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Hong Kong authorises Sinovac vaccine for children aged 3-17

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Hong Kong has approved lowering the age limit for the COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech to three years old, down from 18 years of age, as it pursues a broader campaign to incentivise its 7.5 million residents to get vaccinated.

“Adolescents aged 12 to 17 will be accorded priority to receive the CoronaVac vaccine, with a view to extending to children of a younger age group at a later stage,” Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health (SFH) Sophia Chan said in a statement published on Saturday.

According to the statement, the SFH considered that the benefits of approving the extension of the age eligibility to cover those aged three to 17 “outweigh the risks”.

A Hong Kong government advisory panel on COVID-19 vaccines had earlier recommended the SFH to approve the new age limit, the statement added.

The extension of the age eligibility comes as the vaccination campaign in the Asian financial hub which started in February has lagged many other developed economies, with about 67% of the population vaccinated with two shots from either Sinovac or Germany’s BioNTech.

In a separate statement on Friday, the city’s government said it purchased 1 million extra doses of BioNTech vaccine for the implementation of third dose COVID-19 vaccination.

Hong Kong has followed Beijing’s lead in retaining strict travel restrictions to curb new COVID outbreaks, in contrast to a global trend of opening up and living with the coronavirus.

International business lobby groups have warned Hong Kong could lose talent and investment, as well as competitive ground to rival finance hubs such as Singapore, unless it relaxes its restrictions on travel.

Despite barely any recent local cases and an environment virtually free of COVID-19, Hong Kong has imposed mandatory hotel quarantine of up to 21 days for arrivals from most countries at the travellers’ cost.

 

(Reporting by Julie Zhu; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Australia regulator approves Pfizer vaccine for children 5-11

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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)

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UK study finds mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provide biggest booster impact – Fiji Times

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LONDON (Reuters) -COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna that use mRNA technology provide the biggest boost to antibody levels when given 10-12 weeks after the second dose, a new British study has found.

The “COV-Boost” study was cited by British officials when they announced that Pfizer and Moderna were preferred for use in the country’s booster campaign, but the data has only been made publicly available now.

The study found that six of the seven boosters examined enhanced immunity after initial vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, while all seven increased immunity when given after two doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

“A third dose will be effective for many of the vaccines we’ve tested and in many different combinations,” Professor Saul Faust, an immunologist at the University of Southampton and the trial’s lead, told reporters.

The study, published late on Thursday, found that a full dose or half dose of Pfizer or a full dose of Moderna gave a strong boost to both antibody and T-cell levels, regardless of whether the person initially received Pfizer or AstraZeneca.

“All four of the vaccination regimes most widely deployed in the UK lead to essentially the same levels of immunity and are likely to be equally effective,” said Professor Eleanor Riley, immunologist at the University of Edinburgh. She added that a policy change in booster gaps was also supported by the data.

“These data support the JCVI (vaccine committee) decision earlier this week to bring forward booster doses to 3 months after the second vaccination.”

When AstraZeneca, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Curevac were given as boosters, they increased antibody levels for either initial vaccine, albeit to a smaller degree, the study found. However, while Valneva boosted antibodies in people initially vaccinated with AstraZeneca, it did not provide a boost for Pfizer.

The COV-Boost study pre-dated the spread of the emergent Omicron variant of concern, and Faust said he had shared samples with the UK Health Security Agency to generate data on Omicron.

The study did however find that booster shots also helped to generate a broad T-cell response against the Beta and Delta variants, which may play a key role in longer-term protection.

A separate study by Imperial College London into how initial exposure to SARS-CoV-2 shapes immune responses, also published late on Thursday, similarly found a good T-cell response to both Alpha and Delta after infection followed by vaccination.

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Dutch former queen Beatrix tests positive for COVID-19

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Dutch former queen Beatrix, 83, has tested positive for COVID-19, the royal information service RVD said in a statement Saturday.

Princess Beatrix, as she has been known since her abdication in 2013, got tested after coming down with “mild cold symptoms”, the statement said.

“The princess is at home in isolation and adheres to the rules of life for people who have tested positive,” it added.

The Netherlands has been experiencing a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s healthcare system.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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