Overnight Health Care: Pfizer booster may be crucial against omicron


Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care, where we’re following the latest moves on policy and news affecting your health. Subscribe here: thehill.com/newsletter-signup.

Santa Claus is “good to go” and “even more protected” against COVID-19 after receiving his booster shot this year, Anthony FauciAnthony FauciNY governor plans to add booster shot to definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ Overnight Health Care — Presented by Rare Access Action Project — Supply woes expected for anti-COVID drug Ohio governor mobilizes National Guard to assist health care workers MORE told USA Today.

Preliminary data from Pfizer shows a third dose of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine gives enough of an increase in neutralizing antibodies that it seems to block the omicron variant— though two doses may still protect against severe disease. 

For The Hill, we’re Peter Sullivan ([email protected]), Nathaniel Weixel ([email protected]) and Justine Coleman ([email protected]). Write to us with tips and feedback, and follow us on Twitter: @PeterSullivan4, @NateWeixel and @JustineColeman8.

Let’s get started.

Pfizer booster protects against new variant 

Pfizer and BioNTech announced Wednesday that their coronavirus vaccine appears to provide strong protection against the omicron variant when a booster is received in addition to its initial two doses.

The companies said preliminary studies show three doses of the vaccine neutralize the omicron variant.

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, said.

“Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” he added.

Those who have only two doses of the vaccine experienced a “more than a 25-fold reduction” in the “neutralization titers” that are produced by vaccines to help fight off a COVID-19 infection, the companies said.

It added that a “vast majority” of vaccine-induced T-cells are not compromised by the more than 30 different mutations in omicron, showing some protection is still given by the first two doses of the vaccine.

Reactions: President BidenJoe BidenSenate confirms Rahm Emanuel to be ambassador to Japan NY governor plans to add booster shot to definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE highlighted the news as “encouraging” and it said it reinforces the need to get a booster shot. 

A question: Baylor professor Peter Hotez pointed to data from Germany that a third dose’s protection might not be durable, saying he wanted to hear from the CDC and FDA on the issue. 

Read more here

FAUCI: ‘WHEN, NOT IF’

Anthony Fauci said Wednesday he thinks the definition of being fully vaccinated will eventually change to include a booster, especially as new evidence is emerging that a booster dose offers the best protection against the omicron variant.

“Right now, I don’t see that changing tomorrow or next week,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in an interview with CNN’s Kate Bolduan. But, he added, “my own personal opinion …. it’s going to be a matter of when, not if.”

Still, Fauci noted that the definition of what it means to be fully vaccinated is a matter of semantics. What matters is the emerging evidence that a booster dose offers more protection than the initial series.

“Certainly, when you want to talk about what optimal protection is, I don’t think anybody would argue that optimal protection is going to be with a third shot,” Fauci said. 

Big picture debate: A debate has emerged around what it means to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as some state and local officials have been pushing to change the definition to include an additional dose. 

But some infectious disease experts argue that antibodies are not the only way to measure a vaccine’s performance, and people with two doses of an mRNA vaccine are still likely protected against severe disease and hospitalization.

Read more here.

WHO: ‘Any complacency now will cost lives’  

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday called on countries to stay vigilant in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as the omicron variant spreads, warning that “complacency now will cost lives.”

Speaking at a press briefing, Ghebreyesus said omicron has now been detected in 57 countries and has the potential to have a “major impact” on how the pandemic unfolds going forward.

“In South Africa, the number of omicron cases is increasing quickly. However, omicron was detected when transmission of delta was very low, so it had little competition,” said Ghebreyesus.

“It will therefore be important to monitor carefully what happens around the world, to understand whether omicron can outcompete delta. For that reason, we call on all countries to increase surveillance, testing and sequencing.”

He stressed that data on the omicron variant is still sparse and the threat it poses is still not well understood.

“Any complacency now will cost lives,” Ghebreyesus said.

Read more here

WHITMER SAYS VACCINE MANDATE ‘A PROBLEM FOR ALL OF US’

Michigan Gov. Gretchen WhitmerGretchen WhitmerGovernors grapple with vaccine mandates ahead of midterms The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Charter Communications – Meadows held in contempt; Biden hasn’t moved Manchin It’s more than midterms next year: State fights that matter MORE (D) reportedly told business leaders President Biden’s coronavirus vaccine mandate was “a problem for all of us.”

Whitmer made the comment on Monday during a meeting with business leaders in ​​Montcalm County, where she said she understood their concerns about the mandate, local outlet The Daily News reported.

What she said: “We’re an employer too, the state of Michigan is. I know if that mandate happens, we’re going to lose state employees. That’s why I haven’t proposed a mandate at the state level. Some states have. We have not, we’re waiting to see what happens in court,” Whitmer said in response to concerns about job losses from the mandate. 

“But we have a lot of the same concerns that you just voiced and it’s going to be a problem for all of us,” Whitmer added.

Whitmer has been quiet on the mandate since the president announced it and has avoided implementing any vaccine mandates on the state level.

Under Biden’s vaccine mandate, any business with more than 100 employees must begin requiring workers either to get a COVID-19 vaccine or to undergo regular testing for the virus by Jan. 4. The mandate has been halted in federal court after multiple lawsuits were filed following its announcement.

Read more here

 

Pediatric vaccination rate slow in US

The rate of COVID-19 vaccinations among children ages 5 to 11 has slowed considerably nationwide, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The analysis shows that a little more than a month since the Food and Drug Administration signed off on pediatric COVID-19 vaccines, the rate of increase has leveled off. The drop-off began before Thanksgiving, and has continued since.

The FDA authorized vaccines for younger kids on Nov. 2, and Kaiser found an initial spike in demand, suggesting the eager parents and caregivers have already come forward. 

Extending vaccine eligibility to children younger than 12 has been a major goal of public health officials and eagerly awaited by many pediatricians and families. But, just like vaccinations for adults, reaching the people after the low-hanging fruit represents the most difficult part of the vaccination campaign.  

The numbers: Vaccination rates among 5-11 year-olds, measured by first doses administered daily, rose sharply after the recommendation was first made on Nov. 2. One week later, on Nov. 9, the rate had risen to 4 percent, and on Nov. 16, it was 9.8 percent. But the rate of first dose administration began to slow after that, and has continued to decline since. 

Read more here.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Biogen’s reckoning: How the Aduhelm debacle pushed a troubled company and its fractured leadership to the brink (Stat News)
  • ‘It’s a sore spot’: Why officials are raising questions about Biden’s vaccine donations (Politico)
  • The uninsured are eager for Congress to fill a coverage gap — even for a few years (Washington Post)
  • COVID cases spike even as US hits 200M vaccine milestone (The Associated Press)

 

STATE BY STATE

  • COVID-19: Medical board deletes anti-misinformation policy amid GOP pressure (Tennessean)
  • COVID hospitalizations spike as some Maryland health department services remain unusable days after cyberattack (The Baltimore Sun)
  • California plans to be abortion sanctuary if Roe overturned (Associated Press)
  • Connecticut seeing ‘extremely concerning’ spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations (ABC News)
  • Wisconsin needs more therapists, but a state paperwork backlog keeps many on hold for months (The Post-Crescent)

 

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

Three reasons why de Blasio’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate won’t last long

That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s health care page for the latest news and coverage. See you tomorrow.

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