Moderna begins testing omicron-targeted COVID booster shot: Latest updates

Moderna announced Wednesday that its first participant had been dosed with the company’s booster shot that is specifically targeting the omicron variant.

The news comes a day after Pfizer and BioNTech announced plans of their own. Booster shots of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have proven highly effective at preventing omicron-related hospitalizations, according to data from the CDC, which shows the doses were 90% effective at keeping people out of the hospital after they had become infected with the omicron variant. 

Moderna’s study will include two cohorts: participants who previously received both doses of the Moderna vaccine with the second dose being at least six months ago, and participants who have received the two initial doses as well as a Moderna booster at least three months ago.

The biotechnology company intends to enroll around 300 participants from each of these cohorts for the study.

Also in the news:

►People who had slight changes in their menstrual cycle after getting the COVID-19 vaccine only experienced those changes for a brief time period, as a new study “reassures” there is little risk in fertile individuals getting inoculated

►Singer-songwriter Elton John has tested positive for COVID-19, canceling two shows in Dallas, Texas on his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour. The shows originally were scheduled for June 2020, but were postponed during the first wave of the pandemic.

►The Danish government announced its plans to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions at the beginning of February. If approved by parliament, Denmark would be the first country in the European Union to fully lift domestic restrictions.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 72 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 875,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 361 million cases and over 5.6 million deaths. More than 210 million Americans — 63.5% — are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘What we’re reading: Many people with disabilities have yet to return to airports, protecting themselves from the coronavirus that could either feel like a rough bout of flu or take their lives.

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Jewish advocacy groups condemn COVID mandate comparisons to Holocaust

Thursday marks the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz concentration camp.

Days prior to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, intended to honor the 6 million Jews and other victims of the Holocaust, anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said it was easier to live in Hitler’s Germany than today’s world with COVID-19 mandates.

“Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” he said at a Washington, D.C., anti-vaccine rally Sunday. “Today, the mechanisms are being put in place that will make it so none of us can run. And none of us can hide.”

Jewish advocacy and Holocaust awareness organizations jumped to condemn Kennedy’s words. The Auschwitz Memorial called his comparisons a “sad symptom of moral & intellectual decay.” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said his comments are “deeply inaccurate, deeply offensive and deeply troubling.”

“Those who carelessly invoke Anne Frank, the star badge, and the Nuremberg Trials exploit history and the consequences of hate,” the U.S. Holocaust Museum wrote.

Kennedy’s comparisons of COVID-19 mandates to Nazi Germany are only one of many made by prominent people, including U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and FOX commentator Tucker Carlson, over the last two years. 

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jewish advocacy and Holocaust awareness organizations are pushing back against anti-vaccine advocates who compare COVID-19 mandates to the Holocaust.

“In the midst of a world pandemic with vaccine and mask mandated debate, anti-vaxxers in Kansas show up at municipal meetings wearing yellow stars, equating themselves with victims of the Holocaust. I was forced to wear a yellow star to be marked for dehumanization and death,” Rabbi Arthur Schneier said during the United Nations International Holocaust Remembrance Virtual Service. “For anyone to wear a yellow star after 1945, is not ignorance, it is a sign of vicious hatred.”

Spotify to remove Neil Young’s music following Joe Rogan COVID vaccine misinformation complaints

Spotify said Wednesday it is working on removing rock legend Neil Young’s music from the platform in response to his claims it spreads COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. 

Young wrote an open letter on Monday to his manager and a Warner Bros. Records executive, demanding his classic collection of songs be pulled due to the disinformation and specifically called out Spotify’s popular podcast host Joe Rogan.

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” Young said. “They can have (Joe) Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Two days later, Spotify obliged.

“We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators,” a Spotify spokesperson said in a statement to USA TODAY Wednesday. “We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.”

— Terry Collins, USA TODAY