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monkeypox

CDC Says Monkeypox Is Unlikely To Be Eradicated Anytime Soon

According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic transmission of the monkeypox virus is unlikely to be eliminated anytime soon.

The CDC said the virus’s spread has slowed but is likely to continue for years. In August, daily infections peaked at more than 400 cases a day. Now the agency reports fewer than 150 cases a day.

The decline in cases is due to vaccines becoming more accessible and the public becoming more knowledgeable about how to avoid infection. Immunity has also likely increased within the most impacted group, which is men who have sex with other men.

The disease is spread between people during close contact, most commonly through sex. Monkeypox is usually not fatal, but it causes those infected to get painful blisters all over their body. At least two people have died from the disease.

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Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health officials, told CNN that people with compromised immune systems should be most cautious.

“These few deaths – whether or not they’re fully attributable to monkeypox or people died with monkeypox – they likely wouldn’t have died if they didn’t have some of these underlying conditions or their bodies weren’t already compromised.”

We currently have the most monkeypox cases worldwide, with more than 24,000 cases reported across 50 states. The Biden administration declared a public health emergency earlier this August when cases were highest. The declaration helped allocate more resources to testing, vaccinations, treatment and community outreach to stop the spread of the virus within the U.S.

The Jynneos monkeypox vaccine has been administered to more than 684,000 people. The CDC believes the virus will continue to spread mainly among men who have sex with other men, but anyone can catch the virus through close contact with someone infected. So far, 29 children and 408 women have also caught the virus.

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Within the reported cases, 75% of patients reported having male-to-male contact, but that number has decreased over time. The CDC says the decline may be due to missing data rather than a change in the transmission pattern of the virus. However, more than 90% of infections are still among males.

The outbreak could start spreading among the U.S. population through other forms of contact, but no country with infected populations has found a significant spread outside men who have sex with other men.

Marc Lipsitch, director of science in the CDC disease forecasting center, told The Associated Press that the disease is still a continuing threat.

“It’s in many geographic locations within the country. There’s no clear path in our mind to complete elimination domestically.”

The virus is endemic in parts of West and Central Africa and was mainly transmitted through contact with infected animals until May. If the U.S. animal population gets infected, it could also spread quickly among people in the future. The CDC is still learning which species of animals can get monkeypox.

The agency cannot predict the number of people who may get infected with the virus. However, it believes the number of cases will continue to decline over the next several months.

flu

How To Stay Healthy Against The Flu And Covid-19 This Fall 

According to reports from a Salt Lake City newspaper, doctors are gearing up for a severe flu season in the coming months after Australia’s season just ended. The US often looks at Australia to predict what the states might experience during a typical flu season. 

Australia reported 300 deaths and 1,700 hospitalizations brought on by influenza season this year. Kencee graves, an associate professor of internal medicine, noted that Utah specifically hasn’t seen major flu outbreaks within the past two years, however, that doesn’t mean other states shouldn’t relax health and safety precautions as the winter season approaches. 

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In 2021, Australia experienced no deaths and very little hospitalizations brought on by the flu, so the major increase in cases this year was unexpected. 

“That is what makes us in the U.S. a little concerned about how severe this flu season could be. That makes this year an important one to get the flu vaccine,” Graves said.

Doctors typically recommend getting a flu shot before Halloween, as flu season officially starts in October in the US, and continues into March, according to Graves. 

Graves also explained that it’s typically okay for one to get a flu and Covid-19 vaccine at the same time, but if you’re an individual who tends to have a severe reaction to vaccines, you should get both doses at different times to allow your body to adjust. 

“A person’s primary series of the vaccine provides immunity to COVID-19, then follow-up boosters add to that immunity. The original boosters were targeted against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2,” Dr. Hannah Imlay, assistant professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health, told KSL

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“But successive waves of different variants have swept across the world, and vaccines don’t target them as well. They do protect against severe disease and death. But the new bivalent booster targets current variants as well as the ancestral strain,” she explained.

Imlay also expressed that people who have received previous Covid-19 boosters should remain well protected, but it’s important to note that “the new bivalent boosters are authorized to be taken at least two months after one’s most recent vaccine dose, regardless of how many boosters a person received.” 

“Spacing out one’s vaccine doses and infection helps increase protection against the disease. If you’ve had a recent COVID-19 infection, it may be best to wait at least three months before receiving the bivalent booster. You’ve got a lot of immune priming from your infection, you get a lot of immune priming from your most recent vaccine dose, so wait some time before getting the bivalent booster,” Imlay recommends. 

