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Nearly 40 million children susceptible to measles due to COVID-19 disruptions

NEW YORK, Nov 23: Nearly 40 million children are at risk of getting measles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a joint report published on Wednesday.

Pandemic-related disruptions caused 25 million boys and girls to miss their first dose of the measles vaccine last year, while another 14.7 million did not get the second dose.

The record decline in measles vaccination coverage represents a significant setback in global progress to combat the disease.

“The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programmes were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General.

“Getting immunization programmes back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease,” he added.

Globally, there were an estimated nine million cases of measles in 2021, and 128,000 deaths.

Twenty-two countries experienced large and disruptive outbreaks, some of which have continued into this year.

Declines in vaccine coverage, weakened measles surveillance, as well as continued interruptions and delays in immunization due to the pandemic, have made measles an imminent threat to every region of the world.

The situation is grave, the report said, as measles is one of the most contagious human viruses, though it is almost entirely preventable through vaccination.

Coverage of 95 per cent or greater of two vaccine doses is needed to create herd immunity that will protect communities.

However, global coverage rates are at their lowest levels since 2008, though they vary by country.

Currently, only 81 per cent of children are receiving their first measles-containing vaccine dose, and 71 per cent are getting their second dose.

The report warned that measles anywhere is a threat everywhere, as the virus can quickly spread throughout communities and across borders.

Furthermore, none of WHO’s six regions worldwide has achieved and sustained measles elimination.

“The record number of children under-immunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Rochelle P. Walensky, the CDC Director.

“Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunization programmes, but public health officials can use outbreak response to identify communities at risk, understand causes of under-vaccination, and help deliver locally tailored solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all.”

The report urged public health officials to accelerate and strengthen vaccination efforts now.

Coordinated action by all partners, and at all levels – global, regional, national and local – is needed to prioritize efforts towards finding and immunizing all unprotected children.

Investment in robust surveillance systems is also required to mitigate the risk of outbreaks.

WHO To Identify Pathogens That Could Cause Future Pandemics

GENEVA, Nov 21: The World Health Organization said on Monday it was thrashing out a new list of priority pathogens that risk sparking pandemics or outbreaks and should be kept under close observation.

The WHO said the aim was to update a list used to guide global research and development (R&D) and investment, especially in vaccines, tests and treatments.

As part of that process, which started on Friday, the United Nations' health agency is convening over 300 scientists to consider evidence on more than 25 virus families and bacteria.

They will also consider the so-called "Disease X" -- an unknown pathogen that could cause a serious international epidemic.

"Targeting priority pathogens and virus families for research and development of countermeasures is essential for a fast and effective epidemic and pandemic response," said WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan.

"Without significant R&D investments prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, it would not have been possible to have safe and effective vaccines developed in record time."

The list was first published in 2017.

It currently includes Covid-19, Ebola virus disease and Marburg virus disease, Lassa fever, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Nipah, Zika and Disease X.

For each pathogen identified as a priority, experts will pinpoint knowledge gaps and research priorities.

Desired specifications for vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests can then be drawn up.

Efforts are also made to facilitate clinical trials to develop such tools, while efforts to strengthen regulatory and ethics oversight are also considered.

The revised list is expected to be published before April 2023.

The pathogen threat sessions come as the WHO prepares for the next round of talks towards a pandemic treaty.

An intergovernmental negotiating body is paving the way towards a global agreement that could eventually regulate how nations prepare for and respond to future pandemic threats.

They are due to meet in Geneva from December 5 to 7 for a third meeting to draft and negotiate a WHO convention or other kind of international agreement on pandemic preparedness and response.

A progress report will be presented to WHO member states next year, with the final outcome presented for their consideration in 2024.

An initial draft text for the December meeting emerged last week.

The Panel for a Global Public Health Convention, an independent coalition of statespersons and health leaders, said the draft did not go far enough, despite its bright spots.

The panel said Monday that more should be done to establish accountability and clear timelines for alert and response to avoid damaging consequences when an outbreak emerges.

"Once an outbreak is detected, there are often a few critical hours to report, assess and act to stop the spread of a disease before it becomes virtually unstoppable," the panel said in a statement.

"The current draft does not go far enough to call out the urgency needed to either prepare for disease X or known pathogens, or to respond at the early stage," it said.

"From December 2019 when information about the new coronavirus was suppressed, to multiple countries taking a 'wait and see' approach when Covid-19 cases were first reported... we've seen the damaging consequences of inaction at the onset."

