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COVID cases surge again in Europe as Moderna says its booster candidate protects


COVID cases are again surging in Europe, driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s omicron variant that are deemed to be 10% to 15% more infectious than earlier virus iterations and are spreading fast in Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands and Denmark.

In France, cases have climbed to 920 in a week from 224 on June 13, the Guardian reported, citing data from aggregator Our World in Data. Experts are now concerned that with few restrictions left in place and low booster take-up, the continent could be facing a steep increase in cases this summer.

Portugal has seen the biggest wave with infections per million residents at a seven-day average of 2,043 on Monday, the second highest new-case rate in the world.

French health expert Dr. Damien Mascret told France 2 television that the BA.4 and BA.5 variants had led to significant excess deaths in Portugal, adding that hospital admissions in France were up 27% and intensive-care admissions 17% in a week’s time.

“The holiday season is about to start, almost all restrictions have been relaxed — things could take off again very fast indeed,” he said. “It’s concerning that only 29% of over-60s have so far got the fourth dose to which they are all entitled.”

Read also: COVID patients with weak immune systems should get priority care to avoid new variants emerging, experts say

U.S. cases are averaging 96,218 a day, down 15% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker. Cases are now falling in roughly half of the 50 states, and are coming down fastest in the Northeast and Midwest. But cases — and hospitalizations — are rising in the South and West.

The country is averaging 29,934 hospitalizations a day, up 2% from two weeks ago. The daily death toll stands at 289 on average, down 11% from two weeks ago.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday welcomed the arrival of vaccines for very young children. “Finally, some peace of mind,” Biden said at a White House event to mark the start of the inoculation of children below the age of 5, the last group to be added to the U.S. program.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared lower-dose vaccines for young children from Pfizer
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+2.35%

and German partner BioNTech
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and from Moderna late last week, following the recommendations of expert panels.

Moderna
MRNA,
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said Wednesday that it shared new data with regulators about its bivalent COVID-19 booster’s antibody response against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants as it seeks to update its authorized booster with the new formulation.

Moderna’s bivalent booster protects against both omicron and the original strain of the virus. The company said that participants in the study were vaccinated and boosted before receiving a shot of the experimental bivalent booster.

Moderna also said the bivalent booster generated protective antibodies against the new subvariants, though not as many as it did against BA.1.

“We will submit these data to regulators urgently and are preparing to supply our next generation bivalent booster starting in August, ahead of a potential rise in SARS-CoV-2 infections due to Omicron subvariants in the early fall,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a news release.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, meanwhile, told MSNBC that it’s “almost certain” that coronavirus vaccines will be adapted each year. “The beauty of” mRNA vaccines is how they can be resequenced, he said, making it possible to create vaccines designed for omicron.

Bourla said a panel of expert advisers to the FDA will meet June 28 to talk about what’s needed in the next generation of vaccines.

“Whatever the decisions [made at the FDA committee of experts meeting on June 28], we are ready for that. We have developed monovalent vaccines and multivalent vaccines in higher doses, lower doses, and they are all waiting so that we can hear what they think is the best way forward so that we can provide a vaccine that is way better than the current one,” he said.

President Biden called the availability of Covid-19 vaccines for young children a “monumental step,” speaking a few days after the CDC recommended that children as young as 6 months receive the newly authorized shots. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

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