In an unusual move, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overruled a panel of advisers’ recommendation that booster doses of a COVID-19 vaccine be offered only to people over 65 and those with weakened immune systems, allowing them to also be offered to front line workers, including nurses, teachers and supermarket staff.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s decision late Thursday appeared supportive of President Joe Biden, who had promised boosters of the vaccine developed by Pfizer
and German partner BioNTech
for all Americans starting this month, before he was persuaded to roll back that pledge over a lack of data to prove they are necessary.
On Friday, Biden urged those eligible to “go get the booster,” in a morning address.
The Food and Drug Administration complied with the recommendations of its advisory committee from last week to restrict booster shots to vulnerable groups for now. Getting unvaccinated Americans to get their first shots remains the top priority, and the CDC panel wrestled with whether the booster debate was distracting from that goal, as the Associated Press reported.
The World Health Organization has pushed for a moratorium on boosters until the rest of the world has got their first doses and has repeatedly criticized wealthier countries for hogging supply.
On Friday, the Independent Allocation Vaccine Group (IAVG), which was set up by the WHO in January to oversee vaccine allocation by the Covax program, which aims to get vaccines to poorer countries, said it is still “very concerned” about the evolution of the pandemic,” and the recent 25% reduction in supply forecast for the fourth quarter.
The forecast was cut because of global shortages, caused by richer countries failing to help poorer ones meet their vaccine goals. The fear is that allowing vast regions, including most of Africa, to remain unvaccinated could lead to new variants emerging that will prove resistant to vaccines.
“The IAVG continues to be concerned by the low supply of vaccines to COVAX, and reiterates the need for manufacturers, vaccine producing and high-coverage countries to prioritize vaccine equity and transparency, the sharing of information about manufacturing capacity and supply schedules to COVAX, as well as vaccine access plans,” the group said in a statement.
“While recognizing the need for additional doses to protect certain vulnerable, immune-compromised populations, the IAVG suggests countries collect and review more evidence before implementing policies regarding the administration of booster doses to their populations,” it added.
The U.S. is now averaging 2,036 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, the most since late February. Hospitalizations and daily new cases are also at their highest levels since winter and are mostly in unvaccinated people.
Alaska is seeing the highest number of new cases in the nation, measured on a per capita basis, the tracker shows, and hospitals are rationing care. Alaska has vaccinated just 50% of its population, below the national average of 55%, according to a CDC tracker.
In other news, the WHO recommended the monoclonal antibody developed by Regeneron
as a treatment for COVID-19. The agency says the combination treatment can be used in COVID-19 patients who are at high risk of severe disease as well as in severe and critically ill COVID-19 patients who have not yet developed antibodies.
As with vaccines, “WHO also calls for the sharing of technology to allow for the manufacturing of biosimilar versions so all patients who may need this treatment have access to it,” it said in a statement.
Russia suffered another daily record for COVID fatalities, Radio Free Europe reported, at 828. It was the fourth consecutive day the country has seen more than 800 deaths due to the virus in Russia, which has the highest death toll in Europe.
South Korea saw a record number of new cases in a single day on Friday, Reuters reported, at 2,924. The count exceeds the previous record for daily COVID-19 cases of 2,434, set a day earlier.
Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina has tested positive for COVID-19, she said in a Twitter post on Friday, one week after meeting with G-20 ministers in Europe, Reuters reported separately. The news comes just days after Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus on a trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Norway is to end COVID restrictions and will no longer require social distancing, will allow nightclubs to reopen and for restaurants to return to full capacity, Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced in a press conference, according to local media. Norway has fully vaccinated two-thirds of its population.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 230.7 million on Friday, while the death toll rose to 4.73 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 42.7 million cases and 684,367 deaths.
India is second by cases after the U.S. at 33.6 million and has suffered 446,368 deaths. Brazil has second highest death toll at 592,964 and 21.3 million cases.
In Europe, Russia has most fatalities at 198,644, followed by the U.K. at 136,156.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 108,181 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.