Miss a day, miss a lot. Subscribe to The Defender's Top News of the Day. It's free.
FDA Clears Updated COVID Vaccines Ahead of Fall Booster Campaign
The move comes ahead of a fall campaign to give Americans booster shots, which is expected to launch in the coming days. The move marks the first time the vaccines have been updated since the first shots were cleared at the end of 2020, and the updated shots are designed to catch up to evolutions in the virus.
The shots from Pfizer and Moderna target the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, as well as the original virus. The shots can begin going into arms once the final step in the process, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee, clears them, which is expected to occur on Thursday.
A major question, though, is how many people will actually want the new shots, given that uptake for the existing booster shots has lagged.
California Won’t Expand Teen Vaccines Without Parental OK
State Sen. Scott Wiener, the bill’s author, announced Wednesday he won’t put the measure up for a vote in the state Assembly because it doesn’t have enough support to pass. Minors aged 12 to 17 in California already can receive vaccinations for hepatitis B and HPV, which prevent sexually transmitted diseases, without permission from their parents or guardians.
The bill would have allowed teens 15 and older to receive any vaccine that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even if their parents objected.
A coalition of groups opposed to vaccine mandates called it a “blatant, dangerous trampling of California parents’ and guardians’ ability to protect and care for their children.”
WHO: New COVID Cases, Deaths Keep Falling Nearly Everywhere
The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths reported globally continued to fall nearly everywhere in the world in what the World Health Organization described as a “welcome decline” at a media briefing on Wednesday.
The U.N. health agency said there were 4.5 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week, a 16% drop from the previous week. Deaths were also down by 13%, with about 13,500 fatalities. WHO said COVID-19 infections dropped everywhere in the world while deaths decreased everywhere except for Southeast Asia, where they climbed by 15% and in the Western Pacific, where they rose by 3%.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that with the coming onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the possible emergence of a more dangerous new COVID-19 variant, experts expect to see a spike in hospitalizations and deaths. Tedros said vaccination rates, even in rich countries, were still too low, noting that 30% of health workers and 20% of older people remain unimmunized.
How COVID Opened a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of Monkeypox, Polio and Other Diseases
As the world grapples with the reality of living with COVID-19, a rogue’s gallery of deadly pathogens seems to have stepped up the attack. Monkeypox, a close relation to smallpox, is officially a public health emergency worldwide. The current outbreak — the first large one ever outside of Africa — has spread globally to more than 45,000 people, including more than 16,000 confirmed cases in the U.S.
And polio, a disease routinely referred to as “eradicated,” is circulating in and around New York City and London, bringing with it the irreversible paralysis that strikes about one of 200 people infected with the disease.
Why this deadly trend is happening at this particular moment is something of a mystery. The rise in anti-vax sentiment and the politicization of public health during the pandemic hasn’t helped, but a panoply of other factors seems to be in play, too — including, in the case of polio, vaccines themselves.
Omicron Booster Shots Are Coming — With Lots of Questions
For the first time since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 vaccines look set to receive an update. Boosters reformulated to protect against the Omicron variant, which has dominated globally since early this year, may get deployed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as early as this month.
BA.1 is no longer circulating; the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants eclipsed it in the spring. In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked manufacturers to develop a booster specifically targeting those two subvariants, and last week, both Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech collaboration said they have submitted data about their BA.4/BA.5 vaccines to FDA.
President Joe Biden’s administration has already placed an order for 170 million doses of such vaccines. (Pfizer and BioNTech have also submitted the data to EMA; the European Union could first approve a BA.1-based booster and switch to BA.4/BA.5 vaccines later.)
The data on the updated boosters are limited, however, and the impact they will have if greenlit is unclear. Here are some of the questions surrounding this new generation of vaccines.
U.S. Life Expectancy Plunged Again in 2021, but COVID Deaths Aren’t the Only Reason
U.S. life expectancy dropped for the second consecutive year in 2021, falling by nearly a year from 2020, according to a government report being released Wednesday.
In the first two years of the COVID pandemic, the estimated American lifespan has shortened by nearly three years. The last comparable decrease happened in the early 1940s, during the height of World War II.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials blamed COVID for about half the decline in 2021, a year when vaccinations became widely available but new coronavirus variants caused waves of hospitalizations and deaths. Other contributors to the decline are long-standing problems: drug overdoses, heart disease, suicide and chronic liver disease.
Saskatchewan Kids Aged 5 to 11 Eligible for 3rd COVID Vaccine Dose Starting Wednesday
According to the province’s most recent COVID-19 report, the number of Saskatchewan children aged five to 11 years old who have received two doses of the vaccine is just over 40%.
COVID Has Reached Every Corner of the World — but These Three Places Claim to Be Virus-Free
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has whittled down the list of countries that have managed to escape the COVID-19 pandemic so far, breaking through the longstanding defenses of numerous Pacific island nations and forcing an unprecedented admission of crisis in North Korea, leaving just one country and a handful of territories still claiming to be COVID-free.
Turkmenistan, a landlocked country of more than 6 million people in Central Asia, is now the only nation in the world still claiming to be entirely COVID-free.
Tokelau and St Helena, respectively territories of New Zealand and Britain, are the only remaining regions that are claiming to still be COVID-free and have not reported a single case of COVID-19 to the WHO, something aided by their remote locations and strict quarantine procedures.
There’s Some Good News in the Battle Against Long COVID
As a scientist who works every day on the immunology of COVID-19 and long COVID, I’m well aware that, heading into autumn and the return to school, the U.K. faces yet more COVID confusion and disharmony. Where are we headed next? Isn’t it over? And why keep harping on about mitigation when we now have so many other concerns?
Any discussion of our current COVID situation must consider the legacy of disability and misery associated with long COVID. In my opinion, there is now some good news among the old bad news. Over the past few months, Office for National Statistics data shows the estimated number of people with long COVID beginning to fall, from a peak of 2 million in May to about 1.8 million. I take this to mean that some are gradually recovering.
And while long COVID following Omicron BA.5 infection is clearly happening, new cases of long COVID are appearing at a lower frequency. Colleagues in Singapore, a country with a large peak of Omicron infections following a relatively mild early pandemic, mention talk of quiet long COVID clinics without patients.
White House to Boost Monkeypox Vaccination Through Large LGBTQ Events
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced plans to expand the response to the monkeypox outbreak by providing vaccinations and education at large LGBTQ-centered events around the country following a recent pilot program carried out in Charlotte, NC.
Demetre Daskalakis, deputy director for the White House’s national monkeypox response, stated during a briefing that the administration was aiming to make its response more “intentional and targeted.”
Daskalakis said the pilot program that recently took place at Charlotte Pride was a “great success.” Similar programs will be carried out at upcoming events such as Atlanta Black Pride Weekend and Southern Decadence, a nearly weeklong annual LGBTQ festival in New Orleans.