Fauci: Existing Coronavirus Vaccines Provide ‘Some’ Protection Against Omicron Variant

The top U.S. infectious disease expert said Tuesday that vaccinated Americans have “some degree of protection” against the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, but that scientists will not know for a few weeks how vaccines may need to be altered to best fight it.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, said at a White House coronavirus news briefing that the omicron “mutation profile is very different from other variants” of the coronavirus.  While he said the three existing vaccines used in the U.S. could prevent people who have been inoculated from getting seriously ill from the omicron variant, it “remains uncertain … speculative” whether they will fully work against people getting sick.  “We believe it is too soon to tell about the severity” of the omicron variant, he said. “We should have a much better idea in the next few weeks.”  To date, he said, 226 cases of the omicron variant have been identified in 20 countries across the globe, but none so far in the United States. Health officials, however, say they assume the variant eventually will spread to the United States.  “We are actively looking for the omicron variant in the U.S.,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Stephane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna, which produces one of the vaccines used in the U.S., predicted in an interview with the Financial Times that existing vaccines would be much less effective in combating the omicron variant than the …

South Africa Teenage Pregnancy Spikes During Pandemic

South Africa’s teenage pregnancy rate has jumped 60% amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase affecting the education of many young women and their hopes to escape the cycle of poverty. When schoolgirls in South Africa become pregnant, only one-third return to class — a major factor contributing to socioeconomic disadvantage among youth. Serena, who does not want her real name to be used, was 15 years old when she gave birth to a daughter. “I didn’t know what to do. I was confused. I was scared. I was devastated,” she said. “Sometimes I can’t balance my life, my education, and the baby, but due to the support of my parents, I can do that.” Serena’s experience as a teen mother was made more difficult by her parents’ initial rejection and being ostracized by the local community. Her mother, Rebecca, said, “I was very upset, very upset and too emotional, but all in all, ‘Serena, this is not the end of the world, the main purpose is that you must … go to school, attend school regularly, respect your teachers as you respect your parents at home.’” Eddie Kekana, a primary school principal in Johannesburg, says the education system should put a priority on sex education. “My school is situated in an informal settlement, where there are serious social-economic factors leading to the high rate of teenage pregnancy,” he said. “COVID-19 also exacerbated the situation. We should actually start collaborating, and then take responsibility educating our young people about this particular kind …

1st French Omicron Case on Indian Ocean Island of Reunion

Japan and France confirmed their first cases of the new variant of the coronavirus on Tuesday as countries around the world scrambled to close their doors or find ways to limit its spread while scientists study how damaging it might be. The World Health Organization has warned that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.” French authorities on Tuesday confirmed the first case of the omicron variant in the French island territory of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Patrick Mavingui, a microbiologist at the island’s research clinic for infectious diseases, said the person who has tested positive for the new variant is a 53-year-old man who had traveled to Mozambique and stopped in South Africa before returning to Reunion. The man was placed in quarantine. He has “muscle pain and fatigue,” Mavingui said, according to public television Reunion 1ere. Japan on Tuesday confirmed its first case in a visitor who recently arrived from Namibia, a day after banning all foreign visitors as an emergency precaution against the variant. A government spokesperson said the patient, a man in his 30s, tested positive upon arrival at Narita airport on Sunday and was isolated and is being treated at a hospital. Cambodia barred entry to travelers from 10 African countries, citing the threat from the omicron variant. The move came just two weeks after Cambodia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers on Nov. 15. The new …

