NEW YORK — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed off on two measures to increase access to additional doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

The CDC on Tuesday recommended shortening the recommended interval of time between when people who had an initial series of Pfizer vaccinations and when they receive a Pfizer booster shot, from six months to five months.

The agency has not changed the recommended booster interval for people who got other vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson booster interval is two months and the Moderna vaccine can be given six months after initial doses.

The CDC also recommended that kids ages 5 to 11 with moderately or severely weakened immune systems receive an additional dose 28 days after their second Pfizer shot. Currently, only the Pfizer vaccine is recommended for that age group.

The CDC’s decisions followed moves by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday. The FDA also approved Pfizer booster shots for kids ages 12 to 15. The CDC has not announced a recommendation about that, but a CDC expert advisory committee is expected to take up the matter during a meeting Wednesday.



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GENEVA — A top World Health Organization official says low hospitalization and death rates in South Africa due to the omicron variant cannot be considered a template for how the variant will fare as it surges in other countries.

Dr. Abdi Mahamud, COVID-19 incident manager at the U.N. health agency, notes a “decoupling” between case counts and deaths in the country, which first announced the emergence of the fast-spreading new variant.

He said Tuesday that in terms of hospitalizations South Africa remains “very low, and the death has remained very, very low.”

But Mahamud says “it cannot be extrapolated from South Africa to other countries, because each is country is unique on its own.”

By its latest count, WHO says 128 countries had confirmed cases of the new variant that first emerged in southern Africa in November, but many other places — which may not have complete testing capabilities — are believed to have it too.

Mahamud notes that omicron has shown nearly unprecedented transmissibility for a virus.

He notes a “remarkable increase” in cases in the United States, where “we are seeing more and more hospitalizations coming along.” But he did cite an increasing number of studies showing omicron affects the upper part of the body, whereas other versions devastated lung function and caused severe pneumonia that led to many deaths.

Mahamud says that could be “good news” but that more studies are needed to get a full picture.


HELSINKI — Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia have tested positive for COVID-19 and have self-isolated at home with mild symptoms in accordance with current regulations.

The Swedish royal house said in a statement on Tuesday that the king and the queen — both fully vaccinated with three jabs — tested positive late Monday evening and “feel well under the circumstances”.

It wasn’t immediately known where or when the royal couple was infected but officials said they were tracking possible sources.

The news comes after Swedish health officials reported that Sweden, a country of 10 million, had set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases with 11,507 new infections on Dec. 30. The previous daily record of 11,376 cases was recorded over a year ago in late December 2020.


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A South Florida hospital has temporarily closed its maternity ward due to staff shortages related to recent outbreaks of COVID-19.

Mothers-to-be who had planned on giving birth at Holy Cross Health in Fort Lauderdale will have to find another option.

Holy Cross spokeswoman Christine Walker says in a statement: “In the best interest of patient safety, the Labor and Delivery unit is on diversion until further notice.” She says the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Post-Partum units at the hospital remain open.

Nearby hospitals including Memorial Healthcare System and Broward Health are taking on patients from Holy Cross in the meantime.

The announcement from Holy Cross comes as Florida continues to shatter daily records for new COVID cases, which are most likely fueled by the omicron variant. The variant is now the dominant strain across the United States.

Since last week, there have been long lines at testing site across South Florida and in other areas of the state.


JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister says preliminary data on the fourth vaccine dose shows that it safely brings about a five-fold increase in antibodies that battle the coronavirus.

Naftali Bennett spoke Tuesday during a visit to the Sheba Medical Center, where Israel launched a trial of a second booster early last week. It is now offering fourth doses of the Pfizer vaccine to people over 60 years old and those with weakened immune systems, the first country to do so.

Bennett says initial results show the fourth dose is as safe as the the third dose, which has already been given to almost half of Israel’s population of nearly 9.5 million.

He says the increase in antibodies indicates “a very high likelihood that the fourth dose will protect vaccinated people to a great degree, against infection to some degree and against severe symptoms.”

Israel was among the first countries to roll out the vaccine a year ago and began offering booster shots over the summer. It still saw a sharp rise of infections driven by the delta variant, and is seeing another wave fueled by omicron.

Bennett says Israel remains at the “forefront” of coronavirus research, gathering and sharing data that helps the rest of the world combat the pandemic.

The Health Ministry is reporting more than 46,000 active cases, including 117 seriously ill patients. At least 8,247 people have died in Israel from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago.


ATHENS, Greece — Authorities in Greece have introduced new price limits for COVID-19 testing following a surge in demand due to a steep rise in infections blamed on the omicron variant.

