Data: Heart inflammation rates after Moderna jab up in Canada

Healthcare personnel provide medical care to 60-year-old COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at the Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Canada, April 13, 2021. (NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)

LAGOS / HELSINKI / JOSE LEON SUAREZ / CHICAGO – Canadian health officials said on Friday data suggests reported cases of rare heart inflammation were relatively higher after Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine compared with the Pfizer/BioNTech shots.

The data also indicated heart inflammation occurs more often in adolescents and adults under 30 years of age, and more often in males.

The data also indicated heart inflammation occurs more often in adolescents and adults under 30 years of age, and more often in males

The statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada said majority of the affected individuals experienced relatively mild illness and recovered quickly.

The risk of cardiac complications, including heart inflammation, has been shown to be substantially increased following COVID-19 infections, with the risks higher after the infection than after vaccination, according to the statement.

The benefits of mRNA shots in preventing COVID-19 continue to outweigh the risks, regulators in the United States, EU and the World Health Organization have said.

Argentina

Argentina will begin vaccinating children ages 3 to 11 with Sinopharm Group’s shot, according to President Alberto Fernandez’s office. The nation is planning to inoculate all residents over 3 by the end of the year.

Vaccination with CanSino COVID-19 vaccine doses also took place Friday in the La Carcova neighborhood of Jose Leon Suarez, a town in the northwest of Greater Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital.

The South American country recently began to immunize residents of working-class neighborhoods with a vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics Inc.

The government of Buenos Aires province set up a mobile vaccination site manned by medical personnel and volunteers.

Laura Fortuna, a nursing student helping to immunize residents, told Xinhua that in working-class neighborhoods the task is "to reach people who could not get vaccinated or who could not get to vaccination sites."

The CanSino vaccine is a single dose and that's very good, because people can complete their vaccination schedule at one time and there is no need for them to come back, Fortuna said. "So we use it a lot for low-income neighborhoods. They accept it better because it is a single dose."

To date, Argentina has received 600,000 doses of the single-dose CanSino viral vector vaccine, which is also easier to store than other vaccines.

CanSino has shown 65 percent efficacy in preventing symptomatic cases and over 90 percent efficacy in preventing severe cases. 

Finland

Finland plans to vaccinate fur farm minks across the country against COVID-19 using an experimental vaccine called FurcoVac by the end of January next year, a Finnish researcher told Xinhua on Friday.

Half a million vaccine doses will be produced in all, said Jussi Peura, research director at the Finnish Fur Breeders' Association.

FIFUR is a trade and educational organization for the fur industry, which initiated and financed the vaccination project, led by Peura.

FurcoVac is the only product of its kind available for minks in Europe at this time, Peura said.

"The Finnish fur industry will be the first operator in the European Union to vaccinate animals against COVID-19," Marja Tiura, chief executive officer of FIFUR, said in a press release issued on Thursday.

The Finnish Food Authority, under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, which supervises veterinary activities in Finland, has given temporary approval for the vaccine under the Medicines Act.

According to FIFUR, a vaccine product with conditional license is similar in terms of its composition and manufacturing process to a prescription medicine but does not have marketing authorization, which has stricter requirements.

The vaccine has been developed since autumn 2020 jointly by FIFUR and a group of researchers of infectious diseases at the University of Helsinki.

The aim of the project is to prevent the emergence of viruses on Finnish farms and thereby to protect the population.

In Denmark and the Netherlands, millions of minks have had to be culled to prevent the disease from spreading to humans.

Merck

An experimental antiviral pill developed by Merck & Co could halve the chances of dying or being hospitalized for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19, according to data that experts hailed as a potential breakthrough in how the virus is treated.

If it gets authorization, molnupiravir, which is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus, would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19.

If it gets authorization, molnupiravir, which is designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus, would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19

Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said they plan to seek US emergency use authorization for the pill as soon as possible and to make regulatory applications worldwide.

"An oral antiviral that can impact hospitalization risk to such a degree would be game-changing," said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Current treatment options include Gilead Sciences Inc's infused antiviral remdesivir and generic steroid dexamethasone, both of which are generally only given once a patient has already been hospitalized.

"This is going to change the dialogue around how to manage COVID-19," Merck Chief Executive Robert Davis told Reuters.

Existing treatments are "cumbersome and logistically challenging to administer. A simple oral pill would be the opposite of that," Adalja added.

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Friday that molnupiravir is "a potential additional tool… to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID," but added that vaccination "remains far and away, our best tool against COVID-19."

A planned interim analysis of 775 patients in Merck's study looked at hospitalizations or deaths among people at risk for severe disease. It found that 7.3 percent of those given molnupiravir twice a day for five days were hospitalized and none had died by 29 days after treatment. That compared with a hospitalization rate of 14.1 percent for placebo patients. There were also eight deaths in the placebo group.

