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Florida Officials Investigating U.S.’ Third Possible Monkeypox Case

Florida health officials are currently investigating what they call a “presumptive” monkeypox case, which would make it the third possible case in the U.S. as the disease continues to see afflictions worldwide.

According to a press release by the Florida Department of Health, the investigation is being led by the Florida Department of Health in Broward County (DOH Broward), along with the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The release noted the infection is related to international travel, while the person remains in isolation. DOH Broward — which is conducting epidemiological investigations to notify possible exposures — has not identified any additional cases.

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On May 20, two days before the announcement of the investigation, the CDC issued a health advisory regarding recent cases in the United States. The first monkeypox case was identified on May 18, when the Massachusetts-based patient displayed skin lesions that had several features — firm, well circumscribed, and umbilicated — relating to the disease. A man in New York City is also being monitored for exhibiting a Monkeypox consistent illness.

Across the globe, more and more countries are seeing cases popping up. There is now 190 confirmed or suspected cases across 16 countries where the disease is not normally found. Spain confirmed the capital of Madrid had 30 cases Monday, while Germany has four confirmed cases.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) lead advisor Dr. David Heymann called the outbreak a “random event,” stating it could have been amplified by sexual activities at two raves in Europe.

“We know monkeypox can spread when there is close contact with the lesions of someone who is infected, and it looks like sexual contact has now amplified that transmission.”

A zoonotic endemic discovered back in 1958, Monkeypox has historically circulated throughout central and west African countries. However, the recent transmission of cases through sexual contact is different from past cases that have been transmitted through wild rodents and primates.

According to the CDC, symptoms of Monkeypox always include the characteristic rash, which can be followed by fevers, malaise, muscle aches, and lymphadenopathy. With recent cases including lesions in the genital and perianal regions, it could be mistaken for sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis or herpes.

Researchers believe the human-to-human transmission of Monkeypox is through “inhalation of large respiratory droplets,” rather than contact with bodily fluids or indirect contact through clothing. It can also enter through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, or mouth.

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Still, the illnesses caused by Monkeypox are mild, while no deaths related to the cases have been reported thus far. In recent times, the fatality rate of Monkeypox has hovered around 3% to 6%.

Additionally, those who catch the virus usually recover over two to four weeks. Those factoids have contributed to the lack of concern by leaders like President Joe Biden, who commented on Monkeypox during his press conference in Tokyo Monday.

“I just don’t think it rises to the level of the kind of concern that existed with COVID-19, and the smallpox vaccine works for it,” Biden said, adding that the U.S. has enough of the vaccine to deal with any potential outbreaks. The response was more laid back than Biden’s previous comments on Monkeypox, where he called it something “everyone should be worried about.”

Similar to COVID-19 protocols, the WHO advised those who contract Monkeypox and are showing symptoms to remain isolated and avoid contact, and for anyone around the infected individual to wear a mask while thoroughly cleaning hands surfaces.

Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

FDA Places Strict Limits On Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 Vaccine 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced last week that it is limiting the emergency use authorization of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for individuals 18 and older. The vaccine is now available for adults who don’t have access to other vaccinations and for adults who aren’t able to receive the other Covid-19 vaccine for personal medical reasons. 

The FDA released a statement in which they detailed the changes and why they’re being made. They explained that the change is being implemented due to the rare risk of a dangerous clotting condition known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) after receiving the vaccine. 

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“We’ve been closely monitoring the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine and occurrence of TTS following its administration and have used updated information from our safety surveillance systems to revise the EUA,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the statement. 

“We recognize that the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine still has a role in the current pandemic response in the United States and across the global community. Today’s action demonstrates the robustness of our safety surveillance systems and our commitment to ensuring that science and data guide our actions.”

The agency also confirmed that the updated authorizations apply to booster doses as well. The FDA also emphasized that the benefits of the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks for certain individuals as well. 

In their statement, they wrote that individuals who had a severe allergic reaction to an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), have personal concerns over mRNA vaccines, or don’t have access to mRNA vaccines should definitely receive the J&J jab. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 18.7 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the US, and of all the Americans who are currently fully vaccinated, about 7.7% got the J&J vaccine. 

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The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee issued their own statement on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, saying it “makes a preferential recommendation for the use of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines over the Janssen adenoviral-vectored COVID-19 vaccine in all persons aged  ≥ 18 years in the United States.”

Both the CDC and FDA have made these statements mainly due to TTS concerns. When rare clotting events began appearing in the initial periods of vaccination in the US, Johnson & Johnson made a statement emphasizing their commitment to giving Americans a safe and effective vaccine. 

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority. We are aware of an extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals who have received our COVID-19 vaccine. … We have been working closely with medical experts and health authorities, and we strongly support the open communication of this information to healthcare professionals and the public.”

The FDA released data that showed around 60 cases of TTS since the J&J vaccine began its distribution, nine of those unfortunately were fatal. 

The FDA emphasized, however, that the risk for TTS is extremely rare. Current data shows that there’s about three cases of TTS for every million doses administered. 

Symptoms of TTS can appear within one to two weeks after vaccination, and they include shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, neurological symptoms like headaches or blurred vision, and red spots appearing under the skin at the site of vaccination.

BA.2 Subvariant Nows Makes Up 72% Of New COVID-19 Cases

Another day, another COVID-19 subvariant that could once again send safety protocols back into full effect. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Nowcast, the BA.2 strain made up 72.2% of cases within the U.S. from March 27 to April 4. Other members of the Omicron family include BA.1.1, which made up 25%, and B.1.1.529, making up a miniscule 2.5%.

Of course, the subvariant isn’t just making waves in the States. Across the globe, Omicron accounted for 99.8% of COVID-19 cases within the last week, with BA.2 making up 93.6% of that. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), BA.2 is now dominant within all six of its regions and in 68 countries where data sequencing is available.

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Among the countries that have been most hit by the subvariant include the U.K. — which saw over 225,000 new cases on March 21, the most for them in a single day since early January — Germany, where over 3 million new cases have occured between March 24 to April 6, and Italy, which had close to two million cases in that same span.

As Scientific American notes, BA.2 is vastly different from its predecessors in terms of its genetics. While BA.2 shares many of the 60 mutations BA.1 ended up acquiring that were not in the original SARS-COV-2 virus, BA.2 possesses 28 unique mutations of its own. It also holds the dubious honor of being 30% to 50% more contagious than BA.1.

Still, despite the strong push of the highly-transmissible subvariant in the U.S. and world, health experts like Dr. Christopher Murray maintain that Americans shouldn’t be worried of another possible outbreak that could take improvements two steps back.

Speaking to NBC News, Murray — a University of Washington professor of health metrics sciences — said that he would not be “hugely concerned” with BA.2, and explained he expects it to remain at low levels as the weather warms up over the next few months.

“Right now we’re in this period where immunity is high and we’re heading into the summer and transmission tends to be a bit lower, so the combination should lead in the Northern Hemisphere to pretty low levels after the BA.2 wave.”

Indeed, despite the 72% mark, BA.2 hasn’t made a surge in cases. April 6 saw over 49,000 new cases, but the country has steadily remained around a seven-day average of 29,000 to 30,000 for nearly a month. That’s a significant improvement over the seven-day averages from December to late February, which ranged from 100,000 to 800,000. Meanwhile, the seven-day average for daily deaths has dropped from 1,059 on March 16 to 558 on April 6.

If projections like Murray’s hold true, it would be the first time a COVID-19 subvariant has taken over as the dominant strain in the U.S. without causing an uptick in cases. Of course, there may be several factors at play for why cases haven’t statistically increased just yet, one being that the government is no longer offering free tests for uninsured.

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Another possible reason why is that Americans have built up an immunity, with the latest CDC seroprevalence survey showing that around 95% of the population have some level of combined infection and vaccine-induced seroprevalence. 43% are estimated to have antibodies from just past infections, though attempting to build up protection this way certainly wouldn’t be recommended.

Of course, just because a country-wide outbreak might not occur doesn’t mean specific areas wouldn’t be at risk of severe case rises, some experts told Today. People that live in an area with high population density, along with a low vaccination rate, should be more precautious than those who live in an area with a low population density or higher vaccination rate.

CDC Adds No New Destinations To Highest Travel Risk Category, Though Airfare Set To Rise

For the first time in months, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not added any new destinations to its “very high” COVID-19 travel risk category. The absence of additions is a welcome sight to a category that currently contains 115 destinations, which includes hot tourist spots like France, Turkey, and Spain.

The last addition to the “very high” category came on March 21, when Madagascar — the world’s fourth largest island, located off the coast of Africa — was included. It’s just one of two total destinations added to the CDC’s fourth level since March 14, the other being the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

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The CDC has four levels of COVID-19 travel risk: level four, or “very high”; level three, or “high”; level two, or “moderate”; and level one, or “low.” Level three currently has 33 destinations, level two has 14 destinations, and level one has 36 destinations. Destinations are ranked based on the amount of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population over the last 28 days.

