WHO Recommends COVID-19 Booster Shot for Immunocompromised

The World Health Organization is recommending that people with weakened immune systems be given a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A panel of WHO vaccine advisers said the additional dose would help immunocompromised people because that population is less likely to respond to a standard vaccination, and they are at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.

The panel, called the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), also recommended booster shots for people over age 60 who have received inoculations made by Chinese vaccine makers Sinopharm and Sinovac. It cited evidence in studies in Latin America that those vaccines do not perform as well over time.

The panel did not recommend an additional booster dose for the population at large and said it would review the issue of widespread booster use on November 11.

WHO has called for a moratorium on booster doses for the general population until the end of the year to allow more people around the world to receive a first vaccination.

New COVID pill, drug

In other developments Monday, drugmaker Merck has asked U.S. regulators to authorize its pill for treating mild to moderate COVID-19, which if approved would be the first oral medication for the disease.

Merck said its antiviral pill, called molnupiravir, lowered the rate of hospitalization and death by 50% in a trial of patients who had mild to moderate COVID-19 illness along with at least one risk factor for the disease.

Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutic have asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to grant emergency use of the pill. All previous FDA-approved treatments require an injection or IV.

Drugmaker AstraZeneca, which developed one of the first COVID-19 vaccines, said Monday it is seeing promising results with a COVID-19 drug it is developing to combat the coronavirus.

Known as AZD7442, the drug reduced severe COVID-19 or death in non-hospitalized patients by 50%, according to AstraZeneca.

"An early intervention with our antibody can give a significant reduction in progression to severe disease with continued protection for more than six months," said Mene Pangalos, executive vice president at AstraZeneca's biopharmaceuticals R&D.

Also Monday, Swiss drugmaker Roche said it has applied to market its antibody cocktail for COVID-19 in the European Union.

The treatment co-developed with U.S. biotech firm Regeneron is a combination of monoclonal antibodies that is intended to prevent patients from getting a severe form of the disease. Called Ronapreve, the treatment was given to former U.S. President Donald Trump when he was battling COVID-19.

In New Zealand

In New Zealand, the government announced Monday that it would require teachers and health care workers to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by December 1.

Ninety-five new COVID-19 cases were reported in New Zealand this weekend, and an additional 35 were reported Monday, as the country is attempting to reopen.

Maori politicians say New Zealand could be guilty of committing "modern genocide" if it goes forward with plans to reopen the country. They are warning that the country's Indigenous people represent more than half of the daily cases.

"At every stage of this pandemic, the government has ignored the advice of our Maori experts. They have left us out to dry," Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, co-leader of the Maori Party, said Monday.

According to Johns Hopkins University's data, New Zealand has 4,660 infections and 28 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Worldwide, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has recorded almost 238 million global COVID-19 infections and nearly 4.9 million deaths. The center said Monday that nearly 6.5 billion vaccines have been administered worldwide.

Source: Voice of America