WHO Says 'Not A Time To Relax' As Covid, Flu Cases Rise In Europe

COPENHAGEN, Oct 24: As winter approaches, the World Health Organization on Monday stressed the importance of staying vigilant as cases of Covid and influenza rise in Europe, encouraging more people to get vaccinated.

"This is not a time to relax," WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told a press conference.

The 53 countries that make up the WHO Europe region, which includes Russia and countries in Central Asia, were once again at the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandeomic, accounting for nearly 60 percent of new Covid cases worldwide, Kluge said.

At the same time, cases of the seasonal influenza are peaking.

With this new wave of Covid, deaths and admissions to intensive care are not increasing to the same degree as earlier waves, and the WHO stressed the link to vaccination campaigns.

"Vaccination remains one of our most effective tools against both flu and Covid-19," Mr Kluge said, urging those eligible to get jabs for both the influenza and booster shot for Covid-19 as soon as possible.

On Monday, the WHO also marked World Polio day, a disease which affects mostly the very young and causes paralysis, and has been virtually wiped out in the western world.

A mutated variant of the polio virus derived from oral polio vaccines has however recently been detected in the UK, Ukraine, Israel and the US.

Less virulent than the natural virus, this variant can nevertheless cause severe symptoms, such as limb paralysis in unvaccinated patients.

While rare, the variant has become more common in recent years due to low vaccination rates in some communities.

"I think it's important that we understand that anywhere in the globe if we left people behind, the polio virus is a very good barometer to tell us who are they," WHO Europe expert Siddhartha Datta told reporters.

Mr Datta explained that regardless of the region, the populations affected were those "underserved," meaning that they for different reasons had not received enough vaccines to reach the 95 percent coverage target

No cases of the natural polio virus have been reported in Europe for more than 20 years.

"This is not something we can take for granted," Kluge said.

In the region as a whole, coverage with the third dose of the polio vaccine fell by one percent between 2019 and 2020. By 2021, only 25 of the 53 countries had achieved 95 precent polio vaccine coverage.

Covid 'End Is In Sight', Says WHO Chief

GENEVA, Sept 14: The number of newly reported Covid-19 cases has dropped dramatically, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, urging the world to seize the opportunity to end the pandemic.

Newly reported cases of the disease, which has killed millions since being identified in late 2019, last week fell to the lowest level since March 2020, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic," he told reporters. "We are not there yet, but the end is in sight."

But the world needed to step up to "seize this opportunity", he added.

"If we don't take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption, and more uncertainty."

According to WHO's latest epidemiological report on Covid-19, the number of reported cases fell 28 percent to 3.1 million during the week ending September 11, following a 12-percent-drop a week earlier.

But the agency has warned that the falling number of reported cases is deceptive, since many countries have cut back on testing and may not be detecting the less serious cases.

"The number of cases that are being reported to WHO we know are an underestimate," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead on Covid, told reporters.

"We feel that far more cases are actually circulating than are being reported to us," she said, cautioning that the virus "is circulating at a very intense level around the world at the present time".

Since the start of the pandemic, WHO has tallied more than 605 million cases, and some 6.4 million deaths, although both those numbers are also believed to be serious undercounts.

A WHO study published in May based on excess mortality seen in various countries during the pandemic estimated that up to 17 million people may have died from Covid in 2020 and 2021.

Van Kerkhove noted that going forward there will likely be "future waves of infection, potentially at different time points throughout the world, caused by different sub-variants of Omicron or even different variants of concern".

But, she added, "those future waves of infection do not need to translate into future waves of death".

In a bid to help countries to do what is needed to rein in the virus, the WHO on Wednesday published six policy briefs.

Among the recommendations, the WHO is urging countries to invest in vaccinating 100 percent of the most at-risk groups, including health workers and the elderly, and to keep up testing and sequencing for the virus.

"These policy briefs are an urgent call for governments to take a hard look at their policies, and strengthen them for Covid-19 and future pathogens with pandemic potential," Tedros said.

"We can end this pandemic together, but only if all countries, manufacturers, communities and individuals step up and seize this opportunity."

WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan agreed.

"Even as the pandemic wanes, and as the number of cases may drop, we are going to have to maintain high levels of vigilance," he told reporters.

"We still have a highly mutable, evolving virus that has shown us time and time again over two and a half years how it can adapt, how it can change."

New Intranasal Anti-Viral Treatment May Block Covid Transmission: Report

LOS ANGELES, Sept 12: Researchers have developed an intranasal anti-viral treatment for COVID-19 that decreases the amount of SARS-CoV-2 shed from infected animals and limits transmission of the virus.

