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Bill Gates Warns a Deadlier Coronavirus Pandemic Will Come, Stresses Vaccine Urgency

International Business Times reported:

Billionaire Bill Gates has warned that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over and the world might still bear witness to a variant that can be “even more transmissive and fatal.” The tech mogul who founded Microsoft believes that greater investment is required to keep another pandemic at an arm’s length.

Not wanting to be a “voice of doom and gloom”, the billionaire philanthropist told the Financial Times that the risk of a deadlier variant surfacing is “way above 5 %.” Gates had made a similar prediction in 2015 when he cautioned the world that we are not ready for the next pandemic, which in the next five years was observed in every sense as an inescapable phenomenon.

By laying more emphasis on the urgent production of long-lasting vaccines that can block the infection Gates hopes that a team of international experts, spanning from computer modelers to epidemiologists, should be created to easily and smoothly identify threats and boost international cooperation. The Microsoft co-founder has also authored a book, How to Prevent the Next Pandemic, which comes out Tuesday to further explain his idea in detail.

Pressure Builds for COVID Vaccines Approval for Littlest Kids

Axios reported:

Moderna‘s request for authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine in children under six years is amping up pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to act quickly on the shots.

Thursday’s request from the vaccine maker threw another wrinkle in the delicate regulatory dance over when kids under 5 can be vaccinated at a time when plenty of parents are expressing growing frustration with the wait.

Biden administration officials indicated they would prefer to evaluate data and simultaneously make decisions about how Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech‘s vaccines work on small children, to give parents more of a comparison, the New York Times writes. That could take as long as June.

Fauci: COVID Is Here to Stay, but We Can Control It — Next Steps May Include Variant-Specific Vaccines

MedPage Today reported:

Though it would be next to impossible to eradicate SARS-CoV-2, it is fully feasible to control it, said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), during a virtual event held Friday morning by the National Press Club.

A variety of factors make COVID-19 different from polio and measles, viruses that were previously eliminated in the U.S., including the number of genotypically and phenotypically diverse variants of SARS-CoV-2, and that SARS-CoV-2 has animal reservoirs for the virus, Fauci noted.

“I would hope that we get to the point where immunity lasts long enough where we only intermittently need to be boosted,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think a schedule of receiving shots as often as once every 4 months is feasible.

COVID Cases Rise in the U.S., With Limited Impact

Fox Business reported:

As new Omicron variants further infiltrate the U.S., a jumble of signals suggest the latest increase in COVID-19 infections hasn’t sparked a commensurate surge in severe illness even as risks remain.

COVID-19 virus levels detected in wastewater in the Northeast, the first region to see significant concentrations of the easily transmitted Omicron BA.2 variant, appear to have flattened out in the past two weeks. COVID-19 hospital admissions have risen in the region, but they remain far below levels during earlier surges that indicated widespread severe illness and taxed healthcare facilities.

“This wave of COVID in the United States, in the places where it is, is not dangerous in a way that prior waves of COVID were,” said Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and academic dean at Brown University’s School of Public Health.

Time for a Fourth COVID Vaccine Dose? Here’s Why Medical Professionals Are Skeptical.

CNBC reported:

Countries are beginning to offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable groups, but medical professionals are undecided on whether it would benefit the wider population.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has so far authorized the fourth shot only for those aged 50 and above, as well as those who are immunocompromised. And the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention was skeptical of the need for a fourth dose for healthy adults in the absence of a clearer public health strategy.

Those decisions came as a study from Israel found that although a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine offers protection against serious illness for at least six weeks after the shot, it provides only short-lived protection against infection, which wanes after just four weeks.

The medical consensus so far is that there hasn’t been enough research on how much protection a fourth dose can offer.

COVID’s New Omicron Sub-Lineages Can Dodge Immunity From Past Infection, Study Says

Reuters reported:

Two new sub-lineages of the Omicron coronavirus variant can dodge antibodies from earlier infection well enough to trigger a new wave but are far less able to thrive in the blood of people vaccinated against COVID-19, South African scientists have found.

