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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The emergence of the Omicron COVID variant is turbocharging the push for vaccine boosters, and experts say a booster may soon become a requirement to be considered "fully vaccinated."

Why it matters: Booster uptake has been sluggish so far, and adding a third shot to vaccine mandates would be highly controversial.

What they're saying: "It's now abundantly clear we all need the boosters," Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told Axios.

  • But the estimated 83 million vaccinated Americans who haven't gotten a booster are "more and more vulnerable every day to infection and potentially serious illness with their waning immunity," he said.
  • Bob Wachter, chairman of the University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine, told Axios he expects vaccine mandates will soon include requiring boosters.
  • "If there is some level of immune evasion, but the vaccines continue to have some level of efficacy — which I think is likely — I think the 'boosters as part of mandate discussion' moves from a multi-month discussion to a multi-week discussion," Wachter said.

Driving the news: The CDC strengthened its COVID booster recommendation Monday, saying all adults should get a booster dose. The agency previously said only that adults "may" get the shot.

  • It came just hours after a national address by President Biden, who urged Americans to get vaccinated and get booster shots if they are eligible.
  • And the Washington Post reported that Pfizer plans to request authorization soon for coronavirus boosters for 16- and 17-year-olds. The company did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

The big picture: While experts said there is much we don't yet know about the variant, they believe it's unlikely that the virus will be able to totally evade the vaccines — which bolsters the booster case.

  • "It won't blow vaccines away, but it could compromise protection to a degree that is yet unquantifiable," Cornell virologist John Moore told Axios. "It would make sense for anyone who's been holding off on getting their booster to do so because it will give an additional kick to antibody levels."
  • "We're trying to put a wall between infection and serious illness, hospitalization and death. These vaccines as we have them now represent the best opportunity to do that," Osterholm said.

What to watch: "The other warning sign that will be watched for is, 'Is there a significant increase in the number of hospitalized vaccine recipients who have Omicron?'" Moore said.

  • "If you start to see a wave of severely ill, vaccinated people with Omicron, that would tell us a lot. And that would of course take many, many weeks before it becomes visible."

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters, WHO says — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated Jan 14, 2022 - Axios Twin Cities

Questions about Twin Cities indoor dining vaccine mandates, answered

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Vaccine-or-test mandates for indoor dining go into effect in Minneapolis and St. Paul on Wednesday, Jan. 19. Here are answers to some common questions on the orders:

Q: Are all restaurants covered by the requirement?

A: No, St. Paul's order only covers establishments licensed by the city. That means coffee shops, fast food chains and other places that do not serve alcohol are exempt, according to the Pioneer Press.

Hope King, author of Closer
58 mins ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.