US expands COVID-19 booster eligibility to all adults

People wait after receiving the COVID-19 vaccines at a clinic hosted by The Tournament of Roses in partnership with the Pasadena Public Health Department, August 19, 2021 at Tournament House in Pasadena, California.
(ROBYN BECK / AFP)

OTTAWA / SOFIA – US regulators expanded eligibility for booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to all adults on Friday, allowing millions more Americans to get additional protection against the virus amid a recent rise in infections.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, signed off on the expanded eligibility on Friday evening after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration broadened its authorization of booster doses to all adults who had received their second shot of either the Pfizer/ BioNTech or Moderna Inc vaccine at least six months prior.

The CDC also moved to further clarify recommendations for people aged 50 to 64, suggesting all in this age group should get a booster, rather than only those with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk

Regulators had previously authorized boosters for all recipients of Johnson and Johnson's one-dose vaccine, two months after their primary dose.

"Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays," Walensky said in a statement.

Most adults were already eligible for the additional shots, but fewer than 18 percent had received one, according to CDC data. But many public health officials felt the previous eligibility requirements were too complicated.

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According to an agency spokesperson, the CDC stopped short of saying all adults should get a booster. For those aged 18 to 49, the agency said individuals may get the vaccine if they choose to.

The CDC also moved to further clarify recommendations for people aged 50 to 64, suggesting all in this age group should get a booster, rather than only those with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk.

The agency's guidelines mirrored recommendations unanimously backed by a panel of CDC advisers earlier in the day.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria needs to speed up vaccinations against the coronavirus to limit the health risks for its people and for other countries, the EU internal market commissioner in charge of vaccine strategy rollout, Thierry Breton, said on Friday.

Bulgaria is the 27-member bloc's least vaccinated nation, where less than 30 percent of its adult population have taken at least one shot against the virus, and the country has the highest COVID-19 related death rates in the bloc

Bulgaria is the 27-member bloc's least vaccinated nation, where less than 30 percent of its adult population have taken at least one shot against the virus, and the country has the highest COVID-19 related death rates in the bloc.

On Friday, Bulgaria reported 2,785 new infections, down from a peak in October, and 155 new deaths. The pandemic has killed 26,985 people in the country of 7 million people so far.

Some 22,000 vaccine doses were administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to over 3.1 million, health ministry data showed.

But many Bulgarians remain vaccine sceptical amid entrenched mistrust in state institutions, misinformation and contradictory messages from politicians and experts amid a prolonged political crisis.

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In October, the interim government introduced a mandatory health pass for many indoor spaces in a bid to encourage vaccinations.

Canada

Canada on Friday authorized the use of Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, paving the way for the inoculation of elementary school-age children across the country.

Medical officials said the approval was timely, given that incidences of COVID-19 in Canada are now highest among those in the 5-to-11 bracket.

The shot is the first to be made available for young children in Canada. Officials had made clear for weeks that the decision would be favorable.

Separately, Pfizer Canada said in it would begin sending shipments imminently.

The vaccine will be given in two doses of 10 micrograms, three weeks apart. Adult doses contain 30 micrograms.

France

French President Emmanuel Macron said that enforcement of rules around health passes had become too lax and need to be reinforced with virus cases inching higher over the past two weeks.

“The pandemic is still here,” Macron said during a visit to healthcare workers. France needs to convince more of the unvaccinated to get their shots, he said, adding that he also wants to accelerate booster vaccines for those younger than 65.

Germany

The German state of Bavaria is introducing a lockdown for districts with high levels of infection. Currently eight districts will have to close non-essential businesses for three weeks, Bavaria’s prime minister Markus Soeder said in a press conference. Schools will remain open. 

Christmas markets are canceled and restaurants have to close early in the entire state. Unvaccinated people will have to follow stricter restrictions.

Meanwhile, Germany appeared to no longer dismiss the possibility of a broad lockdown. “We’re in a situation in which we shouldn’t rule anything out,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday when asked whether another lockdown was possible. 

Outgoing Foreign Minister Heiko Maas later said a lockdown won’t be implemented for everyone, in an interview with Bild TV.

This handout photo obtained May 26, 2021 courtesy of Merck & Co Inc shows capsules of the investigational antiviral pill Molnupiravir. (HO / MERCK AND CO INC / AFP)

Merck

The European Union's drug regulator on Friday advised that an experimental COVID-19 pill from Merck should be given within five days of first symptoms to treat adults who do not need oxygen support and are at risk of their disease worsening.

The European Medicines Agency said the pill, developed along with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, should be taken twice a day for five days, but advised against use during pregnancy for in women who plan to get pregnant.

"EMA issued this advice to support national authorities who may decide on possible early use of the medicine prior to marketing authorization… in light of rising rates of infection and deaths due to COVID-19 across the EU," it said.

EMA began a rolling review of the Merck tablet, Lagevrio, last month, and on Friday also started looking at data on a rival pill from Pfizer Inc to make recommendations on its use, like that for Merck's, before wider approvals. 

The regulator on Friday also said that breastfeeding must also be stopped around the time of treatment with Merck's Lagevrio.

In this image taken from video, demonstrators protest against government restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nov 19, 2021, in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (MEDIA TV ROTTERDAM VIA AP)

The Netherlands

Violent demonstrations broke out in Rotterdam over the Netherlands’ virus restrictions, with the police firing warning shots and deploying a water canon to push back the crowd. 

The police said in a statement that two people were injured “related to the fired shots” but said details of the injuries were unclear. 

Tweets showed at least one car on fire with a bicycle tossed on top, amid the anger of hundreds of protesters, some reported to be soccer hooligans. 

With cases rising in the Netherlands, the government has proposed excluding negative tests from the national health pass, allowing only vaccination or recovery from infection. 

Europe is again the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with new infections rising to record levels and some countries, such as Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic, clamping down on the unvaccinated.