The scientists from multiple institutions were examining Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 sub-lineages — which the World Health Organization last month added to its monitoring list. They took blood samples from 39 participants previously infected by Omicron when it first showed up at the end of last year.

South Africa may be entering a fifth COVID wave earlier than expected, officials and scientists said on Friday, blaming a sustained rise in infections that seems to be driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants.

Biden Administration’s Muddled COVID Messaging Just Got More Confusing

Newsweek reported:

The Biden administration’s messaging on COVID-19 measures has been particularly confusing over the past week — even compared to the mixed signals emanating from the White House during the past year.

On Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, told PBS NewsHour the U.S. is “out of the pandemic phase,” only to walk back that comment the next day, clarifying to the Associated Press, “by no means does that mean the pandemic is over.”

Then Fauci avoided the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday due to COVID concerns, but a maskless Biden did attend, skipping the meal but still interacting with other attendees.

Meanwhile, Biden’s team, including Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, continues advocating for wearing masks on public transportation, even after a federal judge effectively ended the mask mandate in a ruling earlier this month. The decision about whether to impose mandates has fallen to the discretion of transportation providers, with mixed outcomes nationwide further confusing the public.

COVID Deaths No Longer Overwhelmingly Among the Unvaccinated as Toll on Elderly Grows

The Washington Post reported:

The pandemic’s toll is no longer falling almost exclusively on those who chose not to or could not get shots, with vaccine protection waning over time and the elderly and immunocompromised — who are at greatest risk of succumbing to COVID-19, even if vaccinated — having a harder time dodging increasingly contagious strains.

A key explanation for the rise in deaths among the vaccinated is that COVID-19 fatalities are again concentrated among the elderly.

Nearly two-thirds of the people who died during the Omicron surge were 75 and older, according to a Post analysis, compared with a third during the Delta wave. Seniors are overwhelmingly immunized, but vaccines are less effective and their potency wanes over time in older age groups.

Sen. Rand Paul Wants to Investigate Origins of COVID

Associated Press reported:

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul promised Saturday to wage a vigorous review into the origins of the coronavirus if Republicans retake the Senate and he lands a committee chairmanship. Speaking to supporters at a campaign rally, the libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican denounced what he sees as government overreach in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He applauded a recent judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs.

Paul has clashed repeatedly with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, over the government’s COVID-19 policies and the origins of the virus that caused the global pandemic.

The senator, an eye surgeon, continued to offer his theory about the origins of the virus. “If you look at the evidence, overwhelmingly, not 100%, but overwhelmingly the evidence points to this virus being a leak from a lab,” Paul said.

Pfizer Says COVID Treatment Paxlovid Fails to Prevent Infection of Household Members

Reuters reported:

Pfizer Inc. (PFE.N) on Friday said a large trial found that its COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment Paxlovid was not effective at preventing coronavirus infection in people living with someone infected with the virus.

The trial enrolled 3,000 adults who were household contacts exposed to an individual who was experiencing symptoms and had recently tested positive for COVID-19. They were either given Paxlovid for five or 10 days or a placebo.

Those who took the five-day course were found to be 32% less likely to become infected than the placebo group. That rose to 37% with 10 days of Paxlovid. However, the results were not statistically significant and thus possibly due to chance.

Moderna Expects ‘Large Amounts’ of Omicron Booster Available by Fall

The Hill reported:

Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said on Sunday that his company was preparing to provide large amounts of its vaccine booster against Omicron and other COVID-19 variants this fall.

Last month, Moderna announced that its new bivalent COVID-19 booster shot was more effective against all variants than the company’s currently available coronavirus vaccine.

The company has said it expects initial data on its Omicron-specific vaccine to be available in the second quarter of this year.

Denmark to Destroy Excess Soon-to-Expire COVID Vaccines

Associated Press reported:

Danish health officials said Monday that 1.1 million excess COVID-19 vaccines will be discarded in the coming weeks because their expiration date is near, and efforts to donate them to developing countries have failed.

Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of COVID-19 in Denmark, said the epidemic in the Scandinavian country “is currently under control, and the vaccine coverage in the Danish population is high.”

The agency said that Denmark, like most countries across the world, has a surplus of vaccines.