Covid news live: G7 calls Omicron ‘biggest threat’ to global health; unvaccinated face ‘winter of severe illness and death’, Biden warns

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Covid news live: G7 calls Omicron ‘biggest threat’ to global health; unvaccinated face ‘winter of severe illness and death’, Biden warns” was written by Samantha Lock, for theguardian.com on Friday 17th December 2021 02.36 UTC

Guardian reporters Nick Evershed, Josh Nicholas and Andy Ball have compiled a fantastic interactive map showing how the Covid vaccine rollout has progressed globally.

The visual tool provides a snapshot revealing which countries rolled out vaccines faster – and why.

There has been a vast and continuing inequality in the global Covid vaccine rollout.

In the case of Covid, inequality has been compounded by wealthy nations buying up doses, and the need to ramp up adult vaccination programs in countries that hadn’t had them before.

The European Union’s drugs regulator has said that member states can use Pfizer’s antiviral Covid pill Paxlovid early after diagnosis of an infection even though its full review for regulatory approval has not been completed yet.

“The Agency’s advice can now be used to support national recommendations on the possible use of the medicine before marketing authorisation,” the European Medicines Agency said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the company said the experimental antiviral pill is highly effective in protecting against severe disease from coronavirus and is also effective against the Omicron variant, citing laboratory testing.

In clinical trials, Paxlovid showed almost 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalisation and death in high-risk patients, Pfizer stated, replicating the results of a smaller-scale trial announced last month.

A curious study just published in the Nature Communications journal has found unique antibody-like proteins found in a shark’s immune system that could possibly prevent the virus that causes Covid-19, its variants, and related coronaviruses from infecting human cells.

The proteins, known as VNARs, are one-tenth the size of human antibodies.

Aaron LeBeau, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of pathology who helped lead the study, said:

These small antibody-like proteins can get into nooks and crannies that human antibodies cannot access.

They can form these very unique geometries. This allows them to recognise structures in proteins that our human antibodies cannot.”

LeBeau and his team identified three candidate VNARs from a pool of billions that effectively stopped the virus from infecting human cells.

A study published in the Nature Communications journal found unique antibody-like proteins in a shark’s immune system that could possibly prevent the virus that causes Covid-19.
A study published in the Nature Communications journal found unique antibody-like proteins in a shark’s immune system that could possibly prevent the virus that causes Covid-19. Photograph: Brad Leue/Alamy

The new VNARs will not be immediately available as a treatment in people, but they may help prepare for future coronavirus outbreaks. The shark VNARs were able to neutralise WIV1-CoV, a coronavirus that is capable of infecting human cells but currently circulates only in bats, where SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, likely originated.

LeBeau added:

The big issue is there are a number of coronaviruses that are poised for emergence in humans. What we’re doing is preparing an arsenal of shark VNAR therapeutics that could be used down the road for future SARS outbreaks. It’s a kind of insurance against the future.”

Our data also suggest that the three VNARs we identified would be effective at neutralising the existing Alpha, Beta, and Delta variants as well as variants yet to emerge. Should vaccination fail due to the emergence of a viral variant, alternative therapies like our VNARS, alone or in combination, are essential to maintaining control over the spread of the virus.”

LeBeau and his lab in the School of Medicine and Public Health collaborated with researchers at the University of Minnesota and Elasmogen, a biomedical company in Scotland that is developing therapeutic VNARs.

A quick snap from Reuters here that France’s president Emmanuel Macron has said he will look at hospital capacity to make decisions about any future possible tightenings of restrictions in France and not just case numbers.

On Wednesday, Macron said it was possible the Covid vaccine would eventually be made compulsory in France, but added it was not the priority for now.

We will have more on this story as it develops.

Updated

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had received reports of eight cases of myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation, in children aged 5-11 years who received Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, Reuters reports.

The CDC had previously said that reporting rates of myocarditis for boys aged 16 to 17 could be more than 69 cases per million second doses administered and around 40 cases per million second doses in boys aged 12-15 years old.

The CDC did not say whether it believes there is a link between the myocarditis cases and the vaccine, or disclose the rate of myocarditis in the age group without vaccination.

The agency said there had been over 7m vaccine doses in the 5-11 age group at the time it examined the data, with 5.1m first doses and 2 million second doses. The cases had a mild clinical course, the CDC said.

The cases were reported in the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System and presented by the CDC to a panel of its expert advisers.

CDC recommends Pfizer and Moderna vaccines over Johnson & Johnson

A panel of outside advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday voted to recommend directing Americans towards the mRNA vaccines for protection against Covid-19 – meaning the shots by Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna in the US – in preference to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines, because of the risk of rare but sometimes fatal cases of blood clotting.

The CDC’s advisory committee on immunisation voted unanimously to make the recommendation. The regulator still needs to sign off on the guidance.

Cases of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), which involves blood clots accompanied by a low level of platelets, have previously been reported in recipients of the J&J vaccine. The highest reporting rates are in women under 50.

