COVID digest: EU medical watchdog open to omicron-specific vaccines | DW | 03.02.2022 – DW (English)

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The European Medicines Agency has said it would support vaccines that specifically target the omicron variant. Austria has come one step closer to a vaccine mandate. Follow DW for the latest global coronavirus news.

The EMA encouraged companies to continue work on vaccines that target several variants
The EU’s drug watchdog, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said on Thursday that it would support a COVID-19 vaccine that targets the omicron variant.
The EMA’s head of vaccine strategy, Marco Cavaleri, encouraged pharmaceutical companies to continue work on vaccines that target several variants but accepted that a shot tailored specifically for omicron could also be of use.
“If an omicron monovalent vaccine can be put into clinical trials rapidly. I think we can only support that,” Cavaleri told journalists at a briefing.
US company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are currently developing a newer version of their jab to target the omicron variant which has so far proven more evasive of vaccine protections.
Nevertheless, the EMA official said the development of polyvalent vaccines would be “the most robust way forward.”
Here are the latest major developments on coronavirus from around the world:
The United States Army said it will start discharging soldiers who refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Unvaccinated Soldiers present a risk to the force and jeopardize readiness,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth.
“We will begin involuntary separation proceedings for Soldiers who refuse the vaccine order and are not pending a final decision on an exemption,” she said in a statement.
According to the army’s data released last week, more than 3,000 soldiers had refused to comply with the mandatory vaccine rule.
Canada’s capital, Ottawa, had been paralyzed by a truckers’ protest against vaccine mandates over the weekend. Police warned that while most protesters have left, the stragglers are “determined” and “volatile.”
Ottawa’s police chief said there were signs that guns were brought into the protest and suggested that the Canadian military may need to be called in to help clear them.
“Most demonstrators have left. What remains is a highly determined and highly volatile group of unlawful individuals,” Chief Peter Sloly said. “We have had an indication around firearms coming into this jurisdiction as part of this demonstration as much as a week and a half ago.”
Austria came one step closer to implementing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on Thursday after the upper house voted overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation.
The law now needs to be signed by President Alexander van der Bellen. It will make Austria the first country in Europe to introduce obligatory COVID-19 vaccines for all adults.
People will then have until mid-March to get vaccinated at which point police will carry out routine checks and people who cannot show proof of vaccination will be fined $600 (€676).
The central European country is also planning on loosening many of its coronavirus-related restrictions throughout February.
The director of the World Health Organization’s European office, Hans Kluge, said that the continent is entering a “plausible endgame” with regards to the pandemic.
The high level of immunity due to vaccinations and previous infections, the coming warmer weather, and the lower severity of the omicron variant leave Europe with “the possibility for a long period of tranquillity and a much higher level of population defense against any resurgence in transmission.”
He added that health authorities should also be able to keep any future new variant in check should it emerge.
However, the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that the pandemic is still far from over around the world.
One in three adults in Denmark is believed to have contracted COVID-19 since the omicron wave began in November, health authorities said on Thursday.
A recent study based on blood donor samples suggested the figure which is twice as high as the number of recorded confirmed cases.
Over 60% percent of the population has received a booster vaccine. Health authorities estimate that combined with the high level of infections, some 80% of Danes have immunity from severe infection.
The Czech parliament has approved a new COVID-19 bill which will allow the authorities to tighten restrictions.
The legislation will make it possible to close shops, set testing requirements, and restrict school operations. As the law was being passed, protesters paraded in front of the parliament building in Prague on Wednesday carrying fake gallows.
Italy will soon roll back its COVID-19 curbs in a phased manner, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Wednesday, as the omicron-driven surge in cases began to slow.
The country’s Council of Ministers also decided that foreigners will be allowed to go into hotels and restaurants even if they are not vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19. They will, however, have to present a negative test report.
Germany will allow up to 10,000 spectators at major outdoor events such as Bundesliga soccer games, the 16 federal states agreed.
Meanwhile, the country’s Interior Ministry said several individual German right-wing extremists had been spotted at anti-restriction protests in other countries.
“The government has isolated knowledge of the participation of right-wing extremists in demonstrations against coronavirus policy in other European countries,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the government agency in charge of disease control and prevention, reported a record 236,120 new infections on Thursday. The nationwide seven-day incidence also rose to a record high of 1283.2 cases per 100,000 people per week.
People in Germany with migrant backgrounds are less likely to be fully vaccinated, according to a recent survey by the RKI.
Around 84% of people with migrant backgrounds said they had received at least one jab while 92% of people with no migrant background said the same.
Elisa Wulkotte, a scientist from the RKI, said the report highlights the potential boost in vaccine uptake if more attention is given to these communities.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has gone into quarantine after a household staff member tested positive for COVID-19.
The 76-year-old has tested negative, but is following “quarantine protocols,” his spokesperson said.
Rules in the Philippines state that vaccinated individuals who come into contact with someone who tests positive must quarantine for at least five days, even without any symptoms.
The WHO warned against complacency due to the milder symptoms caused by omicron and called on Africa to accelerate its vaccination programs.
Only 11% of people living in Africa have been vaccinated, a much lower rate than in other parts of the world.
Matshidiso Moeti from the WHO said that some 6 million Africans are being vaccinated every week, but “that number needs to increase exponentially to 36 million a week to put countries on the path to beating this pandemic,” she said.
Moeti is worried that reports of the lower severity of omicron is putting some people in Africa off getting the vaccine.
New Zealand on Thursday announced a phased reopening of its border and the easing of some of its entry restrictions after having imposed one of the world’s strictest border controls for two years, pursuing a so-called zero COVID policy.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced a five-step plan to fully reopen the country’s border by October.
It will begin with ending mandatory stay at state-managed quarantine facilities for New Zealanders stranded overseasby the pandemic.
Vaccinated Kiwis in Australia will be able to return home from February 27, and self-isolate rather than undergoing a 10-day hotel quarantine. New Zealanders in the rest of the world will be able to do the same two weeks later, Ardern said.
Israel finds itself in the midst of an omicron surge despite having one of the most successful vaccination programs in the world. Most of the patients are elderly and have flu-like symptoms, but hospitals and health care workers are stretched to the limit.
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Omicron numbers are continuing to rise across the globe and so are the claims that it is harmless. But is it actually less deadly? And how effective are COVID-19 vaccines against this variant? Check out DW’s fact-check on misconceptions about the omicron variant.
ab, adi/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
 
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