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Coronavirus update: FDA is ramping up to handle the Omicron variant

There’s a sudden surge in demand for vaccinations

COVID-19 Omicron variant concept
Photo (c) Andriy Onufriyenko - Getty Images
Coronavirus (COVID-19) ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 48,835,887 (48,706,636)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 785,932 (782,201)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 264,462,232 (263,750,379)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,238,850 (5,228,635)‌

FDA reportedly turns its attention to Omicron variant

With the Omicron variant now confirmed in about a half-dozen states, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reportedly making plans for dealing with it. The Wall Street Journal reports that the agency is ramping up for a rapid review of any drugs or vaccines developed to counter it.

Little is known about the new variant, which was identified in South Africa only last week. Scientists aren’t sure how transmissible or severe it is when compared to the Delta variant. Early evidence suggests it causes less severe symptoms.

The Journal quotes sources who say the FDA wants to be sure that any therapies designed to deal with the variant are safe and effective before giving them a green light. At the same time, the agency wants to be able to act quickly if the data merits approval.

Pharmacies report a surge in demand for vaccine

Despite well-publicized “vaccine hesitancy” on the part of millions of Americans, sentiment toward vaccinations may be shifting. Both CVS and Walgreens have reported a recent increase in demand for vaccinations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that U.S. providers administered about 1.5 million doses a day for the seven-day period ending Nov. 17. That’s a 12% increase in just one week.

Some vaccination holdouts may have had a change of heart. At the same time, health officials point out that there has been a recent increase in the number of people who are not only eligible for the vaccination but also a booster shot.

White House announces free at-home COVID-19 tests

The Biden administration has announced that the U.S. government will make at-home, rapid COVID-19 tests available to millions of Americans at no cost. Currently, the cost to consumers for these tests can range up to $40.

“It’s a step toward making these tests more available to individuals, but there could still be barriers,” Lindsey Dawson, an associate director at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told CNBC.

So, how do you get a free test? First, you have to buy it. The White House says people with private health insurance, including Affordable Care Act policies, can be reimbursed for the purchase. Medicare recipients aren’t eligible.

Around the nation

  • New York: Gov. Kathy Hochul says health officials have reported at least five cases of the Omicron variant in the New York City metro area. One case was diagnosed in Suffolk County on Long Island, and the other four were registered in New York City.

  • Massachusetts: Schools across the state are battling a surge in coronavirus cases. Education officials report that there were 9,909 coronavirus cases among students and staff in schools over the last two weeks. The percentage of students who tested positive was 0.93%, while 1.0% of staff tested positive.

  • Missouri: Gov. Mike Parson has denied claims that his office tried to suppress a study showing that wearing a mask in public spaces is an effective means to reduce COVID-19 cases. Parson said the information in question was posted on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard months ago and is readily accessible.

  • New Mexico: Health officials are trying to understand why coronavirus cases are increasing. They note that 73% of people 18 and older are fully vaccinated and 83.2% have had at least one dose. But the state has recently reported 1,337 new cases, 13 more deaths, and an ongoing rise in hospitalizations.

  • Louisiana: Parents in Louisiana have been slow to vaccinate their children. Even though kids between the ages of five and 11 are eligible, state health department records show that only 3% of that age group have been vaccinated. The state also ranks near the bottom for vaccinations of teens and adults.

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