The number of new coronavirus cases and deaths reported globally continued to fall nearly everywhere in the world in what the World Health Organization described as a “welcome decline” at a media briefing on Wednesday.
The U.N. health agency said there were 4.5 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week, a 16% drop from the previous week. Deaths were also down by 13%, with about 13,500 fatalities. WHO said COVID-19 infections dropped everywhere in the world while deaths decreased everywhere except for Southeast Asia, where they climbed by 15% and in the Western Pacific, where they rose by 3%.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that with the coming onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the possible emergence of a more dangerous new COVID-19 variant, experts expect to see a spike in hospitalizations and deaths. Tedros said vaccination rates, even in rich countries, were still too low, noting that 30% of health workers and 20% of older people remain unimmunized.
“These vaccination gaps pose a risk to all of us,” he said. “Please get vaccinated if you are not and a booster if it’s recommended that you have one.”
It comes as the United States authorized its first update to COVID–19 vaccines, booster doses that target today’s most common Omicron strain on Wednesday. Shots could begin within days.
The move by the Food and Drug Administration tweaks the recipe of shots made by Pfizer and rival Moderna that already have saved millions of lives. The hope is that the modified boosters will blunt yet another winter surge — and help tamp down the BA.5 omicron relative that continues to spread widely.
“These updated boosters present us with an opportunity to get ahead” of the next COVID–19 wave, said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf.
Until now, COVID–19 vaccines have targeted the original coronavirus strain, even as wildly different mutants emerged. The new U.S. boosters are combination, or “bivalent,” shots. They contain half that original vaccine recipe and half protection against the newest omicron versions, BA.4 and BA.5, which are considered the most contagious yet.
The European Medicines Agency will consider Friday whether to authorize the combination COVID-19 vaccine including BA.1 made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Another version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine incorporating the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron is also under review by the EU regulator. Earlier this month, Britain decided it would offer adults 50 and over a different booster option from Moderna, a combo shot targeting that initial BA.1 Omicron strain.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s top doctor said Wednesday that people who test positive for COVID-19 no longer have to isolate for five days but should stay home until their fever clears and their symptoms have improved for at least 24 hours.
Dr. Kieran Moore says people should also wear a mask “in any setting” for 10 full days from the start of their symptoms, even if they feel better.
Moore says the province is moving away from COVID–19-specific guidance in favour of an “all-virus approach,” meaning the guidelines apply to other illnesses such as the flu.