The Latest: Studies on vaccines, need for possible boosters

NEW YORK — The world’s leading COVID-19 vaccines may offer lasting protection that diminishes the need for frequent booster shots.

That’s according to scientists, who are finding clues in how the body remembers viruses. But they say more research is needed and that virus mutations are still a wild card.

Critical studies are underway, and evidence is mounting that immunity from the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna doesn’t depend exclusively on antibodies that dwindle over time. The body has overlapping layers of protection that offer backup.

Scientists do not yet know what’s called the correlate of protection, the level below which antibodies cannot fend off the coronavirus without additional help. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s leading infectious disease expert, told a Senate subcommittee last week that vaccine protection would not be infinite.

Pfizer and Moderna officials have said people might need yearly shots, just like with flu vaccinations. The companies plan to have some candidates ready this fall. But companies won’t decide when boosters get used. That’s up to health authorities in each country. Some experts say boosters may be needed only every few years.

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MORE ON THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Japan gives $800M to UN-backed COVID-19 vaccine program

— AstraZeneca starts deliveries of Thailand-made vaccines

— EU eyes revamp of ID check-free zone to improve travel flow

Sinovac vaccine restores one Brazilian city to near normal

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— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron move up the COVID-19 vaccination schedule, saying youth ages 12 to 18 can get inoculations starting June 15.

The announcement came just three days after 18-year-olds began getting vaccinated. France’s vaccination campaign got off to a slow start but is moving full speed ahead. More than 40% of the population has received at least one injection.

Numbers of COVID-19 cases have fallen dramatically in recent weeks, along with deaths, leading to what Macron called “reasonable optimism” for the future as the nation reopens in phases. Outdoor café terraces opened last month and a nightly curfew was moved from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. In one week, the curfew will start at 11 p.m., when restaurants can seat clients indoors, with limits.

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MADRID -- Spain’s government and regional authorities have agreed to allow some bars and night clubs to reopen, 10 months after they closed nationwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authorities want coordinated national rules for easing lockdown restrictions over the summer. The new rules on re-openings hinge on regions’ coronavirus case rate per 100,000 population over 14 days and the number of available beds in local hospitals.

Health Minister Carolina Darias says low-risk regions could open their bars until 2 a.m. with 50% of indoor capacity. Patrons can consume food and drink only when seated, and bar owners must note the contact details of patrons in case of a later outbreak.

In higher risk regions, bars must remain closed. Currently, about half of Spain’s 17 regions meet the criteria for reopening bars and discotheques.

Spain’s virus incidence rate per 100,000 population over 14 days — a key pandemic metric— is 118. One in five Spaniards have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, Darias says. New deaths reported Wednesday took the country’s total to just over 80,000.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Both Minneapolis and St. Paul are ending the coronavirus mask requirements as vaccination rates improve.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey imposed the indoor mask mandate last spring, two months before Gov. Tim Walz issued a similar statewide mask order. Frey says the mandate was lifted because more than 78% of city residents age 15 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. St. Paul officially ends its mandate Wednesday.

The statewide mask mandate ended May 14 shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks.

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LONDON — British health officials say three-quarters of the U.K.’s adult population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Figures released Wednesday show 75.2% of all people 18 and over have received a shot, and 49.5% have received both doses. Britain is racing to vaccinate all adults and curb a possibly more contagious variant that was first identified in India and is spreading across the U.K.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says reaching the milestone less than six months after the first shot given in the U.K. on Dec. 8, was “an incredible step forward.”

Speaking as the U.K. hosted an international meeting to encourage vaccination, Hancock says a key to the high level of vaccine acceptance in the U.K. was ensuring the process was fair, by giving vaccines first to the elderly and those at most risk.

He says, “We Brits love queuing and there’s nothing more upsetting than someone jumping the queue.”

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s government is urging everyone to get tested regularly for the coronavirus, even if they have no symptoms.

Prime Minister António Costa says a requirement to wear masks indoors, and outdoors if a sufficient distance between people isn’t possible, will remain in place because there is no certainty that vaccinated people don’t transmit the coronavirus.

Although Portugal has significantly eased its limits on movements and gatherings after the pandemic ebbed, authorities are wary of possible new surges. Health experts say last month’s large street celebrations in the capital of Lisbon after a local soccer team won the national championship and the arrival of thousands of British tourists in the southern Algarve vacation region could trigger new surges.

Costa says the government still recommends working from home. Bars and night clubs will remain closed until at least the end of August.

Portugal’s coronavirus incidence rate per 100,000 population over 14 days — a key pandemic measure — stands at 64.

Nearly 40% of the population of 10.3 million has received a first vaccine and almost 20% has been fully vaccinated.

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WASHINGTON — Free beer is the latest White House-backed incentive for Americans to get vaccinated for COVID-19. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a “month of action” on Wednesday to get more shots into arms before the July 4 holiday.

Biden is set to update the nation the vaccination roll-out and his plans to get 70% of adults partially vaccinated by Independence Day. That’s key to his goal of returning the nation to a pre-pandemic sense of normalcy this summer.

The latest vaccine incentive, provided by Anheuser-Busch, builds on others such as cash giveaways and sports tickets to keep up the pace of Americans getting shots.

To date 62.8% of the adult U.S. population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 133.6 million are full vaccinated. The rate of new vaccinations has slowed again to an average below 600,000 per day.

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NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus has confirmed two samples of the Indian COVID-19 variant have been found among the population.

