Weekly COVID-19 deaths dropped to the lowest level since March 2020, signaling an encouraging development that should be seen through a cautious lens, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday at a briefing.
In US developments, Pfizer/BioNTech has submitted an application for emergency use of its vaccine for booster doses in children, as the nation's cases creep upward.
WHO presses countries to keep tracking COVID
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said cases and deaths continue to drop, with just over 15,000 deaths reported to the WHO last week, which he said is the lowest weekly total since March 2020.
He said the welcome news comes with the caveat that countries are reducing their testing, and the WHO is receiving less information on transmission and evolution. "But this virus won't go away just because countries stop looking for it," Tedros said. "It's still spreading, it's still changing, and it's still killing."
The threat of new variants is still very real, and scientists still don't understand the long-term consequences of infection, he said, repeating the WHO's call for countries to maintain their surveillance activities.
In China, Beijing has completed its first round of mass testing, which targeted 20 million people and yielded 12 cases. Cases in the city have been slowly rising, prompting mass testing and fears that residents of the country's capital could face a lockdown, similar to Shanghai's—which has been in effect for about a month.
About one-third of Beijing's recent cases are from school-related clusters, and officials have started weekly testing for teachers and students, according to the Global Times, an English-language news outlet based in China. One district has suspended in-person classes for primary and middle-school students.
In other global developments:
- The European Commission today proposed a strategy for moving away from the emergency phase of the pandemic. Key steps include increasing vaccination and boosting, integrating testing into routine disease surveillance systems, and sequencing enough samples to accurately detect new variants. It also includes investing in health system recovery, support for vaccines and treatments, and steps to strengthen global solidarity.
- Denmark is suspending its mass vaccination effort against COVID-19, given high vaccine uptake and an epidemic that is under control. Danish Health Authority officials said vaccination is still recommended, and people are urged to receive their full vaccine course. Fourth doses are recommended only for those with very weakened immune systems. They added that the vaccine program will resume in the fall, when infections could increase again. In the meanwhile, experts will thoroughly assess vaccine program policies, with a release of the 2022-2023 plan expected before the summer holidays.
Pfizer submits application for pediatric booster vaccine
Yesterday, Pfizer said it has submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) an application for emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose in children ages 5 to 11.
The 10-microgram booster dose would be given 6 months after the primary series, and data from a phase 2/3 trial suggests a strong immune response from the booster, with no new side effects reported.
The application comes 1 day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new seroprevalence data suggesting that as many as three in four children ages 17 and under in the United States has been infected with COVID-19, most during the Omicron surge.
The 7-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases is 50,102, with 377 daily deaths, according to the Washington Post tracker. Numbers are ticking upward as the subvariants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 take hold across the country.
The CDC's Nowcast estimates that BA.2 accounts 68.1% of new COVID-19 cases, and BA.2.12.1 accounts for 28.7%.
Despite the uptick, White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, told PBS yesterday that he believed the country is out of the pandemic phase.
"We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase," Fauci said. "Namely, we don't have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now."
He also told the Associated Press that the pandemic isn't over and that the United States is in more of a controlled phase.
CIDRAP News reporter Stephanie Soucheray contributed to this story