists.

Why are scientists worried about it?

More than 30 changes have been found in the variant’s spike protein, which is the virus’s key to unlocking human cells. This is more than double the number found in Delta. Concerns have been expressed that the antibodies from past diseases or vaccinations may no longer be properly matched as a result of such a drastic change. Scientists predict that the virus will be more likely to infect – or reinfect – persons who have immunity to earlier strains based only on the list of alterations.

Is it more transmissible?

Although the situation is not yet apparent, the growth picture is concerning. In South Africa, the number of cases has risen from 273 on November 16 to more than 1,200 at the start of this week. More than 80% of them were from Gauteng, and preliminary analysis indicates that the variation has quickly become the dominant strain. The R-value, which measures how quickly an epidemic spreads, is projected to be 1.47 in South Africa overall, but 1.93 in Gauteng. There’s a chance this is just a statistical fluke tied to a super-spreader event, but the data is alarming enough to warrant precautions.

Will existing vaccines work against it?

A large number of mutations, as well as the fact that some of them have previously been linked to the potential to bypass existing immune protection, have scientists concerned. However, these are just theories, and experiments are being carried out right now to see how successful antibodies are at neutralizing the new variety. Real-world data on reinfection rates will also provide a clearer picture of the magnitude of any immunity shift.

Scientists do not expect the variation to be completely undetectable by existing antibodies; instead, they expect current immunizations to provide less protection. As a result, increasing vaccination rates, including third doses for at-risk individuals, remains a critical goal.

What about existing drugs?

Antiviral medications recently approved by the FDA, such as Merck’s pill, are expected to be as effective against the new variety because they do not target the spike protein and instead function by preventing the virus from replicating. However, monoclonal antibodies, such as Regeneron’s therapy, have a higher probability of failing or partially failing because they target sections of the virus that have mutated.

Will the variant cause more severe Covid?

There is yet no evidence on whether the variation causes a change in Covid symptoms or severity; however, South African experts will be keeping a careful eye on this. It will be several weeks before any reliable data is available due to the time lag between infections and more acute sickness. At this point, scientists say there’s no compelling reason to believe the next variation will be worse or milder.

Can the vaccines be tweaked and how long could that take?

Yes, vaccine developers are already working on modifying vaccines to include the novel spike protein in the event that a new version is required.

When the Beta and Delta variants were discovered, a lot of the preliminary work for an update was done — however previous vaccines in those situations have held up well. This suggests that research teams were already planning to develop new vaccines and had talked to regulators about what extra trials would be needed. However, it could take four to six months for new immunizations to become widely available if they are needed.

Can the vaccines be tweaked and how long could that take?

So far, the bulk of confirmed cases have been in South Africa, with a few in Botswana and Hong Kong has thrown in for good measure. A third case was discovered in Israel on Thursday evening, involving a person who had returned from Malawi, and two more cases are suspected in the country. Belgium stated on Friday that it had discovered a case in someone who had traveled to Egypt and Turkey.

However, because community transmission exists in southern Africa if there is a transmissibility advantage, the novel variety is likely to have moved undetected to other nations.

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Joe Biden Gets His Pfizer Booster Shot, Urges People To Get Vaccinated

Joe Biden
Source: NPR

Joe Biden Gets Pfizer Booster Shot Against COVID-19

There has been a lot of chat in the US regarding booster shots. The FDA and CDC finally approved a booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine. However, you need to meet certain eligibility criteria to get the booster shot. The first condition is that it should be six months post your second vaccine shot. Moreover, you should be over 65 or prevailing from health conditions like diabetes, obesity, etc. Moreover, you are also eligible if you are at increased risk of COVID-19 because of where you work. US President Joe Biden was also eligible for the booster shot and received his dose publicly. He said, “The Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, looked at all the data, completed their review, and determined the boosters for the Pfizer vaccine.”

