By Ciara Linnane
A team of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet Thursday to review a third dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech for children 5 to 11 years old, according to an advisory on the CDC website.
The meeting comes after the Food and Drug Administration gave its backing to a booster for younger children earlier this week, saying a third dose should be administered five months after primary shots.
The CDC is expected to give its blessing to the shot after data showed it boosts immunity to the omicron variant, the New York Times reported. Data show that primary doses provide little protection against infection with omicron in that age group but offer strong protection against severe disease.
The meeting comes as COVID cases continue to rise and trend at the highest levels seen since November, driven by the BA.2 variant of omicron and two subvariants that appear to be even more infectious.
The U.S. is averaging 103,231 cases a day, up 57% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. Cases are higher in nearly every state, but the Northeast and Midwest are being particularly hard hit with case reports in both regions now higher than they were at the peak of last summer’s delta surge. There are concerns that case numbers are even higher than currently known, as many people are now testing at home and the results are not being recorded officially.
The country is averaging 23,223 hospitalizations a day, up 29% from two weeks ago. The daily death toll has fallen to 304 on average, down 17% from two weeks ago.
The CDC said Wednesday that health officials should consider reissuing face-mask mandates for people living in the areas hardest hit by the current wave of cases, the Associated Press reported. Americans elsewhere should also take notice, officials said.
“Prior increases of infections, in different waves of infection, have demonstrated that this travels across the country,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, at a White House briefing with reporters.
For an increasing number of areas, “we urge local leaders to encourage use of prevention strategies like masks in public indoor settings and increasing access to testing and treatment,” Walensky said.
The World Health Organization said Thursday that after falling since the end of March, global cases of COVID stabilized in the week through May 15 at more than 3.6 million, up 1% from the previous week.
The highest number of new cases came from the U.S., at 605,547, up 33% from the previous week, WHO said in its weekly epidemiological update. That was followed by China, where cases rose 94% to 389,901. The agency cautioned that numbers were likely underreported as several countries have changed their testing strategies, resulting in fewer being performed.
The update also found that the omicron subvariants BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1 have spread in the countries where they were first detected, namely South Africa and the U.S., and also spread farther afield. To date, BA.4 has been found in 20 countries, BA.5 in 19 and BA.1.12.1 in 38.
“Preliminary modeling by WHO based on sequences submitted to GISAID indicates that BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1 have a higher growth rate than other circulating variants, such as Delta, BA.1 and BA.2, that may be attributable to increased immune evasion and/or intrinsic transmissibility,” said the agency. It will continue to monitor all three.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• The locked-down Chinese metropolis of Shanghai will reopen four of its 20 subway lines Sunday as it slowly eases pandemic restrictions that have kept most residents in their housing complexes for more than six weeks, the AP reported. The city will also restart 273 bus lines connecting major urban centers, airports, train stations and hospitals as it resumes cross-district public transit, Yu Fulin, director of the Shanghai Transport Commission, said at a Thursday briefing. The lockdown of China’s largest city has dealt a blow to the economy and frustrated residents, particularly as many countries elsewhere in the world move away from such harsh measures as they try to live with the virus. But officials have stuck to a “zero-COVID” approach, saying that lifting restrictions could strain the public health system and lead to more deaths, particularly among the not fully vaccinated elderly.
• North Korea on Thursday reported 262,270 more cases of people with suspected symptoms of COVID-19 as its pandemic caseload neared 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and scrambled to slow the rate of infections despite a lack of healthcare resources, the AP reported separately. The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from deteriorating, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported because of scarce resources for virus testing and the possibility that North Korea could be deliberately underreporting deaths to soften the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea’s antivirus headquarters reported a single death in the 24 hours to 6 p.m. Wednesday to bring its death toll to 63, which experts have said is abnormally small compared to the suspected number of infections.
• British police ended their investigation on Thursday into COVID-19 lockdown parties held at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office, having handed out 126 fines in a scandal that had called into question Johnson’s continued leadership, Reuters reported. Johnson has faced widespread calls from opposition politicians and some in his own party for him to resign over the “partygate” scandal after it was revealed that he and other officials had broken stringent laws his government had made.
• The World Health Organization on Thursday added a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese drug manufacturer CanSino Biologics Inc. /zigman2/quotes/209295401/delayed HK:6185 -2.56% to its list of validated shots. CanSino’s single-dose vaccine, Convidecia, is the 11th vaccine to receive the WHO’s emergency-use listing. The vaccine has a 64% efficacy rate against symptomatic disease and a 92% efficacy rate against severe COVID-19.
Here’s what the numbers say
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 525.4 million on Wednesday, while the death toll rose above 6.28 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University .
The U.S. leads the world with 82.9 million cases and 1,001,268 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 220.7 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 66.5% of the total population. But just 102.4 million are boosted, equal to 46.4% of the vaccinated population.