International Medical Corps COVID-19 Situation Report #42, December 9, 2021 – World – ReliefWeb

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According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, which consolidates data from a range of sources, as of December 9, there have been 268,059,483 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported worldwide.
In the US, we are supporting 43 hospitals across the country—including in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Puerto Rico and Texas—with a range of services and equipment, including emergency medical field units, supplies and volunteer staff.
We have screened more than 7.9 million people for COVID-19 at our global missions and have distributed more than 31.1 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention and control (IPC) items to supported health facilities.
We have trained more than 26,800 frontline healthcare professionals on COVID-19 prevention and control measures.
Two years after COVID-19 was discovered in China, the world has potentially entered a new phase of the pandemic. In November, a new variant of concern, dubbed Omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO), was found by scientists in South Africa. Scientists worldwide are racing to gather information about the variant, which displays some troubling characteristics.
Initial reports from South Africa suggest that the variant spreads more than twice as fast as the Delta variant—which itself spreads more than twice as fast as the original virus. The growth in case numbers in South Africa highlights this new contagiousness. On November 15, South Africa was averaging less than 300 cases per day; today, roughly three weeks later, the country is averaging more than 13,000 daily cases—a number that is approximately 46 times higher.
Mutations in the virus—along with early data—suggest that the virus can, at least to some extent, evade immunity caused by previous infections and vaccines. For example, a preprint study from South Africa shows that the virus is three times more likely to cause reinfection than previous variants. In addition, Pfizer released early data that shows that its two-dose regimen may not create enough antibodies to prevent infection, though it should protect against severe disease. Still, the new variant does not appear to significantly impact T cells, another important factor in immunity that should protect against severe disease. No data has yet been made available about the effectiveness of the other major vaccines against Omicron.
Though two shots of its vaccine do not appear to provide strong protection from Omicron, Pfizer’s booster shots appear to create essentially the same antibody response against Omicron as two shots had created against earlier virus variants. Though this is welcome news for high-income countries where boosters are available, there are many areas of the world where the vast majority of the population is yet to receive a single dose of the vaccine. This focus on booster shots in high-income countries will lead to even greater vaccine inequity and could lead to another variant as the virus spreads freely in lower-income countries, providing ample space for mutation.
Though it is too early to draw any firm conclusions, the one possible silver lining with Omicron is that its virulence could be lower than previous variants of the virus. While deaths always lag cases by several weeks with COVID-19, there has yet to be a death attributed to Omicron. Doctors in South Africa have stated that, so far, the cases in hospitals appear to be less severe than previous waves of the virus. A new report showed that only 106 patients were in intensive care, and many of them were admitted to the hospital for issues unrelated to COVID-19. The virus was discovered in many of these patients during mandatory testing protocols at the hospitals.
Still, there are other indicators that Omicron may be much more deadly than the hospital reports suggest, with excess mortality in South Africa nearly doubling from one week to the next in last November. It is far too early to say how deadly Omicron will be. Even if it proves to be less severe, it could still lead to overwhelmed hospitals due to its increased contagiousness.
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