Boosted Americans 97 times less likely to die of virus than unvaccinated; CDC predicts 75,000 more deaths by Feb. 26: Live COVID-19 updates – USA TODAY

As the U.S. inches up to a 64% vaccination rate for the entire population, only 42% of those eligible for a booster have gotten the extra shot, and experts aren’t sure what will move the needle, so to speak.
Perhaps this will win over some converts:
Fully vaccinated Americans are 14 times less likely to die of COVID-19 than those who haven’t gotten the shots. Boosted Americans are 97 times less likely.
Those were the figures presented Wednesday by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on reports from 25 jurisdictions in the week ending Dec. 4. For every 100,000 people, 9.7 of those who were unvaccinated were killed by the coronavirus, compared to 0.7 of those fully vaccinated and 0.1 of the boosted.
She said more recent information during the omicron wave further underscores the value of getting boosted, prompting Dr. Anthony Fauci to say, “The data are really stunningly obvious why a booster is really very important.’’
They spoke at a briefing by the White House COVID-19 response team, during which Walensky confirmed the omicron surge is abating, with new infections nationwide down 36% to a daily average of 446,000 compared to the previous week, and hospitalizations dropping 14% to 17,100. Those are still stunningly high numbers, though, and deaths have risen 4% to 2,300 a day.
“With the mixed news above, similar to other waves throughout the pandemic, our data continue to reinforce the critical importance of vaccination,’’ Walensky said.
That also applies to those who are pregnant or couples who may want to conceive in the future. Fauci highlighted two recent studies that showed vaccination had no impact on fertility, which actually diminished temporarily among males infected with the virus.
“New data adds to previous studies that indicate the COVID-19 vaccination does not negatively impact fertility,’’ Fauci said. “And of course, as we’ve all said over and over again, vaccination is recommended for people who are trying to get pregnant now or might become pregnant in the future, as well as their partners.’’
For many who are already parents, news that their children under age 5 may become eligible for the vaccine by the end of this month could relieve concerns about their exposure to the virus.
Response team coordinator Jeff Zients said about 18 million children in that age group would qualify once the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC give their OK, adding that the administration is already working on distribution plans for the low-dose vaccine.
“We’ll be ready to start getting shots in arms soon after FDA and CDC make their decisions,’’ Zients said.
Also in the news:
►The Food and Drug Administration said its vaccine advisory committee will have a virtual meeting Feb. 15 to discuss Pfizer-BioNTech’s request for an emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 months through 4 years. The companies applied for the EUA on Tuesday, and if cleared the shots could be available as soon as late February.
►The breakthrough mRNA technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines is being employed for the first time in human clinical trials designed to develop an HIV vaccine, the Washington Post reports.
►Tonga entered a lockdown Wednesday evening after finding coronavirus infections in two port workers helping distribute aid arriving in the Pacific island nation after a volcanic eruption and tsunami.
►India Arie and Graham Nash have joined the list of musicians asking that their music be removed from Spotify following Neil Young’s protest over podcaster Joe Rogan spreading false information about vaccines on the platform.
? Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 75 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 893,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 383 million cases and over 5.6 million deaths. More than 212 million Americans – 63.9% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
? What we’re reading: The national debt surpassed $30 trillion for the first time Tuesday, fueled in part by the coronavirus pandemic and what economists describe as years of unsustainable government spending that could have long-term consequences for every American.
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.
Even though infections from the omicron variant are decreasing across the country, the CDC’s national ensemble forecast predicts the U.S. will reach 933,000 to 965,000 COVID deaths by Feb. 26, the higher figure being nearly 75,000 more than the current total.
That’s in part because deaths from the coronavirus typically lag infections by about three weeks, and the nation experienced an unprecedented spike in cases in January.
The weekly ensemble, a compilation of predictions from diverse sources that the CDC says has been “among the most reliable forecasts in performance over time,” envisions a stable or uncertain trend in the number of fatalities reported over the rest of the month.