There weren’t zero changes across the board when looking at the four categories altogether. Level three saw five countries added Monday — which includes Bosnia, Peru, and Qatar — while level two had six new destinations added. Among those are the popular Bahamas, which have seen a 129% search increase this year when compared to 2019.

As CNN Travel notes, the amount of level four countries has seen a droppage of over two dozen the last several weeks. The surging Omicron variant contributed to a high rise in winter, with 22 countries being added to level four on Jan. 18. In late February, the total level four destinations hovered around 140. Still, level four currently contains more countries than the other three levels combined.

Another positive CDC development is their lifting of the travel advisory for cruise ships, marking it the first time this has happened since the pandemic began. The CDC moved the advisory to the highest level in late December before moving it down a category in February. There are currently 34 cruise ships that have no reported cases, and 69 cruises that are below the CDC’s threshold for investigation.

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While the outlook for travel on all fronts is gradually improving, one area that isn’t a ray of sunshine are costs. According to Hopper, international airfare costs from the U.S. currently match 2019 costs at $810/round-trip. However, predictions suggest they’re set to rise to $940/round-trip in June, a 15% jump from current prices and 5% rise from 2019 costs.

Meanwhile, U.S. domestic travel is taking a greater beating with $330/round-trip airfare, a 7% rise from 2019 costs. Domestic will continue to see spikes, with predictions calling for a 10% increase ($360/round-trip) through May. Both domestic and international airfare are expected to decline into the fall.

The increase in ticket prices can be contributed as a fight to offset costs due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, which has resulted in jet fuel prices of $3.07/gallon, the highest totals since January 2014 and up 40% from January 2022’s $2.20/gallon, Hopper noted.

Those dollar signs won’t be detering passengers, however. According to a joint report by Trip.com and the World Travel & Tourism Council, 70% of leisure travelers in major countries plan to spend more on travel in 2022 than in the past five years. The report also found that the important factor for travelers is getting the best value for their money.

U.S. Opens Second COVID-19 Boosters For Americans 50 And Up

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized an extra dosage of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for Americans 50 and up — plus certain younger age groups that are higher risk for COVID-19 — given that it’s been four months their last vaccination.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s director Dr. Rochelle Walensky discussed the additional booster, stating how anyone who was boosted during the recent Omicron surge — which saw a peak of over 1.1 million new cases in a single day in January — was much less likely to either be hospitalized or die.

“During the recent Omicron surge, those who were boosted were 21-times less likely to die from COVID-19 compared to those who were unvaccinated, and 7-times less likely to be hospitalized.”

Walensky added that the new dosage is “especially important” for those 65 and up. Still, while the Center has assured the second booster will give extra protection to those more susceptible to the virus, it didn’t go so far as to say the new shot is a necessary precaution that should be taken as soon as possible.

The FDA’s vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks explained that regulators set the age at 50 because that’s when chronic conditions that increase COVID-19 risks begin to appear. People between the ages of 50 to 64 have accounted for around 18% (182,663) of all COVID-19 related deaths since 2020.

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Prior to this authorization, the FDA only allowed a fourth dosage for immune-compromised as young as 12. Those who have already received a fourth shot will also be eligible for a fifth, though it has to be a Pfizer shot for those ages 12 to 17. Only adults 18 and older can receive a Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccination.

Meanwhile, anyone who received J&J’s vaccination — which only requires one initial dosage instead of two — and a booster can receive either a Pfizer or Modern shot, which are preferred in most situations by the CDC. While a J&J user can get their first booster only two months after the vaccination (instead of the standard five), they must wait four months for their third like their two counterparts.

Currently, 77.5% (255 million) of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccination dosage, while 66% (217 million) are fully vaccinated. 29.6% (97 million) have received a booster through the first seven months of it being administered.

The second booster comes at an uncertain and critical time in a pandemic that’s now entering its 25th month. Hope certainly abounds: cases in the U.S. are significantly down after the Omicron surgance, with Mar. 29 seeing just 25,628 new cases (29,351 seven-day average), while daily cases haven’t reached over 100,000 in over a month.

Still, time may play a factor in where trends go from here. Original vaccinations are becoming less and less effective against new variants — which continue to pop up and threaten another spike — giving boosters that much more value.

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Most concerning is the Omicron “stealth” subvariant BA.2, which the CDC said is now dominant in the U.S. after it accounted for 55% of COVID-19 cases that have undergone genetic sequencing. The subvariant made up just 1% of sequenced cases back in early February.

