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Omicron variant news – 114m vaccine boosters secured for future as thousands of cancer patients ‘missed’ during pandemic

FUTURE PROOF

THE PFIZER Covid vaccine booster and second jab, if had within the past six months, should give high protection against Omicron, Israeli health chiefs claim.

Despite not citing any data, Health minister Nitzan Horowitz said on Tuesday that there was 'room for optimism' based on 'initial indications'.

However, hours later a report by an Israeli news channel claimed the Pfizer jab was 90% effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Omicron.

Mr Horowitz told local reporters on Tuesday: 'In the coming days we will have more accurate information about the efficacy of the vaccine against Omicron.

'But there is already room for optimism, and there are initial indications that those who are vaccinated with a vaccine still valid or with a booster, will also be protected from this variant.'  

Read our Omicron live blog for the latest news and updates...

  • US has administered 462 million Covid vaccines to date

    The United States has administered 462,263,845 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Wednesday morning and distributed 575,721,925 doses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

    Those figures are up from the 460,773,508 vaccine doses the CDC said had gone into arms by Nov. 30 out of 573,238,255 doses delivered.

    The agency said 233,590,555 people had received at least one dose while 197,363,116 people are fully vaccinated as of 6:00 a.m. ET on Wednesday.

  • Tens of thousands of 'missing' cancer patients during pandemic - report

    Hundreds of thousands fewer referrals for suspected cancer were made by GPs in England during the course of the pandemic, according to new analysis.

    This has led to tens of thousands fewer people than expected being diagnosed with cancer, the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

    It also warned that in less than three years the NHS waiting list for people with all ailments could double.

    The NAO estimated that by March 2025 some 12 million people could be caught up in the backlog of care - which equates to 21% of the population, or one in five people.

    The number of people waiting for hospital care currently stands at a record 5.83 million - up from 4.43 million in February 2020 before the start of the pandemic.

    Specifically on cancer, the NAO said that it was "impossible" for the NHS to fully maintain cancer care throughout the crisis.

  • Government secures 114 million jabs for future booster campaigns

    Covid-19 vaccines for potential booster campaigns in the next two years have been secured by ministers.

    Some scientists have suggested that Covid-19 will need to be kept at bay with repeated vaccination campaigns while others have said it is too early to tell whether annual boosters will be needed.

    While there is uncertainty over the need for future campaigns, the Government announced that it has signed deals for 114 million Moderna and Pfizer jabs which will be delivered in 2022 and 2023.

    Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the deals "future proof" the country's vaccine programme.

    They include 60 million additional doses of the Moderna vaccine and 54 million more Pfizer/BioNTech doses.

  • How do we know that Omicron is in the UK?

    Using a technique known as genomic sequencing, all suspected Omicron test results have been analysed and some people are confirmed to have been infected with the variant,

    It is likely there are many more cases of the variant already in the UK, as yet undetected, because it can take some time for this process to be completed.

    The dominant variant of coronavirus is still Delta, which is responsible for around 40,000 new cases every day in the UK.

  • How quickly could we get new vaccines against variants?

    Updated versions of vaccines against Covid variants are already being designed and tested, in case they are needed at some point.

    Should that time arrive, a new vaccine could be ready within weeks, to run checks on.

    Manufacturers could scale up production quickly too and regulators have already discussed how to fast track the approval process.

    No corners would be cut, but the whole process - from design to approval - could be much faster than when Covid vaccines were first launched.

  • Will vaccines still work?

    Current vaccines are not an ideal match so might not work quite as well, say experts.

    But that doesn't mean they'll offer zero protection.

    Remember, vaccines are still very effective at protecting lives by cutting the risk of severe illness against other major Covid variants, including Delta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

    Doctors say it is vital people get the recommended number of doses to gain maximum protection against existing and emerging variants.

    In the UK, booster jabs are recommended for:

  • Why has the Delta variant spread so quickly in the UK?

    Experts believe a major factor is the number of cases that were introduced into the UK in a short space of time, because of the volume of travel.

    Public Health England figures show the variant was introduced at least 500 times by travellers.

    Dr Jeffrey Barrett, from the Sanger Institute, which analyses the genetic material from Covid-test swabs to work out which mutations they contain, said he believed the true number was likely to be more than 1,000.

    There's an element of chance - if five people arrive in the UK carrying the variant, you could get lucky and none of them would pass it on. If 500 come in, it's just more likely at least one will pass on their infection, or even be a super-spreader.

    So the difference between five and 500 travellers entering with the Delta variant won't be exactly 100 times the infections - it could be the difference between the variant fizzling out altogether and it taking off.

    On top of this, the Delta variant entered the UK at a time when restrictions were being relaxed and in cold weather. The cold snap would have seen more people indoors and thus spreading infection, but also the virus surviving longer outdoors.

