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Pfizer says tweaked COVID-19 shots boost omicron protection

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(Last Updated On: June 26, 2022)

Pfizer announced Saturday that tweaking its COVID-19 vaccine to better target the omicron variant is safe and works — just days before US regulators debate whether to offer Americans updated booster shots this fall.

The vaccines currently used in the US still offer strong protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death — especially if people have gotten a booster dose, AP reported.

But those vaccines target the original coronavirus strain and their effectiveness against any infection dropped markedly when the super-contagious omicron mutant emerged.

Now with omicron’s even more transmissible relatives spreading widely, the US Food and Drug Administration is considering ordering a recipe change for the vaccines made by both Pfizer and rival Moderna in hopes that modified boosters could better protect against another COVID-19 surge expected this fall and winter.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech studied two different ways of updating their shots — targeting just omicron, or a combination booster that adds omicron protection to the original vaccine. They also tested whether to keep today’s standard dosage — 30 micrograms — or to double the shots’ strength.

In a study of more than 1,200 middle-aged and older adults who’d already had three vaccine doses, Pfizer said both booster approaches spurred a substantial jump in omicron-fighting antibodies.

“Based on these data, we believe we have two very strong omicron-adapted candidates,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Pfizer’s omicron-only booster sparked the strongest immune response against that variant.

COVID-19

Mask mandates return in New Delhi as COVID-19 cases rise

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(Last Updated On: August 12, 2022)

The Indian capital reintroduced public mask mandates on Thursday as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country.

The New Delhi government reinstituted a fine of 500 rupees ($6) for anyone caught not wearing a mask or face covering in public, AP reported. 

India’s Health Ministry said 16,299 new cases were recorded in the past 24 hours nationwide, with a positivity rate of 4.58 percent. Nearly 2,150 infections were reported in New Delhi.

On Wednesday, New Delhi reported eight deaths due to the coronavirus, the highest in nearly six months. People in most parts of the country began discarding face masks as infections dropped following two devastating earlier waves of COVID-19.

New Delhi’s top elected official, Arvind Kejriwal, said that COVID-19 cases were on the rise but there was no need to panic because most of the new cases were mild.

India started vaccinating people in January 2021 and has administered over 2.04 billion doses, including first, second and booster doses. More than 94% of the eligible population (12 years and older) has received at least one shot, and 86% are fully vaccinated.

Most experts believe India’s official death toll of more than 414,000 is a vast undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading.

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North Korea declares victory over COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2022)

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un declared victory in the battle against COVID-19 on Thursday, with the leader’s sister revealing he had suffered from fever and vowing “deadly retaliation” against South Korea which it blames for causing the outbreak, Reuters reported.

Kim ordered a lifting of maximum anti-epidemic measures imposed in May, adding that North Korea must maintain a “steel-strong anti-epidemic barrier and intensifying the anti-epidemic work until the end of the global health crisis,” according to a report by state news agency KCNA.

North Korea has never confirmed how many people caught COVID-19, apparently lacking testing supplies. It had instead reported daily numbers of fever patients, which totalled some 4.77 million, but has registered no new such cases since July 29.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, said the young leader himself had suffered from fever symptoms, according to KCNA, indicating for the first time that he might have been infected with the virus.

“Even though he was seriously ill with a high fever, he could not lie down for a moment thinking about the people he had to take care of until the end in the face of the anti-epidemic war,” she said in remarks at a meeting on Wednesday to review the country’s anti-epidemic responses.

She did not elaborate on Kim’s health, but blamed leaflets from South Korea found near the border for causing the outbreak, Reuters reported.

The World Health Organization has cast doubts on North Korea’s claims, saying in June the situation could be getting worse. 

Pyongyang’s declaration of victory over COVID comes despite no known vaccine programme. Instead, the country says it relied on lockdowns, homegrown medicine treatments, and what Kim called the “advantageous Korean-style socialist system.”

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China closes Potala Palace after COVID-19 reported in Tibet

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(Last Updated On: August 9, 2022)

Chinese authorities have closed Tibet’s famed Potala Palace after a minor outbreak of COVID-19 was reported in the Himalayan region.

The action underscores China’s continued adherence to its “zero-COVID” policy, mandating lockdowns, routine testing, quarantines and travel restrictions, even while most other countries have reopened, AP reported.

A notice on the palace’s Weixin social media site said the palace that was the traditional home of Tibet’s Buddhist leaders would be closed from Tuesday, with a reopening date to be announced later.

Tibet’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and the Potala is a key draw.

China announced 828 new cases of domestic transmission on Tuesday, 22 of them in Tibet. The majority of those cases showed no symptoms.

Meanwhile, more than 80,000 travelers remain stranded on the southern resort island of Hainan under requirements that they consistently test negative for the virus in coming days before being allowed to leave, AP reported.

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