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November 30, 2021

International update: UK ramps up Covid vaccination booster program in response to Omicron variant

By Paul Dennis

30 November

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.2 million, with a figure of 5,207,764 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections passed 262 million world wide.

The World Health Organization said the Omicron variant was likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk where Covid surges could have “severe consequences” in some areas.

Omicron has been detected in at least a dozen countries including Britain, Germany, France, Denmark, Israel, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and South Africa. Sweden, Canada, Spain and Portugal reported their first cases linked to the Omicron variant.

Pfizer Inc.’s top executive said the company will know within two to three weeks how well its Covid-19 vaccine holds up against the new Omicron variant, and even in a worst-case scenario he expects the existing formula will retain some efficacy against the heavily mutated strain. The company is currently conducting lab tests to see how antibodies generated by the existing vaccine work against the new variant, Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power with David Westin.”

Europe

UK: The UK is to ramp up booster vaccinations and will halve the minimum gap between jabs to three months, aiming to administer 500,000 jabs a day.

The UK also announced that all adults would be eligible for a booster jab as part of the country’s response to Omicron as the country recorded 42,583 new cases and a further 35 deaths.

France: France recorded a big jump in Covid cases after the health minister said the country had entered the fifth wave of the pandemic last week.

Germany: Germany’s seven-day Covid-19 incidence rate per 100,000 people fell slightly on Tuesday, the first decline in nearly a month, according to the latest data from the RKI public-health institute. The rate slipped to 452.2, from 452.4 the previous day, while there were 45,753 new cases and a further 388 deaths from the disease. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her incoming successor, Olaf Scholz, will hold talks with Germany’s 16 state premiers later on Tuesday, with authorities under pressure to impose tighter restrictions.

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 48.4 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 778,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

US president Joe Biden has said Omicron “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic”. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is urging all US adults 18 and over to get booster shots. No further travel restrictions were planned for the US.

Covid-19 rapid tests such as Abbott’s BinaxNOW should be able to pick up the Omicron variant, potentially lending a critical tool to curbing the spread of the new strain. Anthony S. Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, said Monday that his South African colleagues told him “at least some of the rapid antigen tests” could detect the variant first discovered by South African scientists last week.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE are poised to ask the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize a booster shot of their Covid-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds, the Washington Post reported, citing two people familiar with the situation. Regulators are expected to sign off on the request quickly, the people told the newspaper.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending booster shots for all vaccinated people 18 and older as scientists race to study the emerging Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2. The guidance, which previously said adults “may” get boosters, now says they “should” get a third dose of the Moderna Inc. or Pfizer Inc. shot six months after their second dose. The same recommendation applies to those who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine but after only two months.

Asia-pacific

Vaccine makers in Asia are considering developing new vaccines to fight Omicron.

Sinovac Biotech Ltd. said it is collecting information and samples through its global partner network and evaluating the efficacy of its existing vaccine. It has previously looked into developing vaccines against the gamma and delta variants and can mass-produce a new vaccine quickly, the company said.

CanSino Biologics Inc. has started research for a vaccine targeting Omicron, the Global Times reported on Monday, adding the company can come up with a new vaccine “in the shortest time” if needed. Shionogi & Co., which has an experimental vaccine, has also obtained information on the variant and is considering making a vaccine against it, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

China: President Xi Jinping said China would offer another 1bn doses of Covid vaccines to African countries and would encourage Chinese companies to invest $10bn in Africa over the next three years, Reuters reports.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has come up with a diagnostic method for detecting the Omicron variant, China’s National Health Commission said. It is monitoring genomes of imported infections to help it track any incursion of the variant in China early.

The country added 21 local confirmed cases to its Covid tally on Monday and said all these local cases were in Inner Mongolia. The latest flareup is centered on the town of Manzhouli near the border with Russia.

India: India revised international travel guidelines in the wake of the Omicron variant, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said in a circular posted on Twitter late Monday.

International travellers arriving in India will have to submit their travel history of the last 14 days before boarding flights and there will be a separate holding area for passengers arriving from “at-risk” countries as they wait for test results.

South Korea: South Korea reported a record 661 coronavirus patients in critical condition, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website. There were 44 deaths. Amid the increase in critically-ill patients and concerns about the new variant, the country plans to roll out booster shots more quickly. Some 79.9% of the population is already fully vaccinated.

Singapore: Singapore started contact tracing for airport staff who may have come into contact with two travellers infected with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 who transited through Changi Airport on their way to Australia from South Africa, the health ministry said. While most of the travellers for the Singapore Airlines flight from Johannesburg had remained in the transit area until their departure for Sydney, seven disembarked, the ministry said in a statement Monday. Six of them are in isolation at a dedicated facility and one, a close contact of an infected individual on the flight, has been quarantined.

Australia: Australia is to trial its first ever mRNA covid vaccine in the new year, the government of Victoria announced Tuesday. Scientists and manufacturers from the state have spent five months developing the drug product, and 150 people will now take part in Phase 1 clinical trials. Results are expected later in 2022.

Separately, the government has delayed the planned reopening of its borders to students and foreign workers as officials weigh the threat posed from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

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