Monday, March 28, 2022

'Very few, if any' Americans require a FOURTH COVID-19 vaccine - even as Pfizer and Moderna push for more shots

America's two leading vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, are both hoping to push a fourth COVID-19 dose out the door sometime soon, but some experts doubt they are needed as cases continue to fall in the U.S. and the virus poses less of a threat to Americans.

Dr Anna Durbin is an international public health expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has been a critic of Pfizer, Moderna and the White House's insistence to rollout COVID-19 booster shots before they are needed. This week, she told ABC that she does not believe many Americans will benefit from additional shots.

'There are very few, if any, people who, in my opinion require a fourth dose,' she said.

In August, when the White House was laying out plans to roll out the first batch COVID-19 booster shots, Durbin was also a critic, telling that there was little science backing up the decision.

A very small number of Americans are already eligible for fourth COVID-19 shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people who are immunocompromised to receive the additional shot now, despite the lack of authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Only around one in every 30 Americans is immunocompromised and is eligible for that fourth shot right now, though.

Pfizer and Moderna are hoping to get their fourth doses out to the rest of Americans as well. Earlier this week, Moderna submitted data to the FDA in a bid to have a fourth dose approved for all U.S. adults. This comes after Pfizer submitted data for a fourth shot for all Americans 65 and older.

The FDA is expected to grant authorization for both companies to add an additional shot to their Covid regimen.

'In general, it's too early to recommend a fourth dose, except for those who are immune compromised,' Dr Paul Goepfert, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told ABC.

Americans' interest in receiving additional Covid shots has stagnated as well, with the nation's booster rollout reaching a low point this week.

Cases and deaths caused by the virus are continuing to fall as well, and the 'stealth' variant that took over much of Europe in recent months has failed to make much ground in the U.S. so far.

The U.S. is averaging 29,490 Covid cases every day as of Friday, a 10 percent drop over the last seven days according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The nation is averaging 892 daily deaths as well, a 25 percent fall over the past seven days.

The 'stealth' variant, which earned the moniker from its ability to avoid detection through some sequencing methods, is believed to be the most infectious version of Covid yet - but is just as mild as the BA.1 version of Omciron that took over the world last last year.

According to the most recent data revealed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week, BA.2 makes up 35 percent of active Covid cases in the U.S., with BA.1 still being dominant.

BA.2's share of Covid infections in America is growing, though, with the variant only accounting for 23 percent of cases in the week previous.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said this week that he expects the U.S. to suffer a BA.2-fueled surge sometime soon, though, and that his company's vaccine will be needed to control it.

'Already several countries around the world have some of the 4th dose testing in people at high risk,' Bancel told CNBC's Squawk Box. 'There's a big wave of BA.2 variant in Europe right now, as many public health experts have said this should start in the U.S. very soon.'

A growing list of experts are saying the exact opposite, though.

'I would not be surprised at all, if we do see somewhat of an uptick,' Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and someone who has frequently been among the more cautious voices during the pandemic, said at a Washington Post event this week.

'I don't really see, unless something changes dramatically, that there would be a major surge.'

Experts at Harvard University said that the BA.2 stealth variant, which is believed to be the reason for the recent uptick of cases, would have likely already started the beginning of a surge in America if it was going to do so anytime soon.

'There's really no indication of an increase in cases or deaths in the region that corresponds to this increase in BA.2 infections that we're seeing,' Bronwyn MacInnis, director of pathogen genomic surveillance at Harvard's Broad Institute, told the Harvard Gazette this week.

While it has failed to make a major impact yet on case numbers, data from overseas - referenced by Bancel - is cause for some concern.

Some countries that had experienced declining cases for months, like the UK, France and Denmark, suddenly saw infection rates start to surge last week. Cases seem to have stabilized in these nations and the growth has stopped for now, though.

Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there were over 12 million Covid cases globally last week, a seven percent jump from the previous week.

Deaths dropped, though, down 23 percent to under 33,000 - another sign of the virus's falling mortality.

The increase in cases was entirely clustered in the Western Pacific region, where daily infections jumped 23 percent last week. In Europe, infections stabilized after slightly rising two percent last week.

A fourth dose may be inevitable anyway, even if case numbers remain low. Fauci, Bancel and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla have been among those saying an additional dose was on the way for months, with Bourla even saying annual jabs will be needed for the next decade to control the pandemic.

