Israeli minister says data shows booster works against Omicron variant

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Israel’s health minister cited “room for optimism” in the fight against the emerging Omicron variant, saying people who have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and a booster are “most likely protected” against it.

“There is already room for optimism, and there are initial indications that those who are vaccinated with a vaccine still valid or with a booster will also be protected from this variant,” Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“The vaccine is really crucial right now. Anyone who is exposed to the variant without a vaccine will put themselves at unnecessary risk,” he added during a visit to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba.

The minister urged citizens not to panic about the new variant after two additional cases were recorded — bringing the total in the country to four just days after its borders were closed to foreigners and quarantine measures reinstated to vaccinated travelers.

“The situation is under control, there is no need for panic,” he said, the Times of Israel reported. “We expected a new variant, and we’re ready … in the next few days we will have more precise information about the vaccine’s effectiveness.”

He added that “early indications show that those who have a booster are most likely protected against this variant.”

Since late August, boosters have been available to anyone over age 16 in Israel five months after they received their second jab. A person is not considered fully vaccinated in the country until they have received a booster.

Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz
Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said people who have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and a booster are “most likely protected” against the Omicron variant.
EPA/CHRISTIAN MARQUARDT / POOL

The local Channel 12 followed Horowitz’s comments by reporting that the Pfizer vaccine is just slightly less effective in preventing infection with Omicron than with Delta – 90 percent as opposed to 95 percent.

The report added the jab is as effective – around 93 percent – in preventing serious symptoms at least for those who received a booster.

Omicron’s ability to infect is higher than Delta but not as much as feared – around 1.3 times higher, the broadcaster said, adding that unvaccinated people have a 2.4 times greater chance of developing serious symptoms.

A Health Ministry spokesperson told the Jerusalem Post that the office was not yet in possession of the data published by Channel 12.

Meanwhile, the number of Omicron cases continued to climb Wednesday, including in Japan, where the flag airlines halted reservations as a second person was infected.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways said they were suspending new reservations for international flights to Japan until the end of December, according to Reuters, which  reported that he move came at the request of the Transport Ministry.

The ministry also requested foreign airlines to suspend to all such reservations.

Japan took some of the strictest steps Monday by closing its borders to new foreign entrants for about a month. A day later, the country’s first variant case was discovered in a Namibian diplomat.

The second case was found in a male traveler arriving from Peru at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the health ministry said.

“From the view of prevention, we won’t just restrict new entry by foreigners but also returning foreigners with resident status, unless there are special extenuating circumstances,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

“We will maintain a sense of urgency and keep track of the situation in various countries to be able to respond quickly and flexibly,” he added.

A nurse injects a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine to an elderly Israeli in the Clalit Health Clinic
Omicron’s ability to infect is higher than Delta but not as much as feared.
Debbie Hill/UPI

In Germany, the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg on Wednesday confirmed four Omicron cases, three in people returning from a business trip to South Africa, where the new variant first emerged, CNN reported.

The fourth is a relative of one of the returnees, all of whom are fully vaccinated. The four cases brings the total number of the new variant in Germany to nine.

Saudi Arabia confirmed a positive case in a citizen traveling from a North African country, according to CNN, which cited a Saudi Press Agency report.  

In Australia, a seventh case was reported in a fully vaccinated traveler who arrived in the country last week, health officials said Wednesday. The person had recently visited southern Africa and landed in Sydney from Qatar on Thursday.  

There are now seven confirmed cases of the new variant Down Under.

Nigeria on Wednesday said it had confirmed its first three cases of the variant, among them in travelers who arrived in October, suggesting it had turned up weeks before it was reported in southern Africa, Reuters reported.

“Given the highly likely increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, it is imperative to put in place measures to curb community transmission,” the NCDC said.

And Ireland also reported its first case, which was linked to travel from one of the seven southern African countries the country has imposed travel restrictions on, CNN reported.

“The NPHET Epidemiological Surveillance Team has been meeting regularly over the course of the last week to monitor the situation relating to the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 and, today, we are confirming that one case has been identified in Ireland,” Dr. Tony Holohan, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.

In another development, the World Health Organization said it has agreed to start negotiations that would pave the way for a global convention to “strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decision represented a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“I welcome your commitment to an inclusive, transparent and efficient process, led by Member States and based on consensus,” Tedros said in a statement, according to CNN.

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