COVID Live: Moderna Warns Vaccines Likely Less Effective Against Omicron Variant

Live Updates

Current COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be less effective against the new Omicron variant, the head of Moderna has warned, as White House officials work against the clock to devise a vaccine-led defence for the winter.

CEO Stéphane Bancel on Tuesday predicted a "material drop" in efficacy of all available vaccines. It comes as President Joe Biden and White House advisers work on a vaccine-led COVID strategy to for the winter.

Biden, who has stated his desire to not return to lockdowns, will set out the winter plan on a visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Thursday.

The U.S. has so far recorded no cases of the variant but at a COVID briefing on Monday, Biden said it is "almost inevitable" that it would arrive.

Meanwhile, the variant continues to spread around the world, with Japan the latest country to detect Omicron among its cases. More than a dozen countries have so far reported cases since it was first detected by scientists in South Africa earlier this month.

The live updates for this blog have ended.

Omicron detected in Netherlands earlier than previously thought

New information indicates that the Omicron variant spread earlier than initially thought.

Dutch health officials detected Omicron in samples taken in the Netherlands between November 19 and 23.

South Africa first reported the variant to the United Nations health agency on November 24, according to the World Health Organization.

Officials previously believed the variant was first brought to the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa on November 28.

Miss Universe pageant to go ahead despite COVID-positive contestant

Miss Universe pageant organizers announced Monday that one of the contestants tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Israel.

The contestant has not been named and it is unclear whether she had the Omicron variant, the Associated Press reports.

Israel closed its borders to foreign travelers on Sunday in response to Omicron, but the government has allowed Miss Universe contestants to fly in.

Miss Universe Organization said most of the 80 contestants have already arrived and the pageant will continue as scheduled on December 12 with strict COVID protocols.

FULL STORY: Miss Universe Pageant Proceeding As Usual, Despite Competitor Testing Positive for COVID

Miss Universe 2021 Andrea Meza.
Miss Universe 2021 Andrea Meza during a press conference on her arrival to Mexico City on July 6, 2021. Medios y Media/Getty Images

Poll: Majority of unvaccinated Americans would take antiviral COVID pill

A new survey suggests roughly three in four U.S. adults would take a COVID-19 antiviral pill, if it was prescribed by a doctor and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Such medication was met with approval from both sides of the political aisle, according to the Morning Consult poll, with 86 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans who took part, stating they would take it if they were sick.

Even most adults who don't trust the "medical establishment" (57 percent) would accept the pill, the survey suggested. But unvaccinated people—a key demographic—said they wouldn't take an antiviral pill if they became infected even if it was signed off by their doctor and the federal health agency.

FULL STORY: Majority of Americans Would Take COVID Pill If They Got Sick, Except for Unvaccinated

'It will be buy us time': Boris Johnson defends new Omicron restrictions

The British PM said a mask mandate in stores and on public transit is "proportionate and responsible" in the face of the new variant, which is now thought to be spreading from person to person in Scotland.

10 states block federal healthcare vaccine mandate

The Biden administration's vaccine mandate policy for healthcare workers is facing a significant backlash after a rebellion by 10 states in court.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp—a Donald Trump appointee—issued a ruling on Monday which prevents the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing the mandate until the court in St. Louis can hear legal challenges.

States taking part in legal action are:

Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota and New Hampshire are all taking part in legal action.

It is the second time this month the White House has been blocked by district judges, with a court in New Orleans ruling earlier this month that a vaccine or test mandate on businesses with more than 100 employees was not lawful.

Graph shows tumbling travel company stocks following Omicron discovery

Travel companies have taken heavy losses on the stock market since the announcement the Omicron variant had been discovered.

Travel bans put in place by many countries (more on those here) have sent the market into a downward spiral in recent days.

This chart, produced by Statista, shows how major companies have been hit.

Newsweek/Statista graph shows Omicran affection on bookings
A graph shows the sharp drop in travel bookings following the discovery of the Omicron variant Newsweek/Statista

WATCH: What are the symptoms of Omicron variant?

Medical and scientific experts in South Africa - where the variant was first officially identified - have said symptoms are mild compared to some other strains.

But most scientists have concluded that there is not enough evidence to conclude how serious and deadly the illness is.

'Omicron' cryptocurrency price surges after variant discovery

The token - which shares the same name as the Omicron COVID variant - has experienced a surge in trading over the past day.

It comes following several days of headlines surrounding the Omicron variant that was recently classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after first being discovered on November 9.

Before that, a cryptocurrency project also named after the Greek letter Omicron (OMIC) was launched around November 2, according to its tweets.