The Army will immediately begin discharging soldiers who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 
Under a directive issued by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth, commanders are to initiate “involuntary administrative separation proceedings” against unvaccinated soldiers with no approved or pending exemption request, the Pentagon said in a statement Wednesday. The order applies to regular Army, reservists and cadets.
“Army readiness depends on Soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” Wormuth said in a statement. “Unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in August ordered vaccination for every service member. The Army has not yet involuntarily separated any soldiers for failing to get vaccinated. The Navy announced it would begin discharging unvaccinated members in December; the Air Force began letting go of unvaccinated people that same month.
More than 100 people have joined a lawsuit against New Orleans’ mayor and health director over COVID-19 restrictions recently extended to Mardi Gras parades and other events leading up to Fat Tuesday on March 1.
The 2020 festival was recognized afterward as a super spreader that turned New Orleans into an early pandemic hot spot. Last year, parades were canceled and bars were shuttered. This month, masks are required in bars, restaurants and other public spaces. And children as young as 5 must show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for the virus to get into indoor public areas.
The lawsuit against Mayor LaToya Cantrell and health director Jennifer Avegno targets mask and vaccination mandates. City Hall spokesman Beau Tidwell said the city normally doesn’t publicly respond to litigation.
 “However, in this case I think it’s worth noting that the guidelines that we put in place saved lives, full stop,” Tidwell said. “The vaccine mandate and the mask requirements are going to remain in place throughout Mardi Gras.”
Contrary to scientific evidence and warnings from health agencies, hundreds of doctors nationwide continue to prescribe ivermectin – encouraged by a little-known national group of physicians – to prevent and treat COVID-19. Many of the doctors follow treatment guidelines set by an organization called the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, which promotes the controversial drug along with other unproven therapies. The group’s protocol is a laundry list of ivermectin and other prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamin supplements and herbs, none of which have been scientifically proven to work against COVID-19. Read more here.
“There’s a group of physicians who will abandon the science in order to satisfy the unscientific demands of patients,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, professor of medicine and infectious diseases and director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group. “It’s disinformation. You’re failing to use proven therapies in favor of disproven therapies, and that’s wrong.” 
Adrianna Rodriguez
Although overall child COVID-19 case counts are on their way down in the United States, the January numbers were 3.5 times higher with the omicron variant than what was seen with the previous delta surge, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The increase in cases has resulted in more pediatric hospitalizations and the rise of a dangerous disorder called MIS-C, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children. MIS-C, a condition leading to inflammation in the body affecting organs such as the heart and lungs, occurs about four weeks after infection and can cause high fever, rash, and in some children, other serious health outcomes. 
Dr. John Vanchiere, president of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said about 6,000 cases of MIS-C have been documented nationwide
“Their whole immune system is really turned on inappropriately,” Vanchiere said. “That inflammation can have long-term effects on the heart and particularly the coronary arteries. We’re worried about that.”
Even before the pandemic, advocates and health experts had warned of loneliness and social isolation among the nation’s older adult population. Now, nearly two years in, they say government mandates and precautionary measures meant to control the virus by limiting social interaction have taken an emotional, mental and physical toll. Geriatric workers say rates of depression and anxiety have risen among their clients in that time. In more severe cases, those conditions have led to cognitive and physical deterioration, or worse.
“People experienced cognitive decline from having no stimulation, and that has persisted,” said Stacey Malcolmson, Senior Source president and CEO. “For those with underlying mental health conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s, we’ve been finding that that cognitive decline is irreversible.”
Marc Ramirez
A Michigan woman who previously owned a home health agency that was never operational during the pandemic received $37,657 in federal funds designated for the medical treatment and care of COVID-19 patients, the Department of Justice said. The woman pleaded guilty Tuesday in the Eastern District of Michigan to stealing government funds and using them for her own personal expenses. She previously owned 1 on 1 Home Health in LaPorte, Indiana, which she had closed in early 2020.
The woman was indicted in February of last year in the first criminal charges for the intentional misuse of funds distributed from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.
– Grace Hauck, USA TODAY
Contributing: The Associated Press

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