Over the holiday weekend, the Omicron variant officially became the dominant form of COVID-19 in the United States, out-competing the Delta variant that held dominance since the summer. In response to holiday travel and increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, many Americans are seeking out rapid at-home COVID-19 tests, as well as lining up for PCR testing facilities in record numbers.
According to Reuters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the Omicron variant was 58.6% of the variants circulating in the United States on December 25. The agency revised reports of the Omicron proportion reaching 73% down to 22%, citing additional data and the rapid spread of the variant causing the discrepancy,
Medical experts are stressing the importance of becoming vaccinated in order to combat the expected rise in hospitalizations and the subsequent strain that would put on the American healthcare system. Testing has emerged once again as a priority, but medical professionals warn that at-home tests can produce false negatives more regularly than PCR testing would. According to 12News, human error in test administration at home could also impact the likelihood of receiving a false negative result.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns that testing kits may be less sensitive to the Omicron variant, CNet reports. This news comes as manufacturers pledge to increase production of at-home tests to meet demands from the Biden administration and the public. Acon Laboratories has said it will be able to produce more than 100 million Flowflex COVID-19 home tests by the end of the year and more than 200 million by February. Additionally, at the beginning of the month, the Biden administration promised to distribute a half billion free tests to community health centers and other organizations.
From the FDA:
Early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity.
The FDA has also authorized the second of two antiviral COVID-19 pills. On December 23, Merck’s pill molnupiravir was granted emergency use authorization. The authorization is more limited than that of Pfizer’s antiviral Paxlovid, Becker’s reports. Research showed that Merck’s pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 30%, whereas the Pfizer pill reduced this risk by 88%.
Inside Health Policy reports that the increase in production of COVID-19-related drugs and vaccines has caused shortages of drugs that hospitals frequently use. Premier, Inc. reported that the drug methylprednisolone acetate, which treats pain and swelling, was added to the FDA shortage list on December 16. Fill rates have been below 80% since August, which indicated early on that the drug was in short supply. From a Premier blog post:
Alongside the emergence of the Omicron variant and ongoing disease spikes, the prioritization of COVID-19 vaccine production is both rational and prudent. However, a highly consolidated supply chain has created unreasonable demand and overreliance on manufacturers who find challenges in expanding production or shifting capacity in a resource-constrained environment.
California will become the first state to mandate booster shots for healthcare workers, JD Supra reports. With cases on the rise, the state issued two mandates that will cover healthcare workers, adult care facility workers and direct care workers.