Health News Roundup: COVID-19 kills more than 4,000 Indians amid clamour for vaccines; Top scientists question the need for COVID-19 booster shots and more
Following is a summary of current health news briefs.
Britain's government is anxious about the spread of the COVID-19 variant first detected in India and rules nothing out to tackle a sharp rise in cases of it, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday. Johnson has laid out what he describes as a "cautious but irreversible" route out of lockdown for England, with the next step planned for next week. He has warned that new mutants, such as the B.1.617.2 variant, pose a risk to that plan.
COVID-19 kills more than 4,000 Indians amid clamour for vaccines
India recorded more than 4,000 COVID-19 deaths for a second straight day on Thursday as infections stayed below 400,000, and extended the interval between doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to up to 16 weeks amid a dire shortage of shots in the country. Experts remain unsure when numbers will peak and concern is growing about the transmissibility of the variant that is driving infections in India and spreading worldwide.
Top scientists question the need for COVID-19 booster shots
COVID-19 vaccine developers are making ever bolder assertions that the world will need yearly booster shots, or new vaccines to tackle concerning coronavirus variants, but some scientists question when, or whether, such shots will be needed.
In interviews with Reuters, more than a dozen influential infectious disease and vaccine development experts said there is growing evidence that a first round of global vaccinations may offer enduring protection against the coronavirus and its most worrisome variants discovered to date.
Mexico's first locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines to be ready in May
Mexico's Finance Minister Arturo Herrera said on Thursday that the first batch of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines bottled in Mexico would be ready later this month, after delays in starting operations at a local factory. "It's now producing... the first batch will be received on May 24," Herrera said in a virtual event with the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
Ontario extends stay-at-home order to June 2 as COVID-19 cases trend down
Ontario will extend its stay-at-home order for an additional two weeks to June 2, as COVID-19 cases finally begin to trend downwards in one of Canada's hardest hit provinces, Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday. Hospitals in Canada's most populous province were close to being overwhelmed in the latest pandemic wave due to a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by more easily transmitted coronavirus variants and a reopening that many health experts said happened too soon.
USTR Tai reiterates support for vaccine waiver in call with S. African official
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Thursday expressed her support for a waiver of intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines in a call with South African Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel, one of the initial proponents of the waiver at the World Trade Organization. USTR said in a statement after the call that Tai "acknowledged the WTO members who have expressed support for negotiations and welcomed an update from Minister Patel about efforts to revise and resubmit South Africa's waiver proposal."
Quebec stops offering first doses of AstraZeneca vaccine
The Canadian province of Quebec will no longer offer first doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, but will offer second doses using current supplies and future deliveries, the province's health ministry said in a release. Most provinces made similar announcements on Monday and Tuesday, mainly citing concerns about supply, though officials in Ontario and Nova Scotia said the move was also based on a rise in the incidence of rare blood clots linked to the vaccine.
The four most worrying coronavirus variants have been detected in virtually all countries and territories of the Americas, but although they are more transmissible there is no evidence they are more lethal, a World Health Organization expert said on Thursday. The vaccines that are being administered in the region do provide more protection against the variants, Jairo Mendez, a WHO infectious diseases expert said in a webinar by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
U.S. schools unlikely to mandate COVID-19 vaccines anytime soon
Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for use in children as young as 12 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week - but do not expect schools to require shots for students anytime soon given public hesitation and political hurdles. State governments for the most part can order a vaccine be required for a child to attend a K-12 public school, said Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a University of California-Hastings law professor who researches school mandates and the legal issues around vaccines.
Fully vaccinated people can shed masks in most places and travel -U.S. CDC
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, updated guidance the agency said will allow life to begin to return to normal. The CDC also said fully vaccinated people will not need to physically distance in most places. The agency also hopes the guidance will prod more Americans to get vaccinated.
(With inputs from agencies.)