Australia‘s medicine regulator on Sunday provisionally approved the Pfizer Inc coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11, with the health minister saying the rollout could begin from Jan. 10.
The Therapeutics Goods Administration “have made a careful, thorough assessment, determined that it is safe and effective and that it is in the interests of children and Australians for children 5 to 11 to be vaccinated,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt.
After initial delays with its general COVID-19 inoculation programme, Australia has swiftly become one of the world’s most-vaccinated countries, with nearly 88% of Australians over the age of 16 having received two doses.
The high vaccination has helped slow the spread of the virus and promote a speedy economic recovery, with the government planning to raise its 2022 growth forecast within weeks.
The efficacy of vaccines against the new Omicron variant, which is spreading in Australia, remains unknown.
The most populous state, New South Wales, reported two more Omicron cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 15 cases, and the Australian Capital Territory confirmed its second.
Parliament House was closed over the weekend to the public until further notice after a staffer to a member of parliament tested positive to COVID-19 after the legislature’s final sitting week of the year on Friday.
The variant of that infection case has not been disclosed, but health authorities said the staff was fully vaccinated.
While nationwide vaccinations are voluntary, states and territories have mandated shots for many occupations, and some require full vaccination to access most hospitality services and non-essential retail.
Australia’s overall childhood immunisation coverage is also one of the highest in the world, with 95% of 5-year-olds inoculated with vaccines recommended for their age, health data showed.
The Pfizer vaccine for those children still needs the approval of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation. Once approved, it will be available to about 2.3 million children in the 5-to-11 age group.
Despite battling many outbreaks this year, leading to months of lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne – Australia’s largest cities – the country has had only about 834 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation, a fraction of the toll in many other developed nations.
Australia has had just under 217,000 cases in total and 2,042 deaths.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and William Mallard)
Mexican president has cardiac catheterization, health said to be good
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador underwent a cardiac catheterization in hospital on Friday and was found to be in good health, the interior ministry said in a statement.
“In this procedure, the heart and the arteries of the president were found to be healthy and functioning appropriately,” the statement said.
Lopez Obrador, 68, who had a serious heart attack in 2013 and recently recovered from his second coronavirus infection, underwent the procedure as part of a check-up every six months that include lab tests, electrocardiograms, stress tests and CT scans, the government said.
The medical team said the latest results indicated the need for a cardiac catheterization, without providing further details on why they performed what they described as a 30-minute procedure.
The government said “no other type of intervention” was needed and that Lopez Obrador was in “perfect health.”
The procedure inserts a thin tube into a large blood vessel leading to the heart and can detect how well the heart is working.
Lopez Obrador said he had mild symptoms from both bouts of COVID-19. In the most recent case earlier this month, he went into isolation for a week before returning to public activities, including lengthy daily news conferences.
On his first day back, he praised honey, pain reliever paracetamol and VapoRub, a topical ointment popular in Mexico, for helping ease his symptoms.
(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Dave Graham and Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Editing by William Mallard)
Small children getting less sick from Omicron; Genetic mutation protects against severe COVID
The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review.
Small children are getting less sick from Omicron
In very young children, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus causes less severe disease than the Delta variant, according to a new study.
Researchers reviewed data on nearly 80,000 U.S. children under age 5 with a first infection, including 7,201 infected in late December or early January when Omicron was causing more than 90% of cases. After accounting for other risk factors, including medical conditions and socioeconomic circumstances, researchers found children infected during the Omicron surge had a 29% lower risk of emergency department visits, a 67% lower risk of hospitalization, a 68% lower risk of needing intensive care, and a 71% lower risk of needing machines to breathe, compared to children infected with Delta. However, “because of Omicron’s increased transmissibility, the overall number of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and mechanical ventilator use in children may still be greater” with Omicron than with Delta, according to a report posted on medRxiv ahead of peer review.
The investigators have also observed that infection rates were disproportionately higher in Black and Hispanic children for both Omicron and Delta for this age group, and the gap widened for infections with Omicron, said study leader Rong Xu of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Not yet published data shows that “children under 5 had the highest infection rate with Omicron” compared to older children and adults in all age groups, she said.
Genetic mutation protects against severe COVID-19
New findings add to evidence that people with a certain version of a gene are less likely to develop severe COVID-19.
Earlier research had identified a specific group of genes, called the OAS1/2/3 gene cluster, as being involved in the risk for severe COVID-19. One version of a gene in that cluster – passed down from Neanderthals – appeared to protect against severe disease, reducing the risk by about 23%. The earlier research was done mainly in people of European ancestry. According to a report published in Nature Genetics, researchers now see the same association of this genetic variant with less severe COVID-19 in people of African ancestry.
“The fact that individuals of African descent had the same protection allowed us to identify the unique variant in the DNA that actually protects from COVID-19 infection,” coauthor Dr. Jennifer Huffman of said in a statement. OAS genes are involved in a cascade of effects that help cells fight viruses, the researchers said. Understanding of these genes and their effect on COVID-19 risks could aid development of future drugs, they added.
Fewer Delta breakthroughs with Moderna vs Pfizer/BioNTech
When the Delta variant of the coronavirus was prevalent in the United States, recipients of two doses of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine were less likely to experience a breakthrough infection – and if they did, were slightly less likely to be hospitalized – than recipients of two doses of the mRNA vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, a large study found.
Researchers analyzed health records of more than 637,000 vaccine recipients who were not previously infected with the virus and had not gotten a booster shot. As reported on Thursday in JAMA, breakthrough infections steadily increased every month from July to November 2021, with higher rates in the Pfizer/BioNTech group. In November, there were 2.8 cases among every thousand people vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech shots, compared to 1.6 cases per thousand recipients of the Moderna vaccines. The vaccines protected equally well against death, but the hospitalization rate was 12.7% for infected Moderna recipients and 13.3% for Pfizer/BioNTech recipients. When the researchers compared 62,584 Moderna recipients to a closely-matched equal-sized group of Pfizer/BioNTech recipients, the risk for breakthrough infection was 15% lower in the Moderna group.
“Although there is a difference in breakthrough infections, both vaccines are highly protective against SARS-COV2 infection and especially against the most severe consequences of infection,” said coauthor Pamela Davis of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in a statement.
Click for a Reuters graphic on vaccines in development.
(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
FDA expands use of remdesivir to patients with high risk of hospitalization
The U.S. health regulator on Friday expanded its approval for the use of Gilead Sciences’ antiviral drug remdesivir to treat non-hospitalized patients 12 years and older for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 disease with high risk of hospitalization.
Previously, the use of Veklury was limited to patients requiring hospitalization.
(Reporting by Leroy Leo in Bengaluru; editing by Diane Craft)
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