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The number of COVID-19 cases hit a record high in New York state on Thursday, and the Rockettes canceled their holiday shows, according to various news. Eric Topol tweeted that more than 20% of the cases were caused by the omicron variant.
It is still unclear whether omicron causes milder disease than other variants but there’s not much question that is highly transmissible.On Friday (Dec.17) Stat reported on some research that may explain why. A research team in Hong Kong reported preliminary results from experiments that show the omicron variants multiplies 70 times faster inside respiratory than the delta variant. The research findings were announced in a press release on Wednesday (Dec. 15).
For the time being, fully vaccinated has meant having had two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines or one shot of the increasingly problematic Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But there’s mounting evidence that a booster shot is necessary to top off the COVID-19 immune response so it will fend off the omicron variant. It seems only matter of time (this coming week, perhaps, before public health officials and others redefine fully vaccinated as meaning vaccinated and boosted with a third shot. As of this morning, the CDC’s COVID tracker shows that 58.2 million people have received a booster shot, which works out to be about 17.7% of the U.S. population (58.2 million/320 million). The CDC tracker shows that about 28.6% of those who have been fully vaccinated (using the current definition) have been boosted.
The prevailing opinion is that more testing would help the U.S. cope with the spread of the omicron variant, keeping schools and businesses open. The Biden administration moved to require insurers to cover testing and to make tests available at community health centers. But the at-home rapid antigen tests are in short supply and there’s a growing chorus of critics saying the administration’s policies fall well short of what’s needed.
Major manufacturers of the PCR tests, which are more reliable but have to be done in lab, and many of the at-home rapid antigen tests, including Abbott Laboratories, Becton Dickinson, Quidel and Siemens Healthineers, have said their diagnostics can detect omicron, MedTechDrive reported this week.
However, the FDA has identified the tests from Applied DNA Sciences, Meridian Bioscience and Tide Laboratories as being unreliable for detecting omicron. But MedTechDrive reported that Meridian tests hasn’t been distributed and Tide’s hasn’t been used for high volume testing.
Another question mark among many about the omicron variant is whether the COVID-19 cases it causes will respond to treatments developed for cases caused by previous variants. The Washington Post reported on Thursday (Dec.16) that the U.S. is stockpiling supplies of sotrovimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment developed by Vir Biotechnology and GlaxoSmithKline.
Research results reported on Friday (Dec.17) about monoclonal antibody treatments were not encouraging, although it is important to note that they were reported in a non-peer-reviewed preprint and were from lab experiments, not clinical research in people. Laura VanBlargan of the Washington University School of Medicine and her colleagues reported in a preprint posted on bioRxiv that Eli Lilly’s bamlanivimab and etesevimab, Regeneron’s casirivimab and imdevimab and Celltrion’s regdanvimab “completely lost inhibitory activity” against omicron and AstraZeneca’s tixagevimab and cilgavimab had decreased activity. In contrast, their experiments showed that sotrovimab has activity against the omicron variant — and thus, presumably, the U.S. stockpiling.