Israelis aged 40 and over will be able to receive coronavirus vaccine booster shots starting this weekend, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Thursday, as the country battles a spike in infections.
Israel was one of the first countries to launch a vaccination drive in mid-December via an agreement with Pfizer to obtain millions of paid vaccine doses in exchange for sharing data on their effectiveness.
The inoculation campaign was hailed as a success story that helped drastically reduce infections in the country of nine million.
But cases have been rising due to the spread of the Delta variant among the unvaccinated and waning immunity in others.
To try and contain the spread, authorities last week began administrating a booster shot to those aged 50 and older, after starting a campaign for over-60s late last month.
Horowitz, who is among those who have received a third dose, tweeted Thursday that people aged 40 and over will be able to get a booster shot from Sunday.
“We have vaccines for everyone and now those 40 and older can receive a third dose,” he wrote. “The vaccine is effective. Let’s stop this Delta.”
Israel has recorded more than 970,000 coronavirus infections since the pandemic started early last year, and over 6,700 deaths.
More than 5.4 million people have received two doses of the vaccine, while 1.2 million have had a third jab.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots to help ease the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel says his administration has ordered one million doses of vaccines to curb the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 in the state.
The governor disclosed this while speaking at a family event organised by the Permanent Secretary, Government House, Nathaniel Adiakpan at Afaha Ubiumn in Onna Local Government Area of the state.
“We are also ordering new sets of vaccines, don’t mind what they are writing about vaccines, take them. One million vaccines should be coming in, please let people take them, especially if you are above 40 years,” the governor said.
Thirty-two Delta variant cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) have been reported in five states across the country, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has said.
The Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, spoke about this during the resumed briefing of the Presidential Steering Committee on Monday in Abuja.
Nineteen of the cases were reported in Akwa Ibom State.
Ihekweazu listed Lagos, Cross River, and Oyo states as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as the other places where at least one case of the Delta variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the country.
Since the outbreak of the disease that has claimed millions of lives globally, health experts have continued to watch certain coronavirus mutations and variants that have become more contagious and deadlier than the original strain.
Among such strains, the B.1.617.2. (Delta) variant has become a major source of worry in recent times as a result of its rapid increase in several countries, including the United States.
Nigeria is not left out. The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who was also present at the briefing, raised concerns about the Delta variant of the virus.
He advised Nigerians against travelling to Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Oyo, Cross Rivers, Kano, Plateau and the FCT during this period, except when it was absolutely necessary.
Ehanire explained that it was important for the PSC to discourage such travels because of the surge of the virus within the states of concern.
At the briefing, the United States officially handed over to the Nigerian Government more than four million doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.
Authorities said the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) would have to certify the vaccines for use before they are distributed.
PSC Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, received the vaccines on behalf of the Nigerian government.
He thanked the US government for the donation, saying it came at a time when Nigeria had started recording about 500 COVID-19 cases daily. The country has not recorded fewer than 500 cases daily for the past seven days.
Mustapha, who is also worried about the increased prevalence of the Delta variant in the states of concern, said the alarming single-day figures have shown an increased test positivity ratio of about six per cent.
He hinted that the PSC would publish the names of over 500 travellers who have violated the travel protocol and those who evaded quarantine.
Nigeria had commenced vaccination with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines, but Nigerians are set to get doses of a different product – Moderna.
The Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, has assured Nigerians that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is very effective, with up to 74 per cent efficacy against the Delta variant.
He, however, cautioned against mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines, saying conversations were ongoing about the safety or efficacy of doing so.
According to the NPHCDA boss, another batch is expected in the country in the next few weeks to ensure the continued administration of the vaccine to those that have received the first jab.
With the Delta variant pushing US Covid cases back up, fully vaccinated people are wondering whether they need to start masking indoors again.
Covid vaccines remain extremely effective against the worst outcomes of the disease — hospitalization and death — and breakthrough infections remain uncommon.
