After 2 Pandemic Years, a Summer Travel Bounce — and Chaos

At a tourism conference in Phuket last month, Thailand’s prime minister looked out at attendees and posed a question with a predictable answer.

“Are you ready?” Prayuth Chan-ocha asked, dramatically removing his mask and launching what’s hoped to be the country’s economic reset after more than two years of coronavirus-driven restrictions. When the crowd yelled its answer — yes, according to local media — it might have been speaking for the entire pandemic-battered world.

But a full recovery could take as long as the catastrophe itself, according to projections and interviews by The Associated Press in 11 countries in June. They suggest that the hoped-for rebound is less like a definitive bounce — and more like a bumpy path out of a deep and dark cave.

Some locales, such as the French Riviera and the American Midwest, are contributing to the climb more than others — like shuttered, “zero-COVID” China, which before the pandemic was the world’s leading source of tourists and their spending.

The human drive to bust out and explore is helping fuel the ascent, packing flights and museums despite rising coronavirus infections and inflation. But economic urgency is the real driver for an industry worth $3.5 trillion in 2019 that the United Nations estimates lost about that much during the pandemic. By some estimates, tourism provides work for one in 10 people on Earth.

Many places, particularly those that have loosened safety requirements, are seeing what passes for a go-go summer of sunny optimism and adventure.

“They are saying it’s the summer of revenge travel,” Pittsburgh resident Theresa Starta, 52, said as she gazed across one of Amsterdam’s canals at crowds thronging to the Dutch capital. “Everything seems so bad all around the world, so it’s nice to see some things coming back.”

“The road to a full recovery is very long, but at least we are back on it,” said Sanga Ruangwattanakul, president of the Khao San Road Business Association in Bangkok.

Despite the roaring return of travelers, challenges and uncertainty cast shadows over the post-pandemic landscape. Full recoveries are generally not expected until at least 2024. Concerns hovered around a long list of issues, including inflation, supply chain problems, rising infection rates and labor shortages.

Before June was over, chaos had come to define travel in the summer of 2022. Airports and airlines that had cut back during the depths of the pandemic s truggled to meet the demand, resulting in cancelled flights, lost baggage and other, assorted nightmares. Spooked tourists booked trips on shorter notice, making it harder for hotels, tour operators and others to plan, industry insiders said.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, too, added risk to the uneven recovery and contributed to inflation — a factor that could become a major obstacle even as other pandemic pain recedes.

“It’s really the fall season that is of concern,” said Sandra Carvao, chief of market intelligence and competitiveness at the U.N. World Tourism Organization. If inflation continues to rise, particularly interest rates, “families will have to rethink their spending.”

For all of the lifted virus travel restrictions, safety is not likely to recede as a concern.

“The most important thing for people when they decide to go on vacation is health and safety. Always has been,” said Simon Hudson, a professor of tourism at the University of South Carolina, who is writing a book about the pandemic recovery. “This is going to take awhile.”

Starting with the bright spots, the U.N. reported that during the first quarter of 2022, international arrivals almost tripled over the same three months last year. March this year produced the healthiest results since the start of the pandemic, with arrivals climbing to nearly 50% of 2019 levels. That could rise to as much as 70% of 2019 arrivals by the end of this year, the UNWTO said in projections it revised in May.

That’s produced encouraging signs in certain places, from Israel to the United States, Italy, Mexico and France. Resets like Thailand’s are all the rage. Big plans for 2023 are in the offing in the United States, such as a cruise featuring some of Broadway’s biggest stars.

Those projections are playing out on the ground, generally in places that had aggressive and agile restrictions early-on and adapted by lifting many protections as vaccinations rose and the omicron variant proved less lethal than other variants.

Foreign tourists are flocking to places like the French Riviera, where supply-chain issues are making everything more expensive — including champagne, one restauranteur said.

“It’s been summer here since spring, every single night,” said Elie Dagher, a manager of La Villa Massenet in Nice. Since April, he said, the bistro has been packed with visitors from Scandinavia and the Netherlands, but especially the United Kingdom and the United States.

In Branson, Missouri, known for its country music shows and outdoor attractions, no rebound is necessary. It hosted a record 10 million visitors last year and appears to be on pace to top that, said Lynn Berry, spokeswoman for the Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Jeff Johnson, co-owner of Shepherd of the Hills adventure park, attributes that to a short shutdown in 2020, a loyal customer base drawn from nearby states and cities like St. Louis and Kansas City. “When we reopened,” he said, “it never slowed down.”

In Italy, tourists — especially from the United States — returned this year in droves. The run-up to Easter was especially notable in Rome, reflecting pent-up demand to visit perennial all-star sites like the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum.

“There’s a huge craving to travel, just like popping a (cork) from a bottle,” said Bernabò Bocca, president of the national hotel association Federalberghi. The moment Italy loosened safety measures in April, “a tsunami of bookings arrived from the United States at a speed never seen before.”

Hopes are high for Thailand, too, in the wake of its announcement last month that the country was dropping virtually all requirements other than proof of vaccination, or in its absence, a negative coronavirus test.

Already the return of tourists has breathed new life into local tourism. Bangkok’s famous backpacker street, Khao San Road, almost deserted last year, is getting up to 5,000 visitors a day — promising numbers but a far cry from the 30,000 daily visitors before the pandemic, according to Ruangwattanakul, the business association president.

Thailand is an instructive look at the struggle to recover, with China a major factor. By 2019, Chinese tourists accounted for a quarter of foreign arrivals in Thailand, but there are no signs that they will return in such numbers.

The fitful nature of the post-pandemic climb could be seen from Israel to India.

“I think we are moving in the right direction,” said restaurant owner Vaibhav Khulbe in Dharmsala, India, where 4 million visitors are expected in country this year, compared to 11 million in 2019.

As elsewhere in the world, Israel is struggling to match its record-setting tourism of 2019, when 4.5 million people visited. Despite lifting all restrictions, Israel expects less than half that — about 2 million visitors — this year, Tourism Ministry officials say. Added to the other concerns, political strife is an issue after a wave of deadly Palestinian violence inside Israel in the spring, along with the collapse of the government last month.

Still, the ministry is reporting a steady, though gradual, climb. An unusual convergence of springtime religious holidays for Jews, Christians and Muslims helped boost visitors in April. By May, the number of visitors had risen to about 57% of the same month two years earlier.

But the recovery has been uneven for many, particularly in the occupied West Bank.

“We were expecting really more people to come at least this month, like May, June, but still it’s very slow,” said Wisam Salsaa, manager of The Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem, the storied ancient city where President Joe Biden is expected to visit in July during a trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Designed by London-based artist Banksy and brimming with color, the hotel is locally run and well-known — but struggling. It expanded physically during the pandemic but has been forced to whittle its staff from about 50 people to 32 now. In June, its occupancy rate stood at about 30%.

“Tourism here,” Salsaa said, “is very fragile.”

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Sen. Cruz Slams PBS, HBO for Using Elmo to Push COVID Vaccines to Those Under 5

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on Tuesday blasted PBS and HBO for using the television character Elmo to “aggressively advocate” for vaccinating children under 5 without citing scientific evidence.

“Thanks, @sesamestreet for saying parents are allowed to have questions!” Cruz tweeted along with a video clip of Elmo’s dad, Louie, explaining to Elmo that getting vaccinated was the best way to keep him and his neighborhood safe and healthy.

“You then have @elmo aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5. But you cite ZERO scientific evidence for this,” the lawmaker added.

“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the covid vaccine. Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice,” Louie says to the camera in a clip shared online Tuesday. “I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love,” he said before hugging Elmo.

Cruz and 20 other lawmakers have called on the Food and Drug Administration and its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee panel to provide additional information on COVID-19 vaccines for babies and toddlers.

They want to know why the FDA has lowered the efficacy bar for COVID vaccines for the age group, and how many lives the agency estimates will be saved over the next year with the vaccine.

Additionally, they want to know how many healthy children ages 5 and under without pre-existing conditions have died or been hospitalized from COVID or its variants.

“We are in our third year with COVID-19, and we know vastly more about the virus now than we did in 2020,” Cruz said in a press release.

“One of the most important things we know is that this virus poses minimal risk for children. Before the FDA approves an Emergency Use Authorization for a children’s vaccine, parents should be able to see the data and paperwork they would use to justify this decision. This is the least the FDA can do for families in Texas and across the country so parents can make the best decisions for their children.”

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Virginia Governor Asks DOD to Postpone Vaccine Mandate for National Guard

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday to ”indefinitely postpone” enforcing the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the state’s Army National Guard, according to The Hill.

In a letter that was also signed by Virginia GOP congressmen Bob Good, Rob Wittman, Ben Cline and Morgan Griffith, Youngkin asserts that the vaccine mandate will push guard members out at a time when they are most needed.

”This directive will unnecessarily impact troop readiness, at a time when the Virginia National Guard has substantial deployments and as our nation enters hurricane season,” the letter reads. ”These guardsmen deserve the opportunity to continue to serve, and we need them.”

The letter also points to recently lifted mask and vaccine mandates in other areas, natural immunity to the coronavirus and treatments as reasons to do away with the mandate, The Hill reports.

”We know you share our great appreciation and respect for the brave men and women of our National Guard,” Youngkin concludes. ”Their service and sacrifice reflect their commitment to our country and the principles embodied in our nation.

”A select number of them have made a decision not to get vaccinated and whether that decision is based on sincerely held religious beliefs, their own medical choices, or another matter of conscience, our nation should respect and accommodate it.”

Austin has said that as defense secretary, he has the authority to set medical requirements, including vaccination mandates.

The Virginia Republicans’ letter is the latest attempt from the GOP to push Austin toward axing the mandate, according to The Hill. Army Reserve and Army National Guard members have until Thursday to get vaccinated or request an exemption. They could be disciplined or removed from the service if they opt to do neither.

According to The Associated Press, up to 40,000 Army National Guard members across the country — or about 13% of the force — have not yet gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Military Times reports that 3,400 troops have been involuntarily separated from service for refusing to take the vaccine.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, both Republicans, have also been vocal in objecting to the vaccine mandate for the National Guard, according to The Hill.

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Survey: More Than One-Third Work Entirely From Home

More than 2½ years into the COVID-19 pandemic, a majority of Americans have some flexibility to work from home.

More than a third can work entirely from home, according to a survey published on Monday, and 58% can work from home at least one day per week. 

McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey found that 35% of respondents with remote options said they are allowed to work off-site full time and another 23% can work anywhere part time.  

But 13% of workers surveyed said they choose to work in the office despite being offered hybrid models.  

The survey also shows most workers with remote options take advantage of the flexibility. About 87% of workers given the option to work from home do so at least three days per week. Some respondents said they work from home five days a week even if their employer offers a slightly modified schedule.  

This dynamic is widespread across demographics, occupations, and geographies, according to McKinsey: “The flexible working world was born of a frenzied reaction to a sudden crisis but has remained as a desirable job feature for millions. This represents a tectonic shift in where, when, and how Americans want to work and are working.”

Certain professions lend themselves more easily to remote work. The vast majority of people in computer and mathematical occupations report having remote-work options, and 77% report being willing to work fully remotely.

A surprisingly broad array of professions offer remote-work arrangements, McKinsey reported. Half of respondents working in educational instruction and library occupations and 45% of healthcare practitioners and workers in technical occupations say they do some remote work, reflecting the rise of online education and telemedicine. Even food-preparation and transportation professionals said they do some work from home, according to the survey.

The online poll, which measured the responses of more than 25,000 U.S. adults, was conducted by Ipsos from March 15 to April 18. Survey respondents work in all kinds of jobs, in every part of the country and sector of the economy, including traditionally labeled “blue collar” jobs that might be expected to demand on-site labor as well as “white collar” professions.

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Army Guard Troops Risk Dismissal as Vaccine Deadline Looms

Up to 40,000 Army National Guard soldiers across the country — or about 13% of the force — have not yet gotten the mandated COVID-19 vaccine, and as the deadline for shots looms, at least 14,000 of them have flatly refused and could be forced out of the service.

Guard soldiers have until Thursday to get the vaccine. According to data obtained by The Associated Press, between 20% to 30% of the Guard soldiers in six states are not vaccinated, and more than 10% in 43 other states still need shots.

Guard leaders say states are doing all they can to encourage soldiers to get vaccinated by the time limit. And they said they will work with the roughly 7,000 who have sought exemptions, which are almost all for religious reasons.

“We’re going to give every soldier every opportunity to get vaccinated and continue their military career. Every soldier that is pending an exemption, we will continue to support them through their process,” said Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, director of the Army National Guard, in an Associated Press interview. “We’re not giving up on anybody until the separation paperwork is signed and completed. There’s still time.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last year ordered all service members — active-duty, National Guard and Reserves — to get the vaccine, saying it is critical to maintaining the health and readiness of the force. The military services had varying deadlines for their forces, and the Army National Guard was given the longest amount of time to get the shots, mainly because it’s a large force of about 330,000 soldiers who are widely scattered around the country, many in remote locations.

The Army Guard’s vaccine percentage is the lowest among the U.S. military — with all the active-duty Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps at 97% or greater and the Air Guard at about 94%. The Army reported Friday that 90% of Army Reserve forces were partially or completely vaccinated.

The Pentagon has said that after June 30, Guard members won’t be paid by the federal government when they are activated on federal status, which includes their monthly drill weekends and their two-week annual training period. Guard troops mobilized on federal status and assigned to the southern border or on COVID-19 missions in various states also would have to be vaccinated or they would not be allowed to participate or be paid.

To make it more complicated, however, Guard soldiers on state activate duty may not have to be vaccinated — based on the requirements in their states. As long as they remain in state duty status, they can be paid by the state and used for state missions.

At least seven governors formally asked Austin to reconsider or not enforce the vaccine mandate for National Guard members, and some filed or signed on to lawsuits. In letters to the governors, Austin declined, and said that the coronavirus “takes our service members out of the fight, temporarily or permanently, and jeopardizes our ability to meet mission requirements.” He said Guard troops must either get the vaccine or lose their Guard status.

Jensen and Maj. Gen. Jill Faris, director of the Guard’s office of the Joint Surgeon General, said they are working with states adjutants general to get progress updates, including on the nearly 20,000 troops who are not flat refusals and haven’t submitted any type of exemption request. Some, they said, may just be a lag in self-reporting, while others may still be undecided.

“Part of those undefined are our soldiers who say, well, I have until 30 June and so I’ll take till 30 June,” said Jensen.

Others may have promised to bring in vaccine paperwork, and haven’t done it yet. Still others are on the books, but haven’t yet reported to basic training, so don’t have to be vaccinated until they get there. It’s not clear how many are in each category.

Jensen acknowledged that if the current numbers hold, there are concerns about possible impact on Guard readiness in the states, including whether it will affect any Guard units preparing to deploy.

“When you’re looking at, 40,000 soldiers that potentially are in that unvaccinated category, absolutely there’s readiness implications on that and concerns associated with that,” said Jensen. “That’s a significant chunk.”

Overall, according to the data obtained by the AP, about 85% of all Army Guard soldiers are fully vaccinated. Officials said that if those with one shot are counted, 87% are at least partially vaccinated.

Across the country, in all but one case, Guard soldiers are vaccinated at a higher rate that the general population in their state. Only in New Jersey is the percentage of vaccinated Guard solders very slightly lower than the state’s overall population, as of earlier this month when the data was collected.

The three U.S. territories — Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico — and the District of Columbia, all have more than 90% of their soldiers fully vaccinated. The highest percentage is in Hawaii, with nearly 97%, while the lowest is Oklahoma, at just under 70%.

Guard leaders in the states have run special shot programs, and provided as much information as possible to their forces in order to keep them on the job.

In Tennessee, they set up small teams in the east, west and central regions and did monthly events providing vaccines to troops who wanted them. And every Wednesday, Guard members could make appointments for shots in the middle Tennessee region, in Smyrna. In addition, in early June they called in all soldiers who have so far refused the vaccine.

“We held a big, mass event,” said Army Guard Col. Keith Evans. “We had all of our medical providers here. So if there were any questions to clear up, any misconceptions, any misinformation, we had all of our our data and were able to provide them all the information.”

Evans, who is commander of his Army Guard’s medical readiness command, said they also had recruiting and other leaders there who could explain what would happen if soldiers chose to not get the shot and ended up leaving the Guard.

“We wanted to let them know what benefits they had earned because these are soldiers that had had done their time, served their country,” said Evans.

Officials say they believe the information campaign has been working. Jensen said that about 1,500 soldiers a week around the country are moving into the vaccinated category. “We expect, as we approach the deadline, that we’ll see some some larger growth.”

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Pfizer Says Tweaked COVID-19 Shots Boost Omicron Protection

Pfizer announced Saturday that tweaking its COVID-19 vaccine to better target the omicron variant is safe and works — just days before regulators debate whether to offer Americans updated booster shots this fall.

The vaccines currently used in the U.S. still offer strong protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death — especially if people have gotten a booster dose. But those vaccines target the original coronavirus strain and their effectiveness against any infection dropped markedly when the super-contagious omicron mutant emerged.

Now with omicron’s even more transmissible relatives spreading widely, the Food and Drug Administration is considering ordering a recipe change for the vaccines made by both Pfizer and rival Moderna in hopes that modified boosters could better protect against another COVID-19 surge expected this fall and winter.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech studied two different ways of updating their shots — targeting just omicron, or a combination booster that adds omicron protection to the original vaccine. They also tested whether to keep today’s standard dosage — 30 micrograms — or to double the shots’ strength.

In a study of more than 1,200 middle-aged and older adults who’d already had three vaccine doses, Pfizer said both booster approaches spurred a substantial jump in omicron-fighting antibodies.

“Based on these data, we believe we have two very strong omicron-adapted candidates,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Pfizer’s omicron-only booster sparked the strongest immune response against that variant.

But many experts say combination shots may be the best approach because they would retain the proven benefits of the original COVID-19 vaccine while adding new protection against omicron. And Pfizer said a month after people received its combo shot, they had a 9 to 11-fold increase in omicron-fighting antibodies. That’s more than 1.5 times better than another dose of the original vaccine.

And importantly, preliminary lab studies show the tweaked shots also produce antibodies capable of fighting omicron’s genetically distinct relatives named BA.4 and BA.5, although those levels weren’t nearly as high.

Moderna recently announced similar results from tests of its combination shot, what scientists call a “bivalent” vaccine.

The studies weren’t designed to track how well updated boosters prevented COVID-19 cases. Nor is it clear how long any added protection would last.

But the FDA’s scientific advisers will publicly debate the data on Tuesday, as they grapple with whether to recommend a change to the vaccines’ recipes — ahead of similar decisions by other countries.

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COVID Vaccines Saved 20M Lives in First Year: Study

COVID vaccines prevented nearly 20 million deaths in the first year after they were introduced, according to the first large modelling study on the topic released Friday.

The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, is based on data from 185 countries and territories collected from Dec. 8, 2020, to Dec. 8, 2021.

It is the first attempt to estimate the number of deaths prevented directly and indirectly as a result of 19 vaccinations.

It found that 19.8 million deaths were prevented out of a potential 31.4 million deaths that would have occurred if no vaccines were available.

It was a 63 percent reduction, the study found.

The study used official figures — or estimates when official data was not available — for deaths from COVID, as well as total excess deaths from each country.

Excess mortality is the difference between the total number of people who died from all causes and the number of deaths expected based on past data.

These analyses were compared with a hypothetical alternative scenario in which no vaccine was administered.

The model accounted for variation in vaccination rates across countries, as well as differences in vaccine effectiveness based on the types of vaccines known to have been primarily used in each country.

China was not included in the study because of its large population and strict containment measures, which would have skewed the results, it said.

The study found that high- and middle-income countries accounted for the largest number of deaths averted, 12.2 million out of 19.8 million, reflecting inequalities in access to vaccines worldwide.

Nearly 600,000 additional deaths could have been prevented if the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goal of vaccinating 40 percent of each country’s population by the end of 2021 had been met, it concluded.

“Millions of lives have probably been saved by making vaccines available to people around the world,” said lead study author Oliver Watson of Imperial College London.

“We could have done more,” he said.

COVID has officially killed more than 6.3 million people globally, according to the WHO.

But the organisation said last month the real number could be as high as 15 million, when all direct and indirect causes are accounted for.

The figures are extremely sensitive due to how they reflect on the handling of the crisis by authorities around the world.

The virus is on the rise again in some places, including in Europe, which is seeing a warm-weather resurgence blamed in part on Omicron subvariants.

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Jordan: GOP Majority Would Investigate Fauci Over Stance on COVID-19 Origins

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., on Monday released a video outlining how the GOP might investigate Dr. Anthony Fauci over his stance on the origins of COVID-19.

Jordan and Marshall say that if the Republican Party wins back the House, the GOP will look to investigate 11 virologists, including Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, over their stances on the origin of COVID-19.

“I’m hopeful the Senate is going to be in Republican hands. I’m hoping the House is going to be as well,” Jordan says in the video. “And we’re already talking about a joint-type of investigation we can do because the country deserves the truth.

“One of the things we’ve done is we’re putting those 11 virologists on notice. Those are the first people you want to talk to. You want to talk to the 11 guys on that call, and you want to find out what exactly did happen. We’ve seen the emails and correspondence after the call, subsequent to the call, but what all happened?”

Jordan added: “We want to find out what exactly Dr. Fauci and [former head of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins] may have had to say on that particular phone call. So that’s how you start investigations. You don’t bring in Fauci for a deposition right away. You start by looking at these folks who were on the call, get all the documents you can in unredacted form — so that’s something that needs to happen.”

Fauci told the Senate in testimony last week, “This is very, very likely a jumping species from an animal host, perhaps through an intermediate host, into a human species, which then spread throughout the human population, certainly, almost certainly, originating in China in Wuhan. We still open up and keep always an open mind as to whether or not this had to do with a virus that was isolated in the environment and that came into a lab and then had what most people refer to as a lab leak. I believe that is less likely that that’s the case, but I also believe we need to keep an open mind and have all possibilities be investigated. But the evidence from the virology community points strongly towards a natural occurrence.”

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Study: Long COVID After Omicron Half as Likely Than With Previous Strains

The omicron variant is less likely to give you long COVID than a previous strain of the virus, British researchers say.

What was described as the first peer-reviewed report to investigate omicron and patients’ risk of persistent symptoms found 4.4% of omicron cases resulted in long COVID. That’s well below the nearly 11% associated with the delta variant, which was the dominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 earlier in the pandemic, researchers said.

But because the omicron variant is far more contagious than delta, more people get infected with omicron and, therefore, more experience long COVID, they added.

“We still need to keep providing support for people with long COVID while we try to understand why it occurs and how we can treat it,” said lead researcher Claire Steves, a senior clinical lecturer at Kings College London.

Long COVID can include a variety of symptoms and last for weeks, months or, potentially, years, affecting a person’s quality of life, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sometimes the symptoms can go away or come back.

They can include fatigue, fever, malaise, trouble breathing, cough, chest pain, heart palpitations and dizziness. People can also have foggy thinking, depression, anxiety, headaches and sleep problems, as well as loss of smell and taste. Diarrhea, stomach pain, muscle ache, rash and changes in the menstrual cycle are also possible.

For the study, Steves and her colleagues used the U.K.-based ZOE COVID Symptom study app to collect data on 56,000 people infected with the omicron strain. They were compared with more than 41,000 people infected with the delta strain.

The upshot: Odds of getting long COVID were 20% to 50% lower with omicron than delta. The odds were dependent on a patient’s age and time since vaccination.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said long COVID is probably more common than realized.

“[Omicron] doesn’t cause as much deep lung infections, but it’s also true that there’s immune protection from the vaccine and previous infections to some extent,” he said.

It follows that if cases are less severe, there won’t be as much long COVID, said Siegel, who reviewed the findings.

“That’s my personal experience,” he said. “In my practice, I never see anyone with loss of smell and taste anymore.”

Still, Siegel predicts COVID may become a permanent part of the landscape, like the flu.

“We’re still seeing disease and hospitalizations, but we’re seeing a lot more disease than hospitalizations now,” he said. “I think that’s where we’re heading with this. I can’t be sure, but I think we’re heading into a semi-permanent phase of persistent disease, but less severe outcomes.”

He emphasized that having had COVID doesn’t mean you won’t get it again, because immunity from the infection appears to be short-lived. And breakthrough cases are possible even if you’re vaccinated, though they’re likely to be less severe than if you weren’t, Siegel said.

“Don’t count on prior infection to completely protect you and don’t count on a vaccine to completely protect you, but get as much immunity as you can,” he said.

It’s reassuring to know that omicron appears to cause fewer long-term symptoms, Siegel said.

“Be aware that omicron causes fewer long-term symptoms but not zero,” he emphasized. “We need to continue to be aware of this virus and to be cautious about it.”

The new findings were published online June 18 in The Lancet.

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COVID Vaccine Rollout for Infants Near After CDC Panel Vote

A panel of advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Saturday voted to recommend COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as six months, making it likely a nationwide rollout can start next week.

The 12-0 vote in favor of the move needs to be signed off by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky for the U.S. government to start rolling out the vaccines for children aged 5 and under.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized Moderna Inc’s shot for children aged six months to 5 years, and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for children aged six months to 4 years. Pfizer’s vaccine is already authorized for children over the age of 5.

“This infection kills children and we have an opportunity to prevent that,” Beth Bell, one of the doctors on the panel, said following the vote. “Here is an opportunity to prevent a known risk.”

President Joe Biden’s administration plans to roll out the vaccines to the under-5 age groups as early as next week.

“We will begin shipping millions of vaccine doses for kids to thousands of locations parents know and trust – including pediatricians’ offices, children’s hospitals, and pharmacies,” Biden said in a statement on Friday.

“As doses are delivered, parents will be able to start scheduling vaccinations for their youngest kids as early as next week, with appointments ramping up over the coming days and weeks.”

While many parents in the United States are eager to vaccinate their children, it is unclear how strong demand will be for the shots. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized for children aged 5 to 11 in October, but only about 29% of that group is so far fully vaccinated, federal data shows.

CVS Health Corp plans to provide vaccines to children aged 18 months and older while Rite Aid Corp and Walmart Inc plan to offer these shots for kids who are at least 3 years old. Infants are traditionally vaccinated at a doctor’s office.

Public health officials have been pushing for childhood vaccinations ahead of the new school year as they hope shots for the age group will help prevent hospitalizations and deaths if COVID-19 cases rise again.

COVID-19 is generally more mild in children. Still, since March 2020 it has been the fifth leading cause of deaths in children aged 1-4 and the fourth leading cause of death in children younger than one, according to the CDC.

The CDC advisers will meet again next week to consider whether to back use of the Moderna vaccine for children and adolescents aged 6-17. There has been some concern about the rate of rare cases of heart inflammation in teenage boys and young men from the Moderna vaccine, and the advisers are expected to consider that data.

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