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci previously said that though Americans could see an uptick in cases due to BA.2, he doesn’t expect another surge. Other countries haven’t been so fortunate, with BA.2 causing outbreaks in the U.K. (which saw daily counts double in the last two weeks, along with a 11.5% rise in hospitalizations over the last seven days), Germany, and China.

Another potential issue is the funding behind the fourth dosage, should it become necessary, with the federal government having run out of money to pay for the testing and treatment of uninsured Americans. Moderna previously applied for a second booster for the general population earlier this month, though it did so to provide the CDC “flexibility” when recommending what groups should be eligible.

US Unlikely To End Covid Testing Rules For International Travel 

Throughout the past month many countries have made international travel a lot easier as the Covid-19 pandemic continues around the world. Vaccinated travelers have found it much easier to book and experience travel again, however, US travelers returning from abroad must still present negative Covid-19 test results before they’re able to safely return.

The US Virgin Islands became the latest territory to announce that vaccinated travelers no longer need to provide a negative test upon arrival, a move that other international countries, like the UK, have had in place for nearly a month. 

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According to the US Centers for Disease Control And Prevention’s (CDC) last updated guidance for international travel, which was made in December, the US requires all incoming travelers over the age of 2 to submit a negative Covid test taken within one day of departure from a foreign country in order to enter the US. 

It’s become much easier to find at-home Covid-19 tests in the US, which will allow travelers to have greater access to testing in order to go abroad and return safely. The US government’s international travel guidance allows at-home tests as an accurate result for re-entry into the country. 

The provision within the guidelines also provides a list of approved at-home tests that travelers can take before and after traveling abroad. The CDC accepts Ellume, Quered, and BinaxNow at-home tests, which are some of the most commonly sold brands throughout the US. 

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The CDC also requires that the tests are supervised by a live attendant via a video call. BinaxNow tests can even be purchased through the website eMed, which will provide an at-home test shipped directly to your home prior to your trip with instructions on how to take it with live video guidance. 

In a statement to the media, a CVS spokesperson said the company’s stores “have the ability to meet our customers’ needs with at-home test kits both in store and at CVS.com,. We have simplified the digital process so customers can order and pick up a test kit with no up-front, out-of-pocket cost or the need to submit a claim to insurance.”

Walgreens said it “worked diligently with our suppliers to ensure we have enough supply to meet customer demand at nearly all locations.”

While other countries may continue to lift certain Covid-19 protocols for international travel, the US is unlikely to follow suit anytime soon, as it is one of the nation’s with the highest rate of infection.

Vietnam Coronavirus

 CDC Adds Vietnam to List Of Highest-Risk Travel Destinations 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added Vietnam to it’s Level 4 risk category for travel this week. Level 4 is the highest-risk level when it comes to traveling during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

There are currently nearly 140 places within the Level 4 category of risk; which is more destinations than all other levels combined. In the beginning of 2022 about 80 places were on the list. 

The CDC places a location at “Level 4: Very High Covid-19 Risk” when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered within 28 days. 

Vietnam has become the only destination to be added to the list within recent weeks. Previously, the nation was listed at Level 3 for “high risk.” Global case numbers in general have been declining since peaking in late January, but experts are continuing to caution that the pandemic is nowhere near over. 

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New Zealand has had relatively few Covid cases due to strict pandemic protocol restrictions. Recently, however, the nation has recorded record numbers of cases in the past week. The country remains at “high risk” on Level 3 after moving up from Level 2 last week. 

The CDC advises avoiding all travel to countries deemed Level 4. The CDC does not include the US in its list of advisories, but the nation is currently coded at Level 4. Mexico, Canada, France, Peru, Singapore, and Spain are some of the other countries that have remained at Level 4 for over a month. The United Kingdom has remained there since July 2021. 

The Level 3 “high risk” category applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents within 28 days. Comoros, Hong Kong, São Tomé and Príncipe were added to the category this week. 

Hong Kong went from Level 1 to Level 3 this week, it previously was on Level 1 since May 2021. Hong Kong is currently dealing with their worst Covid-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, and is planning on testing its entire population in March. 

Destinations at a Level 2 are considered “Covid-19 moderate,” meaning they have around 50 to 99 cases per 100,000 residents within 28 days. 

This week, 10 destinations moved down to Level 2, including Uganda, Ghana, Republic Of Congo, Montserrat, Rwanda, Togo, Lesotho, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Liberia. 