But experts told AFP that one size doesn’t fit all, and people should consider factors like community transmission, personal risk levels, and their own risk tolerance to help decide what’s right for them.
Risk low for vaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dropped its mask guidance for vaccinated people in May.
At the time, cases were plummeting and the administration of President Joe Biden was keen to declare a return to normal on the back of a vaccination campaign that was still going strong.
On Thursday the country registered more than 50,000 cases, a surge driven by the now overwhelmingly dominant Delta variant, the most contagious strain to date, and centered in low-vaccination regions.
Crucially, however, the rise in cases has been largely decoupled from hospitalizations and deaths.
With 80 per cent of seniors fully vaccinated, average daily deaths remain in the 200s — much lower than the more than 3,500 deaths per day seen in the worst wave over winter.
More than 97 percent of hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said last week, while 99.5 percent of people dying were unvaccinated, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said last weekend.
Walensky defended the unchanged mask guidance Thursday, stressing the agency has always said communities and individuals should consider local conditions.
“If you’re in an area that has a high case rate and low rates of vaccination where Delta cases are rising, you should certainly be wearing a mask if you are unvaccinated,” she said.
“If you are vaccinated, you get exceptional protection from the vaccines. But you have the opportunity to make the personal choice to add extra layers of protection if you so choose.”
Why local conditions matter
Joseph Allen, an associate professor at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health, said he supported the CDC’s view.
While the World Health Organization has urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, that is in light of the global situation where just 13.4 percent of the world population is fully vaccinated.
“I just don’t think we’re at the phase in the US and other highly vaccinated countries where this top-down blanket guidance makes sense anymore,” he told AFP.
“For me, the goal is and has always been with all the vaccines to prevent severe disease, and death, and that’s exactly what they do really well.”
As far as breakthrough infections go, a recent study of a US prison found 27 positive cases from 2,380 vaccinated individuals, or 1.1 per cent. All were asymptomatic and detected through routine screening.
Research shows that asymptomatic people are less likely to transmit, while people who develop symptoms are supposed to self-isolate.
Still, the greater the community prevalence of the virus, the more likely such breakthroughs become.
People’s personal risk levels vary by their age and underlying conditions, some people may have high-risk people at home they want to protect, while some just have lower risk tolerance.
On and off ramps
The divergence in case levels across the country closely correlates with vaccination rates, and parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida are currently experiencing the worst spikes.
Celine Gounder, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist, compared the situation prior to Delta surges to driving your car in your own neighborhood, while the current scenario is closer to driving on a race car track.
“When you’re driving around in your neighborhood, a seatbelt is enough,” she told AFP, with the seatbelt representing a vaccine.
“But if you’re driving on a NASCAR race track, in addition to seatbelts, those drivers also have helmets, they have airbags,” she added, emphasizing that masks add an additional layer of protection.
Even without the CDC, some parts of the country, like Los Angeles County and Philadelphia, have reinstituted mask guidance.
Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor at UC San Francisco told AFP she has been advocating for statistical benchmarks, “as the back and forth is very frustrating for people.”
She suggests tying mask mandates to the local hospitalization rate — a more reliable measure of disease prevalence than cases — and, along with other experts, has proposed fewer than five hospitalized cases per 100,000 people as the threshold for resuming normal activity.
Gandhi, Allen and others argue such “off-ramps” can also be applied to schools when they reopen in fall, while the American Academy of Pediatrics favors universal masking, even among vaccinated teachers and students.
“The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has detected a confirmed case with the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2,” the health agency said in a statement last Thursday.
“The variant was detected in a traveler to Nigeria, following the routine travel test required of all international travelers and genomic sequencing at the NCDC National Reference Laboratory, Abuja.”
The NCDC, however, assured Nigerians that the federal government has put measures in place to combat the disease, asking them to adhere to the recommended safety protocols.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Delta variant has an increased transmissibility, and has raised concerns across the globe.
It has also been detected in over 90 countries and is expected to spread to more nations.