Joe Biden
Source: ABC

Biden Stresses On The Importance Of Getting Vaccinated

Biden revealed that there is still one-fourth of the eligible population that is yet to receive even one dose of vaccine. He advised people to get their vaccine shot ASAP to prevent the spread of the vaccine. Moreover, he said, “Boosters are important. But the most important thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated. The vast majority of Americans are doing the right thing. Over 77% of adults have gotten at least one shot. About 23% haven’t gotten any shots.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci Says Indoor Ventilation Is Key To Prevent COVID Transmission Through Air

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Source: Healthline

Dr. Anthony Fauci Reveals Cases Starting To Come Down In The US

Dr. Anthony Fauci made yet another appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, wherein he talked about COVID. Lately, the US had been experiencing a rise in COVID cases. The virus was spreading mainly among those who were unvaccinated. Fauci revealed that the cases have finally started coming down. However, he warned Americans to not become complacent just because the cases are decreasing. Moreover, he said, “One of the things we want to make sure is that we have had over the last few weeks a turning around of the acceleration of this, starting to come down in cases and hospitalizations and soon deaths. The one thing that we don’t want to do is that we don’t want to become complacent and say, OK, now we need to pull back. We don’t need any more people to get vaccinated.

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Source: Vanity Fair

Focus On Ventilation In Indoor Spaces, Says Dr. Fauci

There is data that proves that COVID started spreading through the air. If that is true, then it becomes increasingly important for people to wear masks and get vaccinated before stepping into high-risk situations. Fauci highlighted the importance of ventilation in indoor spaces to avoided contracting COVID. He said, “And what we should be doing is look at ventilation in indoor places. We know now that this is clearly spread by aerosol. And when you have something spread by aerosol, you absolutely want more ventilation, which is the reason why outdoors is always much safer than indoors. And if you are indoors, ventilation is going to be key. And that’s the reason why we really should be paying attention to that.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Source: Deccan Herald

Dr. Anthony Fauci Advises Against Gathering For Christmas

Fauci was asked if it was safe for families to gather for the Christmas celebration. He pointed out that it is still early to make such gatherings and advised against it. He said, “We’ve just got to concentrating on continuing to get those numbers down and not try to jump ahead by weeks or months and say what we’re going to do at a particular time.”

Not Going To Bash You About It: Shaq On People Not Taking The Vaccine

Shaq
Source: Bloomberg

Shaq Understands People Who Have Not Taken The Vaccine Yet

Shaq recently came on an interview and talked about a variety of topics which included the COVID vaccine. While many have already taken both doses of vaccine, there are people who have not taken a single dose yet. Unlike most vaccinated people, Shaq is not angry at those who are yet to take the vaccine. Instead, he understands their point of view. Moreover, he said, “We all have the right to make our own decision. We all have the right to say what we want. And sometimes when it doesn’t align up how it should line up, people have a problem with that. I’m at a point in my life now where I understand all the issues.”

Shaq
Source: Forbes

Shaq Doesn’t Criticize Unvaccinated People

Shaq revealed that he now tries to keep an all-round view of everything. That is also the reason why he doesn’t lash out at those people who have not taken the vaccine. He said, “So I don’t criticize guys. If that’s your stand, that’s your stand. I understand and I respect you, but not going to bash you about it.”

We Know That Mandates Work: Dr. Anthony Fauci On Vaccine Mandates In The US

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Source: DT Next

Dr. Anthony Fauci Says Federal Government Is Working Hard To Get People Vaccinated

After the Biden administration took over, the pace of vaccination in the US went up. However, it has slowed down in the past few months and things are not going in the right direction. Almost a quarter of the population is yet to take their first dose. President’s medical advisor Anthony Fauci revealed that the federal government is doing everything in their power to persuade people to get vaccinated. Moreover, he said, “We’ve obviously been trying very hard. We try to get trusted messengers out there and try and get this away from being an ideological or political statement, get back into the realm of pure public health, and try to convince people.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Source: Healthline

Vaccine Mandates Work, Says Fauci

Vaccine mandates has been a topic of discussion and debate in the US. Dr. Fauci is in favor of such mandates as people are not coming forward to take the vaccine. If the remaining population is not vaccinated, it can lead to another wave in the US. Fauci assured that such mandates work and help in reducing the COVID cases in the country. Moreover, he said, “So, although you’d like people to do it on their own accord, sometimes mandates actually can help in that regard — as sensitive an issue as that is, it is really getting people more vaccinated.”