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To be considered “Level 1: Covid Low” a destination must have less than 50 cases per 100,000 residents over 28 days. Nigeria was the sole destination that moved to Level 1 this week. There are only 5 other locations considered Level 1, including China where the 2022 Winter Olympics were hosted. 

Finally, the CDC also has a risk level for “unknown” risk due to a lack of information and Covid data. These are typically smaller remote places, or places with ongoing warfare/civil unrest. 

Transmission rates are “one guidepost for travelers’ personal risk calculations,” according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

“We are entering a phase in the pandemic where people need to make their own decisions based on their medical circumstances as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting Covid-19,” Wen said.

“You should interpret Level 4 to mean this is a place with a lot of community transmission of Covid-19. So if you go, there is a higher chance that you could contract the coronavirus,” said Wen.

“Some people will decide the risk is too high for them, other people will say, ‘Because I am vaccinated and boosted, I am willing to take on that risk. So this really needs to be a personal decision that people weigh understanding that right now the CDC is classifying the different levels based on community transmission rates, and basically only that. They’re not taking into account individual circumstances,” Wen explained. 

You can review the CDC’s risk levels for any global destination on its travel recommendations page.

CDC Adds Five Caribbean Islands, 15 Total Destinations To Its Highest Level Of Travel Risk

The Center for Disease and Control (CDC) have moved five Caribbean islands — Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and the French territories of Guadeloupe, Saint Barthélemy, and Saint Martin — to its level 4 travel advisory assessment due to “very high” COVID-19 risks.

Additionally, the CDC designated 10 other locations to level 4, which include Niger, Peru, Mongolia, Romania, Tunisia, Fiji, Kuwait, Columbia, Costa Rica, and United Arab Emirates. The total number of level 4 destinations now sits at 116.

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Other Caribbean destinations like Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten, Belize, and the Turks and Caicos had been previously added to level 4. Among the notable level 4 countries worldwide include Greece, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain.

As for other levels, 54 destinations are considered level 3 (“high” risk), 13 are level 2 (“moderate” risk), and 13 are level 1 (“low” risk). The CDC also has an unknown level, which includes a mix of countries that are either places of unrest and restrictions — such as North Korea and Syria — or far less-traveled, like Antarctica.

Countries are moved to the highest level when more than 500 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents are reported in the last 28 days. While the CDC urges to avoid travel to level 4 locations, the agency adds that if you must go, you should be fully vaccinated while wearing a mask and staying six feet away from others at all times.

The CDC additions are a tough blow to many vacationers. The Seattle Times noted that 4.6 million U.S. citizens traveled to the Caribbean from January through September of last year, which is more than the number of U.S. visitors to any other overseas region.

On Jan. 25, Jamaica saw 754 new COVID-19 cases while possessing a seven-day average of 921, while the Dominican Republic had 2,272 new cases and a seven-day average of 4,839. Meanwhile, on Jan. 20, Saint Martin reported 1,430 new cases and an average of over 200.

Though transmission rates and trends are solid — if not the most important —  guidelines to follow when debating whether to travel, CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen explained there are other considerations one could weigh.

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“The transmission rates are one guidepost. Another is what precautions are required and followed in the place that you’re going and then the third is what are you planning to do once you’re there,” Wen said.

She also added that a trip involving going to lots of attractions, bars, and areas with high volumes of on-goers is very different than a visit that involves little interaction, such as sitting on a beach. “Those are very different levels of risk.”

While the CDC does not label the U.S. or its territories on its travel risk levels, the country has the color code of level 4 on their advisory map. In the last week, the U.S. has had over four million new cases, the most of any country in that span.

World Health Organization

WHO Director-General Worries COVID-19 ‘Tsunami Of Cases’ Could Drive Health Systems Towards Collapse

With COVID-19 cases once again rising — while breaking daily records — in countries like the United States, France, and Britain, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned in a press conference that an uptick could put a strain on health systems globally.

“I’m highly concerned that Omicron, being more transmissible, circulating at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases,” Tedros stated, adding that the COVID-19 surges could force “immense pressure on exhausted health workers.”

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Additionally, Tedros voiced his concerns that the new variants could grow further and become more resistant to the vaccines in place, putting greater importance on boosters. “As this pandemic drags on, it’s possible that new variants could evade our countermeasures and become fully resistant to current vaccines or past infection, necessitating vaccine adaptations.”

Tedros critiqued the failure of his goal for UN member states to reach 40% population immunization — only 102 out of 194 reached the mark — which he said was due to limited supply to low-income countries. “40% was doable. It’s not only a moral shame, it cost lives and provided the virus with opportunities to circulate unchecked and mutate.”