New Twitter CEO Steps From Behind the Scenes to High Profile 

Newly named Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has emerged from behind the scenes to take over one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile and politically volatile jobs.  But his prior lack of name recognition, coupled with a solid technical background, appears to be what some big company backers were looking for to lead Twitter out of its current morass.  A 37-year-old immigrant from India, Agrawal comes from outside the ranks of celebrity CEOs, which include the man he’s replacing, Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or SpaceX and Tesla’s Elon Musk. Those brand-name company founders and leaders have often been in the news — and on Twitter — for exploits beyond the day-to-day running of their companies. Having served as Twitter’s chief technology officer for the past four years, Agrawal’s appointment was seen by Wall Street as a choice of someone who will focus on ushering Twitter into what’s widely seen as the internet’s next era — the metaverse.  Agrawal is a “‘safe’ pick who should be looked upon as favorably by investors,” wrote CFRA Research analyst Angelo Zino, who noted that Twitter shareholder Elliott Management Corp. had pressured Dorsey to step down.  Elliott released a statement Monday saying Agrawal and new board chairman Bret Taylor were the “right leaders for Twitter at this pivotal moment for the company.” Taylor is president and chief operating officer of the business software company Salesforce.  Agrawal joins a growing cadre of Indian American CEOs of large tech companies, including Sundar Pichai of Google parent Alphabet, Microsoft’s Satya …

Twitter Founder and CEO Jack Dorsey Steps Down

Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down as the company’s leader.   In a news release, Twitter said Dorsey would be replaced by Parag Agrawal, who has been the company’s chief technology officer since 2017. The move is effective immediately.   “I’ve decided to leave Twitter because I believe the company is ready to move on from its founders. My trust in Parag as Twitter’s CEO is deep. His work over the past 10 years has been transformational. I’m deeply grateful for his skill, heart, and soul. It’s his time to lead,” Dorsey said in a statement. Dorsey made his resignation official in a tweet Monday and attached a letter with an explanation of why he was leaving.   “not sure anyone has heard but, I resigned from Twitter,” he wrote. On Sunday, Dorsey tweeted “I love twitter.” Dorsey, 45, founded the microblogging platform in 2006 and was CEO until 2008 when he was pushed aside only to return to the top spot in 2015.   Last year, Elliott Management, a major stakeholder in the company, wanted Dorsey to choose between being CEO of Twitter or CEO of Square, a digital payment company he founded.   Twitter’s stock rose on the news, but trading of the shares was suspended. Some information in this report came from Reuters. …

WHO Calls for Renewed COVID Prevention Efforts Amid Omicron’s Spread

The World Health Organization says renewed efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is needed as scientists scramble to determine the risks posed by the new omicron variant. Low vaccine rates combined with public fatigue over safety measures are putting more people in Africa at risk. Experts say it’s no surprise a new variant of the coronavirus has been discovered. Fewer than 8 percent of Africans are vaccinated against COVID-19, creating an environment for the illness to spread and mutate. Dr. Mary Stephen is a technical officer for the World Health Organization’s Africa office.  She said in the absence of vaccines, the public needs encouragement to uphold other measures to reduce the spread and save lives. “We cannot be tired; we have to continue to make sure we are complying with wearing of our face masks, keeping our distance away, avoiding unnecessary mass gatherings, ensuring good hand hygiene, so that it’s another layer of protection in addition to the vaccination,” she said. South African scientists detected the omicron variant last week. Research is under way to determine how transmittable it is and its reaction to vaccines. Amid uncertainty, Britain, the United States and European Union reacted by imposing travel bans to southern Africa. Stephen, however, said the variant has already crossed continents and that halting flights to African countries that have long enforced testing for travelers is the wrong response.  “The world should react to them with solidarity. The solution is not about banning travel but our ability to …

Zimbabwe Says It’s Prepared for Omicron Variant

Zimbabwe’s government says the country is very prepared to handle the new COVID-19 variant – omicron – first reported in neighboring South Africa. The World Health Organization says a fourth wave of the pandemic is most likely to hit Africa. Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga – who doubles as the country’s health minister – has asked the nation not to be concerned about omicron. “The country should not panic because we are very prepared. The ramping up of our vaccination program in the past month has seen marked increase in the vaccination uptake. That is the prevention which we are going to have for our people if any other variant comes. At least when your body is protected it is much better than when you are found naked,” said the vice president. Zimbabwe has fully inoculated about 2.8 million people since February, when it began its vaccination program to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has a target of vaccinating at least 10 million Zimbabweans — or 60% of the population — by the end of the year, a figure which might be difficult to reach given the scarcity of resources and short time left. Itai Rusike, head of the nonprofit Community Working Group on Health, said Zimbabweans should panic about the new variant – initially named B.1.1.529 – since the country shares porous borders with South Africa and Botswana. “And this new variant is coming at a time when the festive season is upon us. A whole lot of …