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Seriously ill COVID-19 patients double in vaccine pace-setter Singapore

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SINGAPORE — The rapid pace of new COVID-19 infections and a doubling of seriously ill patients in Singapore have raised unexpected hurdles to reopening plans for the vaccination frontrunner, where 81% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Singapore, one of the fastest in the world to reach that level, has seen its inoculation rates plateau, and this month paused its gradual reopening plans, spooked by daily infections that returned to one-year peaks this month.

Infections over the weekend were more than a combined 1,000 cases, a tenfold increase from a month ago. Many experts, though, are not overly concerned about the rise in infections because of the low number of serious cases and Singapore’s high vaccination percentage.

The number of patients requiring oxygen, however, doubled to a record 54 on Sunday from two days before, an important gauge to judge whether the medical system could get overwhelmed.

The number of patients in intensive care units (ICU) have held at a low seven. Around 300 ICU beds are available and that could be increased to 1,000.

Many nations that have kept infections low and are considering taking steps to return to some normalcy once they achieve high vaccination rates are closely watching how the situation develops in Singapore.

With most of those aged 12 and older already vaccinated, Singapore is now considering a third shot for younger adults and may start inoculating children early next year. This week it will start boosters to the elderly and immunocompromised groups.

“If by offering booster shots to the people, including young adults, Singapore is able to relax its restrictions quicker especially with respect to reopening Singapore’s borders, then this may be an existential decision that the government is forced to take,” said Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore.

While the U.S. government introduced vaccine mandates for federal employees to fight a new wave of sickness and death caused by the fast-spreading Delta variant, Singapore is not considering such measures yet, as it has so far approved vaccines for emergency use only.

But some are voicing support for such vaccine mandates.

On Sunday, a commentary in The Straits Times, Singapore’s main newspaper, said an estimated 500,000 people that were eligible but have chosen not to get vaccinated were threatening the healthcare system.

“It is the unvaccinated people who hold the key to how fast Singapore can open up,” the newspaper piece said.

“Perhaps, it is time the government mandated vaccination for all who are medically eligible for it.”

Singapore is trying to push inoculations higher, with teams going to the homes of unvaccinated elderly people to give them the shots. Employers have also been asked to consider vaccination-differentiated workplace measures.

Singapore’s approach contrasts with other vaccination frontrunners such as Israel, the United States and England, which eased restrictions as they inoculated a large portion of their population and subsequently suffered a surge in cases and hospitalisations.

The government has said it will pause further opening for now and that it does not see a need for tighter curbs, although it has not ruled them out either.

In Singapore, the percentage of unvaccinated who became severely ill or died was 5.2% as of Sunday. For the fully vaccinated that percentage was 1%.

The Asian country of 5.7 million has reported 58 COVID-19 deaths and 71,687 total cases.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210914/seriously-ill-covid19-patients-double-in-vaccine-pacesetter-singapore/63099.html

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S.Korea urges more testing over fear of holiday COVID-19 surge

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South Korean authorities warned people returning from a holiday to get tested even for the mildest COVID-19 type symptoms, especially before clocking in for work amid a new surge in coronavirus cases in and around the capital.

The country, which has been grappling with a fourth wave of infections since early July, will on Friday roll back the allowance gatherings during the Chuseok holiday week to two people after 6 p.m. in the greater Seoul area.

Seoul saw 1,400 daily confirmed cases on average last week, up 11% from a record high of 1,268 the prior week, Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae said on Wednesday.

Kang urged those returning from the three-day holiday, which started on Monday, to get tested to prevent transmission.

South Korea’s popular tourist island of Jeju saw an average of more than 41,000 visitors a day during the holiday, up from about 32,000 in the same period last year, the Jeju Tourism Association told Reuters. More than 258,000 people have visited the island in six days.

Despite the high daily case numbers, the mortality rate and severe cases have remained relatively low and steady at 0.83% and 312 respectively as of Wednesday, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data showed.

