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Coronavirus Update: Pfizer data boosts hopes children will soon be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine, and CDC expands booster program

There was good news for parents Friday when Pfizer said the vaccine it developed with German partner BioNTech proved 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in children aged 5 to 11 in a clinical trial, using a 10 mg dose instead of the 30 mg given to adults.

Pfizer
PFE,
-0.07%

has submitted the data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is expected to weigh in on its review of the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness later in the day, the Associated Press reported. The news days after the White House unveiled its plan to administer the vaccine to children, which it expects to start in November, assuming the FDA authorizes it by then. That would mean the first children could be fully dosed by Christmas.

While children run a lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed more than 630 Americans 18 and under, according to the CDC. Nearly 6.2 million children have been infected with the coronavirus, more than 1.1 million in the last six weeks as the delta variant surged, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Advisers to the FDA will publicly debate the evidence next week. If the agency ultimately authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the final decision on who should receive them.

The CDC on Thursday, as expected, gave the go-ahead for booster doses of the Moderna
MRNA,
-5.88%

and Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
+0.23%

vaccines to be given to people aged 65 or older, nursing home residents, and people with weakened immune systems. It also allowed people to “mix and match” vaccines, or get a booster that is different to their primary dose.

Now read: People who got J&J’s COVID-19 shot can get a booster. Which one should they get?

“These past 20 months have taught us many things, but mostly to have humility,” CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky told an advisory panel. “We are constantly learning about this virus, growing the evidence base and accumulating more data.”

On Friday, Walensky told NBC News’ “Today” show that the CDC has no preference to offer those wishing to mix vaccines. She also said it was “really encouraging” that the peak of cases caused by the highly transmissible delta variant seems to have passed. However, “we’re heading into winter where respiratory viruses generally do thrive,” she cautioned.

“Our hard work is to continue to get those cases down, to continue to get people vaccinated, not only our children when and if they’re ready, but as well, the 63 million Americans who are not vaccinated at all,” she said.

The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that almost 190 million Americans are fully vaccinated, still below the 70% threshold experts say is needed to stop the spread. And more Americans are getting boosters every day than primary doses, according to CDC data. About 340,000 people a day received a booster shot in the week through Tuesday, compared with an average of 157,605 people getting their initial shots.

The U.S. is still averaging more than 1,500 deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, even as new cases and hospitalizations continue to steadily decline. But rates vary across states and new hot spots are emerging in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the tracker shows, while northern Minnesota is also still showing high caseloads and has roped in the National Guard to help with staffing at long-term-care facilities.

Elsewhere, Gordon Brown, former U.K. prime minister ad now ambassador for global health financing at the World Health Organization, said Thursday there was a shortfall of 500 million vaccine doses in the global South, as he urged great equity in vaccine supply.

The failure of wealthier countries to get vaccines to poorer ones is a “moral catastrophe of historic proportions,” he told a WHO news briefing.

The issue has become starker, now that booster programs have been launched in the U.S. and several European and Asian countries, he said.

“If, at the G-20, the world’s richest countries cannot expedite airlifting vaccines immediately, it will be an epidemiological, economic and ethical dereliction of duty that will shame us all,” he said.

Ukraine set another one-day record for new cases and deaths for a second straight day, Medical Express reported. A government tally registered 23,785 new infections and 614 deaths in the ex-Soviet nation, which has an under-resourced public health service.

Neighboring Russia suffered the same fate with 1064 new fatalities and 37,141 new cases in a 24-hour period, according to the Moscow Times. Both countries are struggling to persuade their populations to get their shots.

New Zealand has set a target of getting 90% of its population vaccinated before fully lifting restrictions, Reuters reported. New Zealand was an early success story in containing the pandemic, but has been unable to beat an outbreak of the delta variant of COVID-19 centered in Auckland, forcing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to abandon her elimination strategy and switch to living with the virus.

There was celebration in Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, as it ended the world’s longest lockdown and people flocked to hair salons, pubs and restaurants, Al Jazeera reported. Australia’s second-largest city has so far endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of restrictions during six separate lockdowns since March 2020, representing the longest cumulative lockdown for any city in the world.

Beijing plans to test tens of thousands of people after four new Covid-19 cases were found in a suburban district on Friday, as a new outbreak prompts school closures and flight cancellations across the country, AFP reported.

As the FDA nears a decision on authorizing Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years old, public-health officials and pediatricians are sharing research with families to assure hesitant parents of the shot’s safety. Photo: John Locher/Associated Press

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 242.6 million on Friday, while the death toll edged above 4.93 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 45.3 million cases and 733,228 deaths. 

 India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34.1 million and has suffered 453,042 deaths. Brazil has second highest death toll at 604,679 and 21.7 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has the most fatalities at 224,369 deaths, followed by the U.K. at 139,562.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 109,071 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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