The Cypriot Health Ministry says the Indian variant was found in two of 170 samples taken from infected individuals living in Cyprus. The samples underwent testing at the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Of the samples, 166 identified as the U.K. variant of the virus, while another two were the C.36 variant, which the Health Ministry says doesn’t pose a concern. The samples were taken between April 30-May 21.

The Ministry says the possibility of new variants entering the country remains high, despite the strict measures at Cyprus’ two international airports.

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CAIRO — Egypt’s prime minister says his government is seeking to vaccinate at least 40% of the country’s population against the coronavirus by the end of this year.

Mustafa Madbouly says only 2.5 million people have received vaccines out of 6 million registered to be vaccinated.

Egypt has launched its vaccination campaign in January, but many have been reluctant to received vaccines.

The nation of 100 million people has received several millions of doses from China and the COVAX initiative that distributes vaccines to middle- and low-income countries.

Egypt has reported more than 263,600 confirmed coronavirus cases and 15,136 confirmed deaths.

The actual number of cases, like elsewhere in the world, is considered far higher because of limited testing.

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GENEVA — Japan’s prime minister announced another $800 million to the U.N.-backed program to deploy COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries, a four-fold increase of Japanese funding to the COVAX program.

Yoshihide Suga spoke as Japan co-sponsored a fundraising event for COVAX with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which helps run the program. The program managers are seeking about $2 billion more to reach a target of $8.3 billion for its effort to fund free vaccines for low- and middle-income countries around the world.

“Now is the time for us to act,” said Suga through a translator, leading a parade of world and humanitarian leaders who announced pledges and commitments on Wednesday. He says the additional $800 million will bring Japan’s contribution to $1 billion.

Leaders from Australia, Austria, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland were among those citing their efforts to build momentum for greater equity in access to vaccines that the World Health Organization -- another key COVAX partner -- says is badly lacking.

Among those facing vaccine shortfalls are many of the 92 low- and middle-income countries and territories in the Advanced Market Commitment part of the COVAX program.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union wants to revamp Europe’s ID check-free travel area after coronavirus restrictions placed new strains on tourism, travel and business throughout the bloc.

The travel zone is made up of 26 countries: 22 EU nations plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Normally, people and goods move freely between these countries without border checks.

But government-imposed coronavirus restrictions have hampered free movement. That’s on top of other measures put in place by some countries to restrict migration and counter extremist attacks.

The EU plan is to boost external border controls, and police and security cooperation. The EU Commission says better monitoring of the way countries manage their borders would help build trust.

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BANGKOK, Thailand — AstraZeneca’s partner in Thailand has started its first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines after concerns they were behind on their production schedules for the country and parts of Southeast Asia.

Siam Bioscience says the first locally produced AstraZeneca doses were delivered Wednesday to Thailand’s Ministry of Health ahead of the June 7 start of the country’s official mass vaccination program.

It didn’t say how many doses were delivered. AstraZeneca signed with Siam Bioscience last year to be its vaccine production and distribution center in Southeast Asia. It says the vaccines would be ready for export to other Southeast Asian countries in July.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Officials in the Norwegian capital of Oslo have decided to temporarily suspend the traditional celebrations for high school seniors who drive around in buses and drink, after at least 540 people are quarantined because of a coronavirus outbreak tied to the festivities.

Oslo and Norway’s top medical authority have “made an urgent decision to stop all celebrations for a week,” the city said, according to Norwegian news agency NTB.

The celebrations, known as russ in Norwegian, are a major cultural phenomenon across the Scandinavian country. Participants wear colored overalls and matching caps, with some buying a used vehicle — a bus, a van or a car — which they scribble on with paint and drive around in. Drunkenness and public disturbances are often linked to the celebration.

Jorunn Thaulow, responsible for the infection tracing team in the western part of Oslo, told the Avisa Oslo newspaper that most of the cases are related to five buses used by the partying students. She says it’s affecting almost all high schools in the western part of Oslo, which has nearly 700,000 residents.

Norway soon will begin to vaccinate people between 18 and 44.

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WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s plummeting numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths have allowed the government to ease more restrictions and allow for conferences and exhibitions, indoor playgrounds and higher attendance at family events like weddings.

Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said Wednesday latest figures show that the pandemic is “easing off,” allowing for the new rules to take effect Sunday for a two-week trial period.

Conferences, fairs and trade exhibitions can be organized, and indoor playgrounds can open, provided there are no more than one person per 15 sq. meters (160 sq. feet.) The limit of people allowed at entertainment and family events was raised to 150, from previous 50, with fully vaccinated people not counting in that limit. However, discos remain closed.

Also, public transport can now fill to 75% of capacity, up from the previous 50% of capacity, but masks remain obligatory.

Poland’s average daily number of infections has gone under 1,000 and of deaths is under 100, compared to almost 30,000 new daily infections and over 700 deaths in April. Some 7.3 million Poles are fully vaccinated, and another 13 million have received the first jab.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — A pandemic lockdown in Australia’s second largest city will be extended for a second week due to concerns over a growing cluster of coronavirus infections.

Victoria state acting Premier James Merlino on Wednesday confirmed that Melbourne will remain in lockdown for seven more days from Friday, but pandemic restrictions will be eased elsewhere in the state.

Merlino says that “if we let this thing run its course, it will explode.”

Victoria officials said Wednesday that the state recorded six new locally acquired coronavirus cases, bringing the latest outbreak to 60 active infections. The lockdown is the fourth for Melbourne, which has 5 million residents.

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