The US is still very much coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Imlay there’s an average of 70,000 new cases and 500 deaths a day throughout the nation. 

“That said, a lot of policy decisions and choices that we as a population have made has really transitioned this to being a large-scale public health response to a response that hopefully is more sustainable and kind of has turned to the endemic model, the country will continue to see high numbers of cases,” she explained.

moderna

UK Approves Updated Covid-19 Vaccine From Moderna, Targets Omicron And Original Strain 

The United Kingdom has become the first nation to approve an updated version of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine booster, meant to target the omicron strain as well as the original virus that first appeared in 2020. 

“An updated version of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna that targets two coronavirus variants (known as a “bivalent” vaccine) has today been approved for adult booster doses by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after it was found to meet the UK regulator’s standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” read an official government release.

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“Half of the booster, called Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron, targets the original coronavirus strain while the other half targets Omicron,” it said.

The MHRA, the UK government’s independent expert scientific advisory board, endorsed the decision to approve of the new vaccine after carefully reviewing the evidence. 

The clinical trial by Moderna reported that the booster targets Omicron and showed a stronger immune response against the variant in addition to the original strain. The company said the “updated booster showed a potent response against BA.4 and BA. 5 sub variants.” 

“The side effects are the same as for the original Moderna booster dose and found to be typically mild and self-resolving. No serious safety concerns were identified,” the UK government release said.

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MHRA Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said that “the new Moderna booster will help keep communities protected.

“The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines being used in the UK continue to provide important protection against the disease and save lives. What this bivalent vaccine gives us is a sharpened tool in our armory to help protect us against this disease as the virus continues to evolve.”

The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization will advise on the vaccine’s rollout, as it is not yet clear who will be offered the booster or when. 

Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, said on Twitter he was “delighted the vaccine had been approved.”

“This represents the first authorization of an Omicron-containing bivalent vaccine, this bivalent vaccine has an important role to play in protecting people in the UK from Covid-19 as we enter the winter months.”

Besides Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech have been testing two Covid-19 vaccine boosters that will also target the Omicron variant.

monkeypox

U.S. Declares Monkeypox A Public Health Emergency

On Thursday, the federal government declared the ongoing monkeypox outbreak — which has now affected 7,012 Americans — a public health emergency in an attempt to help strengthen responses. With that declaration, additional money will be directed toward resources for the virus.

“Ending the monkeypox outbreak is a critical priority for the Biden-Harris Administration,” Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra explained in a release.

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“With today’s declaration we can further strengthen and accelerate our response further,” Becerra said. “We urge every American to take monkeypox seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus.”

White House National Monkeypox Response Coordinator Robert Fenton emphasized the strategies being deployed against monkeypox are helped by prior learning experiences with outbreaks, such as COVID-19.

“We are applying lessons learned from the battles we’ve fought – from COVID response to wildfires to measles, and will tackle this outbreak with the urgency this moment demands.”

HHS is now able to utilize emergency funds and hire or assign staff to deal with the outbreak. The department also noted work being done in concert with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that will help to provide the Jynneos monkeypox vaccinations across the country.

The partnership plans to utilize a “new dose-sparing approach that could increase the number of doses available, up to five-fold.” This sparsing would be accomplished through a shallower injection than the one recommended for Jynneos.

However, the approach would need approval from regulators and another declaration from the federal government altering guidelines on vaccine administration.

The announcement comes as vaccines are seeing struggles with availability. Minnesota has just 3,000 of the 90,000 vaccines needed to help those most at-risk, while California has received just around 37,000 of the 800,000 requested.

Health officials also have concerns that should the shortage not be addressed immediately and effectively, the virus could become far more widespread, marking it as the second public health disaster in a span of over two years.

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HHS has shipped over 602,000 doses of the vaccine, a number that’s up 266,000 from last week, bringing the total amount of allocated vaccines to 1.1 million. The department also announced it’s ordered an additional 150,000 vaccines, which are expected to arrive in September. Similar to most COVID-19 vaccines, Jynneos requires two doses, 28 days apart.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) case count, as of Thursday, New York continues to lead all states in cases with 1,748. California sits second with 826 cases, while Florida is third with 577. Just two out of the 50 states (Wyoming and Montana) have no reported cases.

California, New York, and Illinois all declared public health emergencies last week, as did the cities of New York City and San Francisco. Despite the rising cases, no Americans have died, though several deaths have been reported in other countries. In recent times, monkeypox fatality rates have ranged from 3% to 6%.

