An omicron-specific Covid vaccine will be ready by March but some experts warn it could be “too late” due to the variant’s highly transmissible nature.
On Monday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that its vaccine with BioNTech that targets omicron — and other variants that are currently circulating — will be ready for distribution by spring and that the company has already started manufacturing doses.
But an omicron-targeted vaccine was needed in December, says Dr. William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It still could be valuable but I do think in many ways, it’s too late” for the current omicron wave, Moss says.
Dr. Shaun Truelove, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agrees: “Given how quickly this [variant] is happening, [the targeted vaccine] may not matter because everybody’s going to be infected,” says Truelove, a member of The Covid Scenario Modeling Hub, a team of researchers who make Covid projections.
The country has been seeing record Covid infections: More than 95% of reported Covid cases were due to the omicron variant as of early January, according to the CDC.
On Sunday, over 307,000 new cases of Covid were reported, according to Johns Hopkins.
ALSO READ: Omicron less severe than other variants: Find out why?
If an omicron-targeted vaccine had been available earlier; it “might have been sufficient to prevent some of these illnesses and better protect our workforce, particularly health care workers,” says Moss. “The assumption is that an omicron-specific booster would have high vaccine effectiveness against infection, at least temporarily, but this is not known.”
But the variant spread so quickly that vaccine developers could not make a targeted vaccine in time.
Pfizer CEO Bourla also said it is still not clear whether or not; the new vaccine is needed or how it could be used.
But given both Covid’s and omicron’s unpredictability, and with new variants likely to emerge; having a vaccine that targets omicron and other variants could be useful in some way, at some point, experts say.
“In short, I think there will be some value to those who remained uninfected; assuming omicron continues to be the dominant variant; but the impact of an omicron-specific vaccine will be much less than if it were available earlier before the sure in infections,” Moss says.
Truelove agrees, and adds that we don’t know long long omicron infection-induced immunity will last, and an omicron-specific booster could provide “substantial benefit” if immunity wanes; potentially even against future variants.
“But it’s not really possible to know what those impacts will be as of now,” he says.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said on Monday that it is also working on an omicron-specific booster; which will likely enter clinical trials soon.
Bancel also said on Thursday; that a fourth Covid shot may be needed in the fall as the efficacy of boosters will likely decline over time.
Dr. Mark Sawyer, an infectious disease specialist at Rady Children’s Hospital; who served on the FDA advisory committee that approved Covid vaccines in 2020; says while it’s too early to predict if or when a fourth vaccine shot is needed, the fall is plausible.
″[R]espiratory illness is more common in the winter, so boosting people in the fall makes sense,” Sawyer says.
Israel has already given out more than 250,000 fourth doses since early January; to Israelis aged 60 and over, medical workers and those who are immunosuppressed, according to The Times of Israel.
Early data from Israel shows that a fourth dose does increase antibody levels, says Dr. David Hirschwerk, infectious disease specialist and medical director at Northwell Health’s North Shore University Hospital.
ALSO READ: New Omicron symptom only strikes while you sleep and it’s not night sweats
And fourth doses of Covid vaccines for some individuals in the U.S.; who are moderately to severely immunocompromised could roll out starting this week, according to The New York Times.
The CDC approved a fourth dose for that group in October.
But to what extent that will be recommended to the general public down the road; it’s still too early to say. “I still think we need to have a more complete understanding of what our impact has been from people receiving a third dose,” Hirschwerk says.
One thing that has become clear is that two doses aren’t enough protection against omicron. “There is good evidence that the third dose is providing a lot more protection against omicron,” Truelove says.
Bourla also said Monday that two shots do not provide robust protection against infection with that variant.
As of Monday, roughly 63% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only 36% of those people have received a booster dose.
Kalu meets Abdulsalami Abubakar
Chief Whip of the Senate, Orji Uzor Kalu, on Saturday night paid a private visit to former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
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Kalu who made the announcement through his verified Facebook page, revealed that his discussion with the former president centered on national issues and peaceful coexistence of Nigeria.
He wrote: “ Tonight, I paid a visit to the former President of Nigeria, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to greet him for the new year. We also discussed major national affairs and peaceful coexistence of our nation.”
Lagos police arrest NURTW members amid calls for ban
By Moses Omorogieva/Lagos
The Police Command in Lagos State on Saturday said that its men arrested some members of the National Union of Transport Workers ( NURTW) who clashed on Lagos Island on Friday.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) , CSP Adekunle Ajisebutu, disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Saturday.
Ajisebutu did not mention how many people were arrested and where they were being detained.
