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Red Cross urges action for Papua New Guinea as COVID-19 overwhelms health system

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Concerted international action is needed to support Papua New Guinea as a surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelms the Pacific country’s health system, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Monday.

Coronavirus cases in the island nation of 9 million have been surging in recent weeks, with 385 new cases recorded on Thursday, according to latest available government data.

There have been 26,731 officially confirmed cases and 329 deaths in the country 150 km (90 miles) north of Australia.

Less than 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data figures, although the government anticipated months ago that it would have enough shots by now for everyone who wanted to be vaccinated.

Misinformation, public apprehension, and logistical challenges with the rollout have slowed down vaccinations, the Red Cross said.

“Urgent efforts and further support are needed in healthcare to prevent a massive loss of life in the coming days and weeks,” Uvenama Rova, PNG Red Cross secretary general, said in a statement.

According to the PNG National Control Centre for COVID-19, all major hospitals have been hit with rising cases.

“We’re at the moment barely managing with the existing load,” Gary Nou, team leader for Emergency Medical Team at the National Centre, was quoted as saying last week in a statement on the centre’s website.

A medical team from Australia arrived in Port Moresby this month, and Britain was also to send a team.

While some other nations in the Pacific region, such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, have also had sluggish vaccine rollouts, the tiny nation of Palau had 99% of its population over 12 vaccinated by mid-October, while Fiji had 96% of eligible people with one dose, the Red Cross said this month.

 

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)

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World Bank says its funding helped deliver 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

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The World Bank on Monday said its funding had helped deliver 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines around the world and it would reach the 150-million mark by the end of the month, if doses arrive as expected.

World Bank President David Malpass said the multilateral development bank had contracted for nearly 300 million doses, with some $7.5 billion in vaccine financing operations for 69 countries to be committed by the end of December.

Speaking at a conference hosted by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Malpass underscored the need for rich countries to fulfill their generous dose donation pledges as quickly as possible, and unveiled a new database to track which countries needed financial and operational support.

Delivery swaps, like the one recently executed between the African Union, the United States and Moderna, were also helpful to meet near-term needs.

“Readiness and deployment are critical. Ample funding is available and we’re working with partners … to address the current crisis and prepare for future ones,” Malpass said, adding that enhanced data and transparency were critical to ensure that resources flowed where they were most needed.

Malpass said the new World Bank Vaccine Deployment Tracker https://www.worldbank.org/en/who-we-are/news/coronavirus-covid19/covid-19-vaccine-deployment-tracker would help resolve specific bottlenecks to scale up vaccine deployment. It is based on joint work between the World Bank and the COVAX Country Readiness and Delivery Team, which includes the World Health Organization, UNICEF and GAVI.

 

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Mixing Pfizer, AstraZ COVID-19 shots with Moderna gives better immune response – UK study

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A major British study into mixing COVID-19 vaccines has found that people had a better immune response when they received a first dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech shots followed by Moderna nine weeks later, according to the results on Monday.

“We found a really good immune response across the board…, in fact, higher than the threshold set by Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine two doses,” Matthew Snape, the Oxford professor behind the trial dubbed Com-COV2, told Reuters.

The findings supporting flexible dosing will offer some hope to poor and middle income countries which may need to combine different brands between first and second shots if supplies run low or become unstable.

“I think the data from this study will be especially interesting and valuable to low- and middle-income countries where they’re still rolling out the first two doses of vaccines,” Snape said.

“We’re showing…you don’t have to stick rigidly to receiving the same vaccine for a second dose…and that if the programme will be delivered more quickly by using multiple vaccines, then it is okay to do so.”

If the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is followed by a Moderna or Novavax shot, higher antibodies and T-cell responses were induced versus two doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford, according to researchers at the University of Oxford.

The study of 1,070 volunteers also found that a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine followed by a Moderna shot was better than two doses of the standard Pfizer-BioNTech course.

Pfizer-BioNTech followed by Novavax induced higher antibodies than the two-dose Oxford-AstraZeneca schedule, although this schedule induced lower antibody and T-cell responses than the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech schedule.

No safety concerns were raised, according to the Oxford University study published in the Lancet medical journal.

Many countries have been deploying a mix and match well before robust data was available as nations were faced with soaring infection numbers, low supplies and slow immunisation over some safety concerns.

Longevity of protection offered by vaccines has been under scrutiny, with booster doses being considered as well amid surging cases. New variants, including Delta and Omicron, have now increased the pressure to speed up vaccination campaigns.

Blood samples from participants were tested against the Wild-Type, Beta and Delta variants, researchers of the Com-COV2 study said, adding that vaccines’ efficacy against the variants had waned, but this was consistent across mixed courses.

Deploying vaccines using technology from different platforms – like Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA, AstraZeneca’s viral vector and Novavax’s protein-based shot – and within the same schedule is new.

The results may inform new approaches to immunisation against other diseases, he said.

The study also found that a first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine followed by any of the other candidates in the study generated a particularly robust response, consistent with findings in June.

The study was designed as a so-called “non-inferiority” study – the intent is to demonstrate that mixing is not substantially worse than the standard schedules – and compares the immune system responses to the gold-standard responses reported in previous clinical trials of each vaccine.

 

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Josephine Mason and Mark Heinrich)

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WHO advises against using blood plasma of recovered patients as COVID-19 treatment – CBC.ca

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The World Health Organization on Monday advised against using the blood plasma of patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat those who are ill, saying current evidence shows it neither improves survival nor reduces the need for ventilators.

The hypothesis for using plasma is that the antibodies it contains could neutralize the novel coronavirus, stopping it from replicating and halting tissue damage.

Several studies testing convalescent blood plasma have shown no apparent benefit for treating COVID-19 patients who are severely ill. A U.S.-based trial was halted in March after it was found that plasma was unlikely to help mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients.

The method is also costly and time-consuming to administer, the WHO said in a statement Monday.

A panel of international experts made a strong recommendation against the use of convalescent plasma in patients with non-severe illness, the WHO said. They also advised against its use in patients with severe and critical illness, except in the context of a randomized controlled trial.

The recommendation, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is based on evidence from 16 trials involving 16,236 patients with non-severe, severe and critical COVID-19 infection.

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