Coronavirus update: Researchers say vaccines offer limited protection against Omicron variant

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The CDC is ending its contact tracing recommendation

COVID-19 ‌tally‌ ‌as‌ ‌‌compiled‌‌ ‌by‌ ‌Johns‌ ‌Hopkins‌ ‌University.‌ ‌(Previous‌ ‌numbers‌ ‌in‌ ‌parentheses.)‌

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌confirmed‌ ‌cases:‌ 79,154,499 (79,092,912)

Total‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌deaths:‌ 954,893 (952,518)

Total‌ ‌global‌ ‌cases:‌ 441,563,391 (438,982,432)

Total ‌global‌ ‌deaths:‌ 5,979,222 (5,967,756)‌

Study finds vaccines offer limited protection against Omicron

Scientists writing in the New England Journal of Medicine report that the mRNA vaccines are more effective against the Delta variant of COVID-19 than the Omicron variant. They say that’s why so many vaccinated people tested positive for Omicron in December and January.

But while two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine provided little protection against symptomatic Omicron, the researchers noted that people who also had a booster were significantly better protected, though the protection decreased over time.

The scientists began the study in January after doctors became concerned that the Omicron variant was rapidly spreading across the globe, even among those who were fully vaccinated.

CDC drops contact tracing recommendation

In another sign that federal health officials are joining states in reducing COVID-19 requirements, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised its guidelines and no longer recommends universal COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing.

The guidance, which was updated this week, now encourages health departments to prioritize tracing efforts for only high-risk situations. In 2020, the CDC enlisted 100,000 people to carry out contact tracing in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. The CDC is now encouraging health departments to deploy their resources in high-risk settings, such as long-term care facilities, correctional institutions, and shelters. 

"The updated guidance is in response to changes in the nature of the pandemic and the increasing availability of new tools to prevent transmission and mitigate illness," said Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson for the CDC.

FDA begins releasing documents on vaccine approval process

After losing a court case in Texas, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is beginning the process of releasing hundreds of thousands of documents that shed light on how the agency approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

A non-profit group, Public Health and Medical Professionals for Transparency, sued to obtain the documents and has already begun releasing them on its website.

Medical professionals who have begun reviewing the documents say it’s unclear if they will provide any new insight into the vaccine’s safety or efficacy, especially since there is real-world data on the vaccine that’s already been published in major medical journals.

Around the nation

  • Iowa: Gov. Kim Reynolds must return nearly $450,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds that were used to pay for 21 governor's office staff members for three months in 2020. That’s the ruling from State Auditor Rob Sand, a Democrat, who ruled that the funds were used improperly.

  • Georgia: It’s taken some time, but Georgia’s COVID-19 positivity rate is nearing the levels recommended by federal health agencies. As of this week, Georgia's COVID-19 testing positivity rate has dropped to between 3% and 5%.

  • New Mexico: Cases and hospitalizations are dropping to the lowest levels seen in months in the state. Health officials say they are seeing improvements across the board. “That meteoric drop in case counts and even hospitalizations has persisted,” said New Mexico’s acting Department of Health secretary Dr. David Scrase. “Hospitalizations were in the five-hundreds (but) they’ve dropped by more than 50% and you can see improvement there.”

  • New York: Gov. Kathy Hochul says the COVID-19 pandemic has likely ended the traditional five-day workweek, at least as far as commuting to the office is concerned. But the governor said she hoped offices would be occupied at least three days a week to maintain economic recovery.

  • Idaho: Two state legislators have offered a bill that would lead to the termination of the COVID-19 emergency declaration that Gov. Brad Little established nearly two years ago. House Concurrent Resolution 40 would end Little’s disaster emergency declaration if it is adopted by the Idaho Legislature. 

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