Due to the inequity between rich countries and poor countries, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries should not provide boosters to everyone. In fact, “blanket booster programs are likely to prolong the pandemic rather than ending it.” The Associated Press has the story:
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wants to divert vaccines to poor countries
BERLIN — The head of the World Health Organization is warning that blanket booster programs in rich countries risk prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic and says that “no country can boost its way out of the pandemic.”
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that while vaccines have saved many lives this year, their unequal sharing “has cost many lives.”
Tedros has previously called for a moratorium on boosters for healthy adults until the end of this year to counter unequal global vaccine distribution.
He said that about 20% of vaccine doses being given every day are currently boosters. He added that “blanket booster programs are likely to prolong the pandemic rather than ending it, by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate.”
Tedros said that the vast majority of people who are hospitalized or die are unvaccinated.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
BERLIN COVID-19 case drop may show South Africa’s omicron peak has passed
— As COVID-19 fueled the drug crisis, Native Americans hit the worst
— Biden pivots to home tests to fight omicron surge as Christmas nears
— Omicron casts a new shadow over economy’s pandemic recovery
— Parents, schools face another reckoning over pandemic
Go to https://APNews.com/coronavirus-pandemic for updates throughout the day.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
VIENNA — Germany will begin requiring PCR tests for those traveling from “virus variant areas” in an effort to further slow the spread of the omicron variant, the German government announced Wednesday.
The new rules, for which the government did not give a specific starting date, will require travelers from “virus variant areas” to provide a negative PCR test less than 48 hours old. Exceptions will be made for travelers under 6 years old.
Currently nine countries, including the United Kingdom and South Africa, are recognized by Germany’s national disease control center as “virus variant areas.”
Entry from these countries is already severely restricted: Those coming to Germany from them must quarantine for 14 days regardless of vaccination status.
NEW YORK — New York’s city-run hospitals are again limiting visitation to curb the spread of COVID-19, with some exceptions such as allowing people in labor to have someone with them, parents accompanying hospitalized children and loved ones seeing a person in hospice.
The hospitals had been operating under a modified visitation policy since early in the pandemic, with visits limited to four hours per day and one person at a time. Dr. Mitchell Katz, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said Wednesday that the new, stricter limits were being put in place after an outbreak at one city-run hospital appeared to be linked to a visitor.
“For a short time, in order to make sure that we don’t cause more disease, we need to limit the number of visitors,” Katz said.
LONDON — Britain’s medical regulator has approved the new pediatric formulation of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11.
The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said Wednesday the vaccine is safe and effective for children in that age group.
Dr. June Raine, the chief executive of the agency, said “parents and carers can be reassured that no new vaccine for children would have been approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness have been met.’’
However, a separate panel that advises the government on the use of vaccines recommended the Pfizer BioNTech shot be given only to children in a clinical risk group or those who live in a household with someone who is immunosuppressed.
Britain is not the first country to approve the vaccine for children. The United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency have already granted emergency use authorization for the vaccine in children 5 to 11 years of age.
MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is holding a meeting with the heads of Spain’s regional governments to assess what new measures might be required to stem a record surge in COVID-19 infections.
Spain on Tuesday officially recorded almost 50,000 cases of the coronavirus. That’s higher than last January, when a surge placed the national health system under severe strain.
Spain is reporting almost 700 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, more than double the accumulated cases before last year’s Christmas holidays. The omicron strain has soared from 5% of new cases in Spain to 47% within one week.
But vaccinations are credited with sparing many people from the virus’s worst effects. While at the end of last January some 30,000 COVID-19 patients were in hospital, now it’s fewer than 8,000.
As Sánchez spoke via video link with the leaders of 17 regional governments and the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, there appeared to be little political appetite for introducing tough restrictions just two days ahead of Christmas Eve.
Sánchez told the Spanish parliament earlier in the day that 90% of the target population over 12 years old is fully vaccinated. He told lawmakers: “Don’t worry, families will be able to celebrate Christmas. Spain has prevailed.”
LAGOS, Nigeria — Authorities in Nigeria have destroyed about one million expired doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine even as the West African country’s vaccination rate has almost doubled in the last one week amid a spike in confirmed infections.
The expired doses — numbering 1,066,214 — were destroyed on Wednesday in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, a week after the nation said it will no longer accept donated COVID-19 vaccines with short shelf lives.
Faisal Shuaib, head of Nigeria’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said Nigeria was put in a difficult situation by developed countries who had “procured these vaccines and hoarded them in their stories (and) at the point they were about to expire, they offered them for donation.”
Vaccination is also rapidly picking up in the most populous country in Africa, which has set an ambitious goal of fully vaccinating 55 million of its 206 million citizens before February 2022, although only 2% have received their two doses.
The country is seeing a spike in confirmed infections, a 500% increase in cases in the past two weeks.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland on Wednesday reported 775 deaths from COVID-19 over the past day, the highest death toll in this latest wave of infection.
The last time the nation in central Europe recorded such a high number was in the spring, while vaccines were still being rolled out and when the region was a global hot spot for infection and death.