While the shots have been deemed safe and effective by health officials around the world, and have likely saved millions of lives over the past year, Pfizer and Moderna's goals in the vaccine rollout are not exactly humanitarian.

The companies have each made billions off of the sales of vaccines to the U.S. and other nations around the world.

Pfizer, its partner BioNTech, and Moderna estimate a combined $50 billion in COVID-19 vaccine sales this year, and those figures will soar even higher if fourth doses are approved.

Just before Moderna made its submission, Pfizer submitted an application to the FDA to get a fourth Covid jab approved for Americans 65 and older.

Both companies also are hoping to roll out jabs to young children in the near future. Currently, the Moderna shot is only available to adults in the U.S., with Pfizer's available to those five and older.

On Wednesday, Moderna announced that it had successfully completed Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials for its COVID-19 shot in children aged six months old to 17.

The shots, which are a quarter of the size of those given to adults, proved to be around 40 percent effective at preventing infection from the Omicron variant - similar to protection levels it provides adults.

Pfizer has run into some issues in getting its vaccine out to the youngest age groups. The company had to shift its Covid vaccine regimen for the youngest children up to three doses from two, as the smaller, three microgram doses, were almost entirely ineffective in children three and four years old.

The New York City-based firm also submitted data to regulators for its Covid jab in children under the age of five, though the approval process was paused earlier this year.


‘They didn’t die from Covid, but because of Covid’: the inseparable couple torn apart by the pandemic

Of all the thousands of moments that made up her parents’s lives, it’s their final laboured breaths that their daughter Alexa Every struggles to forget.

Both of Every’s parents died in institutions during the pandemic – Kathleen on Mother’s Day 2020 after a short and distressing stint in an aged care facility, and John in hospital a year later, on Christmas Eve.

Her family wasn’t alone in this unnatural grieving process. Thousands went through what Every calls “Covid-adjacent deaths” – the experience of losing a loved one not from Covid, but wrapped up in the pandemic and its associated pains.

“They didn’t die directly from Covid, but I believe they both died because of Covid,” Every says.

“Kathleen was only five months into living in a nursing home and was still adjusting,” she says. “Once they went into lockdown and we couldn’t visit her, she went into a terrible spiral of terror and confusion and died five weeks later.

“I’m sure a huge part of her very fast decline was fear and confusion because she couldn’t see her family.”

Kathleen was living with early-stage dementia when she entered aged care at the end of 2019, three months before the pandemic. Her 88-year-old husband would visit and eat lunch with her most days.

Then the facility locked down, and her lifeline – her family – was suddenly cut off from her.

“She got really agitated and angry … she was always saying ‘When are you coming?’ to my dad. She always depended on him, to be without him would have been absolutely terrifying … then she just declined before our eyes.”

Within a fortnight, the change was drastic. Eventually, Kathleen was admitted to hospital and died 10 days later.

“She couldn’t live without Dad, she didn’t know how, and died in real fear,” Every says. “I think it broke her heart.”

In the months after Kathleen passed, John had a few small bouts of time in hospital for physical ailments. In early December, he was booked into a busy Melbourne ward for what was expected to be a routine few days.

Three weeks later, on 23 December, the hospital administered final routine blood tests and asked to keep him for 24 hours to track the results. John pushed the doctor to be sent home. But he would never make it there.

“He was really a sharp and competent advocate for himself: he said three weeks is enough – it’s starting to get me down,” Every says.

“I rang the doctor and said same the thing but … they were so busy. It was terrible to see how overworked the nurses were, they were so tired.”

At 3am on Christmas Eve, Every received a call to say her dad had fallen out of bed. She still has no idea what happened (John was perfectly sound of mind) but the injuries he suffered were “catastrophic” – he was conscious but in severe pain.

Every immediately jumped in the car, but Covid protocols were strict and it was late at night. She spent crucial time running around the hospital trying to find an entry point.

“We’d been texting each other a few hours before [the accident]. He still had life to live … and this was an extremely unpleasant way to die … they both died in pain in different ways.”

When she finally arrived, John had just lost consciousness. She had missed him “by a whisker”.

“It’s nobody’s fault, the system was under so much pressure,” Every says.

“So many people have had that experience. But I would’ve liked him to have seen me. It just wasn’t the way to have finished.”




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