Moderna Seeks FDA Authorization for a Second Booster Dose of its Coronavirus Vaccine for all Adults

Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine
Photo collected from Internet

Moderna stated Thursday that it is seeking clearance for a fourth COVID-19 immunization shot, pending a request for emergency authorization usage from the Food and Drug Administration.

Moderna, a biotechnology firm, asked the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday to enable adults 18 and older to receive a second booster dose of the company’s mRNA vaccine, citing worries that the vaccinations’ immune protection wears off with time.

Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, applied for FDA approval for a second booster shot for those 65 and older earlier this week, but Moderna’s application is much broader.

The applications by the manufacturers of the two messenger RNA vaccines, which account for nearly all of the vaccinations distributed in the United States, are bound to exacerbate the dispute about the longevity of the coronavirus vaccines’ protection — a matter that has divided the scientific community.

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have stated that their demands for a second booster dose are based in part on recent Israeli data showing lower vaccination efficacy during the omicron outbreak. Moderna is still undertaking clinical studies for an omicron-specific booster shot, which was initially reported by the New York Times.

Studies and real-world data demonstrate that booster protection against severe sickness and death lasts for several months but fades against infections.

In a recent interview, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that data from the United States shows that protection against severe illness remains strong four to five months after a booster, though effectiveness drops slightly from 91 percent to 78 percent.

Moderna said in a statement on Thursday that it requested that the second booster shot be made available to all adults in order to offer the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and clinicians greater freedom in determining whether individuals would benefit from a second dose of the vaccine.

The FDA’s decision might be made quickly if officials determine that the evidence is straightforward and does not require assessment by a panel of outside vaccine experts. After that, CDC advisers would weigh in on who should be eligible for a second booster shot, with the CDC director having the final say.

After receiving emergency use authorization in December 2020, the two-dose Moderna vaccine obtained full FDA approval for adults in January. In November, the FDA approved a booster shot of the messenger RNA vaccinations.

The business claimed in a statement that “real-world evidence continues to validate the effectiveness and excellent safety profile of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.”

Pfizer to Seek U.S. Nod for Covid Pill after Strong Results

Pfizer Covid-19 Pill
Photo Credit: https://www.axios.com/

Pfizer Inc. claimed that its Covid-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and fatalities in high-risk patients by 89 percent, a finding that could change how coronavirus sickness is handled and the pandemic’s trajectory.

The company said in a statement on Friday (November 05, 2021) that it was no longer enrolling new patients in a clinical trial of the medication “because of the overwhelming efficacy” and that it planned to submit the results to US regulatory authorities for emergency approval as soon as feasible.

As a result of the findings, two intriguing possibilities for treating Covid-19 patients early in the disease’s course have emerged. Merck & Co. and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP submitted its experimental pill to regulators last month after research showed it cut the risk of serious illness or death in patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19 by half.

Pfizer shares rose 7% in premarket trade in the United States, while Merck slid 4%.

So long as it’s widely available, a pill that can be taken at home at the first hint of symptoms is a critical weapon for taming the Covid-19 epidemic globally. According to a Pfizer representative, submissions to other regulatory authorities will follow the U.S. file.

When begun within three days or five days of symptom onset, five days of treatment with Pfizer’s medication drastically lowered the likelihood of hospitalization in a trial of 1,219 unvaccinated individuals, according to the company. Paxlovid is a medication that attaches to a protease enzyme and prevents the virus from reproducing. Some HIV medications function in a similar way.

Overall, only 0.8 percent of persons who began treatment within three days after being ill ended up in the hospital, with no one dying, but 7% of people who received a placebo during that time period were hospitalized or died. When the medicine was started within five days of the onset of symptoms, the effects were similar. According to Pfizer, the outcome, which hasn’t been published in a medical publication, was statistically significant.