By the time people test positive for COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has already taken up residence in their respiratory system. With each breath, people expel invisible viral particles into the air -- a process known as viral shedding.

Existing drugs aimed at treating COVID-19 address symptoms of the virus but do little to quell viral shedding.

Researchers at Gladstone Institutes in the US previously developed a novel approach for treating infectious diseases: a single-dose, intranasal treatment that protects against severe SARS-CoV-2 infection.

In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they show that this treatment, called a therapeutic interfering particle (TIP), also decreases the amount of virus shed from infected animals and limits transmission of the virus.

"Historically, it has been exceptionally challenging for antivirals and vaccines to limit the transmission of respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2," said Gladstone investigator Leor Weinberger, senior author of the new research.

"This study shows that a single, intranasal dose of TIPs reduces the amount of virus transmitted, and protects animals that came into contact with that treated animal," Leor Weinberger said.

The researchers noted that it is the only single-dose antiviral that reduces not only symptoms and severity of COVID-19, but also shedding of the virus.

Leor Weinberger and Sonali Chaturvedi, a research investigator at Gladstone and first author of the research, treated hamsters infected with SARS-CoV-2 with the antiviral TIPs and then measured, daily, the amount of virus in the animals' noses.

Compared to hamsters that had not received the TIPs (called control animals), treated animals had less virus in their nasal passages at every time point.

By day 5, all control animals were still shedding high levels of virus, while the virus was undetectable in four out of five TIP-treated animals, the researchers said.

"We know that the amount of virus shed is proportional to how infectious someone is," said Leor Weinberger.

"If viral shedding can be reduced, the number of secondary contacts likely to become infected will also very likely be reduced, which will in turn decrease overall virus dissemination and help keep vulnerable individuals safe," he said.

When the SARS-CoV-2- infected animals were housed in cages with uninfected animals, treatment of the infected animals with TIPs did not fully prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the researchers said.

However, it did lead to significantly lower viral loads and milder symptoms of infection in the newly exposed animals, they said.

"This particular laboratory setting is known to generate much more efficient transmission than typically seen in humans, even in household settings, because the hamsters not only transmit via aerosols, but also through bodily fluids and by climbing over and grooming each other for many hours," said Leor Weinberger.

"So, being able to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission in this animal setting is quite promising for being able to reduce human-to-human transmission," he added.

India's first intranasal Covid vaccine by Bharat Biotech gets approval

NEW DELHI, Sept 6: India's first intranasal Covid vaccine by Bharat Biotech received DCGI approval on Tuesday for primary immunization against the infection for people above the age of 18.

Lauding the achievement, Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya said, it is a ‘Big Boost to India's Fight Against COVID-19’. The intranasal vaccine for COVID-19 by Bharat Biotech is first of its kind needle-free vaccine.

Bharat Biotech said in a statement "Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL), a global leader in vaccine innovation and developer of vaccines for infectious diseases, today announced that intranasal COVID vaccine (BBV154), has received approval under Restricted Use in Emergency Situation for ages 18 and above.

The iNCOVACC is a recombinant replication-deficient adenovirus vectored vaccine with a pre-fusion stabilized spike protein. This vaccine candidate was evaluated in phase I, II and III clinical trials with successful results.

This vaccine has been specifically formulated to allow intranasal delivery through nasal drops. The nasal delivery system has been designed and developed to be cost-effective in low and middle-income countries.

The chairman of Bharat Biotech called the approval a matter of pride for the organisation and said that the intra-nasal vaccine would be a global game changer.

"Despite the lack of demand for COVID-19 vaccines, we continued product development in intra-nasal vaccines to ensure that we are well prepared with platform technologies for future infectious diseases. We thank the Ministry of Health, the CDSCO, the Department of Biotechnology Govt of India, and Washington University St. Louis for their support and guidance," said Dr Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Biotech.

The intranasal vaccine is a heterologous booster dose.

"Clinical trials were conducted to evaluate iNCOVACC as a primary dose schedule, as a heterologous booster dose for subjects who have previously received 2 doses of the two commonly administered covid vaccines in India," the statement added.

"Immunogenicity was evaluated through serum neutralizing antibodies by PRNT assays and serum IgG's through ELISA's. To evaluate vaccines taken through the intranasal route, IgA's were evaluated by ELISA in serum and saliva. An evaluation was also carried out for the ability iNCOVACC to elicit long-term memory T and B cell responses against the ancestral and omicron variants," it added.


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