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Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky cleared the way Wednesday for extra booster doses to be given right away to people ages 12 to 15.
A CDC advisory panel earlier in the day had voted 13-1 in favor of recommending that 12- to 15-year-olds get a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and Walensky quickly endorsed the suggestion. The extra shot may be given at least five months after conclusion of the original two-dose regimen.
The committee also strengthened its recommendation that 16- and 17-year-olds also should get a booster. Previous guidance said that age group "may" get a shot.
“It is critical that we protect our children and teens from COVID-19 infection and the complications of severe disease. Today, I endorsed ACIP’s vote to expand eligibility and strengthen our recommendations for booster doses," Walensky said. "We now recommend that all adolescents aged 12-17 years should receive a booster shot 5 months after their primary series. This booster dose will provide optimized protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the booster earlier this week, basing its decision largely on data from Israel that found no new safety concerns when 6,300 12- to 15-year-olds got a Pfizer booster five months after their second dose.
The booster is considered a crucial weapon against the pandemic as students return to classrooms following winter break amid a historic, omicron-driven surge in cases. Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older.
The vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech is the only U.S. option for children of any age. About 13.5 million 12- to 17-year-olds – just over half that age group population – have received two Pfizer shots, according to the CDC.
The CDC committee emphasized that primary vaccinations and masking are even more important than boosters in preventing severe disease and transmission. Boosters for healthy children are helpful, particularly during the current major outbreak, but less essential, several committee members said. Immunocompromised adolescents are already entitled to extra shots.
Also in the news:
►Chicago school leaders canceled Thursday's classes, the second consecutive day instruction was called off amid failed efforts to reach agreement with the teachers union over COVID-19 safety protocols in the nation’s third-largest school district.
►The Grammy Awards, initially scheduled for Jan. 31, have been postponed for the second year in a row because of the pandemic. A new date has not been announced.
►The U.S. averaged 491,000 new infections daily over the last seven-day period, almost double the previous seven days, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing Wednesday. Hospitalizations were up 63%, she said.
►A new coronavirus variant, dubbed IHU based on the French institute where it was first identified, has infected more than 10 people but is not considered a variant of interest or concern by the World Health Organization.
►A New York teacher was arrested after she injected a teenager with a COVID-19 vaccine without the parents' consent, the Nassau County Police Department announced on Monday. Laura Parker Russo, 54, was charged with unauthorized practice of a profession, according to a news release.
📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 57.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases – or one for every six people in the country – and more than 831,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 297 million cases and 5.4 million deaths. More than 206.8 million Americans – 62% – are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
📘What we're reading: US coronavirus cases surge past previous records: How omicron is shaping the pandemic.
Unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic denied entry into Australia for tournament
Novak Djokovic, the world's No. 1 men's tennis player and a nine-time Australian Open champion, has been denied entry into Australia for this year's tournament over visa irregularities linked to his medical exemption from getting the COVID vaccine.
Djokovic, who has been openly disdainful of COVID vaccines and mitigation measures, said Tuesday that he had been granted an exemption, an announcement that drew severe backlash. The tournament's host city, Melbourne, has endured more than 260 days of lockdowns because of the pandemic.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison even threatened to put Djokovic “on the next plane home” if he couldn't prove the legitimacy of his medical reason for not getting vaccinated. Even if Djokovic hasn't boarded that plane yet, his participation in the Australian Open is in serious jeopardy.
-- Dan Wolken
CDC isolation guidelines are confusing, counterproductive, AMA says
The CDC's new quarantine and isolation guidelines are not only confusing, they're putting people at risk. That's the contention of an organization that typically sides with the nation's health protection agency -- the American Medical Association.
The guidelines, issued Dec. 27, shortened the amount of time those infected with the virus or exposed to it are required to stay away from others to five days. After that, provided the person in question has no symptoms or those are resolving, the CDC recommends wearing a mask around others for five days.
That's not enough, says the AMA, which contends that based on the CDC's own information, about 31% of those who test positive for the virus could remain infectious five days later.
"Physicians are concerned that these recommendations put our patients at risk and could further overwhelm our health care system,'' the AMA's president, Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, said in a statement. “A negative test should be required for ending isolation after one tests positive for COVID-19. Reemerging without knowing one’s status unnecessarily risks further transmission of the virus.''
'She was NOT vaccinated. That was the problem.' Southern California politician dies of COVID at 46
The COVID death of a Southern California politician who opposed vaccine mandates has stirred a heated debate about inoculations on her husband's Facebook page.
Orange County Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby, a Republican who ran for the state Assembly in 2020 and planned to pursue a seat again this year, died of COVID this week at 46.
Ernby had opposed government-required vaccinations for children in the past and as recently as December voiced her resistance to mandating COVID vaccines, saying, "There's nothing that matters more than our freedoms right now.”