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"Antiviral treatments that can be taken at home to keep people with COVID-19 out of the hospital are critically needed,” Wendy Holman, Ridgeback's CEO, said in a statement.

Scientists welcomed the potential new treatment to help prevent serious illness from the virus, which has killed almost 5 million people around the world, 700,000 of them in the United States.

The study enrolled patients with laboratory-confirmed mild-to-moderate COVID-19, who had symptoms for no more than five days. All patients had at least one risk factor associated with poor disease outcome, such as obesity or older age.

Drugs in the same class as molnupiravir have been linked to birth defects in animal studies. Merck has said similar studies of molnupiravir – for longer and at higher doses than used in humans – indicate that the drug does not affect mammalian DNA.

Merck said viral sequencing done so far shows molnupiravir is effective against all variants of the coronavirus including the highly transmissible Delta, which has driven the recent worldwide surge in hospitalizations and deaths.

It said rates of adverse events were similar for both molnupiravir and placebo patients, but did not give details.

Merck has said data shows molnupiravir is not capable of inducing genetic changes in human cells, but men enrolled in its trials had to abstain from heterosexual intercourse or agree to use contraception. Women of child-bearing age in the study could be pregnant and also had to use birth control.

The US drugmaker said it expects to produce 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of 2021.

The company has a US government contract to supply 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir at a price of $700 per course.

Davis said Merck has similar agreements with other governments, and is in talks with more. Merck said it plans a tiered pricing approach based on country income criteria.

Merck has also agreed to license the drug to several India-based generic drugmakers, which would be able to supply the treatment to low- and middle-income countries.

Nigeria

Nigeria got approval on Friday for $400 million in World Bank financing to procure and deploy COVID-19 vaccinations, the bank said in a statement.

The World Bank board of directors signed off on the financing, provided via the International Development Association, which it said would enable Africa's most populous nation to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for 40 million people, some 18 percent of its population, and support vaccine deployment to 110 million people.

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In a statement, the bank said the money would ensure that the government can vaccinate 51 percent of its population within two years and "avoid the dreadful consequences of another lockdown that left in its wake an economic toll the country is still grappling with."

The government last month said that around 20 percent of workers in Nigeria had lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19.

Nigeria has administered some five million vaccine doses to its 200 million citizens, and is in the midst of deploying millions more doses of Moderna and AstraZeneca shots received through the COVAX scheme aimed at providing vaccines to developing countries.

It also has 1.12 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that it purchased through an African Union program and is also scheduled to receive 7.7 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine via COVAX.

As of Oct 1, Nigeria had recorded 205,779 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,721 deaths from the virus.

A woman and child walk through a field of white flags on the Mall near the Washington Monument in Washington, DC on Sept 16, 2021. The project, by artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, uses over 600,000 miniature white flags to symbolize the lives lost to COVID-19 in the US. (MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

US

US COVID-19 deaths surpassed 700,000 on Friday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The country has reported an average of more than 2,000 deaths per day over the past week, which represents about 60 percent of the peak in fatalities in January, a Reuters analysis of public health data showed.

The highly transmissible Delta variant has driven a surge in COVID-19 cases that peaked around mid-September before falling to the current level of about 117,625 cases per day, based on a seven-day rolling average

The United States still leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, accounting for 19 percent and 14 percent of all reported infections and fatalities, according to Reuters tally. Globally, the pandemic is set to surpass 5 million deaths.

The highly transmissible Delta variant has driven a surge in COVID-19 cases that peaked around mid-September before falling to the current level of about 117,625 cases per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.

That is still well above the 10,000 cases a day that top US infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci has said needs to be reached to end the health crisis.

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While national hospitalization numbers have fallen in recent weeks, some states, particularly in the south of the country, are bucking that trend to record big rises, putting pressure on healthcare systems.

US President Joe Biden received a booster shot on Monday, hoping to provide an example for Americans on the need to get the extra shot even as millions go without their first.

While scientists are divided over the need for booster shots when so many people in the United States and other countries remain unvaccinated, Biden announced the push in August as part of an effort to shore up protection against the highly transmissible Delta variant.

About 56 percent of the US population has been fully vaccinated, with around 65 percent receiving at least one dose, according to the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New York hospitals on Monday began firing or suspending healthcare workers for defying a state order to be vaccinated, while a federal judge ruled in favor of an Ohio private healthcare provider that had mandated shots for its staff.

Vaccination rates in some parts of the Midwest and South are lagging those in the Northeast and parts of the West Coast, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicating a divide between the rural and urban parts of the country.