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Omicron update today: Variant in 36 states, symptoms, CDC recommendation for J&J booster – CNET

The omicron variant of COVID may be able to partly evade vaccine protection as it spreads across the country. Stay on top of the latest guidance here.
The omicron variant is raising global concern.
It accounts for 3% of the COVID-19 cases in the US, but the omicron variant has now been detected in at least 36 states, and the new strain is increasingly the focus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC panel on Thursday recommended that those looking for a safe and effective vaccine should choose an mRNA option (Pfizer or Moderna) — and not Johnson and Johnson’s.
Scientists are piecing together a picture of how easily the virus can pass from one person to another and evade protection provided by the primary vaccine doses of Pfizer, Moderna and J&J. Looking at the latest data, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said on Wednesday that omicron can bypass much of the protection given by two shots of the mRNA Moderna and Pfizer vaccines: “The omicron variant undoubtably compromised the effects of a two-dose mRNA vaccine-induced antibodies and reduces the overall protection.” More promising, Fauci said, is that boosters appear to restore the level of protection needed to guard against the omicron variant.
In the US, Biden is doubling down on urging vaccines and booster shots until more information on the new variant becomes available. As a result, the US administered 12.5 million shots in the first week of December, according to Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. That’s the highest number of weekly shots since May. Seven million of those were booster shots, Zients said.
So far, the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be highly effective in preventing hospitalization and death, with people who are unvaccinated being over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized if infected. Vaccine makers are optimistic the current vaccines authorized for use in the US will provide a degree of protection against omicron, too.
Here are eight important things to know about omicron today. For more on COVID-19 boosters, here’s a trick to easily get an appointment and a free ride. Here’s how you’ll soon get a COVID-19 test kit for free and details on mixing and matching vaccines.
On Thursday, a CDC advisory panel voted to recommend that those looking for a safe vaccine pick either Moderna’s or Pfizer’s because of the risk of a potentially fatal blood clot issue associated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, is expected to decide as soon as today whether to accept that panel’s vote.
Early studies indicate a booster can guard against omicron. “Boosters … enhance the vaccine protection against omicron,” Fauci said on Wednesday. “Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron.”
“Individuals who have received two vaccines will most likely not have significant prevention from infection or any type of disease [from the new variant],” BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin said last week. (Comirnaty, the brand name of the Pfizer vaccine, is manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech.) Şahin said more information is needed to confirm the company’s initial laboratory findings that indicate a third Pfizer vaccine dose is important to guard against the variant.
Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have all said they are gearing up to create a vaccine specifically designed to combat omicron if it’s needed.
Fauci on Wednesday said that there is no need for a variant-specific booster at this point. The current boosters appear to be effective against omicron.
According to Fauci, preliminary information seems to indicate omicron may produce less serious symptoms than initially feared: “We’re getting anecdotal information … that the level of severity appears to be maybe a bit less than in the delta,” he said Sunday.
It could still be two or three weeks till we know more about how easily omicron can be passed between people and how resistant the mutated virus is against the current crop of vaccines, but Fauci on Tuesday at a White House briefing said that early data also suggests omicron could be more infectious than the delta variant and is replacing delta as the dominant COVID-19 strain in South Africa.
It makes up 3% of the cases in the US. In New York and New Jersey, however, it could make up 13% of new infections.
The variant has been detected in 36 states across the country, from Washington to Mississippi and Texas to Utah. The US and other countries were already bracing for an increased caseload as colder weather and holiday gatherings brought more people indoors together. Now, projections of a winter surge of the dominant delta variant join concerns about omicron’s spread.
Add an increasing number of flflu infections, and experts worry about a “twindemic” of the two illnesses.
In Europe, omicron could become the most common COVID-19 variant in months, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
“Mathematical modeling indicates that the Omicron VOC is expected to cause over half of all SARS-CoV-2 infections in the EU/EEA within the next few months” due to early understandings of the omicron variant’s high transmissibility between people, the body said in a Dec. 2 briefing (PDF). 
Scientists studying the omicron variant in South Africa, where it was first reported to the World Health Organization, have said it’s spreading more than twice as fast as the delta variant, according to reporting from the New York Times. But what isn’t yet known is whether the spread is hastened because the mutations make it easier to spread among people, if vaccines are less effective against this strain or for some other reason. The study cited by NYT has not yet been published or peer-reviewed.
COVID latches onto cells using a spike protein in its structure. Omicron has more mutations than the delta variant, which is considered at least twice as contagious as previous strains. While it isn’t clear yet whether omicron is more or less contagious than delta, the presence of those mutations is one cause of concern. 
That may be one reason numerous have banned travel from some countries in southern Africa and increased travel restrictions to include a negative COVID-19 test 24 hours before travel, regardless of vaccination status.
Drugmakers are exploring if the current vaccines are effective against the new variant.
Most PCR tests to identify the presence of COVID-19 in the body are free (COVID-19 tests for international travel are the main exception). So it’s good news that the existing nasal swab test has been found to detect the omicron variant; a blood test or other procedure is so far unnecessary.
“Fortunately for us, the PCRs that we mostly use would pick up this very unusual variant that has a real large constellation of mutations,” Fauci said in a Nov. 29 press briefing.
On Dec. 2, Biden announced a plan to help protect the US against the omicron variant this winter. It includes:
For additional COVID-19 guidance, here’s what to know about new travel restrictions, how to store your vaccine card on your phone and what to do if you lose your vaccine card.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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