The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 0207 GMT (1007 HKT) January 27, 2022
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12:36 p.m. ET, January 26, 2022

Universal coronavirus vaccines are in the works but "going to take years to develop," Fauci says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Scientists are working around the clock to develop a universal, or "pan-coronavirus," vaccine — one that offers protection against any type of coronavirus or multiple types that are out there, including variants that cause Covid-19.

But such vaccines are "going to take years to develop," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said during a White House briefing on Wednesday.

Coronaviruses that infect humans were first identified in the mid-1960s and, so far, there are seven known human coronaviruses: four that cause common colds; Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS; severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS; and SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

"However, since September of 2020, there have been five SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and now the current Omicron," Fauci said during Wednesday's briefing.

"So obviously, innovative approaches are needed to induce broad and durable protection against coronaviruses that are known and some that are even at this point unknown. Hence, the terminology pan-coronavirus vaccine," Fauci said, referring to a universal vaccine that potentially could offer protection against any coronavirus.

Fauci added that NIAID has invested more than $3 billion overall on coronavirus research since the pandemic began and a subset of that supports vaccine research, including studies on investigational pan-coronavirus vaccine candidates.

"I don't want anyone to think that pan-coronavirus vaccines are literally around the corner in a month or two. It's going to take years to develop in an incremental fashion. Some of these are already in Phase 1 clinical trials," Fauci said Wednesday.

"Don't forget, however, that our current vaccine regimens do provide strong protection, particularly when used with a booster against severe coronavirus disease and death," Fauci said. "So do not wait to receive your primary vaccine regimen and please get your booster if you are eligible," he said.

10:53 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

CDC forecast predicts at least 62,000 more people could die in the US from Covid-19 over the next 4 weeks

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

An ensemble forecast from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Wednesday predicts more than 62,000 additional people could die from Covid-19 over the next four weeks.

This is the first week that deaths have been predicted to have a stable or uncertain trend after predicted increases since the forecast published on Dec. 29. 

The CDC included projections that indicate the number of deaths will slowly but steadily rise for the first three weeks, before dropping quickly in the last week. 

The forecast predicts that there could be a total of 923,000 to 979,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US reported by Feb. 19.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, coronavirus has killed at least 872,126 people in the United States. 

The forecast could mean an average of 2,622 Covid-19 deaths a day, up from a current average of 2,258 per day, according to JHU data. 

Hospitalizations are predicted to decrease for the first time after eight weeks of predicted increases, followed by one week of predicted stable or uncertain trends. CDC predicts that there will be 4,900 to 27,800 new confirmed Covid-19 hospital admissions likely reported on Feb. 18. 

There are currently 150,178 people hospitalized with Covid-19, according to US Department of Health and Human Services data. 

The forecast for cases did not predict an increase or decrease, or give a predicted number of cases. 

“Recent case forecasts have shown low reliability, with more reported cases than expected falling outside the forecast prediction intervals for 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-week ahead case forecasts. Therefore, case forecasts will continue to be collected and analyzed but will not be summarized until sustained improvements in performance are observed,” the CDC said. 

11:38 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

It's "dangerous" to assume we are at the end of the pandemic, WHO director-general says 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference in December.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference in December. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s dangerous to assume that there will be no more Covid-19 variants after Omicron or that the world is in the end game of the pandemic, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday. 

“There are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out and how the acute phase could end. But it’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the end game,” Tedros said during the 150th session of the WHO executive board on Monday. “On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.”

“To change the course of the pandemic, we must change the conditions that are driving it,” Tedros continued, adding that the WHO recognizes everyone is tired of the pandemic and restrictions, that businesses and economies are hurting and that “many governments are walking a tightrope, attempting to balance what is effective with what is acceptable to their people.” 

Every country is in a unique situation, he said, “and must chart its way out of the acute phase of the pandemic with a careful, stepwise approach,” something that doesn't have easy answers. 

If WHO resources — including evidence, strategies and support — are used in a comprehensive way, the world could see not only an end to the acute phase of the pandemic, but an end to Covid-19 as a global health emergency this year, he said. 

But that requires reaching high vaccinations rates, equitable health care and increasing sequencing abilities, he said:

“What does that look like? It means achieving our target to vaccinate 70% of the population of every country, with a focus on the most at-risk groups. It means reducing mortality through strong clinical management beginning with primary health care and equitable access to diagnostics, oxygen and antivirals at the point of care. It means boosting testing and sequencing rates globally to track the virus closely and monitor the emergence of new variants. It means the ability to calibrate the use of public health and social measures when needed. It means restoring and sustaining essential health services. And it means learning critical lessons and defining new solutions now, not waiting until the pandemic is over,” he said. 

It is “astonishing” that Covid-19 vaccines work so well against preventing hospitalization and death, including with Omicron, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19 Maria Van Kerkhove said during a social media live Q&A session on Tuesday, underscoring that it is critical for people to be vaccinated.

“Vaccine equity is absolutely critical, but it’s not vaccine equity in only some countries,” she said. “There are challenges in every single country about reaching those who are most at risk, high income as well as low income.” 

“But the fact remains that more than three billion people haven’t received their first dose yet, so we have a long way to go,” she said. 

8:26 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

Austria will end lockdown for unvaccinated people as country's hospitals stabilize

From CNN's Chris Stern

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said in a tweet today that the country is ending its lockdown for unvaccinated people on Monday as the situation in the hospitals "has stabilized."

On Dec. 7, Nehammer announced that Austria's nationwide lockdown would be extended for unvaccinated people. This measure was taken to "prevent people from becoming infected & to protect the health care system from being overburdened," Nehammer said Wednesday.