Monkeypox had previously been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by the World Health Organization (WHO) in late July following a substantial global increase. Worldwide, over 26,800 cases in more than 70 countries have been confirmed.

white house

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Explains Why Some Americans Don’t Trust The Science

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid response coordinator, recently spoke at the Aspen Ideas Festival and explained why Americans continue to grow less trusting of medical advice from experts. One of the biggest reasons cited is due to a lack of representation in the scientific/medical field. 

“If you look at the experience of the way the public health system has treated, let’s say, African Americans in America, there’s a lot of basis for mistrust. It is not a glorious history.”

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According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 29% of US adults say they believe medical scientists are acting in the best interest of the public: that percentage is down from 40% in late 2020. 

Jha said that for many people of color, that mistrust can be rooted back to not seeing enough representation or diversity in the medical field in general, especially when it comes to positions of power in the public health system. 

“We have to do a much better job at diversifying our scientific workforce. It will make science better. It’ll make the communication better. The proportion of Black men in medical school is the same today as it was 40 years ago.” 

According to a 2015 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), only 1,337 Black men applied to US medical schools in 2014, compared to 1,410 Black men in 1978. Less than 6% of all physicians in America are Black, according to a 2018 study by UCLA. 

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Diversity in medicine has been luckily on the rise recently; January data from the AAMC shows that there were roughly 20% more Black male first-year medical students in the US in 2021 when compared to 2020. However, the report also cited an 8.5% decrease in American Indian and Alaska Native first-year students. 

Jha noted that “diverse doctors and healthcare workers could help get more people of color on board with vaccinations. The words of trusted community members often carry more weight than government officials, even publicly elected ones.”

“Here are communities that have been served badly, where the health system has treated them badly, and then someone shows up and says, ‘You want a vaccine?’ and you’re surprised that people are not immediately jumping for it?”

“You saw incredible vaccine uptick rates in lots of communities of color, but, when you work with those right partners. It was proof of this principle that if you get the right partners, you do this humbly, you do this in an effective way, it really moves the needle,” said Jha.

Child Vaccine

FDA Says Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine Safe And Effective For Children Under 5

Staff for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said on Sunday that the Covid-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech is safe and effective for children under the age of 5. Staff members said the vaccine is effective in producing a virus-blocking response without any major safety concerns, now the results will be studied by a group of independent advisers for the FDA.

Independent experts working for the agency will review a request for emergency use authorization for the vaccine in children under the age of 5. The group will also review a similar request from Moderna for the use of their vaccine for children under the age of 6. 

After the advisers make their recommendations, the FDA will then decide whether or not to follow the panel’s advice, which it likely will. If the agency approves, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do the same, the vaccines could be available for young children and infants as soon as the beginning of next week. 

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According to the FDA, “overall preliminary data indicated the vaccine was 80.4% effective in preventing symptomatic covid-19. The rate was 75.6% for babies and toddlers six to 23 months old, and 82.4% for children 2-to-4-years-old.

It’s still too soon, however, to reach definitive conclusions on the vaccine’s effectiveness.”

“Side effects were minimal and included irritability and drowsiness for children 6-to-23-months-old, and pain at the injection site and fatigue for children 2 to 4. Babies and children younger than 5 — a group numbering 19 million — remain the only age group in the United States not yet eligible for a coronavirus vaccine.”

The FDA also emphasized with these findings that they believe vaccines for the youngest group of Americans are critical for navigating the rest of the pandemic. 

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“Given the uncertainty of the pandemic and likely continued virus transmission in coming months, deployment of the vaccine for use among children 6 months through 4 years of age will likely have a beneficial effect on COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality in this age group,” the agency said.

Assuming that both Pfizer and Moderna receive an emergency use authorization, most children will likely be able to receive their shots at their pediatricians office, however, many states and communities are already gearing up to set up vaccine clinics and make the shots available throughout local pharmacies. 

Sallie Permar, an expert in pediatric vaccines, said that her facility will offer both vaccine options to ideally make it easier for the parents to choose what they want their child to receive. 

“While there may be some confusion over the difference between the two vaccines, offering both gives you more flexibility. Parents can weigh all the information and decide,” she explained. 

UK Fighting against Covid-19

UK To Roll Out Additional Covid-19 Vaccines For Vulnerable People And Elderly 

The UK announced this week that it will be rolling out an additional Covid-19 vaccine for the elderly and clinically vulnerable populations. Adults over the age of 75, nursing home residents, and anyone who’s immunocompromised will be given an extra dose of a Covid vaccine in the spring. 

Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said the rollout is a part of a “precautionary strategy for 2022,” adding that individuals over the age of 18 will be offered Pfizer/BioNTech or the Modernas vaccine for the spring dose, while 12 to 18-year-olds will be given Pfizer/BioNTech exclusively. 

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“An extra booster shot will be given 6 months after an eligible individual’s most recent dose. For older people in the U.K., this will be the fourth vaccine dose they have been offered. For people with a severely weakened immune system, it will be the fifth vaccine shot they have been offered. The bulk of the population has been offered three shots, two vaccinations and one booster,”  the JCVI said.

“There remains considerable uncertainty with regards to the likelihood, timing and severity of any potential future wave of Covid-19 in the U.K.”

“There may be a transition period of a few years before a stable pattern, such as a regular seasonal wave of infection, is established,” the JCVI said.

A majority of the UK’s oldest, and most vulnerable, adults received their most recent Covid vaccine in September or October. The JCVI noted that “the immunity this group gained through their booster shot may wane substantially before the fall, when we plan to roll out a wider booster program.” 

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Details on the fall program have not been published yet. 85% of those aged 12 and older in the eligible population of UK residents have received their two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and two-thirds of that group has received a booster shot.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also preparing to announce and end to all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England, a move which many medical professionals have criticized. 

Most of England’s Covid restrictions have already been lifted. The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for the virus is one of the few requirements still in place. 

Johnson is also planning to announce that access to free Covid tests will be scaled back, even though the nation recorded 25,696 new cases this Sunday alone. About 508 individuals per 100,000 people are currently infected with Covid-19 in England. 

“Thanks to our COVID-19 vaccination rollout, we are already the freest country in Europe. It has saved countless lives, reduced pressure on the National Health Service, and is allowing us to learn to live with the virus,”  U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement on Monday.

Austria Lifts Lockdown For Unvaccinated Individuals As Europe Pulls Back On Covid Restrictions  

Countries throughout Europe have been easing up on Covid-19 restrictions as hospital admissions have begun to level out. Austria has lifted the lockdown that was in place for unvaccinated individuals while Switzerland is preparing for a “turbo” reopening of public spaces. 

The Danish government declared that Covid-19 “should no longer be categorized as a socially critical disease after January 31st.” The Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, and France have all begun taking steps to ease up on restrictions and return to some sense of normalcy. 

While the Omicron variant is continuing to cause cases to rise in Europe, hospital and intensive care admissions have not been surging in line with new cases, meaning most individuals who are getting it are likely vaccinated and protected from severe disease. 

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Austria’s chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said that from “next Saturday, shops and restaurants would be able to stay open until midnight and the maximum number of people able to participate in events will rise from 25 to 50.”

The nation also has become the first EU member state to make vaccination legally compulsory for adults. Under this law, individuals who refuse to get their inoculations are liable for fines up to €3,600.

Unvaccinated individuals in Austria can now leave their houses, but are barred from eating in restaurants or shopping for non-essential items as the government continues to try to increase western Europe’s vaccination rates; where the rates are currently lowest. 

In Switzerland, experts who studied both Swiss and German infection rates said “Omicron was significantly more infectious, but seemingly less severe, than the Delta variant and was unlikely to cause record numbers of admissions to ICUs.”

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Around 40% of Swiss companies have previously reported major staff shortages. Alain Berset, the Swiss health minister, has now called for remaining restrictions to be lifted by mid-February as a means of “turbo reopening” the economy. 

Germany’s finance minister, Christian Lindner, also said “the government should be laying the foundations for a smooth return to normal, even though the peak of the Omicron wave may still be several weeks away, business requires a planning horizon.”

Germany initially had the goal of getting 80% of its population vaccinated by the end of January, and currently have 75.8% of the population vaccinated. This puts Germany behind other larger countries such as Italy, France, and Spain. 

The World Health Organization has said it is “plausible that the Omicron variant, which seems to cause less severe symptoms in the fully vaccinated, may signal the pandemic’s transition towards a more manageable phase and eventual endgame, but the situation remains unpredictable.”

Starbucks Sign

Starbucks Scrapes Vaccine Mandate After Supreme Court Ruling

A week after a 6-3 Supreme Court ruling temporarily stopped President Joe Biden’s workplace vaccine mandate — which required companies of over 100 workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly — Starbucks is suspending their COVID-19 vaccine or test requirement, they informed employees in a memo sent Tuesday.

Starbucks, which has over 15,000 locations in the U.S., told their 228,000 workers on Jan. 3 that they would need to either be fully vaccinated by Feb. 9, or accept weekly testing. The employees had to disclose their vaccination status by Jan. 10.