The CDC said that the rate of such incidents is higher than previously estimated, both in women and men, with at least nine dead following such blood clotting incidents in the US, the CDC has noted.

Members of the panel also said J&J’s vaccine is less effective in preventing coronavirus than the other two vaccines authorised for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Read the full story here.

Biden warns of ‘winter of severe illness and death’ for unvaccinated

US president Joe Biden on Thursday warned of “a winter of severe illness and death” for those not vaccinated against Covid-19, amid a wave of Delta infections and as new Omicron cases are beginning to surge in America.

The US president spoke as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned the Omicron variant could peak as early as January and states are scrambling to prepare for overloaded hospitals.

US president Joe Biden meets with members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team and warns of ‘winter of severe illness and death’ for the unvaccinated.
US president Joe Biden meets with members of the White House Covid-19 Response Team and warns of ‘winter of severe illness and death’ for the unvaccinated. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

The US has passed 800,000 coronavirus deaths, including one in 100 Americans over the age of 65.

After a briefing on the pandemic from advisers on Thursday afternoon, Biden said Omicron is “now spreading and it’s going to increase”.

“For the unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death,” he said, urging Americans to get vaccinated and get their boosters as soon as possible.

Read the full story here.

G7 calls Omicron ‘biggest current threat’ to world health

The G7 has called the Omicron variant the “biggest current threat to global public health”, warning it is now “more important than ever” for countries to “closely cooperate”.

Britain, which is currently chair of the group, said in a statement on Thursday:

Deeply concerned by the rise in cases, ministers agreed that these developments should be seen as the biggest current threat to global public health.

It is more important than ever to closely cooperate, and monitor as well as share data.”

The G7 health ministers earlier held their final meeting hosted by Britain, which has seen a surge in cases over recent days, registering record numbers and a record day of booster jabs on Thursday.

The ministers focussed on global access to diagnostics, genome sequencing, vaccines and therapeutics in a bid to combat its spread.

“They also agreed on the increasing importance of booster campaigns and regular testing alongside continued non-pharmaceutical measures,” the statement said.

Hello it’s Samantha Lock back with you on the blog as we go through all the latest coronavirus developments.

Let’s start with the news that the G7 has called the Omicron variant the “biggest current threat to global public health”, warning it is now “more important than ever” for countries to “closely cooperate”.

“Deeply concerned by the rise in cases, ministers agreed that these developments should be seen as the biggest current threat to global public health,” Britain said in a statement on Thursday.

US president Joe Biden has also warned that the Omicron variant is “now spreading and it’s going to increase” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested the variant could peak as early as January.

“For the unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death,” he said, urging Americans to get vaccinated and get their boosters as soon as possible.

There’s been a flurry of new developments over the past 24 hours so here is a snapshot of the key stories.

  • CDC advisers recommend Pfizer and Moderna vaccines over Johnson & Johnson. The panel cited the risk of rare but sometimes fatal cases of blood clotting as well as a lower level of effectiveness against Covid in the J&J shot.
  • The European Commission says it has struck a deal with US pharmaceutical company Moderna to speed up delivery of its Covid vaccine, particularly with a view to supplying Germany with 10 million doses in December.
  • Denmark broke its daily Covid record for the fourth day running, warning new restrictions were on the horizon.
  • The UK recorded its highest tally of lab-confirmed Covid cases since the pandemic began – for the second day running – with almost 90,000 new infections. Independent SAGE said it’s urging a circuit-breaker lockdown until 24 December.
  • England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty told MPs hospital admissions could peak above levels seen last winter, before the vaccine roll-out, given Omicron’s infectiousness.
  • Italy reported its highest Covid case rate since 12 March, with
    26,109 cases, jumping 90% on three weeks ago.
  • Germany’s health minister Karl Lauterbac warned the country is lacking millions of Covid vaccine doses, imperilling the country’s defence against the highly-mutated Omicron strain.
  • Poland reported its first case of the Omicron variant.
  • In the UK Queen Elizabeth II has cancelled plans for a pre-Christmas family lunch.
  • The R number for Omicron in the UK is estimated to be between 3 and 5, Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at the UK Health and Security Agency, said.
  • Indonesia is urging people not to travel abroad after the country detected its first Omicron case.
  • Sweden is to end vaccine pass exemption for its Nordic neighbours.
  • France is banning British tourists from Saturday amid concern over Omicron cases in the UK. Travel to and from the UK without “compelling reasons” – which does not include travel or business – will be banned.
  • Israel says it is donating 1m Covid vaccines to the UN-backed COVAX program to reach African countries.
  • New Zealand detected its first case of Omicron in an isolation facility.
  • The Welsh government will bring in new restrictions including closing nightclubs and imposing a 2-metre social distancing rule in offices from 27 December
  • UK prime minister Boris Johnson attended a pizza party in No 10 Downing Street during the May 2020 lockdown, a joint investigation by the Guardian and Independent reported.

Updated

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