UK, France with Record High Daily Covid Infections, FDA Okays 2nd Covid Pill, Ecuador Vax Mandate, World Stats

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The UK set another daily Covid record on Thursday with 119,789 confirmed cases. There were a further 147 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

It has also been a record-breaking week for booster and third jabs in the UK, with more than 968,665 administered on Wednesday, the highest number to date.

Prof Clare Bryant – a professor of immunology at the University of Cambridge – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that additional booster shots in the form of a fourth dose would be needed at some point, but exactly when was not yet clear.

“We are looking at fourth shots,” she said.

“I suspect it’s a question of when those will need to be introduced because of course a waning in immunity means that you may catch the virus a little bit more easily but don’t forget you’re still very well protected against severe disease and that’s absolutely critical.”

France on Thursday recorded its highest number of new COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, as the country deals with a fifth wave of the virus.

More than 91,000 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in France on Thursday, according to Reuters.

“Today’s figures are not good,” said French Health Minister Olivier Véran. France will likely see 100,000 new daily cases soon, Varén warned earlier this week.

French health officials also recorded 179 new deaths and 61 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the intensive care unit due to COVID-19 on Thursday. Reuters noted that French President Emmanuel Macron is hoping to avoid enacting new restrictions and mandates, but the country’s government has said that all options would be considered.

Last week, French Prime Minister Jean Castex warned that the omicron variant was “spreading at lightning speed” throughout Europe and said the new strain will likely be dominant in France by early next year. Due to the rapid spread of the variant, France restricted travel from the U.K. last week, a move that the British government criticized as being not “effective or proportionate.”

Castex also said the government would be taking steps to address vaccine hesitancy, saying it was “not acceptable that the refusal of a few million French people to be vaccinated puts the life of an entire country at risk.”

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FDA authorizes Merck COVID-19 pill

 

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday authorized a COVID-19 treatment from Merck, marking the second pill to become available to fight the virus.

This authorization is more limited than one on Wednesday for a Pfizer pill. The FDA authorized the Merck pill, developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, for high-risk adults “for whom alternative COVID-19 treatment options authorized by the FDA are not accessible or clinically appropriate.”

That is, if other options are not available, the Merck pill can be used.

The drug is also only authorized for adults over the age of 18, as it “may affect bone and cartilage growth.”

There are also concerns that the Merck drug could cause birth defects if used during pregnancy, so the FDA said the drug is not recommended for use during pregnancy.

Antivirals are seen as potentially critical weapons in the fight against COVID-19, because they can be taken at home, without an IV or injection. But from the data, the benefit of molnupiravir appears very limited. In a clinical trial, a five-day course of the pill was shown to be only modestly effective– initially a 50 percent reduction in risk of hospitalization or death, but the company later revised it down to 30 percent. By comparison, Pfizer’s drug was 89 percent effective at reducing severe illness or death.

But the advantage over Pfizer’s drug, authorized on Wednesday, is in the numbers. The White House said Wednesday that 3 million courses of the Merck pill would be available in January, compared to 265,000 for Pfizer.

Testing challenge: Like the Pfizer pill, the Merck pill is also intended to be used within five days of symptoms beginning. That poses some logistical challenges, given that testing will need to be widely available enough that people can get their results back and seek the treatment from a health care provider within five days.

Read more here.

Antiviral may help at-risk, unvaccinated 

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A clinical trial has found that antiviral drug remdesivir reduces serious outcomes and hospitalization in unvaccinated high-risk COVID-19 patients, if administered in the early stages of their infection.

A three-day course of remdesivir cut hospitalization and death rates for COVID-19 by 87 percent.

Remdesivir, an infusion treatment manufactured by Gilead Sciences, was the first treatment ever to be authorized for use against the coronavirus in hospitalized patients.

The new study shows it can be effective on an outpatient basis as well.

A total of 562 patients took part in the study over an eight-month period.The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was meant to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a three-day course of remdesivir in high-risk, non-hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

Key caveat: The findings are based on research that predates both delta variant and omicron.

Also unclear is how  well remdesivir would work early on in coronavirus patients who are vaccinated. The study focused on unvaccinated patients, the group most likely to become seriously ill or die if infected.

Remdesivir is an infusion drug, meaning it’s delivered intravenously. That could prove difficult to do outside a hospital, especially since treatment occurs over the course of three days.

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Ecuador makes COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all eligible residents

The Ecuadorian government on Thursday issued a vaccine mandate for all eligible residents, making Ecuador the most recent country to issue this strict measure against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Exceptions to the far-reaching vaccine mandate will be made for people who cannot safely receive the vaccine, the government said. All other Ecuadorians ages five and above will be required to get the shot.

Ecuador’s Minister of Public Health Ximena Garzón cited the spread of new variants of concern, such as omicron, for the new requirement. To encourage vaccinations, 24-hour health centers will be kept open over the Christmas holiday, the health ministry said in the announcement.

The ministry stated that the country has enough vaccines in stock to immunize all its residents and stressed that the vaccines are considered to be safe and effective.

Roughly 77 percent of Ecuador’s population over the age of 5 is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, Reuters reported. The news wire noted that the Ecuadorian government had said that it wanted to vaccinate 85 percent of its population this year.

Indonesia, Micronesia, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have all issued similar vaccine mandates, and Germany and Austria are expected to do so next year.

The Ecuadorian health ministry said earlier this week that the delta variant of COVID-19 is still the most prevalent variant of concern in the country, though several cases of omicron have been confirmed.

According to the World Health Organization, Ecuador has so far confirmed more than 538,000 COVID-19 cases and over 33,000 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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WORLD STATS

Coronavirus Cases:

278,579,623

Deaths:

5,402,473

Recovered:

249,343,813
Highlighted in green
= all cases have recovered from the infection
Highlighted in grey
= all cases have had an outcome (there are no active cases)

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December 24 (GMT)

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