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Commentary: Unvaccinated teenagers risk turning schools into viral COVID-19 reservoirs – CNA

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LONDON: A series of pencilled lines on the kitchen doorframe show that my 13-year-old son overtook me last summer.

He is now taller, heavier and stronger than me, and enjoys an active academic and sporting life that does not easily accommodate strict social distancing.

He is also the only member of our household unvaccinated against COVID-19. In terms of infection, he is our weakest link, with the perfect mix of social contacts and physiology to catch and spread it.

READ: Commentary: Here’s why England is facing four more weeks of lockdown

UK YET TO HAVE RULES VACCINATING TEENAGERS

In early June 2021, the UK medicines regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as safe and effective for children aged 12 to 15, but the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has not yet ruled on whether to recommend it to all those aged 16 and 17, let alone younger teens.

With case numbers rising and hundreds of thousands of children being forced to isolate at home after testing positive or being in close contact with someone who has, the risk-benefit analysis seems to be shifting in favour of vaccinating all over-12s.

The most persuasive argument against vaccinating children is that most suffer mildly, if at all, from COVID-19, meaning they bear the risks of vaccination for little or no benefit to themselves.

This is especially true when community infection rates are low, reducing the chance that a child will suffer associated harms of exposure, such as illness, including long-COVID and disrupted schooling and socialisation.

HIGHER STAKES

But the rise in cases in the UK since mid-May is denting this rationale. A third wave is upon us.

There are more than 20,000 confirmed daily new infections, with an estimated 385,000 pupils absent from state schools on 24 June due to Covid-19. That is 5.1 per cent of the relevant school population, up from 3.3 per cent the week before.

Being out of school damages children educationally and socially; there is an added economic cost if parents stay off work.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has proposed abandoning rules requiring pupil isolation. That is a prescription for mass infections in schools, especially given that masking and social distancing requirements were recently dropped.

The Delta variant is more transmissible than the Alpha variant; the jury is out on whether it causes more severe illness.

Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage group of science advisers, notes that herd immunity requires about 85 per cent of the population to be immune, and children make up 21 per cent of the UK population. In short, the UK’s “vaccine wall” has a large, teen-shaped hole in it.

READ: Commentary: Variants versus vaccines is becoming the new COVID-19 race

READ: Commentary: We have to live with an endemic COVID-19. Here’s what that could look like

That, in turn, means either ongoing transmission, with all its risks (the vaccines are great but not perfect) or continued interventions like social distancing.

This capricious virus has the capacity to evolve further. Leaving older children unjabbed risks creating viral reservoirs capable of cooking up future variants, some of which might not be as benign to the young.

CONCERNS OVER RARE HEART INFLAMMATION

The chief vaccine-related risk to teenagers, mostly young males, appears to be myocarditis or pericarditis, two types of heart inflammation, linked to mRNA vaccines, such as those made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

As of Jun 28, from a total of 324 million doses of all vaccines given across all ages, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 518 such cases in those aged 30 or under, usually within days of a second dose. The CDC notes that most recovered, and it still recommends that over-12s receive a jab to protect them and their communities.

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, left, talks to 12th grade art student Oscar Quezada at White Plains High School, Thursday, Apr 22, 2021 (Photo: AP/Mark Lennihan)

Some worry that rare adverse events may knock confidence in other childhood vaccinations. But given the UK’s current predicament it is logical to fight the threat in front of us, not a theoretical future adversary.

Clinicians are still cataloguing the long-term effects of natural infection. The idea that children should catch an unpredictable virus in preference to having a largely safe and effective vaccine will trouble many.

Putting aside the question of whether young people in the UK should have priority over those at higher risk in the Global South, this discussion shows there are no good options in a pandemic, only less bad ones.

READ: Commentary: Teachers now have new jobs. Schools will never be normal again after COVID-19

READ: Commentary: In Singapore’s bold plan to reopen, these are the hard-nosed decisions society must make

Arguably, offering (not mandating) first doses to willing teens, supply permitting, before school ends this month would have been a reasonable strategy to protect children, blunt community transmission and favourably adjust the risk ahead of a September return to the classroom.

Instead, the UK is entering the second summer of the COVID-19 pandemic much as it entered the first: talking tough against a shape-shifting virus that responds only to deeds, not words.

Without fast, strategic thinking on difficult issues such as teenage vaccination and indoor ventilation, Javid’s bid to loosen all restrictions on Jul 19 will spell Freedom Day for the virus, as well as for us.

(Are COVID-19 vaccines still effective against new variants? And could these increase the risk of reinfection? Experts explain why COVID-19 could become a “chronic problem” on CNA’s Heart of the Matter podcast.)

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Monkeypox case count rises to more than 3400 globally, WHO says – The Globe and Mail

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More than 3,400 confirmed monkeypox cases and one death were reported to the World Health Organization as of last Wednesday, with a majority of them from Europe, the agency said in an update on Monday.

WHO said that since June 17, 1,310 new cases were reported to the agency, with eight new countries reporting monkeypox cases.

