The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is planning to authorize a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for people with weakened immune systems in a decision that could come as soon as Thursday, according to the New York Times, as the delta variant continues to spread fast across the U.S.
The emergency-use authorization would apply to both the Pfizer-BioNTech
vaccines, both of which are based on the same mRNA technology, and would benefit those who have had organ transplants or certain immunodeficiencies, the Times reported.
The news came hours after a Canadian study found a third dose of Moderna’s vaccine substantially improved protections for organ-transplant recipients.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee is scheduled to meet Friday to discuss the booster issue, at a meeting which will be webcast.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization plans to test three new drugs as possible treatments for people who have been hospitalized for COVID-19.
The agency will test Ipca Laboratories Ltd.’s
malaria drug artesunate; Novartis AG’s
cancer medication Gleevec; and Johnson & Johnson’s
rheumatoid arthritis drug Remicade. All of the drugs are already in use for other indications.
There are still few therapies that effectively treat COVID-19 patients, especially those who have severe enough disease that they end up hospitalized. “
“Finding more effective and accessible therapeutics for COVID-19 patients remains a critical need,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news release.
The delta variant continues to push cases and deaths higher across the U.S., with hospitals in Texas, Florida and Louisiana feeling the strain as beds rapidly fill. The seven-day average of new cases stood at 124,234 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 86% from two weeks ago. Cases have climbed 10-fold since late June.
Hospitalizations are up 82% and deaths are up 75% with unvaccinated people accounting for the majority of all patients.
In Texas, more than 10,000 COVID patients have been admitted to hospitals this week, the Times reported, and at least 53 hospitals’ ICU units were at full capacity. Two hospitals in Houston have had to resort to outdoor overflow tents, while Austin’s ICUs are running short of beds.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have not backed down on their refusal to enact statewide face-mask mandates, which more voices are calling for as still-unvaccinated children prepare to return to school.
Abbott called on out-of-state healthcare workers to come and help out with Texas’ crisis earlier this week. The governor has also been criticized for failing to urge Texans to get vaccinated, presenting it as an individual choice, instead of a necessity during a public-health crisis involving patients without symptoms who can infect others.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has mandated its health care workforce to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra announced on Thursday. The workforce numbers more than 25,000 employees, contractors, trainees and others who may come in contact with patients at a medical or clinical research facility.
Elsewhere, Russia set yet another one-day record death toll on Thursday of 808, and counted 21,932 new cases, including 2,294 in Moscow, Reuters reported.
In Australia, the capital Canberra has become the latest city to be locked down, NBC News reported, after it detected its first locally transmitted case of COVID in more than a year.
The news came as the country’s most populous city Sydney said it was calling in extra troops to help enforce its strict lockdown, which has so far failed to halt the spread of the virus. Melbourne, the second biggest city, is also locked down.
Neighboring New Zealand, which has been successful in containing the pandemic, will open its doors to vaccinated travelers from low risk countries in early 2022, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday, as CNN reported. New Zealand has had one of the lowest rates of COVID infection among developed nations. In a population of almost five million people it has diagnosed fewer than 3,000 Covid-19 cases and only 26 deaths.
In Japan, the first paralympic flame-lighting ceremonies were held on Thursday with competitors waiting to hear whether spectators will be allowed in the stands or will be banned as they were from the recent Olympic Games, Channel News Asia reported.
Tokyo and five other regions are currently under a virus state of emergency, which bans bars and restaurants from serving alcohol and asks them to close by 8 p.m.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness headed above 205 million on Thursday, while the death toll climbed above 4.32 million according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with a total of 36.2 million cases and in deaths with 618,592.
India is second by cases at 32 million and third by deaths at 429,669 according to its official numbers, which are expected to be undercounted.
Brazil is second in deaths at 565,748, but is third in cases at 20.2 million. Mexico has fourth-highest death toll at 246,203 but has recorded just 2.9 million cases, according to its official numbers.
In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 165,201, while the U.K. has 131,015, making Russia the country with the fifth-highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 106,249 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.