Austria became the first country in Europe to impose a nationwide vaccine mandate last week after lawmakers passed a bill making Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for all residents from ages 18 and older. 

8:06 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

White House will announce US has shipped 400 million vaccine doses globally

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Vials of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine are seen in December 2020.
Vials of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine are seen in December 2020. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The Biden administration will mark a milestone of vaccines shipped abroad, announcing Wednesday that the US has shared 400 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine with the world.

White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients is expected to announce the 400 million marker at Wednesday’s Covid-19 response briefing as the US ships an additional 3.2 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine to Bangladesh and 4.7 million doses to Pakistan through the COVAX global vaccine sharing program, a White House official tells CNN exclusively.

Pakistan has received the most doses from the US, for a total of 47.4 million doses shipped as of Wednesday.

The US has donated more doses than any other country, Zients will note.

President Biden announced to the UN General Assembly last fall that the US had purchased another 500 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, which would begin shipping this month, with 800 million vaccines expected to be shipped abroad through September of this year.

The efforts to share vaccines globally comes as the US has acknowledged the importance of eliminating the pandemic — and the possibility of new variants — around the world. The highly-contagious Omicron variant continues to spread in the US, now accounting for 99.9% of new cases in the last week.

9:28 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

Highest number of new global Covid-19 cases reported since start of the pandemic, WHO says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

From Jan. 17 to 23, Covid-19 cases increased 5% compared to the week before with over 21 million new cases reported, the World Health Organization said in its Covid-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update published Tuesday. 

“Across the six WHO regions, over 21 million new cases were reported, representing the highest number of weekly cases recorded since the beginning of the pandemic,” the update said. 

The case increases were slower than last week, WHO said, with only half of the six WHO regions reporting an increase of new cases, compared with five of six reporting one the week before. 

The largest increase was in the eastern Mediterranean region, 39%, followed by the South-East Asia region, 36% and the European, 13%. The Western Pacific region reported a similar number of cases to the week before. Decreases were reported in the African region, 31%, and the region of the Americas, 10%. 

The United States reported the highest number of new cases, followed by France, India, Italy and Brazil.

There have been over 346 million confirmed Covid-19 cases globally as of Jan. 23.

The number of deaths reported, nearly 50,000, was similar to the week before. 

Three WHO regions reported increases in the number of deaths, the South-East Asia Region, 44%, the Eastern Mediterranean Region, 15% and the Region of the Americas, 7%. The remaining three regions reported declines in new weekly deaths. 

The United States also reported the highest number of new deaths, followed by the Russian Federation, India, Italy and the United Kingdom. 

As of Jan. 23, the have been over 5.5 million deaths reported across the world. 

7:07 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

Covid-19 infection before or after vaccination may lead to stronger immune responses, new study suggests

From CNN’s Anokhi Saklecha

Infection with the coronavirus, either before or after vaccination, may enhance immune responses, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Science Immunology. 

The study, conducted by researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University, analyzed antibody responses in 104 vaccinated health care workers. Of this group, 31 people had a breakthrough infection after vaccination, 31 were infected before vaccination (referred to as hybrid immunity), and 42 had no history of infection. 

The researchers found that both the hybrid and breakthrough groups had significantly higher levels of antibodies against Covid-19 proteins compared with the group with no infections. These antibodies were also more efficient and potent, and they had higher rates of virus neutralization: up to 32 times higher in the hybrid group and up to 17 times higher in the breakthrough group. This pattern was seen against the wild-type virus as well as the Alpha, Beta and Delta variants. 

In the group with no infections, antibody levels declined with age, as previous research has found. However, this effect was not seen in either the hybrid or breakthrough groups. No significant differences were observed between the hybrid-immunity and breakthrough cohorts. 

While previous studies have shown increased immune responses from pre-vaccination infections, the researchers claimed there was a gap of knowledge about responses to breakthrough infections. 

 “Overall, our results show that SARS-CoV-2 infection before or after vaccination gives a significantly larger boost to the neutralizing antibody response compared to two doses of vaccine alone. More importantly, the potency and breadth of the antibody response appears to improve concomitantly,” the authors state. 

However, they highlight the importance of getting the vaccine, regardless of previous infection status.

“Because vaccination protects against severe disease and death, it is safer for individuals to be vaccinated before rather than after natural infection.” 

Experts also warn against trying to develop or boost coronavirus antibodies by catching Covid-19 on purpose. Even vaccinated people can become severely ill or spread the virus to people around them who might be at higher risk for serious complications.

The new study did not include participants with boosters or third doses of the vaccine, though an early external study may suggest that boosters offer increases in immune protection similar to those seen in the hybrid-immunity and breakthrough groups, according to the authors. 

7:06 a.m. ET, January 26, 2022

Fauci expected to discuss universal coronavirus vaccine at White House briefing

From CNN’s Katherine Dillinger and John Bonifield

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical adviser, said he will discuss efforts toward a universal coronavirus vaccine at an upcoming White House briefing, according to pre-recorded comments scheduled to air Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on SiriusXM’s “Doctor Radio Reports” with Dr. Marc Siegel.

“There's a big effort, and I'm gonna be talking about this tomorrow at the White House press conference is the efforts that we're putting in to develop a pan-coronavirus vaccine, which is gonna be multiphasic," he said.

"It's not gonna be trying to get a vaccine against all the coronaviruses all at once, but start with a vaccine that covers all the different variants of SARS CoV2. And then get a pan-sarbecovirus, which includes SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 ... a lot of activity that's going on in that regard,” Fauci said.

The White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing is scheduled for 11 a.m ET.