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Omicron sweeps across nation, now 73% of new US COVID cases

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NEW YORK (AP) — Omicron has raced ahead of other variants and is now the dominant version of the coronavirus in the U.S., accounting for 73% of new infections last week, federal health officials said Monday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showed nearly a six-fold increase in omicron’s share of infections in only one week.

In much of the country, it’s even higher. Omicron is responsible for an estimated 90% or more of new infections in the New York area, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest and the Pacific Northwest. The national rate suggests that more than 650,000 omicron infections occurred in the U.S. last week.

Since the end of June, the delta variant had been the main version causing U.S. infections. As recently as the end of November, more than 99.5% of coronaviruses were delta, according to CDC data.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the new numbers reflect the kind of growth seen in other countries.

“These numbers are stark, but they’re not surprising,” she said.

Scientists in Africa first sounded the alarm about omicron less than a month ago and on Nov. 26 the World Health Organization designated it as a “variant of concern.” The mutant has since shown up in about 90 countries.

Much about the omicron variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less severe illness. Early studies suggest the vaccinated will need a booster shot for the best chance at preventing omicron infection but even without the extra dose, vaccination still should offer strong protection against severe illness and death.

“All of us have a date with omicron,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “If you’re going to interact with society, if you’re going to have any type of life, omicron will be something you encounter, and the best way you can encounter this is to be fully vaccinated.”

Adalja said he was not surprised by the CDC data showing omicron overtaking delta in the U.S., given what was seen in South Africa, the U.K. and Denmark. He predicted spread over the holidays, including breakthrough infections among the vaccinated and serious complications among the unvaccinated that could stress hospitals already burdened by delta.

Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said other countries had seen omicron’s fast growth, but the U.S. data showed “a remarkable jump in such a short time.”

Topol also said it’s unclear how much milder omicron really is compared with other variants.

“That’s the big uncertainty now,” Topol said. “We have to count on it being a lot of hospitalizations and a lot severe disease from omicron.”

CDC’s estimates are based on thousands of coronavirus specimens collected each week through university and commercial laboratories and state and local health departments. Scientists analyze their genetic sequences to determine which versions of the COVID-19 viruses are most abundant.

On Monday, the CDC revised its estimate for omicron cases for the week that ended Dec. 11, after analyzing more samples. About 13% of the cases that week were from omicron, not the 3% previously reported. The week before, omicron accounted for just 0.4% of cases.

CDC officials said they do not yet have estimates of how many hospitalizations or deaths are due to omicron.

Though there remain a lot of new infections caused by the delta variant, “I anticipate that over time that delta will be crowded out by omicron,” Walensky said.

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Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard and Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press

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Brownstone Institute

FOIA Doc Shows BioNTech Founders Postdated Start of C19 Vax Project

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From the Brownstone Institute

BY Robert KogonROBERT KOGON

As noted in my last article on BioNTech’s “brazen” avoidance of safety testing of its Covid-19 vaccine, BioNTech founders Ugur Sahin and Özlem Türeci claim in their book The Vaccine that the company’s Covid-19 vaccine project got underway on January 27, 2020. But documentary evidence released in response to a FOIA request (and included in the so-called “Pfizer documents”) shows that this is not true and that the company had in fact already begun preclinical, i.e. animal, testing nearly two weeks earlier, on January 14.

BioNTech R&D STUDY REPORT No. R-20-0072 is available here. The report is also referenced and discussed in an FDA submission on the preclinical study program that is available here. The below screenshot shows the study dates from p. 8 of the report.

In the book, Sahin claims furthermore that he only even became interested in the outbreak in Wuhan on January 24, after reading an article in the German weekly Der Spiegel (p. 4) and/or a submission to The Lancet (p. 6). But look again at the study dates above. BioNTech had already completed the first preclinical study for its Covid-19 vaccine the day before!

January 24, 2020 was a Friday. On Sahin’s account, he took the decision to launch his Covid-19 vaccine project over the weekend and unveiled his plans to his collaborators at BioNTech’s headquarters in Mainz, Germany on the following Monday: January 27 (ch. 2 passim and p. 42; see screencap below).