  • How worried should we be about Omicron?

    It is still early to draw clear conclusions, but there are already signs that are causing worry.

    It is also incredibly heavily mutated. Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, said there was an "unusual constellation of mutations" and that it was "very different" to other variants that have circulated.

    "This variant did surprise us, it has a big jump on evolution [and] many more mutations that we expected," he said.

    So for now we are left with a variant that raises significant concerns despite huge holes in our knowledge, and is one that needs to be watched closely and asks deep questions about what to do and when. The lesson of the pandemic is you can't always wait until you have all the answers.

  • Omicron Covid-19 variant confirmed in Ireland

    Irish health authorities said it was linked to travel from southern Africa and the situation was being monitored.

    It was one of eight samples being tested in Dublin.

    Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, said the key focus at present was to continue to suppress the current wave of infection driven by the Delta variant.

    The case was detected as part of a review of positive cases since 30 September.

    The current advice for people travelling from Ireland to so-called scheduled states is to avoid all non-essential travel.

    Scheduled states include Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe.

  • UK Omicron cases now at 32

    It comes as the dreaded Omicron variant spreads across Britain, with the number of cases in now at 32.

    Hospitals have fewer virus patients than this time last week – 7,634, down from 7,911 – but the figure has risen since Monday.

    Omicron cases have now been identified in the East Midlands, East of England, London, South East and North West.

    The variant appears to be more transmissible, while tests continue to see whether it causes more severe disease or if vaccines are less effective against it.

    "It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally," said Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

  • Pictured: UK Covid-19 cases and deaths per day

    DAILY Covid deaths have reached 171 as fears grow over spread of the new Omicron variant.

    The number of new cases is now at 48,000, meaning more than 10million have tested positive overall.

    The figure for deaths was 11 per cent higher than last Wednesday, when 149 were recorded.

  • New rules on face masks

    Face masks are once again compulsory in shops and on public transport, but not in pubs and restaurants.

    And new travel rules were introduced today for Brits returning from abroad.

    All Brits must now self-isolate for two days when returning from any country, and pay for a PCR test to be taken on or before day two.

  • UAE announces first case of Omicron variant - state news agency

    The United Arab Emirates announced on Wednesday its first case of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron for an African woman arriving from an African country through an Arab country, state news agency WAM reported.

    UAE is the second Gulf country to detect an Omicron case after Saudi Arabia announced its first case earlier on Wednesday. 

  • West End theatre 'feels very healthy' says Mamma Mia! creator

    West End theatre "feels very healthy" and is working hard to deal with the challenges of the pandemic, including the new Covid-19 variant, the creator of the musical Mamma Mia! has said.

    Judy Craymer, 64, the producer who is also responsible for the hit film adaptation of the Abba musical and its sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, was speaking after collecting a CBE for her services to theatre and charity.

    Ms Craymer said she was "honoured" by the recognition but added: "It was bittersweet because the theatres were closed.

    "The last 18 months has all been about the reopening of the theatre. It is fantastic that the theatres are open again and that Mamma Mia! is back.

    "It has been a bit of a journey through lockdown but it is great to see that the audiences are coming back."

  • First case of Omicron in US detected

    The first U.S. case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in California, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday.

    The individual in question had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive seven days later, he said.

    He said the person, who was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but had not had a booster shot, had mild symptoms and was self-quarantining.

  • Take a Covid test before attending Xmas parties, says Sajid

    People should carry on with their plans for Christmas, the Health Secretary has insisted, though he urged partygoers to take a Covid lateral flow test before attending events.

    As the Government accelerates the Covid booster programme to help slow down the spread of the new Omicron variant, Sajid Javid said people should continue following Government advice despite warnings from some health officials over the risks of socialising.

    Boris Johnson also urged people to follow the current guidance but faced questions over whether lockdown rules were broken at a Christmas Party in Number 10 last year and insisted "all guidance was followed completely".

    The Government has tightened the rules around PCR tests for travellers returning to the UK and introduced quarantine rules for people from high-risk countries, as well as bringing back face coverings in shops and on public transport in England.

    Mr Javid told Sky News: "I think people should continue to behave in the way they were planning to behave over Christmas, I don't think there is any need to change those plans."

    Asked if people should take a Covid test before attending Christmas parties, Mr Javid said: "I would.

  • Sajid urges people to be 'sensible' if out celebrating over Xmas

    Health Secretary Sajid Javid has urged people to be "sensible" if they are out celebrating over Christmas.

    He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If you are invited to a Christmas party, there's quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT (lateral flow test) test before you go. Go to the party, but just be cautious."

    Asked if he would wear a mask if he was at a party, Mr Javid said: "It depends if I am walking around or sitting down. It depends if I'm eating. People just need to make a decision based on the guidance."

