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Coronavirus Update: FDA advisory committee to vote on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 booster, a day after endorsing the Moderna one

One day after a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted to endorse a booster shot of the Moderna vaccine for seniors and other at-risk groups, it will reconvene to discuss a booster shot of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose regimen and weigh in on who, if anyone, should be offered one of those.

The FDA is not bound to follow the committee’s advice, but it often does. After that, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet to make a final decision on the matter.

Health experts are not convinced that a broad booster program is required yet, as the vaccines seem to maintain efficacy for most people for months, although those with weakened immune systems, or any patient who is at risk of severe disease may require one.

COVID-19 is still a high risk for unvaccinated people, who account for the majority of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The vaccines have proved safe and effective at preventing serious illness and death.

The panel endorsed Moderna’s
MRNA,
+0.76%

proposal for a half-dose booster, which the company says triggered fewer side effects such as fever and aching in clinical trials, and which will also leave more vaccine supply available for the rest of the world, as the Associated Press reported.

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The White House said Thursday it will donate more than 17 million J&J
JNJ,
+0.82%

doses from its domestic supplies to the African Union, NPR reported. The announcement came as President Joe Biden met with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and will come on top of the 50 million doses already donated.

The U.S. is still averaging more than 1,800 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, although new cases and hospitalizations are coming down, apart from in certain hot spots, including Alaska and Minnesota, where hospitals are struggling with high caseloads.

The federal government has pledged $100 million in funding to address staff shortages in rural areas in particular, the Washington Post reported. The move is part of a wider effort to counter the shrinking number of healthcare workers in the U.S. after many quit due to burnout during the pandemic.

The funds will go to help medical professionals pay off student loans and avoid them taking other better-paying jobs in other sectors. More than half a million healthcare workers have quit their jobs in the period from February 2020 through September.

The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, is stuttering along with just 57% of the overall population fully vaccinated, according to a CDC tracker. That’s far below the 70% required to contain the spread.

Among the vaccine-resistant are police officers, and the unions that represent them, even though COVID has been the main cause of duty-related deaths during the pandemic, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. More than 460 law enforcement officers have died of COVID since the start of the outbreak.

On Thursday, the head of the Chicago police officers union called on its members to defy the city’s vaccine requirement to report their vaccine status or be placed on unpaid leave, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara said in a video Tuesday that sending home non-compliant officers could cut the city’s police presence over the weekend in half.

“I can guarantee you that no-pay status will not last more than 30 days,” Catanzara said in the video. “There’s no way they’re going to be able to sustain a police department workforce at 50% capacity or less for more than seven days without something budging.”

Elsewhere, there were protests in Italy Friday as one of the strictest anti-coronavirus measures in Europe went into effect Friday, requiring all workers, from magistrates to maids, to show a health pass to get into their place of employment, the AP reported.

Police were out in force, schools planned to end classes early and embassies issued warnings of possible violence amid concerns that the anti-vaccination demonstrations could turn violent, as they did in Rome last weekend.

France has ended free COVID testing for all in an effort to persuade its unvaccinated to get their shots, AFP reported. A recent negative test, proof of recovery or full vaccination is needed to get a health pass which is required for access to cafes, restaurants, sports facilities and entertainment venues such as cinemas.

The U.K. health department has suspended COVID testing at a private lab over an investigation into thousands of individuals possibly receiving false-negative results. NHS Test and Trace said it had halted operations at the Immensa Health Clinic lab in Wolverhampton, where around 400,000 samples had been processed.

While the “vast majority” will have resulted in negative results, around 43,000 people may have received incorrect negative PCR test results between Sep. 8 and Oct. 12, mostly in the South West of England, the U.K. Health Security Agency said in a statement on Friday.

As the FDA nears a decision on authorizing Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for children 5-11 years old, public-health officials and pediatricians are sharing research with families to assure hesitant parents of the shot’s safety. Photo: John Locher/Associated Press
Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 239.6 million on Friday, while the death toll edged above 4.88 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 44.8 million cases and 721,567 deaths.

India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34 million and has suffered 451,814 deaths. Brazil has second highest death toll at 602,099 and 21.6 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has most fatalities at 216,402, followed by the U.K. at 138,647.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 108,836 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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