“The variant has also been linked to a surge in cases in countries where it is the dominant strain in circulation,” the NCDC explained. “There are ongoing studies to understand the impact of the variant on existing vaccines and therapeutics.”
Australia’s largest city Sydney entered a two-week lockdown Saturday to contain a sudden coronavirus surge and Russia’s Saint Petersburg announced a record death toll, as several European nations lifted restrictions despite the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
Britain’s health minister meanwhile resigned after revelations that he had broken the government’s own coronavirus restrictions during an affair with a close aide.
While vaccination drives have brought down infections in wealthy countries, the Delta strain, which first emerged in India, has fuelled fears that the pandemic may be far from over, having already claimed nearly four million lives.
Bangladesh announced that it would impose a new national lockdown from Monday over the variant, with offices shut for a week and only medical-related transport allowed.
Sydney’s normally bustling harbourside centre was nearly deserted after people were ordered to stay home except for essential trips to contain on outbreak of the variant.
And New Zealand, citing “multiple outbreaks” in Australia, announced a three-day suspension of its quarantine-free travel arrangement with its larger neighbour.
The Sydney lockdown, affecting more than five million people in the city and nearby towns, was met with dismay after months of very few cases.
“Today just feels like another kick while you’re slowly getting up,” said Chris Kriketos, 32, who works at a bakery in central Sydney.
The Delta variant has also been fuelling rising case numbers in Russia, where Saint Petersburg on Saturday reported the country’s highest daily Covid-19 death toll for a city since the start of the pandemic.
Russia’s second city, which has hosted six Euro 2020 matches and is due to host a quarter-final next Friday, recorded 107 virus deaths over the last 24 hours.
Globally the pandemic is still slowing down, with the World Health Organization reporting the lowest number of new cases worldwide since February and decreasing deaths attributed to Covid-19.
But there is rising concern over the Delta variant, which has now spread to at least 85 countries and is the most contagious of any Covid-19 strain identified, according to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In Britain, Portugal and South Africa, the authorities have said the Delta variant has become the dominant coronavirus strain on their territory.
Portugal reintroduced restrictions in the worst-hit areas, including the Lisbon region, cutting back the opening hours of shops and restaurants and lowering the maximum numbers permitted there.
Some European countries are nonetheless easing restrictions as mass vaccination campaigns continue.
Spain brought an end to mandatory outdoor mask-wearing on Saturday, although many residents in Madrid, where a major coronavirus cluster has been discovered, are keeping their faces covered for now.
The Netherlands also ended its rules on outdoor mask-wearing, while easing restrictions on indoor dining and reopening nightclubs to people who have tested negative.
And Switzerland scrapped most of its remaining restrictions after Health Minister Alain Berset said that the country’s use of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines gave adequate protection against the Delta variant.
In Britain, meanwhile, as anti-lockdown protesters staged another demonstration in London against the existing restrictions, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced he was stepping down.
Days after newspaper revelations of his affair with an aide — which breached social distancing rules he himself had promoted — Hancock submitted a letter of resignation to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance,” he wrote.
South African warning
The Delta variant is so contagious that experts say more than 80 percent of a population would need to be jabbed in order to contain it — a challenge even for nations with significant vaccination programmes.
Israel, which has one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, has had to reimpose its requirement to wear masks in enclosed public places after four days of more than 100 new cases a day.
The variant is also fuelling an alarming rise in infections in several countries across Africa, where cases as a whole jumped 25 percent over the past week.
South Africa, the continent’s hardest-hit country, warned on Saturday that soaring caseloads driven by the Delta variant were forcing authorities to consider tighter restrictions.
“We are in the exponential phase of the pandemic with the numbers just growing very, very, extremely fast,” warned top virologist Tulio de Oliveira.
In India, where the Delta variant was first detected around April, seasonal flooding of the Ganges river flushed out shallow graves where hundreds were buried at the peak of the crisis.
Neeraj Kumar Singh, an official in the northern city of Allahabad, said almost 150 bodies had had to be cremated after resurfacing from the river in the past three weeks.