A spokesman for the Health Ministry said that most of those who died in the past 24 hours were not vaccinated.
The European Union nation of 38 million has now reported nearly 93,000 virus deaths. It has a vaccination rate of 54.8%.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s noticeable drop in new COVID-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.
Daily virus case counts are notoriously unreliable, as they can be affected by uneven testing, reporting delays and other fluctuations. But they are offering one tantalizing hint — far from conclusive yet — that omicron infections may recede quickly after a ferocious spike.
South Africa has been at the forefront of the omicron wave and the world is watching for any signs of how it may play out there to try to understand what may be in store.
After hitting a high of nearly 27,000 new cases nationwide on Thursday, the numbers dropped to about 15,424 on Tuesday. In Gauteng province — South Africa’s most populous with 16 million people, including the largest city, Johannesburg, and the capital, Pretoria — the decrease started earlier and has continued.
PRAGUE — The new Czech government has approved a series of measures to slow down the spreading of the omicron variant.
Health Minister Vlastimil Valek says all stores bigger than 200 square meters (2,153 sq. feet) will have to close on Christmas Eve at noon and will remain closed on Christmas Day.
Also, a number of people sitting at one table in bars and restaurants was reduced to four while up to 50 people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 will be allowed to attend New Year’s celebration parties.
Starting in January, schoolchildren, teachers and other school staffers will be tested for the coronavirus twice a week, on Monday and Thursdays.
As of Monday, all citizens 30 and older will be eligible for a booster shot. Only dozens of omicron cases have been seen here so far. After a record surge of infections in late November caused by the delta variant, new cases have been declining since.
ROME — The Italian government is weighing possible outdoor mask mandates, increased testing and other measures to combat the new surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant.
Premier Mario Draghi also wouldn’t rule out expanding mandatory vaccinations to other categories of people during an end-of-the-year press conference Wednesday. Currently, health care workers, teachers, law enforcement and military workers must be vaccinated.
Draghi said the government wasn’t considering a lockdown for unvaccinated. But he said other measures on the table at a Thursday meeting include an outdoor mask mandate, as well as increased testing at schools to ensure in-presence learning when students return from Christmas and New Years holidays.
Though Italy is faring better than much of Western Europe, it reported 30,000 cases on Tuesday — the most in a year — and 153 deaths. The country has vaccinated more than 85% of the over-12 population and has begun administering shots to kids aged 5-11 while making boosters available for anyone over 18.
Draghi noted that two-thirds of the people in intensive care, and two-thirds of the people who are dying of COVID-19, are unvaccinated. “This is a tragic reality,” he said.
PARIS — French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Wednesday that omicron infections are spreading fast and that the coronavirus variant will become the dominant infection in the last days of 2021.
Speaking to BFMTV, Veran ruled out additional restrictions on public life and said the government’s main effort to stop the spread of the virus is a robust vaccination campaign, including vaccination of children aged 5-11 that started on Wednesday.
“It’s time to start vaccinating children,” Veran told the morning news program on BFMTV after 350 vaccination centers opened around the country to start administering shots to young children. Children need the consent of one parent to be vaccinated.
More than a thousand in every 100,000 children aged 6-10 are infected with coronavirus, according to government figures that were last updated Dec. 6.
Currently, 145 children are hospitalized in France for severe illness due to COVID-19 and 27 children are receiving medical treatment in intensive care units, the heath minister said.
NEW YORK — Kathryn Malara, a Brooklyn teacher, lingered on a street, filled with dread about going to her job.
“I’m sitting in my car terrified to walk into school,” she wrote on Twitter just before taking a deep breath and heading to her classroom. “Cases exploding. People I really care about are sick & frightened.”
The quick spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has stirred another angst-ridden reckoning about whether in-person schooling is worth the risk. Malara and other teachers worry about endangering their health by entering crowded schools. Frustrated parents wonder how to keep their children safe and whether campuses could become superspreader sites.
“It’s creeping back up again, and I don’t like this. I’m worried. Lives are at stake here — not just my son’s life,” said Starita Ansari, a public school parent in Manhattan who is keeping her 10th grader home after being rattled by the latest COVID-19 infections at his school.
On Monday, a fifth of New York City’s public school students skipped in-person classes, an indication of the anxiety spawned by the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in New York state, which in recent days has broken infection records.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark said Wednesday that people between 18 and 39 can book their booster shot four and half months after the second shot, a month earlier than planned.
“We need to prevent both infection and disease with the omicron variant. That is the reason,” said Soeren Brostroem, head of the National Board of Health.
“We have a situation where hospitalization rates are rising from week to week and we expect that increase to continue and we expect it to put pressure on our healthcare system,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.
Denmark on Wednesday recorded more than 13,000 new cases.
The Scandinavian country has changed its testing strategy, saying only a representative sample will be checked for omicron. Anne-Marie Vangsted of Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of COVID-19 in Denmark, said it it is “no longer necessary for citizens to know whether it is omicron, as they must relate to the infection in the same way as before.”