COVID News: Vaccine makers preparing in case tweaks needed due to omicron variant

COVID-19 Live Updates, News and Information
NEW YORK (WABC) -- Pfizer and BioNTech say if a variant that evades the vaccine emerges, they would be ready to produce a tailor-made shot against that new variant within about 100 days.

The companies released a statement to ABC News in response to growing concerns about the omicron variant.

Meanwhile, Moderna says they've mobilized hundreds of employees starting on Thanksgiving Day and expect to know the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection against the new variant "in the next couple of weeks."

"If we have to make a brand-new vaccine, I think that's going to be early 2022 before that's really going to be available in large quantity," Moderna's Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton told the BBC.

Any newly developed vaccines would be subject to regulatory approval.

Also, it must be stressed that the companies are preparing for the scenario, just in case.

The omicron variant was only recently discovered and while the scientific community suspects it could potentially evade the current vaccines due to its mutations, further research is needed.

Here are more of today's COVID-19 headlines:



Canada confirms first 2 cases of omicron variant in Ontario

Canadian officials confirmed Sunday that two cases of the omicron variant has been found in Ontario. "Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation," Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health said in a statement.

Hochul mandates booster doses to all NY nursing homes
On Sunday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul mandated that all nursing homes and adult care facilities make booster doses available to all of their residents.

Fauci says omicron variant will 'inevitably' arrive in US
While the new omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus has not yet been detected in the United States, it will "inevitably" arrive, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday. "We all know when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here," Fauci told ABC's "This Week" anchor George Stephanopoulos. "The question is, will we be prepared for it?" Fauci's comments came one day before the United States plans to impose a travel ban on most travelers from eight southern African countries.

Netherlands confirms 13 cases of omicron variant; Australia reports 2
The Netherlands confirmed 13 cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus on Sunday and Australia found two as the countries half a world apart became the latest to detect it in travelers arriving from southern Africa. A raft of curbs being imposed by nations around the world as they scramble to slow the variant's spread also grew, with Israel deciding Sunday to bar entry to foreign nationals in the toughest move so far.

Vaccine inequity, hesitancy made omicron more likely: Scientists
Many of the world's richest countries have spent the past year hoarding coronavirus vaccines, buying up enough doses to vaccinate their populations several times over and consistently failing to deliver on their promises to share doses with the developing world. The World Health Organization said the approach was "self-defeating" and "immoral." It might be starting to bite. A new and potentially more transmissible variant of the virus likely emerged from a region with low vaccination rates.

Data shows rise in deaths in Connecticut nursing homes
A dozen nursing home residents died from COVID-19 in Connecticut over a recent two week period, which is the largest number since mid-August, new data released Friday showed. There were 125 positive cases of COVID-19 among residents between Nov. 10 and Nov. 23, with 12 deaths, according to state Department of Health data. Sixty-seven staff also tested positive during the same period. Five of those deaths occurred at Candlewood Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center in New Milford, which reported 36 positive cases among its 105 residents and eight positive cases among its staff. The last time there were more than a dozen nursing deaths reported during a two-week period was between Aug. 18 and Aug. 31. At that time there were 16 deaths from COVID-19 among nursing home residents, 111 positive cases among residents and 94 cases among staff.

New York Islanders games postponed due to possible COVID cases
The NHL announced on Saturday that all New York Islanders games have been postponed through at least Tuesday, November 30. They say the decision as a result of "an additional New York Islanders player entering COVID protocol this morning, and up to eight players potentially unavailable to play due to COVID protocol."

What is omicron? What to know about new COVID variant
What is this new COVID-19 variant? And what's known and not known about omicron? Scientists know that omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants including the beta and delta variants, but do not know if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease.

2 cases of omicron variant identified in Britain
On Saturday, Britain confirmed two linked cases of the new omicron variant while Germany indicated it has a probable case. Dutch authorities are also checking for the new variant after 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19. U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said two people tested positive with the omicron variant in the southeastern town of Chelmsford and in the central county of Nottinghamshire. He said the cases were linked and related to travel from southern Africa.
Clinic held for LI kids who took part in vax trial
On Long Island today, a special COVID-19 vaccine clinic was held for young participants of a clinical trial in Suffolk County. Children ages 5 to 11 who received a placebo during a clinical trial at Stony Brook Medicine got their second Pfizer shot, meaning they will soon be fully vaccinated. The kids who took part all played a role in helping to ensure the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine. Friday's clinic was held at Stony Brook Advanced Specialty Care in Commack.

Long Island hospital reopens after nursing staff shortage forces closure
The emergency department at a Nassau County hospital has reopened after temporarily closing due to a nursing staff shortage. The shortage was the result of New York's vaccine mandate. Officials at Mount Sinai South Nassau said Monday that all other options were exhausted before the decision was made to close the ER. Patients in need of emergency care were directed to the hospital's main campus in Oceanside.

Connecticut to hold booster clinics at nursing homes
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has announced the state is ramping up efforts to get older residents vaccinated with a COVID-19 booster shot by bringing special clinics to nursing homes. The move comes as the state has seen its highest infection rates since early September. Lamont is encouraging everyone who is eligible to get a booster shot. While 84% of residents 18 years and older are considered fully vaccinated, only 18% have received a booster shot.
De Blasio calls on Gov. Hochul to institute vax mandate for MTA workers
Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling on New York Governor Kathy Hochul to implement a vaccination requirement for MTA workers.

"Here is an opportunity to do something that will really help New York City," the mayor said Tuesday morning, addressing Hochul publicly during his daily briefing at City Hall. "Put a mandate in place for MTA employees. It's time to do it."
Right now, unvaccinated MTA workers can submit to regular testing. Tony Utano, president of Transport Workers Union Local 100, wasted no time responding.

"The MTA's unionized workforce and millions of transit riders are grateful this Thanksgiving that Mayor de Blasio does not run the subway and bus system - and is finally heading out the door," Utano said. "The current system in which transit workers have a choice to be vaccinated or be regularly tested is working while we continue to educate and urge members to get the shot."
Erie County institutes indoor mask mandate
With positivity rates increasing, Erie County implemented a mask mandate for all indoor public locations starting 6 a.m. Tuesday. The indoor mask mandate is phase one of a four phase plan. Erie County hopes not have to implement the other phases, which include vaccinations, capacity restrictions and shutdowns.
Gov. Kathy Hochul commended the Erie County executive for taking strong local action, calling it "an example of the leadership we need to see at the local level to combat this deadly virus."
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