A subtype of the COVID-19 variant is becoming predominant in Saskatchewan and is spreading throughout Western Canada, but health officials say it is not considered a variant of concern.
The AY.25.1 subtype likely originated in the mid-western United States where it mutated, said Dr. Jessica Minion, a Saskatchewan Health Authority medical microbiologist who presented the information to a health authority meeting last week.
In Saskatchewan, AY-25.1 and another subtype, AY.27, have mainly displaced the original Delta variant. AY-25.1 is also spreading interprovincially in Alberta and British Columbia.
Health officials across Western Canada say the subtype is not more contagious.
“There is no evidence it causes more severe illness, that it evades vaccine protection, that it is significantly different from the Delta variant that has been circulating,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, during a COVID-19 briefing.
“When viruses replicate, they can change their genetics slightly, so sometimes you have these sublineages that evolve. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they behave differently from that parent strain, and that’s the case with this particular sublineage.”
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said the public shouldn’t read too much into the subtype.
“What we’re seeing is something all jurisdictions see,” Shahab said.
“If there are any concerning trends that emerge, we’ll bring that back to the public.”
Minion, who is a member of the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network, said the Delta variant has been branching out into new evolutionary trees across the world including the United States, the United Kingdom and Asia.
“These evolutionary trees, which are still Delta, we are calling them AY-various numbers,” Minion said.
“Having these different AY lineages does not necessarily imply any biological differences when we determine it’s a new lineage. All we’re saying is there are stable new sequences in the viral code that have accumulated enough to make it noticeably different than what came before it.”
Saskatchewan is monitoring the sublineage as is required by international health regulations, but health officials reiterate it’s normal biology.
“Viruses don’t stay static, especially COVID, which is given trillions of opportunities on a daily basis to evolve and mutate,” Minion said.
Omicron variant found in almost one-third of U.S. states
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has spread to about one-third of U.S. states, but the Delta version remains the majority of COVID-19 cases nationwide, U.S. health officials said on Sunday.
Though the emergence of the new variant has caused alarm worldwide, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, told CNN “thus far it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it” but he added that it was too early to draw definitive conclusions and more study is needed.
Fauci also hoped the United States would lift its ban on travelers from southern African countries in a “reasonable period of time.”
The South African government has complained it is being punished – instead of applauded – for discovering the new variant and quickly informing international health officials.
Fauci praised South Africa for its transparency and said the U.S. travel ban was imposed at a time “when we were really in the dark” and needed time to study the variant.
“We all feel very badly about the hardship that that might have put upon not only South Africa but the other African countries,” he added on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
At least 15 U.S. states have reported Omicron cases: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, according to a Reuters tally.
Many of the cases were among fully vaccinated individuals with mild symptoms, although the booster shot status of some patients was not known.
Despite several dozen Omicron cases, the Delta variant still accounts for 99.9% of the 90,000 to 100,000 new cases of COVID each day in the United States https://tmsnrt.rs/2WTOZDR, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told ABC News in an interview.
“We are everyday hearing about more and more probable cases so that number is likely to rise,” she said.
Louisiana’s Department of Health said on Saturday that a Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd cruise ship set to dock in New Orleans with more than 3,000 passengers has detected 10 cases of COVID-19 on board.
The Norwegian Breakaway left New Orleans on Nov. 28 and had stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico, officials said, adding everyone on board would be tested and provided with post-exposure and quarantine public health guidance by the CDC.
COVID-19 vaccine makers are looking to quickly tweak their shots to target Omicron and U.S. regulators have vowed speedy reviews, but that could still take months.
“Certainly, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) will move swiftly and CDC will move swiftly,” Walensky said.
Moderna Inc has said it could seek U.S. approval for an updated vaccine as soon as March, but company officials in television interviews on Sunday said it still take time to increase output.
Moderna Co-founder and Chairman Noubar Afeyan told CNN it would take another seven to 10 days to gather key Omicron data. Then, it “will take a good 60 to 100 days” to deploy an Omicron-specific shot, although other options like a higher dose of the current booster are being explored, he said.
U.S. government officials are also working with vaccine makers Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson on updated shots.
Pfizer and Merck & Co Inc are also pursuing COVID-19 pill treatments.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Susan Heavey; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
Australia regulator approves Pfizer vaccine for children 5-11
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)
UK study finds mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provide biggest booster impact – Fiji Times
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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