The country’s trade ministry said Tuesday that PCR tests at private facilities will be priced at a maximum of 47 euros ($53), including a 12-euro handling fee. The previous cap had been set at 60 euros ($68).

New confirmed infections have risen to record levels in the past week, as health officials say omicron is now dominating new cases.

The center-right government recently expanded its testing program, with additional home kits made available for free, but says it does not have the capacity to implement a request by the country’s left-wing opposition to reimburse private PCR tests.


MADRID — Spanish officials say the country’s schools and universities will return to classes as normal next week.

Health Minister Carolina Darias says Spain’s central and regional governments unanimously agreed Tuesday on sticking with in-person teaching.

Darias told a press conference that Spain’s relatively high vaccination rates meant that during a recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to the omicron variant not so many people were falling seriously ill as in previous peaks.

Education Minister Pilar Alegría says pandemic protocols will remain in place. That means students have to wear face masks and regularly sanitize their hands, while classrooms must be properly ventilated.

Schools reopen from Monday. Spanish universities are holding exams and won’t return to teaching until next month.


BERLIN — Germany has relaxed restrictions on travel from the U.K., South Africa and seven other southern African countries that were imposed following the emergence of the new omicron coronavirus variant.

The nine nations were removed Tuesday from Germany’s list of “virus variant areas.” Airlines and others are restricted largely to transporting German citizens and residents from countries on that list. All arrivals must self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of vaccination status.

Germany’s national disease control center had announced on Thursday that it planned to downgrade the countries’ risk status but said at the time that “short-term changes” were possible.

They have now been added to Germany’s list of “high-risk areas,” which carries much less onerous restrictions. People arriving from such areas who either haven’t recovered recently or been fully vaccinated have to self-isolate for 10 days, which can be cut to five with a negative test.

Omicron is advancing in Germany but authorities say official statistics currently show a very incomplete picture because of patchy testing and reporting over the holiday period.

The disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said Tuesday that 30,561 new coronavirus cases were reported over the past 24 hours, over 9,000 more than a week earlier. The officially recorded infection rate was 239.9 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week. The health minister has said the real rate is probably two or three times higher.


NEW DELHI, India — Authorities in India’s capital have imposed a weekend stay-at-home order because of a surge in coronavirus infections triggered by the omicron variant.

Residents must remain at home this Saturday and Sunday except to obtain essentials such as food or medicine, Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said. All government workers except for those providing essential services will work from home. He emphasized, however, that very few people were extremely sick, with 124 people requiring oxygen support and seven on ventilators.

The capital recorded over 4,000 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and its test positivity rate surged to 6.5%. A week earlier, the capital detected 300 infections and the test positivity rate was less than 1%.

Meanwhile, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he has tested positive for the virus and has mild symptoms.

The reported number of infections do not accurately reflect the true spread of the virus because it only includes recorded cases.

Cases are increasing in most parts of India. The northeastern state of Mizoram has a test positivity rate of over 11% — the highest in India. That is followed by the eastern West Bengal state, which has a test positivity rate of over 9%.


PORTLAND, Oregon — Oregon reported more than 9,700 new cases of COVID-19 from the holiday weekend on Monday and smashed a previous record for weekly coronavirus cases with an average of about 2,400 new daily cases as the omicron variant took hold.

The state also hit a single-day high for new cases on Thursday, with 3,534 confirmed or presumptive infections.

The Oregon Health Authority says 18.2% of COVID-19 tests administered over the long weekend were positive for the virus, the highest rate to date.

Hospitalizations, however, hovered at 498 people, less than half the number at the previous peak. Eleven deaths were reported.


NEW ORLEANS — Costumed revelers will mark the beginning of New Orleans’ annual Carnival season this week with a ride on a historic streetcar — carrying out a cherished tradition despite recent surges in COVID-19 infections.

A Monday announcement from the Phunny Phorty Phellows organization says participants “will be wearing masks covering their mouths as well as their eyes” when their streetcar rumbles down the tracks on Thursday night.

Carnival season begins each year on Jan. 6, the 12th night after Christmas. It ends with nearly two weeks of opulent parades that culminate on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which falls on March 1 this year.

Festivities, including major parades that bring thousands to the streets, were largely canceled in 2021.

There had been concerns that the 2020 Mardi Gras celebration had been an unintended “super spreader” of coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic.

This year, city officials are moving ahead with plans for major parades in February, with precautions including vaccine or testing requirements for float riders and customers of bars, restaurants and other public places.

Louisiana’s governor said last week that the state is setting records for new COVID-19 diagnoses, and the omicron variant surge is just beginning.