    The Cabinet minister defended the Government's decision to make face coverings compulsory on public transport and in shops in England but not in hospitality settings.

    "The job of government is to listen to expert advice and then make a balanced and proportionate judgment. That's what we've done," he said.

    "We've acted swiftly. But I think what we've said on face coverings and the other measures that we have taken is a balanced and proportionate approach."

  • NHS mental health care has worsened during pandemic - poll

    The pandemic has caused a drop in mental health care, with people not getting the support they need and not knowing where to turn in a crisis, according to a major poll.

    The annual survey from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), of 17,322 people who used NHS community mental health services in England in 2020 and 2021, found people's experience of some areas of care is at its lowest point for eight years.

    Almost half of all those surveyed said their mental health had deteriorated due to changes made to their care and treatment due to the pandemic.

    People aged 18 to 35 were more likely to say they had worse than average experiences compared to those aged 66 and over.

    When it came to how care is delivered, those who received support by phone were more likely to report a negative experience than average in areas such as overall experience, access, communication, respect and dignity.

    However, those who received care by video consultation reported better than average experiences in these areas.

    Overall, the poll found 26% of people said they would not know who to contact out-of-hours in the NHS if they had a crisis.

  • Can I still have the Covid booster if I have a cold?

    The short answer is yes.

    If you are certain it is not Covid you are suffering with and you are well enough to leave home, you can get your third shot with confidence.

    It might make you feel a bit rougher than if you weren't ill, but overall it's perfectly safe - and you can emerge from your sickly funk safe in the knowledge you are protected against coronavirus.

    A cold shouldn't have an effect on your body’s ability to build an immune response to the flu, even though it is fighting an illness.

    NHS guidance says you should still attend your appointment even if you have a mild illness, including a common cold.

  • Booster jabs ARE effective against Omicron

    Those who have had their booster vaccine are protected against the new Omicron variant, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has claimed.

    The dangers of the new variant are still unknown with scientists currently working around the clock to determine this as data is set to come out in the following days.

    Officials at the WHO today said that there is no evidence to suggest the efficacy of vaccines reduces in people who have caught Omicron.

    The organisation said that most cases of the variant that have been examined so far had not led to severe illness or symptoms.

    Experts in Botswana, where cases were initially also detected said that 80 per cent of cases were asymptomatic.

  • The figure keeps on climbing

    There have been ten new cases of the super-strain Omicron Covid variant found in the UK today.

    It takes the UK’s total to 32 with 22 in England alone and 10 in Scotland.

    Dr Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said it is “very likely” more cases of the highly mutated strain will emerge.

    Health bosses are trying to keep a lid on strain by telling contacts of the infected people to self-isolate.

    They are looking to see if there are any links to travel to South Africa - without which suggests the variant is already spreading in the community.

    The Government’s strategy to tackle Omicron is a huge booster campaign to give people maximum immunity this winter.

  • Who is eligible for the booster?

    You don’t have to wait until the six-month mark to book, as the NHS is sending invitations to arrive at five months after the second dose.

    People who will be invited for a booster include:

  • 22 current cases

    Sajid Javid said he'll be spending Christmas with his family and Brits don't need to alter their current plans.

    But he said people should consider taking a lateral flow test before heading to large events such as office parties.

    He said: "People should continue to behave in the way they'll need to over over Christmas. I don't think there's any need to change those plans."

    The health sec also said he's "not worried" about another "Pingdemic" as a result of the return of self-isolation rules.

    He said: We've got 22 confirmed cases at the moment. That will certainly go up but the numbers are low. I hope it stays that way."

  • A warning to families this Christmas

    People have been warned they should not meet friends and family as much during the Christmas period, a gloomy top doc told Brits.

    Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, warned Brits not to socialise “when we don’t particularly need to” to stem the spread of Omicron.

    However, Care Minister Gillian Keegan urged the public to hold its nerve and resist binning off festive plans.

    Omicron super-strain has sparked a new wave of fear among many as there are now 32 UK cases putting a threat on everyone’s Christmas plans.

  • Fears of ‘very stringent’ action to combat Omicron

    Ministers have been told this week that "very stringent" measures may be needed to combat the Omicron variant.

    Scientists on the advisory panel Sage reportedly warned of a potentially “very large wave” on Monday - after new measures were announced over the weekend.

    Stronger rules on self-isolation for close contacts and travellers and a new mandate on face coverings in England were implemented as of Tuesday, after being revealed at a No10 briefing on Saturday. 

    The new rules fall short of “Plan B” - which includes vaccine passports and working from home guidance. 

    It comes as scientists await to find out if the Omicron variant does spread easier, which they say if turns out to be true, would put more pressure on already-stretched hospitals.