Tedros — who wants to reach 70% immunization in every country by July — encouraged nations to support each other in faster manufacturing and rollouts of vaccines, while also welcoming innovative solutions for reaching at-risk communities. Right now, only 48.3% of the entire world is fully vaccinated, while 57.5% have received at least one dose.

Despite the Director-General’s worrisome remarks, he expressed hope that 2022 could be the year that not only ends the “acute stage” of the pandemic, but puts the world on track for better health security while stating that “it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

As NBC News notes, 1.8 million COVID-19 cases were reported last week in the U.S., a 69.3% increase from the week prior. Dec. 27 saw 441,278 new cases, the highest total recorded since the pandemic hit the country in March 2020. Holiday travel played an obvious part in the rise, and continues a trend – Dec. 2020 and Jan. of this year saw high U.S. daily case increases as well.

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According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the week ending on Dec. 25, Omicron made up 58.6% of total COVID-19 cases in the U.S., while Delta made up 41.1%. Omicron is up 36.1% from Dec. 18, while Delta is down 35.9%.

Meanwhile, Britain saw over 128,000 new cases on Dec. 27 — their highest ever recorded — while France saw over 104,000 on Dec. 25. Across the globe, over 2.5 million cases have been recorded since Monday, while the seven-day average is at 946,035.

Despite the increases and rapid transmissions, standard procedures continue to be relaxed. On Monday, the CDC lowered their recommended isolation time from 10 days to five days for both asymptomatic vaccinated and unvaccinated. The CDC also recommended the wearing of masks around people for five days after isolation time.

Similarly, the U.K. reduced their isolation period for those who have tested positive from 10 days to seven days, assuming they’ve received negative lateral flow tests. WHO has not given a firm opinion on the isolation changes, with emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan only saying that “these are judgement calls countries make.”

WHO, CDC Warn Measles Outbreak Possible After 22 Million Infants Miss Their Vaccines

A study published by the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows the possibility of a global measles outbreak has increased after 22 million infants missed their vaccinations because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 3 million more than in 2019.

Two-thirds of the infants are located in just ten countries, which include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, Brazil, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Ethiopia.

According to the World Health Organization, measles are the world’s most contagious virus, but also the most “entirely preventable,” with the vaccine having averted more than 30 million deaths over the last 20 years.

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After a global measles resurgence from 2017-2019, the disease saw a drop in 2020 due to the pandemic. In the U.S., just 13 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 2020, down from 1,282 reported cases in 2019. However, the CDC notes that despite the decline, millions of children were more susceptible to measles at the end of 2020 than they were at the end of 2019.

There were a number of possible causes for the measles decline in 2020, one of them being lower transmission rates — thanks in part to social distancing and quarantining — and increased immunity. However, a more likely culprit is the underreporting of cases after “large and disruptive measles outbreaks in 2020.”

Per the WHO, despite there being a safe and cost-effective measles vaccination, there were 140,000 measles deaths globally in 2018, mostly among children under the age of five. On average, there are around 60,000 measles deaths a year, along with 7.5 million cases.

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The measles vaccine come in two doses, which is critical for it to be successful. The first dose coverage fell in 2020, while only 70% of children received their second vaccine dose, which the WHO explains is far below the 95% coverage needed to protect communities from a measles outbreak.

According to The Hill, the number of specimens sent to the WHO Global Measles and Rubella Laboratory Network hit a low that hasn’t been seen in more than a decade. 35 countries did not report rates for the first measles shot, while 50 countries did not report rates for the second measles shot.

In addition to the missed vaccines by infants, 24 measles vaccine supplemental campaigns in 23 countries were postponed due to COVID-19, leaving more than 93 million people at risk for the virus. These campaigns are important because they’re needed where people have missed out on measles-containing vaccines through routine immunization program.

In a statement, WHO Director of Immunization Dr. Kate O’Brien explained we are likely seeing “the calm before the storm” when it comes to a measles outbreak, and stressed the importance of continual vaccination against all diseases.

“It’s critical that countries vaccinate as quickly as possible against COVID-19, but this requires new resources so that it does not come at the cost of essential immunization programs. Routine immunization must be protected and strengthened; otherwise, we risk trading one deadly disease for another.”

Along with the risk of death, measles can also cause swelling, blindness, pneumonia, dehydration, diarrhea, and encephalitis, which can cause swelling of the brain. More basic symptoms include a high fever and rashes.