Acute Deficit

Covid’s current therapy options aren’t optimal. Monoclonal antibodies from businesses like Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co. minimize hospitalizations, but the infusions are difficult to make and must be given in a doctor’s office, putting further burden on healthcare systems.

Other drugs, like Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir, are used to treat people who are already in the hospital and are much sicker. Dexamethasone, a low-cost steroid that is very effective, is normally only administered to patients who are terminally ill.

Merck has already agreed to allow generic drugmakers to apply for licenses to make its medication for more than 100 low- and middle-income countries, even before it has been approved in the United States. After a quick examination, the United Kingdom’s drug regulators were the first in the world to approve Merck’s medication on Thursday.

Pfizer’s tablet, which works on a different mechanism, now appears to be much more effective in high-risk individuals. Independent observers called the experiment off early due to the magnitude of the effect.

“We are ecstatic that we were able to see such great efficacy in this study.” “It has huge ramifications for patients all throughout the world,” Annaliesa Anderson, chief scientific officer for Pfizer’s hospital’s business segment, which includes antiviral research, said.

Pfizer is also investigating the medicine in standard-risk individuals, a study that included some vaccinated persons who had breakthrough infections, in addition to the current trial in high-risk patients.

In a third major study, Pfizer is looking into whether the drug may be used as prophylactic therapy for those who live with someone who has Covid-19, which would mean taking the drug to avoid contracting the virus.

Molecule from the Past

Pfizer researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom created the pill internally. During the early pandemic shutdowns, the scientists agreed to return to their labs in an effort to manufacture anti-Covid tablets as quickly as possible, according to Anderson. She claimed that company researchers “worked around the clock to design this chemical” in a short amount of time.

They dug up an old experimental antiviral medicine developed by Pfizer during the original SARS outbreak, which was caused by a coronavirus relative to Covid-19 and killed over 800 individuals starting in late 2002. The old medication had to be given intravenously. However, by July of last year, Pfizer researchers had altered the original molecule and created a new chemical that was highly effective in the test tube against Covid-19 and other coronaviruses — and could be taken as a pill.

The Pfizer medicine works by inhibiting a key enzyme required for the Covid-19 virus to proliferate. It’s given twice a day for five days and combined with ritonavir, a second drug that helps the Pfizer chemical stay in the bloodstream longer.

During the pandemic, Pfizer announced it planned to provide the antiviral medication at a tiered price. According to the report, higher- and upper-middle-income countries will pay more than lower-income countries. The pharmaceutical company did not specify how much it would charge.

Pfizer intends to generate more than 180,000 packets of the medicine by the end of this year, and at least 50 million packs by the end of 2022, with 21 million produced in the first half of the year, according to a company representative.

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New Coronavirus Variant Emerges in South Africa

Coronavirus Variant

With the discovery of a new coronavirus variety in South Africa, scientists and health professionals in India have warned that additional waves of infection are expected and that unless action is taken swiftly and effectively, the country may face repeat waves.

In comparison to two years ago, India today has superior tools, according to Vinod Scaria, a scientist at the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB). To be better prepared, he argued, the country needed to increase its vaccination push, public health measures, health infrastructure, and genomic surveillance.

He highlighted that time was valuable and that India had the best instruments available, including vaccines and public health measures such as masks, distance, and ventilation. Unfortunately, there existed a global vaccine imbalance.

“We must use our limited time to vaccinate all eligible persons with at least two doses.” Closing the gap between the first and the second dosage in the 45+ age group could provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reduce COVID-19 mortality, he said.

Dr. Scaria went on to say that boosters would be useless if the majority of the world had not received even one dose.

Experts say the new South African variety is significant because it contains a high number of mutations, including roughly 32 in the spike protein, some of which have been linked to immune escape and increased transmissibility independently.

While the addictive behaviors of such mutations cannot be accurately predicted, they highlighted that this can lead to new research areas.

