Biden Asks Court to Reinstate Vaccine Mandate

Vaccine makers respond to Omicron challenge

29.11.2021 - Days before news of the omicron-dubbed latest coronavirus mutant emerged, the administration of US president Joe Biden called on the courts to remove a stay on the implementation of its plans to mandate Covid-19 vaccines mandatory for employees of all companies employing more than 100 people by Jan. 4, 2022 or require them to undergo weekly testing.

The stay was issued in mid-November by a three-judge panel of the right-leaning 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Louisiana in response to lawsuits filed by more than half of US states, mainly on behalf of employers. It blocks the federal agency Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from implementing the rules, pending clarification of the legal and constitutional status of the executive order.

The 5th district panel argued that the mandate is “fatally flawed” because it doesn’t account for the different risks faced by employees with different risk profiles and additionally “makes no attempt” to protect employees with 98 or fewer coworkers from being infected by Covid-19.

With lawsuits still pending from 26 states, all of the pending litigation has now been rolled into one case. Through a lottery, the 6th district appeals court in Cincinnati, Ohio, was chosen as the venue. As this court is also regarded as conservative and likely to uphold the block, the case is widely expected to go to the US Supreme Court.  With three of the justices having been appointed by former president Donald Trump, the Supreme Court now also has a conservative majority.

The Biden administration estimates that the rules could save more than 6,500 lives and prevent more than 250,000 hospitalizations over a six-month period. If the Ohio court upholds the stay on mandates, the Justice Department said it should at least allow the masking-and-testing policy to remain in effect while the litigation continues.

At the same time, the government argues, this would shield employers from local and state rules that ban individual employers from requiring vaccinations or mask-wearing. In some cases, the federal requirements are said to be more flexible than similar policies put in place by private companies and local governments.

Vaccine makers respond to Omicron challenge

Meanwhile, as more and more cases of the new Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) are discovered worldwide, manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines have declared that they will modify their products to try to cope with the new challenge. Early reports said Omicron appears to be more contagious than Delta, but may not be as virulent.

First to announce that it was on the case was Novavax – whose original candidate has not yet been approved. The biotech said its vaccine would contain the mutated spike protein in the omicron variant, ad this would allow individuals to develop an immune response. A company spokesperson told US media that testing and manufacturing of the shot will likely “take a few weeks.”

Pending the results of lab tests, BioNTech said it will know in two weeks how effective the vaccine it developed with Pfizer is against the omicron variant. It needs to be determined whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of the company’s vaccine if the variant spreads globally, a spokesperson told Reuters.

Moderna is recommending its booster as the best weapon against the new variant. In a statement, the US vaccine maker said it has already tested a higher dose (100 µg) booster of mRNA-1273 in healthy adults (up to now only a booster of 50 µg has been approved by regulatory authorities). Over the next few weeks, it expects to have data on how well the current dose can neutralize the new variant.

Second, Moderna said it is already doing clinical studies with two multi-valent booster candidates designed to anticipate mutations. One candidate includes several mutations present in the Omicron variant that were also present in the Beta variant, another addresses both the Beta and Delta variants.  

EMA greenlights Pfizer/BioNTech shot for age 5 to 11

The European Medicines Agency has recommended that the EU extend its approval of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine Comirnaty to include use in children aged 5 to 11. The vaccine is already approved in the EU for use in adults and children aged 12 and above.

In children aged 5 to 11 years, the dose will be lower than that used in people aged 12 and above (10 µg compared with 30 µg). As in the older age group, the shots will be given three weeks apart. The EMA’s CHMP committee said it had concluded that the benefits of Comirnaty in children aged 5 to 11 outweigh the risks, particularly in those with conditions that increase the risk of severe Covid-19.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist