‘Tis the Season…

Key Points

  • In today’s Recommendations for Industry, we discuss current seasonal illnesses and what businesses should be doing. Read more below.
  • Yesterday, with the increased discussions regarding the Omicron variant (including its many mutations and potential to affect transmissibility and potential for evading human antibodies), TAG released a Newsletter Special Edition. Please find that here.
  • It is ever important to continue to utilize vaccination, masking up, and being cautious.
  • While there is increasing concern over the Omicron COVID-19 variant, U.S. President Joe Biden echoes that “the variant [is] a cause for concern – not panic.” While there may be restrictions on travel between countries, it is likely that the variant will be detected soon in the U.S. Moderna has commented that they will continue to work on their COVID-19 vaccine in order to better adapt for new variants while Pfizer believes they are able to produce a new vaccine within 100 days. However, at this time, “another 2 weeks” are needed “to determine how the Omicron variant stands against current vaccine formulations” (CIDRAP).
  • New research from the New England Journal of Medicine found that “SARS-CoV-2 reinfections in Qatar were 90% less likely than primary infections to lead to hospitalization or death” (CIDRAP).
  • Two new studies published in Eurosurveillance highlights that the COVID-19 vaccines “may have saved 500,000 lives in Europe” (CIDRAP).
  • While the FDA expanded COVID-19 vaccine booster eligibility, the CDC not only “expands COVID-19 booster recommendations” but is “strengthening its recommendation.” Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J vaccine (CDC).



  • This week, the CDC reports that “Seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains low, but the number of influenza virus detections reported by clinical and public health laboratories and the percent of patient visits for influenza-like illness has increased in recent weeks.” As we’ve moved to a new week, New Mexico continues to experience a high/very high influenza activity while both Utah and Georgia’s influenza activities are now at moderate activity. Additionally, “[t]he majority of viruses detected are A(H3N2). More than 90% are among children and young adults aged 5-24 years.”
  • Additionally, in the U.S., the CDC has reported “a novel H1 flu infection, the second novel influenza A case of the new flu season.” This infection was not associated with “direct swine contact” nor “human-to-human transmission” (CIDRAP).
  • Around the world, the WHO reports that “[g]lobally influenza activity remains low but in comparison with last year a slight increase in influenza detections is noticed”. As in the previous weeks, influenza B viruses are remaining predominant. Higher rates of positive influenza populations are being detected in the African sub-continent.
  • Iran, France, and UK continue to report even more “highly pathogenic H5 avian flu in poultry” (CIDRAP).

Public Health & Food Safety

  • Eat This discusses why so many grocery stores are having so many recalls. In fact, FSIS reports a “125% increase in the average number of food recalls from 2009 – 2013 compared to 2004 – 2008.” But why is this happening? New laws and new technologies; along with the use of whole genome sequencing which can support regulatory bodies in “discover[ing] the source of the pathogenic microorganisms faster than before.” Additionally, social media has also increased the dissemination of information.
  • In a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there is increasing concern as the spread of “an extensively drug resistant strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae” has been indicated in Tuscany, Italy.

Recommendations for Industry

’Tis the Season …

As families and friends gather to celebrate the season of holidays, eating together at restaurants or potluck meals, the gatherings tend to increase the risks of illness – from COVID, flu, and even norovirus. The rising risks make it all the more important for businesses to conduct wellness checks and be aware of employee symptoms – of gastrointestinal ailments of norovirus as well the typical symptoms of COVID and flu.

Just as we noted in Monday’s Exclusive TAG Update on Omicron, the increases shouldn’t lead to panic, but should definitely provide rationale for continuing all preventive strategies and ensuring ill workers stay home – whatever the illness.

In relation to the continuing identification of new variants of Omicron, and the hype too often seen in the media, the focus on prevention rather than panic can be further illustrated by the way the world has come to view the changing composition of the flu virus. While we all know that the vaccine is updated annually to reflect the current strain of the virus, it is not cause for panic, or generally even concern. The same can be said for the evolving variants of COVID, particularly those – like Omicron – that are showing to produce mild symptoms.

That said, the development of the new treatments, such as molnupiravir, are providing new options for control of COVID and making rapid testing increasingly important, as the efficacy of treatment is dependent on early diagnosis. TAG could see employer-based rapid testing as being a longer-term investment for some businesses, as this will allow the rapid identification of infected employees, whom isolate and direct for appropriate treatments. A New Yorker article provides an interesting and encouraging look at these treatments, providing a good description of the underlying drug design – and showing how fortunate we are to live in a time when effective and safe treatments and vaccines can be developed so quickly.

Risk Matrix:

The following information is from TAG’s COVID-19 matrix of November 24, held over due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Table 1.

Figure 1.

Table 2.

Table 3.

In Case You Missed It

  • In last Tuesday’s Recommendations for Industry, we emphasized the importance of monitoring symptoms as the rise of COVID-19, flu, or other respiratory illnesses begins into the winter months. Read more here.
  • The FDA has expanded the eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine boosters, recommending and “authorizing use of a single booster dose for all individuals 18 years of age and older after completion of primary vaccination with any FDA-authorized or approved COVID-19 vaccine.” The CDC has also recommended that anyone over 18 years and older, “who received Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may get a booster.”
  • Many Asian countries, except for China, are slowly opening up their borders to vaccinated travelers. Singapore, South Korea, and Cambodia are opening their countries. Myanmar and the Philippines will also be opening up to travelers, too. Visitors will be allowed to visit some places in Vietnam. India has also opened up its borders while Indonesia and Thailand have had their borders open since October (NYT). Similarly, what was once slow-start vaccination rates, vaccination rates in some Asian countries are rising very quickly (AP News).
  • Canada has approvedthe Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 years old (NYT).
  • A recent study through University of Zurich, and published in Newswise, has found that, “another component that contributes to SARS-CoV-2 immunity – previous antibody responses to other, harmless coronaviruses.” In fact, the head of the Institute of Medical Virology at UZH, Alexandra Trokla discussed that “People who have had strong immune responses to other human coronaviruses also have some protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection.” By developing a special assay that analyzed antibody levels against other human coronaviruses, the research found that “people who caught SARS-CoV-2 had lower levels of antibodies against coronaviruses that cause common colds compared to uninfected people. In addition, people with high levels of antibodies against harmless coronaviruses were less likely to have been hospitalized after catching SARS-CoV-2.”
  • The New Yorker has delved deeper into an article discussing the positive impacts and “startling” effectiveness of the COVID pills against COVID-19 when taken in time. Developed around the anti-viral molecule, NHC/EIDD-2801, they found that such a molecule was potent against multiple coronaviruses.
  • Protests are happening across Europe as new COVID-19 measures are being enacted and enforced (CIDRAP).
  • CIDRAP reports on two of CDC’s most recent MMWRs which have found that pregnant women infected with COVID-19 – more specifically with the Delta variant – had “nearly double the risk of stillbirth” while the other study found maternal death to be above five times the normal rate.



  • The WHO is urging vigilance against the H5N6 avian flu as human cases rise (25 in China, and 1 in Laos) (CIDRAP).
  • This week, the CDC reports that “Seasonal influenza activity in the United States remains low, but the number of influenza virus detections reported by clinical and public health laboratories and the percent of patient visits for influenza-like illness has increased in recent weeks.” However, New Mexico is experiencing a high/very high influenza activity while Georgia’s influenza activity is now at moderate activity. Additionally, “[t]he majority of viruses detected are A(H3N2). More than 90% are among children and young adults aged 5-24 years.”
  • Around the world, the WHO reports that “influenza activity remained at lower levels than expected for this time of the year” with influenza B viruses remaining predominant.

Public Health:

  • The USDA is investing $32M “in grants awarded to 167 meat and poultry slaughter and processing facilities to support expanded capacity and efficiency through the Meat and Poultry Inspection Readiness Grant (MPIRG)” Additionally, they have committed to supporting the meat and poultry sectors to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.