As the holiday season continues, the Omicron variant has prompted an exceptional level of research activity and information-sharing. The early evidence on the Omicron variant is a mixture of encouraging news and more concerning news, as leaders continue to urge everyone to get vaccinated, get their booster shots and make an effort to mitigate spread.
Booster Shots for Ages 16 & 17 Approved
On Thursday, December 9, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced 16- and 17-year-olds can get a booster shot of the mRNA vaccine already approved for this age group after getting the first two doses at least six months prior. This is an extension of the previous authorization that allowed booster shots to be administered only to individuals 18 and older.
The manufacturer of the mRNA vaccine that was the first on the market in the United States is now saying that its current two-dose regiment vaccine should be a three-dose vaccine. This change is due to speculation that its vaccine may not provide enough protection against the Omicron variant with just two doses. The vaccine manufacturer is already working on an Omicron-specific vaccine that could be ready as early as March 2022.
Antibody Treatment Authorized To Prevent COVID-19
On Wednesday, December 8, the FDA authorized the first injectable antibody treatment for long-term protection against COVID-19 for the 3% of U.S. adults who are immunocompromised. This cocktail is intended to be for those who do not have an adequate immune response from a COVID-19 vaccine.
Request to Block Federal Mask Mandate for Air Travel Rejected
Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed without comment an emergency request filed against the Transportation Security Administration to block the federal mask mandate until the court of appeals and the Supreme Court weighed in on the issue. Just last week, the Biden administration extended the federal mask mandate for planes, trains and buses through March 18.
Statewide New York Mask Mandate Starts Monday
New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced a statewide mask mandate starting Monday for most indoor activities. Businesses and venues may choose to either require all patrons and employees to be vaccinated or require everyone over the age of two to wear a mask at all times while in an indoor, public space or face a fine of up to $1000. This mandate is in response to increasing number of COVID cases throughout New York State.
The Omicron variant has prompted an exceptional level of research activity and information sharing. Some of what we are discovering seems encouraging — for example, the hospitalization rates specifically for those with Omicron are, so far, not as high as originally feared. On the other hand, some of the news is more troubling — for example, the diminished ability of currently available tests to detect this variant.
Other Omicron news and resources include:
- The latest UCSF “Grand Rounds” discusses Omicron’s knowns and unknowns as of December 2, 2021. The episode also explains how the recently approved antiviral pills work and their potential to be effective against Omicron.
- A geographic distribution of the Omicron viral variant (also known as B.1.1.529) is illustrated in regularly updated maps compiled by cov-lineages.org.
- A summary of what scientists knew about the Omicron variant as of last week is featured in this Nature article.
- Information gathered on Omicron, Delta as well as other viruses is already being used to model possible trajectories of SARS-CoV-2 evolution. The modeled possibilities range from dire to bright, and the only certainty so far is that allowing further circulation of the virus would allow SARS-CoV-2 to mutate in unpredictable ways.
- A comprehensive and regularly updated compilation of scientific literature on Omicron represents the close attention given to this variant. The variant now even has the dubious distinction of having its own Wikipedia page.
- Last but not least, Omicron may have changed the balance of people’s considerations about getting a booster, with the balance of available evidence so far suggesting that the “third dose” is necessary to improve chances of protection against Omicron.
Holiday Gift Ideas
A book is a gift that will keep on giving long after the holiday season. Here are a couple of suggestions for yourself or for science students on your holiday list:
- Immune: A Journey Into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive, by Philipp Dettmer: This thorough yet accessible introduction to the human immune system is written in a conversational style and richly illustrated with cartoons and diagrams. Published just this year, it’s recent enough to include a discussion of COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 (368 pages).
- Principles of Virology, Volume 1: Molecular Biology, 5th Edition: This authoritative textbook — updated just last year — lays out the history, impact, and current state of the art of virology.
Additional ResourcesGlobal COVID-19-Related Patent Office Status and Deadline Extension Updates
Information regarding the status of each foreign patent office and the availability of extensions of time in each jurisdiction.Government Actions: COVID-19
Tracking executive orders, legislation, and other government actions related to COVID-19 by state and major locality across the U.S.Faegre Drinker’s Coronavirus Resource Center is available to help you understand and assess the legal, regulatory and commercial implications of COVID-19.