Sahin claims (p. 33) that it was at this January 27 meeting that he asked BioNTech’s animal testing team to prepare the preclinical program that was in fact already underway!

It should be noted that January 14, 2020, the start-date of the first preclinical study, was just two weeks after the first report of Covid-19 cases in Wuhan and just a day after the release of the full SARS-CoV-2 genome (drafts had been released previously).

BioNTech’s first preclinical study was evidently prepared before publication of the genome and in anticipation of it. As explained in the summary of the study (p. 6), its purpose was to test BioNTech mRNA formulated in lipid nanoparticles produced by the Canadian firm Acuitas. But the mRNA was here encoding a proxy antigen (luciferase), not the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 that would later serve as the target antigen.

The study looked at both biodistribution and immune system activation. As the FDA submission on the preclinical program puts it, “Platform properties that support BNT162b2 were initially demonstrated with non-SARS-CoV-2 antigens” (2.4 NONCLINICAL OVERVIEW, p. 7).

In The Vaccine, which was written with the journalist Joe Miller, Sahin and Türeci talk about the need to obtain the Acuitas lipids, which, they say, were more suitable for intramuscular injection than BioNTech’s own in-house lipids. But, again, they postdate the matter. Thus, on p. 52, we read: “The missing piece was still Acuitas, who had not yet consented to the use of their lipids. Then, on the morning of Monday 3 February, [Acuitas CEO] Tom Madden offered his help.” But BioNTech was already running tests using the Acuitas lipids three weeks earlier!

Furthermore, BioNTech was not able to formulate its mRNA into the lipids itself, but depended on the Austrian company Polymun to do this for it. As noted in The Vaccine (p.51), Polymun’s facilities are an 8-hour drive from BioNTech’s headquarters in Mainz. In the book, Sahin and Türeci describe the first batch of mRNA for the vaccine tests proper being packed up and driven by car to Polymun outside Vienna: “A couple of days later, a small Styrofoam box containing frozen vials full of vaccine would be driven back over the border to BioNTech” (pp. 116-117).

But presumably this same back-and-forth had to have occurred with the mRNA encoding the luciferase. This means that as a practical matter “Project Lightspeed” must have gotten underway even earlier: at least several days before the January 14 start date of the study.

Why did Sahin and Türeci postdate the launch of their Covid-19 vaccine project in their book? Well, undoubtedly because the actual start date – and we do not know when exactly the actual start date was – would have seemed far too soon. Based on the above considerations, it must have been at the latest just days after the first December 31, 2019 report of Covid-19 cases in Wuhan.

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  • Robert Kogon

    Robert Kogon is a pen name for a widely-published financial journalist, a translator, and researcher working in Europe. Follow him at Twitter here. He writes at edv1694.substack.com.

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Alberta

Preston Manning picked to chair review of Alberta’s COVID response

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Premier Danielle Smith has struck a committee to investigate how the Alberta government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and has appointed former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to chair it.

Smith, in a statement, says Manning and the panel will take feedback virtually from experts and the public, then issue a final report and recommendations by Nov. 15.

Manning is to pick the other panel members subject to approval by Smith.

The budget is $2 million, and Manning is to be paid $253,000.

Manning and Smith have been critical of government-imposed health restrictions such as masking, gathering rules and vaccine mandates during the pandemic.

Smith has questioned the efficacy of the methods and their long-term effects on household incomes, the economy and mental health.

She has criticized both Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the former chief medical officer of health, and the Alberta Health Services board for failing to provide good advice and help prepare for the pandemic, which she says forced the government to impose health restrictions and vaccine mandates.

Smith replaced Hinshaw and the board shortly after taking office in October.

The premier said Alberta needs to be ready for future health emergencies.

“There are valuable lessons we learned from the Alberta government’s response to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” Smith said in the statement Thursday.

“It’s important that we apply those lessons to strengthen our management of future public health crises, and the panel’s recommendations will be key in doing so.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2022.

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