The KDCA reported 1,716 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, raising the total to 292,699 infections, with 2,427 deaths.

South Korea struggled to get vaccine supplies initially, but has supercharged its campaign in recent months, administering 71.2% of the 52 million population with at least one dose through Wednesday and fully inoculated 43.2%.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210923/skorea-urges-more-testing-over-fear-of-holiday-covid19-surge/63237.html

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Japan to double COVID-19 vaccine donations to other countries to 60 mln doses

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TOKYO — Japan plans to give other countries 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday, doubling the target from the previous pledge of 30 million doses.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that, with additional contributions, Japan will provide up to approximately 60 million doses of vaccine in total,” Suga said in a pre-recorded video message at the U.S.-hosted Global COVID-19 Summit.

Of the first 30 million, Japan has already provided about 23 million doses mostly to Asian destinations including Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Japan initially lagged behind other industrialised nations in its vaccination rollout, but now 55% of its population are fully vaccinated, roughly on a par with the United States.

Earlier this month, in a surprise announcement, Suga said that he was stepping down as prime minister, ending a one-year term that has seen his support crumble as COVID-19 cases surged.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210923/japan-to-double-covid19-vaccine-donations-to-other-countries-to-60-mln-doses/63234.html

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U.S. FDA clears Pfizer COVID-19 booster for older and at-risk Americans

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized a booster dose of the Pfizer Inc and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those 65 and older, all people at high risk of severe disease, and others who are regularly exposed to the virus.

The decision paves the way for a quick rollout of the booster shots as soon as this week for millions of people who had their second dose of the vaccine at least six months ago.

The change to the vaccine’s emergency use authorization will allow boosters for groups such as health-care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, FDA acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

Pfizer had asked the FDA to expand its vaccine approval to include boosters for all people aged 16 and older and presented data last week to an outside FDA panel of advisers that it said showed waning immunity over time.

The panel voted against the proposition that boosters were needed by everyone but said evidence showed they were helpful to older people and those at high risk. 

Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), said the FDA’s statement was more expansive in who it included as eligible for boosters when compared to the panel’s recommendation.

“Very broad indeed, especially that ‘among others.’ That could essentially give the green light for giving boosters to a very substantial proportion of the previously vaccinated adult population,” said Schaffner, who serves as the NFID’s liaison to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

ACIP could vote Thursday on the use of a third shot of the vaccine, an agency official said at a public meeting of the panel on Wednesday.

“Tomorrow’s ACIP meeting at the CDC will be focused on turning this into an official recommendation for implementation,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

The FDA authorization was “generally in line” with the advisory panel vote, said Dr. Jesse Goodman, an infectious disease expert at Georgetown University in Washington and former chief scientist at the FDA.

“These are pretty broad categories that give a fair amount of latitude to the judgment of healthcare providers and people providing immunizations,” he added.

President Joe Biden and eight top health officials including Woodcock announced in August the government’s intention to roll out booster shots for people aged 16 and older this week, pending approval by the FDA and CDC.

But the advisory panel said there was not enough evidence to support booster shots for that population and also sought more safety data. The FDA does not have to follow the advisory panel’s recommendation, but often does.

The agency could revisit the issue for a broader authorization in the future.

“This first FDA authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine booster is a critical milestone in the ongoing fight against this disease,” said Pfizer chief Albert Bourla. The company had argued that boosters are needed for the general population.

Top FDA members have been split on the need for boosters for the general population, with Woodcock backing them while some of the agency’s senior scientists argued that current evidence does not support them.

Some countries, including Israel and Britain, have already rolled out COVID-19 booster campaigns. The United States authorized extra shots for people with compromised immune systems last month and over 2 million people have already received a third shot, CDC data showed.

Source: https://tuoitrenews.vn/news/international/20210923/us-fda-clears-pfizer-covid19-booster-for-older-and-atrisk-americans/63232.html

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