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“This is an important step we can take to help more partners get vaccinated, limit the spread of Covid-19, and create choices that partners can own based on what’s best for them,” Starbucks CEO John Culver said at the time.

While Culver said in the memo they respect and will comply with the ruling, he also expressed the desire to continue believing in the purpose of the mandate, while urging employees to keep getting shots and boosted against the virus.

“I want to emphasize that we continue to believe strongly in the spirit and intent of the mandate. Thank you to the more than 90 percent of partners who have already disclosed their vaccination status, and to the vast majority who are now fully vaccinated.”

The New York Post noted that Starbucks is still requiring employees to wear surgical masks instead of cloth masks. The company — which brought in a 2021 third quarter revenue of $8.15 billion — previously tried to incentivize vaccinations by offering two paid hours off for every dosage received.

General Electric, which has over 170,000 workers, has also suspended their vaccine and testing rules. Like Starbucks, GE encouraged their workers to get vaccinated. Eyes will now turn to see if other major businesses, such Target (409,000 workers) will opt to pull back or suspend their policies in place.

It’s already clear some will not be following the ruling, however. Bankers Citigroup and Goldman Sachs told Forbes they would continue their mandates, while Wells Fargo would continue its testing program as part of its vaccine or test mandate. Meanwhile, Carhartt — which employs over 5,000 — faced both support and backlash for intending to carry on with their vaccination policy.

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Due to the surging omicron variant, the coffee giant has had to reduce employee hours while experiencing supply shortages and sick workers. Other restaurant companies are dealing with the same – McDonald’s cut store hours by 10% on average at 40,000 locations.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), just 36% of U.S. workers are required to be vaccinated by their employer. That number has increased from 5% in May 2021. Meanwhile, 43% of workers say their companies are encouraging vaccinations, down from 66% in May and 55% in August.

Despite the low number of total workers required to be vaccinated, Forbes noted that, somewhat surprisingly, 56% of the 2,200 respondents to a Morning Consult poll said they believe employers should require mandates. Meanwhile, 33% disagreed. Across the U.S., 63% of the population is fully vaccinated, while 75.7% have received at least one vaccine dose and 24.8% have received a booster.

For Starbucks, a vaccine mandate isn’t their only worry. Workers in Buffalo were successful in two out of three union elections, becoming the first unionized Starbucks locations in the U.S. Others in major cities like Seattle, Boston, and Chicago are organizing to follow suit.

Omicron Could Infect 50% Of Europeans Within Next Two Months

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned this week that a west-to-east “tidal wave” of new Omicron infections could infect more than half of Europe’s population within the next two months. The WHO stated that the wave of infections could potentially shut down multiple health systems across Europe which would leave more individuals at risk for infection. 

The WHO’s Europe director, Hans Kluge, said that the region has already recorded more than 7 million new cases of Covid within the first week of 2022, which is two-times the amount of infections when compared to two weeks ago. More than 1% of the European population is catching Covid each week within 29 countries, according to WHO’s data. 

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Kluge also explained how the Omicron variant has been reported in 50 out of Europe’s 53 states, and was becoming the dominant strain in western Europe.

“At this rate, more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next six to eight weeks. We’re deeply concerned, as we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinated,” Kluge explained. 

Kluge explained that Omicron cases have specifically “exploded” in Denmark, where the current Covid-19 hospitalization rate for unvaccinated patients is six times higher than for those who are fully vaccinated. 

“While vaccines provide good protection against severe disease and death, rising hospital admissions are still challenging health systems and service delivery in many countries … and threaten to overwhelm them in many more.”

The WHO warned that countries in Europe that have yet to be impacted by Omicron have a small window of time to protect themselves and their most vulnerable citizens. 

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Kluge explained how every country’s government should be mandating high-quality masks in every closed and indoor space, as well as ensuring individuals have their full vaccine series and booster doses when applicable. 

“Where the Omicron surge has begun, the priority should be to avoid and reduce harm among the vulnerable, and minimize disruption to health systems and essential services.”

“This means prioritizing vulnerable people for primary course and booster doses, advising them to avoid closed, crowded spaces, and offering the possibility to work remotely wherever possible until the infection surge passes,” Kluge said.

He continued to explain how PCR testing should be prioritized for critical workers and individuals more at risk for severe disease, and rapid tests should be sent out at a larger rate. 

Keeping schools open had “important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational wellbeing, so we’re urging governments to review protocols on testing, isolation and quarantine of classroom contacts to minimize disruption to learning,” Kluge explained.