Monkeypox is not yet a global health emergency, WHO ruled last week, although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was deeply concerned about the outbreak.

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Sudbury news: Northern agencies highlight national HIV testing day | CTV News – CTV News Northern Ontario

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Monday was national HIV testing day. Officials say this year’s theme surrounds how getting tested is an act of self-care.

From clinics to self-testing kits, groups in the north say there are many options to get tested and everyone should use whichever way works best for them.

Just more than a year ago, Reseau Access Network in Sudbury teamed with Ready to Know and Get a Kit, groups that provide HIV self-testing kits at a pickup location.

Officials said it has been a huge success.

“We get a consistent number throughout each month and I can’t really divulge those figures, unfortunately, but as part of the overall study I can tell you the pickup of self-tests is a fraction of the amount of tests being ordered,” said Angel Riess, of Reseau Access Network.

“There’s actually a lot of tests being shipped to homes directly but I can confirm that they have been active and there’s a significant number of people who have chosen to engage in both programs.”

Elsewhere, the Aids Committee of North Bay and Area held a point-of-care testing clinic to mark the day.

“It’s an opportunity for us to remind everyone that getting tested is essential. If you don’t know you have HIV, you can’t take the steps to try to mitigate the possibility of spread,” said executive director Stacey Mayhall.

In addition to stopping the spread, knowing whether you are positive sooner rather than later can allow for a better quality of life.

“HIV is not a death sentence that it used to be,” said Riess.

“There have been advances in testing and medication and people can live long, healthy lives living with HIV.”

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WHO adviser says G7 leaders must prioritize COVID-19 or face economic harm, unrest

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G7 leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, must make ending the COVID-19 pandemic a critical part of their summit in Germany, said a senior adviser to the director general at the World Health Organization.

Dr. Bruce Aylward said failing to keep COVID-19 at the top of the agenda risks further economic harm and unleashing more civil unrest.

Aylward is a Canadian infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist who has worked for WHO since 1992. In an interview, he said if getting control of the pandemic by investing in vaccines and treatments for all countries isn’t important to the G7, it won’t be important to anyone.

“The first thing the G7 has to say is, ‘We have an opportunity to beat this pandemic, we need to turn the burners on now,’” Aylward said.

That includes funding investments in vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 and, when the updated vaccines are released later this year, not repeating the 2021 cycle in which rich countries snapped up all the initial doses.

The leaders of the world’s leading economies are in the midst of their annual summit where the Russian invasion in Ukraine and food insecurity are the top issues.

But Aylward said the pandemic is forgotten at the peril of all nations. Economic growth is being hindered by supply chain issues linked not just to the Russian war in Ukraine, but also to ongoing COVID-19 impacts.

And the civil unrest unleashed in wealthy countries — including the anti-COVID-19 restriction convoys that paralyzed downtown Ottawa and multiple border crossings earlier this year — will only get worse if the economy and inflation aren’t stabilized, he said.

The World Health Organization was aiming for 70 per cent of the world’s population to be vaccinated by now, but more than 130 countries and territories are below that goal, and in Africa, fewer than one in five people have been fully vaccinated and fewer thanone in 100 have had a booster dose.

Aylward said initially less wealthy countries couldn’t get the needed doses, but that’s not the issue anymore. Now it’s overcoming vaccine hesitancy, a problem he said has been worsened by the actions of people in wealthy nations.

“We had this window of opportunity when the low-income countries were really worried about this disease and they would have vaccinated, you know, gangbusters with the (global) north,” Aylward said.

But then the rich nations hoarded doses for themselves, and then made available initially only doses of viral-vector vaccines like Oxford-AstraZeneca, which countries like Canada decided it didn’t want.

There were also conspiracy theories arising about mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that had no basis in truth but have been exported around the world, said Aylward.

“So they’ve made it incredibly hard for political leaders in low-income countries to get coverage up,” he said. “It’s a grind.”

The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, or ACT-A, is a global collaboration launched in April 2020 to generate the financing needed to get the diagnostics, treatments and vaccines needed for the COVID-19 pandemic.

New vaccines able to better protect against current variants of the virus behind COVID-19 will soon be available, and the wealthy countries cannot repeat the fiasco of 2021, said Aylward.

But Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance over the weekend said it appears more than half the doses of the next round of vaccines have already been reserved by the same countries that hoarded the first time.

Canada has contracts to get 35 million doses of Moderna and as many as 65 million doses of Pfizer in 2022.

There is also a huge need in lower-income countries for antivirals and tests, areas Aylward said were the least funded in the first year of the program.

ACT-A is asking 55 high and higher-middle income countries to jointly contribute nearly $17 billion this year. More than a third is to be allocated to vaccines, about one-quarter to testing and diagnostics, one-sixth to therapeutics including antiviral medicines and the rest to health systems.

Last year, only six of those countries, including Canada, met or exceeded what WHO determined to be their fair share of contributions, largely based on the size of economies. Germany is the only other G7 country among the six.

Both Germany and Canada have said they will meet their fair share in 2022 as well. Trudeau said last month Canada would commit $732 million to ACT-A this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.

 

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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