British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca and Oxford University say they are developing a new version of its two-dose COVID-19 vaccine that will provide protection specifically against the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The vaccine is an adenovirus-based vaccine which, according to the Mayo Clinic, has been altered so it cannot integrate into a person’s DNA and make them sick. Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine is also adenovirus-based.
Sandy Douglas, a research group leader at Oxford, told the Financial Times newspaper that adenovirus-based vaccines “could in principle be used to respond to any new variant more rapidly than some may previously have realized.”
A study published Monday in The Lancet medical journal revealed the protection from the current AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine begins to weaken three months after the second shot. The study comes amid growing calls for people who have previously been vaccinated to receive a booster shot against the fast-spreading and highly contagious omicron variant.
Israel will begin offering a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to blunt the spread of omicron. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday that a special advisory panel is recommending the extra shot for people 60 years old and over, as well as those with compromised immune systems and medical workers. The fourth shot should come at least four months after a person got their third dose.
The new recommendations come with Israel in the midst of a fifth wave of new COVID-19 infections driven by the omicron variant. The Health Ministry reported at least 340 confirmed new cases of omicron infections on Tuesday, with the total number of new cases topping 1,300.
Israel has outpaced much of the world in vaccinating its citizens, including offering booster shots of a coronavirus vaccine. Prime Minister Bennett said the approval of a fourth round of inoculations proves Israel continues “to stand at the forefront of the global effort to deal with the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the director of the World Health Organization’s Europe division warned Tuesday of “another storm coming” from the rising numbers of omicron across the continent. Dr. Hans Kluge told reporters in Vienna that omicron, which is already dominant in such countries as Britain, Denmark and Portugal, will become the dominant variant in more countries “within weeks” and push “already stretched health systems further to the brink.”
Dr. Kluge urged citizens in the 53-county region who are already fully vaccinated to seek a booster shot, calling it "the single most important defense against the omicron" variant, while also observing other mitigation strategies such as mask wearing and social distancing.
WHO Europe has already predicted that the region could face another 700,000 COVID-19 deaths by mid-2022.
Elsewhere, Japan has confirmed its first case of local transmission of omicron. Officials in the central port city of Osaka say a family of three with no record of overseas travel recently tested positive for the variant.
Thailand immediately reinstated its mandatory quarantine period for foreign visitors Tuesday after the country reported its first confirmed case of local omicron transmission. The decision scraps the so-called “test-and-go” policy that went into effect last month that allowed fully vaccinated visitors to freely enter the country after undergoing a COVID-19 test after arrival and a second test seven days later.
In addition to the “test-and-go” policy, Thailand is also suspending its “sandbox” program that required visitors to remain in a specific location but allowed them to move about freely in the area.
Thailand implemented the new policies with the aim of restoring its vital tourism sector, which had crashed due to the pandemic.