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Booster shots 90% effective at preventing omicron hospitalizations, CDC data shows: COVID-19 updates

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/21/2022 Cady Stanton, Celina Tebor and Christine Fernando, USA TODAY
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Booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have proven highly effective at preventing omicron-related hospitalizations, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The booster doses were 90% effective at keeping people out of the hospital after they had become infected with the omicron variant. The doses also were 82% effective at preventing emergency department and urgent care visits, the data shows.

The CDC report analyzed emergency room visits, urgent care visits and hospitalizations between August 2021 and Jan. 5, 2022, in which the average person received their booster shot within a month and a half of needing medical help.

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The data emphasizes recent research and assertions by public health officials that boosters significantly prevent severe illness and hospitalization.

Another CDC study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association on Friday found people who received three doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine were less likely to be symptomatic when they got tested for COVID-19, compared to people receiving tests who only got two vaccine doses.

"Protection against infection and hospitalization with the omicron variant is highest for those who are up-to-date on their vaccination, meaning those who are boosted when they are eligible," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House COVID-19 response briefing Friday.

"Get your vaccinations up-to-date. It is essential for your protection," Dr. Anthony Fauci said in the same briefing. 

As omicron cases continue to surge, Americans can now request free at-home COVID-19 tests from a federal government website to be shipped to their home. In Friday's briefing, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said the free tests have begun shipping.

The Biden Administration doesn't have most of the 500 million tests they said they would acquire yet, but they have "tens of millions" on-hand that began shipping Thursday, Jan. 20, said Zients.

Also in the news:

►The CDC on Thursday also released data showing unvaccinated adults age 65 and older who are infected with COVID-19 are 49 times more likely to be hospitalized than those in the same age group who are vaccinated and have gotten their booster shots

►Federal data released Thursday show the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital beds is up just 0.84% from a week earlier, while the number of patients admitted in the latest week is down some 1.62% from a week earlier. That still leaves 160,714 patients in American hospital beds.

►Vaccination has "no adverse associations" with fertility in women, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers studied more than 2,000 women between ages 21 and 45.

►Singer Adele has postponed her Las Vegas residency due to COVID-related production delays, the singer announced a day before her first show was set to kick off. 

►A passenger's refusal to wear a face mask on board, which is required by federal law, forced an American Airlines flight bound for London to return to Miami this week. Police have not arrested the woman, and the department spokesperson said American Airlines will handle the incident administratively.

📈Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 69 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 860,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 340 million cases and over 5.57 million deaths. More than 209 million Americans – 63% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we're reading: Respiratory therapists are tasked with helping patients breathe  — a basic function of life, but a hellish ordeal during a pandemic that aims at people's lungs. Here's how two Iowa respiratory therapists push on through COVID's omicron wave.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Vaccine hesitancy among Black adults decreased faster than white adults, study finds

Vaccine hesitancy among Black adults has decreased more rapidly over time compared to hesitancy among white adults, according to a study published Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The findings, the researchers say, suggest COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Black communities could have fueled faster vaccine acceptance.

“A key factor associated with this pattern seems to be the fact that Black individuals more rapidly came to believe that vaccines were necessary to protect themselves and their communities,” wrote the authors of the study that surveyed 1,200 people.

Researchers saw increases among Black people in the intention to be vaccinated in spring and through early summer of last year. More Black people than white people came to accept that vaccines were “necessary for protection” in March and April 2021, specifically.

Although deep-seated suspicions stemming from historic medical traumas exist, Black people are also “strongly motivated to protect themselves” from discrimination and health neglect, the authors wrote, reflected in community-led health education efforts to counter health disparities.

Still, vaccination rates among Black people continue to trail behind white people, the authors warn. But the results “suggest that this might be less likely the result of vaccine hesitancy than other factors.”

— Nada Hassanein

DeSantis administration puts Florida health official on leave for encouraging vaccinations 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration put Orange County Health Director Dr. Raul Pino on leave this week after encouraging his staff to get vaccinated.

Pino had written in a Jan. 4 email to his staff: “I have a hard time understanding how we can be in public health and not practice it,” WMFE, a public radio station in Orlando, reported.

Pino’s email to his staff detailed that only 219 of his 568 staff members had received two doses. “I am sorry but in the absence of reasonable and real reasons it is irresponsible not to be vaccinated. We have been at this for two years, we were the first to give vaccines to the masses, we have done more than 300,000 and we are not even at 50% pathetic,” he wrote.

DeSantis and his state surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, have questioned the efficacy of masks and vaccines. The state’s Department of Health also has advised against testing for people who have no symptoms, stating, “COVID-19 testing is unlikely to have any clinical benefits.”

— Frank Gluck, Fort Myers News-Press

Essential workers coming into US need vaccination proof

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday that essential workers crossing U.S. land borders, such as truck drivers and nurses, will have to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination starting Saturday.

The United States began allowing fully vaccinated foreign nationals to cross its land borders in November for nonessential purposes such as tourism or visiting friends and family for the first time since March 2020. The new announcement extends the vaccine requirement to essential workers who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Unlike those arriving by plane, those arriving by land travel will not have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test for entry.

“These updated travel requirements reflect the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to protecting public health while safely facilitating the cross-border trade and travel that is critical to our economy," DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a news release.

Earlier this month, United States federal officials warned U.S. travelers to avoid Canada due to its “very high” level of COVID-19, upgrading its level 3 travel health notice to level 4, the highest alert level.

“If you must travel to Canada, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel,” the CDC warned on its website. “Because of the current situation in Canada, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants."

Massachusetts man with COVID dies while waiting for hospital transfer

A Massachusetts man and pizza shop owner died while waiting for a hospital bed to open up after contracting COVID-19

Antonios “Tony” Tsantinis, 68, of East Brookfield, Massachusetts, died Dec. 10. He had fallen ill just after Thanksgiving and his longtime companion, Angela DiUlio, was sick, too. During a trip to the emergency room, they both tested positive for COVID-19.

Tsantinis was admitted to a hospital in Southbridge, Massachusetts, after his daughter, Rona Tsantinis-Roy, realized he had become a lot sicker. He needed additional care that the hospital was unable to provide and a search ensued for an available hospital bed.

"They called every hospital within 75 miles," Tsantinis-Roy said, adding that by the time there was a spot for him at a Connecticut hospital, he was too sick to be transferred.

As he battled COVID-19, his kidneys began to fail and he needed dialysis, according to NPR. A short time later, Tsantinis-Roy and her brother, Andy Tsantinis, saw their dad, but it was to say goodbye.

"He literally looked me in the eyes and said this didn't have to happen," Tsantinis-Roy recounted to NPR when the doctor told her that her father was dead.

— Asha C. Gilbert, USA TODAY, and Kim Ring, Telegram & Gazette

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Booster shots 90% effective at preventing omicron hospitalizations, CDC data shows: COVID-19 updates

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