The World Health Organization on Monday recommended that immunocompromised people be given an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine due to their higher risk of breakthrough infections after standard immunization.
The WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts on immunization said the additional dose should be offered “as part of an extended primary series since these individuals are less likely to respond adequately to vaccination following a standard primary vaccine series and are at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.”
This comes about a month after Canada’s advisory body on vaccines recommended giving third doses to moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals.
The WHO panel also recommended that people over 60 receive an additional dose of the shots made by Chinese vaccine makers Sinopharm and Sinovac one to three months after completing their schedule, citing evidence in studies in Latin America that they perform less well over time.
The panel, composed of independent experts who make policy but not regulatory recommendations, will review all global data on booster shots in a Nov. 11 meeting, amid questions over coronavirus variants and potential waning of immunity, WHO vaccine director Kate O’Brien told a news briefing.
Meanwhile, drugmaker Merck asked U.S. regulators on Monday to authorize its pill for treating COVID-19 in what would add a new and easy-to-use weapon to the world’s arsenal against the pandemic.
If cleared by the Food and Drug Administration — a decision that could come in a matter of weeks — it would be the first pill approved to treat the illness. All other FDA-backed treatments against COVID-19 require an IV or injection.
An approved antiviral pill that people could take at home to reduce their symptoms and speed recovery could help ease the crushing caseload on some U.S. hospitals and help curb outbreaks in poorer countries with weak health-care systems.
The FDA will scrutinize company data on the safety and effectiveness of the drug, molnupiravir, before rendering a decision.
Merck and its partner, Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, said they specifically asked the agency to grant emergency use for adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who are at risk for severe disease or hospitalization.
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of Monday afternoon, more than 238 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.8 million.
In Europe, Russian President Vladimir Putin, seen coughing during a televised government meeting, reassured officials on Monday that he was fine and said he was being tested for COVID-19 virtually every day.
Russia reported 957 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday, close to the all-time high of 968 reported two days earlier. The government coronavirus task force also said it had recorded 29,409 new cases in the last 24 hours.
Moscow, which reported 5,002 cases on Monday, said it was launching free “express” antibody-based tests for COVID-19 at a number of locations, including shopping malls, in an attempt to avert a new wave of restrictions.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Thailand will end quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors from at least 10 countries including the United Kingdom, Singapore, Germany, China and the United States starting Nov. 1. The full list of eligible countries will be out later this week.
Sydney hairdressers, gyms, cafes and bars reopened to fully vaccinated customers on Monday for the first time in more than 100 days after Australia’s largest city achieved a vaccination benchmark.
Sydney had planned to reopen after 70 per cent of the New South Wales state population aged 16 and older were fully vaccinated. By Monday, 73.5 per cent of the target population was fully vaccinated and more than 90 per cent have received at least one dose.
New Zealand will require teachers and workers in the health and disability sectors to be fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, as she extended restrictions in Auckland for another week.
In the Americas, Merck applied for U.S. emergency use authorization for its drug to treat mild-to-moderate patients of COVID-19, putting it on course to become the first oral antiviral medication for the disease.
Venezuela on Sunday received a second batch of 2.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX mechanism, while the government said it hoped to reach immunity for 70 per cent of Venezuelans by the end of the month.
In Africa, Egypt’s public prosecution said on Sunday it had ordered the arrest of three people after thousands of unused COVID-19 vaccines were found dumped along a water channel.