FULL STORY: Omicron COVID Variant, With Worrying Mutations, Detected in These Countries

Moderna boss warns current vaccines' efficacy likely lower against Omicron

Moderna's CEO has predicted a "material drop" in the efficacy of current COVID shots against new variant Omicron.

Stéphane Bancel cited the high number of mutations in the new variant as his primary concern (find out more about Omicron's mutations here).

So far the vaccines have remained effective against multiple variants, including Delta. But Bancel told the Financial Times:

"There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant]."

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel.
File photo: Moderna CEO, Stephane Bancel attends 2019 Forbes Healthcare Summit at the Jazz at Lincoln Center on December 05, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Asked what could be done to tackle the variant while research is ongoing into Omicron, he said that more potent booster shots could be administered to the elderly and most vulnerable to minimize their risk of serious illness or death.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said on Friday—just hours after the World Health Organization declared it a "variant of concern"—that they could produce and manufacture an updated version of their shot within 100 days if required. But Bancel made no such promise.

Key takeaways from Biden and Fauci's COVID briefing

President Biden held a briefing at the White House on Monday, speaking alongside his top pandemic adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

During the briefing (seen in the video above), the pair discuss the Omicron variant and outlined how the U.S. would seek plan to tackle it.

Here are four key takeaways:

  • Biden admitted that I think it is "almost inevitable" the variant will enter the U.S. soon—if it hasn't already
  • He ruled out any lockdown orders, suggesting face masks and vaccine should suffice over winter
  • The pair urged Americans to "mask up" in the face of another possible spike in cases
  • Biden echoed Fauci's calls for calm, with the president calling the variant "cause for concern, not a cause for panic"

FULL STORY: U.S. Leaders Brace for Omicron as Inevitability, Urge Masks Indoors

Anthony Fauci and Joe Biden talk COVID
Chief Medical Advisor to the president Anthony Fauci speaks during a briefing on the Omicron COVID-19 variant, watched by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and President Joe Biden (C), in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

'Vaccine' named Merriam-Webster Word of the Year

The word "vaccine" had a six-fold (601 percent) increase in lookups this year compared to 2020, according to Merriam-Webster, which has named it its "Word of the Year."

The dictionary company said it showed "continual spikes of attention through the year," adding:

The biggest science story of our time quickly became the biggest debate in our country, and the word at the center of both stories is vaccine.

It notes that the word originates from the Latin word for "cow"—vacca—a reference to the discovery of cowpox as a natural vaccine against smallpox in humans.

Japan confirms first case of Omicron variant

Japan has identified its first known case of the Omicron variant on the day it reintroduced a sweeping travel ban for foreign visitors.

A visitor who recently arrived from Namibia tested positive for COVID after arriving in the country on Sunday, the Associated Press reports.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Tuesday that the patient—a man in his 30s—tested positive upon arrival at Tokyo's Narita airport and was isolated while being treated at a hospital. Matsuno did not identify his nationality.

His travel companions and passengers in nearby seats have all been traced and reported to Japanese health authorities.

Japan announced on Monday it would ban all foreign visitors, starting Tuesday, as an emergency precaution against the variant. Japanese nationals and foreigners with resident permits must quarantine for two weeks following entry.

Cancelled flights board at Tokyo's Haneda airport.
A man walks past an arrivals board showing cancelled flights at Tokyo's Haneda international airport on November 30, 2021, a day after Japan announced it would reinstate tough border measures, barring all new foreign arrivals over the Omicron Covid variant. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images) PHILIP FONG/AFP/Getty Images

What did Biden and Fauci say at yesterday's COVID briefing?

The president and his top scientific adviser told Americans to stick with face coverings and get vaccinated at a press conference in the White House.

Biden admitted that cases of the Omicron variant would appear in the U.S. "sooner or later" - if they aren't already here.

Sooner or later we are going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States. Please wear your mask when you're indoors, in public settings around other people.

Dr. Fauci said there was a cause for concern about the variant, but that ultimately there was no need to panic just yet. Repeating the president's advice, he said the best current protection against the variant is vaccination and face masks.

FULL STORY: U.S. Leaders Brace for Omicron as Inevitability, Urge Masks Indoors

'Get that shot': President's message to the unvaccinated

Biden had urged unvaccinated Americans to get the shot as soon as possible in the face of the Omicron variant.

At a press briefing yesterday, he pushed people to "get that shot" and told those already fully vaccinated to get their boosters.

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

President Biden has warned that cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant are "almost inevitable" in the U.S.

Follow Newsweek's liveblog throughout Tuesday for all the latest...

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