Her death from the disease sparked a firestorm of social media responses, and some commenters expressed their condolences to her husband, Mattias Ernby. However, others had more pointed remarks, including one named Len Thomas who wrote, "If your wife would have been vaccinated, She'd still be alive.''
No one's words were as poignant as those of Mattias Ernby, who in correcting those who claimed Kelly Ernby had gotten the COVID vaccine, wrote: "She was NOT vaccinated. That was the problem."
'We can't vaccinate the planet every 4 to 6 months,' vaccine creator warns
The U.S. and other developed countries are pondering a second booster for their populations, but a co-creator of the AstraZeneca vaccine warns that "we can't vaccinate the planet every four to six months."
"It's not sustainable or affordable," Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told the Daily Telegraph. Pollard said the vaccination effort must target the vulnerable.
Pollard estimates that 9 billion COVID vaccine doses, including those made by AstraZeneca, have been given worldwide since the first non-trial doses were jabbed in late 2020. He said the effort to keep everyone protected from infection must be abandoned.
"At some point, society has to open up. When we do open, there will be a period with a bump in infections, which is why winter is probably not the best time," he told the Telegraph. "But that's a decision for the policymakers, not the scientists."
Pollard, in an interview with Sky News, said it is too early to say whether future coronavirus variants will be milder than those that emerged earlier in the pandemic. "I don't think we can be sure at this moment that future versions of coronavirus, the sons and daughters of omicron, will be causing mild disease," he added.
Supreme Court hears challenge to federal mandates amid historic surge
The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in challenges to two federal vaccine requirements Friday at a time when the omicron variant is causing infections to soar. While the justices have repeatedly turned away challenges to state and local COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the Biden administration is all but guaranteed to face a tougher reception. Federal courts have long recognized the power state and local governments have to regulate public health. But the federal government is a different story.
Brandon Trosclair, a second-generation grocer and former Republican candidate for legislative office in Louisiana, filed suit challenging the federal requirement that his workers get vaccinated.
" I just thought it was incredibly wrong to put that burden on the employer as well as ... on the employee." Read more here.
– John Fritze
Flu + coronavirus = Flurona: Should we be worried?
Texas Children’s Hospital announced this week that tests confirmed a child was infected with influenza A and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The patient was not hospitalized and is recovering at home, the hospital said. Health experts expect to see more “flurona” amid rapidly rising flu and coronavirus cases
“I expect to see plenty of co-infections going forward, but I don’t see anything that suggests it makes COVID infections worse,” said Dr. Frank Esper, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “Those are two viral pathogens that we actually have medicines for.”
– Adrianna Rodriguez
Entertainment industry struggles amid latest surge
As COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant continue to surge, entertainment specials and events are once again getting canceled or postponed. The Critics Choice Awards show set for Sunday was postponed. So was the New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony, originally scheduled for next Monday. "Late Night with Seth Meyers" was canceled all week after the star tested positive. Broadway is also struggling. "Mrs. Doubtfire" producer Kevin McCollum announced the musical would take a hiatus from Jan. 10 to March 14. Read more here.
“Mrs. Doubtfire has been in development for six years. We are doing everything in our power to keep the virus from prematurely ending our run on Broadway," McCollum said. "By taking this break we can afford to launch an extended run starting in March."
Those cool, designer cloth masks don't cut it with omicron, experts say
As common as cloth face masks have become, health experts say they do little to prevent tiny virus particles from getting into your nose or mouth and aren't effective against the omicron COVID variant. Omicron spreads more quickly and efficiently than other known COVID-19 variants, making it extremely transmissible – even through thick fabric face masks. The experts are urging the public to opt for three-ply surgical masks, KN95 or N95 masks, which offer more protection against the highly contagious variant. Several countries, such as Germany and Austria, have surgical masks requirements in public.
"Cloth masks are not going to cut it with omicron," Linsey Marr, a researcher at Virginia Tech told NPR.
– Gabriela Miranda
Spring semester revving up online at many schools
A new year and the new strain of the coronavirus are resurrecting familiar problems for the nation’s millions of college students. Some universities have already decided to offer the first weeks of the spring semester virtually. And those offering an in-person start say digital instruction is still a possibility. What’s more, some that had rolled back COVID-19 precautions have reinstated those measures, such as the University of Alabama, which reintroduced its masking requirements.
Davidson College professor Chris Marsicano, who leads the College Crisis Initiative to study how colleges respond to the pandemic, says about 10% of the 400 major universities the group has reviewed so far plan to start online for the spring semester.
"This is not like last fall, where going online for a little bit could mean going online forever," he said. "All indications are that any delay or remote start will be followed up shortly thereafter by a return to normal operations."
– Chris Quintana
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CDC panel recommends boosters for youths 12-15: COVID updates