He added that normalcy had returned to the Island as more operatives had been deployed there.
“The police have quelled the crisis. Sufficient facilities were deployed in the area immediately we received a distress call and normalcy was restored.
”Investigation into the crisis is ongoing,” he said.
Two factions of the NURTW clashed over the control of some motor parks on the Island on Friday.
The videos of the clash went viral showing the hoodlums using dangerous weapons against each other
The arrests come amid call by Accord Party for a ban on the notorious union in Lagos.
Lagos State chapter of the Accord Party called on Gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu to proscribe the union following repeated violence by its members.
The Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr Dele Oladeji, in a statement on Saturday called on Sanwo-Olu to tame the members of the NURTW by proscribing the union with immediate effect.
“Again, the members of the NURTW were enmeshed in a deadly fight on Lagos Island which was reported to have resulted in the untimely death of some four youths.
“This deadly clash created a security scare, in which innocent and hardworking residents of Lagos had to scamper into shops, crevices, under table and inside gutters for dear lives.
“Many rushed into shops and were locked in with the shop owners, just to stay away from stray bullets or being caught up in the fracas.
“Traders were forced to shutdown their businesses, which led to the loss of transactions running into billions of naira.
“We advise the Lagos State governor to, with immediate effect, proscribe the NURTW for a peaceful and safe Lagos city.”
The spokesman said that the recent violence was one too many among the members of the NURTW in Lagos State.
Oladeji said that though members of the union were always in the habit of killing themselves during such fracas, their action had always defied the security set up in Lagos State and had always created a state of insecurity among residents.
“Ask an average resident of Lagos, and they will tell you they live and commute in utter fright of these ‘union boys’ daily on the streets and roads.
“Gov. Sanwo-Olu should rise up in service to residents of the state and proscribed these lawless group for a safer Lagos State,” he added.
He said that NURTW factions were known to frequently engage in free-for-all over power tussles at different locations and parks.
Pakistan proud of pig-to-human heart transplant pioneer
Friends and former classmates of the Pakistan-born surgeon behind the world’s first pig-to-human heart transplant say they earmarked him for greatness from his medical school days.
Karachi-born Muhammad Mansoor Mohiuddin made headlines last week as the co-founder of the US university programme that successfully transplanted the heart of a genetically modified pig into a gravely ill American man.
While hailed as a medical breakthrough, the procedure also raised ethical questions — particularly among some Jews and Muslims, who consider pigs to be unclean and avoid pork products.
None of that worried Mohiuddin’s friends and former colleagues in Pakistan, who remember him as an ace student with a passion for medicine.
“He would be so interested, always there, always available and always ready to get involved in surgery,” said Muneer Amanullah, a specialist who attended Karachi’s Dow Medical College with Mohiuddin in the 1980s.
College vice-chancellor Muhammad Saeed Qureshi said pride in Mohiuddin’s achievement had flooded the campus.
“There was exhilaration that this has been done by a graduate from this college,” he told AFP.
Mohiuddin was quick to share the limelight with a team of 50 from the University of Maryland Medical School.
“They were all experts of their respective fields,” he told AFP by phone.
“They are the best surgeons, the best physicians, the best anaesthetists, and so on.”
While the prognosis for the recipient of the pig’s heart is far from certain, the surgery represents a major milestone for animal-to-human transplants.
About 110,000 Americans are currently waiting for an organ transplant, and more than 6,000 patients die each year before getting one, according to official figures.
To meet demand, doctors have long been interested in so-called xenotransplantation, or cross-species organ donation.
“We were working on this model for 18 years,” Mohiuddin said.
“Those 18 years were dotted with different phases of frustration — as well as breakthroughs — but finally we have done it.”
The surgery is not without controversy, however, especially given Mohiuddin’s Islamic faith.
Pigs are considered unclean by Muslims and Jews — and even some Christians who follow the Bible’s Old Testament literally.
“In my view, this is not permissible for a Muslim,” said Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, a prominent Islamic scholar, in a video blog where he discussed the procedure.
But another Islamic scholar in Pakistan gave the procedure a clean bill of health.
“There is no prohibition in sharia,” Allama Hasan Zafar Naqvi told AFP, calling it a “medical miracle”.
“In religion, no deed is as supreme as saving a human life,” added Mohiuddin.
In Karachi, the surgeon’s fellow alumni feel their former colleague may now be destined for even greater glory — medicine’s top prize.
“I think… the whole team is in for it, in for the Nobel Prize,” said vice-chancellor Qureshi.
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