A new study suggests the United States is about to undergo a dramatic decline in new COVID-19 infections driven by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle predict that the number of daily reported cases will peak at 1.2 million by January 19 before undergoing a sharp fall. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the university, told The Associated Press the reason for the expected decline is "simply because everybody who could be infected will be infected."
The British government is also reporting a sharp decline in new COVID-19 cases, falling from more than 200,000 cases per day earlier this month to about 140,000 daily in the last week.
A separate study conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente of Southern California shows omicron causes less severe disease than other variants. The researchers studied the records of nearly 70,000 coronavirus patients treated by the health system, and found that more than 50,000 of them infected with omicron did not have to be put on a mechanical breathing machine. The researchers also found that the omicron-infected patients had a shorter period of hospitalization compared to the delta variant of the coronavirus.
The study, which was posted online Tuesday and has not been peer reviewed, confirms similar findings from studies conducted last month in Britain and South Africa, where the omicron variant was first detected back in November before its rapid global spread.
Meanwhile, members of the World Health Organization's special COVID-19 vaccine advisory board warned Tuesday that the current vaccines need to be updated to ensure they are effective against omicron and other coronavirus variants. The board issued a statement saying a strategy based on "repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable."
In a story published last month by the U.S.-based military publication Defense One, researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, the largest of its kind in the U.S. military, are developing an experimental "pan-coronavirus" shot that can offer protection against all coronaviruses, including the one that causes COVID-19, as well as its strains, including omicron and delta.
In other vaccine news, South Korea has authorized the use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S.-based drugmaker Novavax. This version will be used alongside the other two-dose vaccines developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine. The new vaccine will be administered to South Korean adults 18 years old and older beginning next month.
The European Medicines Agency recommended the Novavax vaccine last month for use in the 27-nation European Union. India's drug regulator also granted emergency use authorization for the Novavax shot last month.
Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.