FL to monitor data on vaccine effectiveness as new omicron variant spreads globally

By: - November 30, 2021 3:15 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis at news conference Nov. 29, 2021.

With fears mounting over the new omicron variant, Florida officials plan to monitor data on vaccine effectiveness and monoclonal antibody treatments against the new variant, according to a spokeswoman from the DeSantis administration.

During a news conference yesterday, Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t appear to announce any plans to combat the variant if cases arise in the state. But he declared that Florida will not undergo any lockdowns in response to the potential threat of the new variant.

On Tuesday, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw responded to inquiries from the Florida Phoenix related to the new variant, saying, “There’s very little information available about the omicron variant at this time, so we can’t say with certainty that it’s more dangerous than previous variants, but more data should be available in the next couple of weeks. Governor DeSantis will continue to evaluate the evidence and make data-driven decisions.”

She added: “Of course, we will be looking at the data on omicron as it becomes available to see how effective current vaccines and mAb (monoclonal antibody) treatments will be against this new variant. It’s possible to adjust mAb treatments to respond to new variants; Eli Lilly’s mAb treatment was initially ineffective against Delta, but in a matter of weeks, the company updated their treatment so that it could be used to save Delta patients. With that said, there is no reason to assume that omicron will evade vaccines, natural immunity, or mAb treatment. Speculations to this effect are not grounded in evidence.”

DeSantis had been traversing the state to open state-supported monoclonal antibody treatment centers earlier in the pandemic, touting the effectiveness of the therapy in treating COVID patients, as previously reported by the Phoenix. More than two dozen state-supported treatment sites that DeSantis unveiled during “the summer surge, saved thousands of lives and provided a model for the rest of the country to prepare for forthcoming COVID-19 surges in other states,” Pushaw said.

Although more studies are underway about the new variant, scientists say early findings show that omicron may be more contagious and have the ability to “evade the body’s immune responses, both to vaccination and to natural infection,” compared to prior variants, according to The New York Times.

And both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are preparing to design vaccines that will specifically target the omicron variant that first appeared in South Africa, the New York Times reported.

Pushaw also noted that “Florida has the lowest COVID-19 case rate on a 7d (seven-day) average in the USA.” (As of Nov. 29,  the rate of 7-day cases per 100,000 from the the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, show that Florida is lower than all other states other than Louisiana, Texas and South Carolina.)

The CDC reported 1,123 new COVID-19 cases in Florida, as of Monday, fewer than Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York City, Arizona and New Jersey. Other states have few cases and others are reporting no cases, the data show.

On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization classified the B.1.1.529, known as omicron, as a variant of concern.

So far, the United States hasn’t reported any cases as of Tuesday afternoon, but federal officials are expecting the variant to seep into the country. And some Democrats in Florida are urging state officials to prepare for a potential threat over the new variant that may be more transmissible.

Currently, there are many unknowns about the new variant that first emerged in South Africa. But health experts across the world are conducting studies to test current vaccines against omicron, according to the New York Times, adding that results won’t be available until about two weeks.

Dr. Michael Teng, associate professor of medicine at the University of South Florida and virologist, told the Phoenix in a phone conversation warned that the variant could pose a threat to Floridians but more research needs to be done.

“Obviously it’s early and we don’t really know,” he said.  “The sequence of it looks troublesome, it may evade immunity… I think the vaccine will prevent hospitalizations and deaths.”

Booster shots may also be an effective safety measure “if omicron becomes a dominant version here,” Teng said.

President Joe Biden on Monday also urged Americans to get a booster shot to increase their immunity against COVID-19 — and to be patient while scientists gather more data on what exactly the new omicron variant will mean.

In addition, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent out a media statement Monday recommending that people 18 and older get a booster shot, given that the new COVID-19 variant, omicron, shaking up people across the globe.

Pushaw’s email stated that: “Vaccines and boosters are freely available throughout Florida. Most people have made the choice to get vaccinated, based on the evidence that fully vaccinated people are less susceptible to serious illness when infected with COVID-19. Vaccination for COVID-19 is a choice that every Floridian is free to make, and anyone who has questions about the vaccines or booster shots should consult with a health care provider.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.