He added the recent development is particularly alarming for a densely populated country like India, where transmission among the susceptible people can occur at a faster rate.

Though public health systems are prepared to deal with the possibility of a third wave, Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, consultant, interventional pulmonology and sleep medicine, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad, said viral variants with high transmissibility could put a huge strain on the existing healthcare infrastructure, given India’s population.

“Moreover, with many children remaining unvaccinated and many adults yet to receive the second dose of vaccination, a mutant variation at this time could result in rapid transmission and enhanced disease severity in these vulnerable populations,” he warned.

Doctors also say that because mutations are unavoidable, long-term planning and strategic planning to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic are critical.

“At an individual level, pandemic norms like avoiding or limiting social gatherings, wearing masks in public spaces and even indoors in houses with susceptible people, and adhering to hand sanitization measures should be observed,” Dr. Balasubramanian added.

According to Ankita Baidya of HCMCT Manipal Hospitals’ infectious diseases department, India has been successful in administering more than 100 crore vaccinated doses, which is a great achievement in terms of the huge population, but most of these are single doses and not the complete two doses of vaccination, which can be effective in fighting the new strain if it gets into India.

Dr. Baidya went on to say that viruses tend to change and that the only way to combat and treat them was to improve and prepare the healthcare system.

“As part of our lifestyle, we must closely observe infection control rules and COVID-19 acceptable behavior,” he said.

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‘Omicron’ Covid Variant Shows Many more Mutations than Delta

Omicron Coronavirus Variant

According to a first “picture” of this new Covid variant discovered in South Africa and generated and published by the prominent Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, the new Covid variant Omicron has far more mutations than the Delta version.
According to the researchers, “we can plainly see that the Omicron version shows many more mutations than the Delta variant, concentrated above all in one area of the protein that interacts with human cells” on the three-dimensional “picture,” which appears like a map.

“This does not necessarily imply that these variants are more harmful; it just means that the virus has adapted to the human species by developing a new variety,” the researchers explained.

“Further research will determine if this adaptation is neutral, less harmful, or riskier,” they noted.

Claudia Alteri, a professor of clinical microbiology at Milan State University and a researcher at Bambino Gesu, told AFP that the research team concentrated on looking for changes in “the three-dimensional structure of the spike protein.”

The image was created “based on a review of the sequences of this novel variety that have been made accessible to the scientific community,” with the majority of the sequences coming from Botswana, South Africa, and Hong Kong.

“This figure, which provides a map of all the differences,” she explained, “describes Omicron’s mutations but does not identify its job.”

“It will now be critical to determine whether the combination of these changes can have an impact on transmission or the efficiency of immunizations, for example,” she continued.

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Governor Kathy Hochul Updates New Yorkers On State’s COVID Situation

New York Governor Kathy Hochul
Source: NY Post

Governor Kathy Hochul Gives Update On The COVID Situation Of New York

Governor Kathy Hochul updated the New Yorkers on the COVID situation in New York. On Sunday, 179,025  tests were conducted in the state out of which 5,447 cases came out as positive. The positivity rate was 3.04% on Sunday. However, the seven-day average percent positive has risen to 3.22%. At present, 2,367 people are admitted to the hospital for COVID. The worrying factor is that 519 people are in ICU. Out of the 519 patients, 267 patients are seeking support with intubation. The good news is that the state is doing great with vaccination. 53,179 vaccines were administered on Sunday.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul
Source: National Herald

 

Governor Kathy Asks New Yorkers To Take The Vaccine

There is still a large chunk of the population that is yet to receive the vaccine. Kathy urged the population to wear masks and get vaccinated. Furthermore, she said, “New Yorkers came together in unprecedented times to fight this pandemic and keep each other safe. We cannot undo the progress we’ve made. Wear a mask, wash your hands, and get vaccinated if you haven’t already. The vaccine is safe, effective, free, and accessible.” As of now, 78.9% percent of the population above 18 in New York have taken at least one dose of vaccine. Out of this, 71.4% of the population is fully vaccinated.