13 July 2021

• WHO reports that globally, new cases of, and deaths from COVID-19 have risen during the past week, with the largest increase in mortality occurring in the African region. Source

• France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, announces that coronavirus booster vaccines will be given to around 1.7 million people in France (elderly persons in nursing homes, people over age 75, and hospital staff over age 50, those who are extremely vulnerable to the virus (and hospital staff who work with them) starting in September. Source 

• The New York Times reported on a meeting convened by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) for senior US scientists and regulators and representatives from Pfizer, which is pushing for rapid authorization of coronavirus booster vaccines. The company is collecting information on responses among people who get a third vaccine dose, and data from Israel, which has begun giving third doses to immunocompromised people; it plans to submit this information to the US FDA as part of a request to broaden the emergency authorization for its coronavirus vaccine.  It is not clear whether a third dose of the original vaccine or a booster tailored to circulating variants, such as Delta, will be needed. 

Officials said more data, possibly over several months, would be needed to determine whether boosters are needed – especially information being gathered by the US CDC on breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated people which result in serious illness or hospitalization. The DHHS issued its a statement after the meeting saying “At this time, fully vaccinated Americans do not need a booster shot.”  

Currently, half of the US population remains unvaccinated. Dr Carlos Del Rio, an infectious disease specialist from Atlanta’s Emory University, noted that   “… the most important booster we need is to get people vaccinated.” Source

• A fire caused by an electrical short in a ventilator, swept through the coronavirus ward of Imam Hussein Teaching Hospital in the Southern Iraqui city of Nasiriya. The fire killed at least 92 people, including family members caring for patients due to hospital staff shortages. Source  

• The Guardian publishes an opinion piece on the Johnson administration’s handling of coronavirus, saying that the strategy is based on   power and cronyism rather than health needs, and that the government has adjusted scientific evidence to support its policies. For example, it notes that the government has been “…reluctant to acknowledge is that, while vaccines may be very efficient in preventing the worst outcomes – hospitalisation and death – vaccinated people can still contract and transit COVID-19. This raises important moral and ethical questions about the effects of placing large numbers of unmasked people into small, poorly ventilated spaces without social distancing, such as public transport or nightclubs.” The authors conclude by saying “…the government’s strategy is not about teaching people to live with the virus; it’s teaching people to accept that the lives of many of them are not worth saving.” Source 

• In Britain, doctors warn of “potentially devastating consequences”  of lifting coronavirus restrictions as the Delta variant continues to spread. Dr David Nabarro, a special envoy on COVID-19 for the World Health Organization, said that it was “too early to be  talking about massive relaxation or freedom.” Source 

• Just hours after French President Emmanuel Macron announced new coronavirus vaccination requirements, 1.3 million people in the country booked appointments for shots. Source 

• A graphic ad encouraging people to get vaccinated in Australia has drawn criticism – it shows a young woman gasping for breath although most young people are ineligible for vaccines. Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, defended the ad, saying, “It is quite graphic, and it’s meant to be graphic. It is meant to really push that message home that this is important.” Comedian Dan Ilic added a voice-over suggesting that the woman in the video was 39, and therefore months away from being eligible for a Pfizer vaccine, saying “Turn 40 sooner.” Source

• The EU has not authorized the AstraZeneca vaccines produced by India’s Serum Institute, which will prevent people who received it from entering the bloc. Regulators said that AstraZeneca hasn’t completed paperwork on the Indian factory, including details on production practices and quality control standards. But some experts consider it discriminatory and unscientific, since WHO has already inspected and approved the factory, and they are concerned about the impact on vaccine confidence, travel and the economy. Source  

• Government scientific advisers in Britain suggest that the country is facing “major risks” after pandemic restrictions are lifted on 19 July, including hospitals coming under intense pressure, more cases of Long COVID, emergence of new, vaccine-resistant variants of SARS-CoV-2 and 100 to  200 deaths from COVID-19 each day. Despite his plan to go ahead with restriction-lifting, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned residents not to go back to pre-pandemic life in “a great jubilee.” Source https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-12/england-faces-up-to-200-daily-covid-deaths-when-august-peak-hits

• Russia enters a deal with India’s Serum Institute to accelerate roll-out of Sputnik v, which has been delayed by lack of second doses. It will produce 300 million doses of Sputnik V for domestic use. Source 

• A coronavirus surge, driven by the Alpha and Delta variants, led Thailand to impose additional restrictions. in Bangkok. Source 

Endpoints reports that researchers from AstraZeneca/Oxford and j & J are looking into re-engineering their coronavirus vaccines to lessen or avoid the risk of rare blood clots with low platelets linked with their vaccines. There is hope that the AstraZeneca vaccine could be re-engineered by 2022, but it is unclear whether it will be possible – and commercial issues such as ownership and regulatory update could prevent it.  Although blood clots with low platelets occurs rarely, it is potentially fatal. The incidence of this rare adverse event among J & J vaccine recipients is estimated at .3 per 100,000 doses and it is between one and two cases per 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Source

• The World Trade Organization, the Asian Development Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and drug manufacturers, among others, are creating a working document on manufacturing, storing, distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccines. Although it has no legal status, the list is intended to help countries scale-up vaccine access, even while many European countries resist broader calls for a temporary waiver on intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines and other medical technologies. Source 

• Spain surpasses four million cases of COVID-19 as it faces a surge driven by the Delta variant. The two-week infection rate has reached nearly 437 cases per 100,000 people, and it is especially high among young, unvaccinated people ages 20-29, at 1,421 per 100,000 according to the country’s Ministry of Health. Source

• In the US, the Department of Homeland Security begins administering the single-dose J & J coronavirus vaccine to people detained at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities after being criticized for low vaccination rates; 19,000 detainees have tested positive and only 20 percent of people passing through ICE facilities have gotten at least one vaccine dose. Source

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