4th vaccine shot less effective against omicron, Israeli study finds; new Va. governor faces mask pushback: Live COVID updates

The increase in antibodies produced by a fourth shot of COVID-19 vaccine is not enough to prevent infections from the omicron variant, according to preliminary research at an Israeli hospital.

The results, revealed Monday, bring into question the practice of giving a second booster dose when large parts of the world are facing a shortage of vaccines, although it still has some defenders.

In the clinical trial, 274 medical workers at Sheba Hospital near Tel Aviv received a fourth dose in December – 154 got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the rest Moderna's – after previously being inoculated with three Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Both groups showed the boost in antibodies was “slightly higher” than after the third vaccine last year, but that did not prevent the spread of omicron, which is now raging in the U.S. and much of the world.

“Despite increased antibody levels, the fourth vaccine only offers a partial defense against the virus,” said Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the hospital’s infection disease unit. “The vaccines, which were more effective against previous variants, offer less protection versus omicron.”

The Israeli government says more than 500,000 people have received fourth doses since it started offering them to those age 60 and older weeks ago, and yet the country has endured an outbreak that has caused a record-setting number of cases and rising hospitalizations.

Dr. Nahman Ash, director of Israel’s Health Ministry, told Channel 13 TV the campaign was still worthwhile because the second booster “returns the level of antibodies to what it was at the beginning of the third booster. That has great importance, especially among the older population.”

Also in the news:

►Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing minor symptoms. The Marine Corps said its commandant, Gen. David Berger, also has COVID-19, but the disease has not affected his ability to work.

►Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending Jan. 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

►Rep. David Trone, D-Md., said he tested positive. Trone said he's fully vaccinated and boosted and was experiencing mild symptoms.

►Las Vegas schools are offering retention bonuses of up to $2,000 for full-time employees who remain at work during the pandemic in response to staffing shortages.

📈 Today's numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 66 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 851,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 329 million cases and over 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.9% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘 What we're reading: They got rich off "COVID money" and flaunted it. Now they're under investigation. How did a wedding photographer and a failed doughnut shop owner get $124 million in federal cash for COVID-19 testing? Read more here.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY's free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

School districts defy Virginia governor's order revoking mask mandates

New Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who issued nine executive orders shortly after taking the oath of office Saturday, is getting major pushback to his decision to revoke mask mandates in K-12 schools starting Jan. 24.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the school districts in that capital city and Alexandria, along with Fairfax and Henrico counties, are among jurisdictions already expressing their intention to abide by CDC guidelines that recommend universal masking in schools. Arlington County officials said they would as well.

Youngkin said he wants to give parents the choice to make those decisions, even though having some students opting out may enhance the chances of the virus spreading in schools.

In a statement released Sunday, Youngkin said state law gives parents the right to make educational decisions for their children. "We are going to protect that right and so I just hope that Arlington County schools and the rest of the school systems around the Commonwealth of Virginia use this week to listen to parents and get prepared ...," he said.

Tickets to Beijing Winter Games won't be sold

Tickets to the upcoming Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Beijing won't be sold because of the "current grave and complicated situation of the COVID-19 pandemic,'' said officials in China, where the discovery of the first omicron variant infection Saturday has led to increased efforts to prevent the virus from spreading.

Organizers had previously announced no spectators from outside mainland China would be allowed at the Games as a safety measure. In a statement Monday, they said groups of fans who "strictly abide by the COVID-19 countermeasures before, during and after each event'' would be invited to watch in person.

The Winter Games begin Feb. 4. Athletes, officials, staff and journalists will be required to enter a closed-loop bubble without outside contact and undergo daily testing.

The revelation of the nation's first omicron case, in an unidentified 26-year-old woman, prompted testing of more than 13,000 people and all the places she visited. In addition, her apartment complex and workplace were sealed off.

Trump stokes racial animus with false claims about vaccines, medications

Former President Donald Trump falsely declared in a weekend rally that public health authorities are denying the COVID-19 vaccine to white people because of their race.

Trump, speaking Saturday night in Florence, Arizona, accused liberals of "discriminating against and denigrating" white Americans.

"If you’re white, you don’t get the vaccine, or if you’re white you don’t get therapeutics," Trump said. "In New York state, if you’re white, you have to go to the back of the line to get medical health.”

Vaccines are easily obtained in the U.S. and the government is urging everyone to get vaccinated and boosted. And New York policy allows for race to be one consideration when dispensing oral antiviral treatments, which are in limited supply, in an attempt to steer treatments to people facing the highest risk of severe disease from the coronavirus.

Novak Djokovic lands in Serbia after deportation from Australia

Novak Djokovic arrived in his native Serbia on Monday after being deported from Australia because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19, ending his hopes of defending his Australian Open title as the tournament began.

The tennis star now faces questions over whether he would be barred from the next Grand Slam tournament, the French Open, as well as other events.

Djokovic had argued in an Australian court he should be allowed to stay and compete because a recent coronavirus infection meant he was exempt from strict vaccination rules. But Australian authorities said his presence could stir up anti-vaccine sentiments and that kicking him out was necessary to keep Australians safe.

The French Open begins May 22 in Paris. France passed a law Sunday that will exclude unvaccinated people from all restaurants, sports arenas and other venues, one of the strictest measures taken by a country to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Omicron variant closing day care centers in droves

If you’re a working parent with young kids, chances are the new year hasn’t been as happy as you’d hoped. Omicron is raging, guidance is constantly changing, vaccines aren't approved for children under 5 and coronavirus test kits are in short supply.

Reliable, affordable child care options are scarce. Some centers cancel classes or close altogether as employees call in sick or leave their jobs. COVID-19 cases crop up at day cares, where internal spread used to be somewhat limited.

“You had so many programs that were under the impression that they weathered the worst of the storm,” said Rhian Evans Allvin, CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. “Now they're back in program-delivery crisis, and they're back in economic crisis.” Read more here.

– Alia Wong, USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 4th vaccine shot less effective against omicron, study shows. Updates