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Pfizer to expand COVID-19 booster shots to healthy five to 11-year-olds in US

Pfizer said Thursday it wants to expand its COVID-19 booster shots to healthy elementary-age kids.

US health authorities already urge everyone 12 and older to get one booster dose for the best protection against the newest variants — and recently gave the option of a second booster to those 50 and older.

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Now Pfizer says new data shows healthy five- to 11-year-olds could benefit from another kid-sized shot.

In a small study, 140 youngsters who’d already gotten two shots were given a booster six months later, and researchers found the extra shot generally revved up their immune response. But a closer look at 30 of the children found a 36-fold increase in virus-fighting antibodies, levels high enough to fight the super-contagious omicron variant, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said in a press release.

The data has not been published or vetted by independent experts.

Pfizer tested the kid booster while omicron was surging this winter. While COVID-19 cases now are at much lower levels in the US, in recent weeks an even more contagious version of omicron, called BA.2, has become the dominant type locally and around the world.

In the coming days, the companies plan to ask the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize a booster for healthy five- to 11-year-olds. They also plan to share the data with European and other regulators.

Vaccinations are generally less effective against the omicron variant than earlier versions of the coronavirus — but they do still offer strong protection against severe disease.

While COVID-19 is a bigger threat to adults, youngsters can get seriously ill. But regulators will have to decide if healthy elementary-age kids really need a booster, and if so, when.

The Pfizer shots are the only vaccine available to US children. Those ages five to 11 receive one-third of the dose given to everyone 12 and older. Just over a quarter in the younger age group have gotten two doses since vaccination opened to them in November, shortly before omicron struck.

The US hasn’t yet allowed vaccinations for children under five. But certain five- to 11-year-olds — those with severely weakened immune systems — already are supposed to get three doses, to give that high-risk group a better chance of responding.

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UAE reports 1,796 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths

The UAE announced 1,796 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the official Emirates News Agency reported.

This brings the current total active cases in the UAE to 17,551 and the total number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic to 949,384, according to data from the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA).

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The cases were determined out of 232,943 tests in the last 24 hours.

No deaths from the virus were recorded on Saturday, maintaining the total deaths caused by COVID-19 to 2,317 in the UAE.

At least 1,727 patients recovered in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total COVID-19 recoveries to 929,516.

On June 13, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced it would strictly enforce its mask rules – with penalties for those flouting the protocol – and announced it would tighten its rules on the Al Hosn green pass system amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.

NCEMA said that it has recently “monitored some behaviors that have become a danger to society and public health,” referring to people not adhering to COVID-19 precautionary and preventative measures and how it has “negatively” impacted recovery efforts.

“Negligence and recklessness in following precautionary measures, and failure in the societal role in maintaining public health and acquired immunity, has resulted in a rise in the number of infections and new waves of the virus,” the authority spokesman said in the briefing.

The authority reaffirmed the need to wear masks in closed public spaces, reiterating that it was mandatory and that not adhering to this rule would result in a fine of up to $816 (AED 3,000).

According to the World Health Organization, more than 4.1 million cases were reported globally in the last week.

It added, however, that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500, noting that COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

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Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines could increase protection as boosters: EMA

Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday.
Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants.
While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
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As such, an omicron-specific or bivalent booster – meaning a vaccine that includes both the new strain and the original coronavirus strain – could “increase and extend” protection, a statement from the EMA said.
The statement refers specifically to the mRNA vaccines. Both Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been testing retooled versions of their vaccines to include the omicron variant.
Vaccines which include other variants, for example the beta variant, might also be considered for use as boosters if clinical trial data demonstrate an adequate level of neutralization against omicron and other variants of concern, the statement said.
It follows guidance from the World Health Organization that omicron-specific boosters could restore protection against emerging strains of the coronavirus.
But it stops short of the position of the regulator in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said on Thursday that it would seek the inclusion specifically of the newer BA.4 and BA.5 strains of omicron, currently driving a surge in new infections globally, in any new shots for use domestically.
On Tuesday, the head of a WHO advisory committee that has considered the modified shots said the group preferred BA.1-based boosters, arguing that the variant is more distinct and could generate a broader response than the more recently circulating subvariants.
Top US FDA official Peter Marks said in an interview that regulators from other countries were seriously considering using new boosters based on the BA.1 omicron variant that caused the massive surge in cases last winter, because those shots can be available sooner than the BA.4/5 based booster the United States plans to use.
The EMA said it would provide more details in coming days.
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Russia scraps remaining COVID-19 restrictions

Russia said on Friday it was ending all restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, including the requirement to wear masks, citing a steady decline in deaths from the virus.
However, it did not rule out re-introducing restrictive measures if the situation deteriorates.
Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said it was “suspending previously introduced restrictions, including the mask regime, a ban on public catering at night, and a number of other measures.”
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It said the dynamics of the virus were consistent with global trends and 93 percent of confirmed cases were mild or asymptomatic.
Since the start of the pandemic in Russia in April 2020, over 800,000 people have died from coronavirus or causes related to COVID-19, Reuters calculations show, with the country recording over 18 million infections.
Russia was quick to develop and launch its Sputnik V vaccine when the pandemic struck but take-up was slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products. About 52 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
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