The Latest: WHO leader opposes ‘widespread’ use of boosters

BERLIN — The head of the World Health Organization says he opposes “widespread use of boosters” for healthy people for now, underscoring the need to get doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to poorer countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke in Berlin on Wednesday. He says the U.N. health agency last week witnessed the first decline in new global cases in more than two months.

He says, “this is obviously very welcome but it doesn’t mean much,” since many countries are still seeing steep increases and “shocking inequities” in access to vaccines.

Tedros says he’s called for a moratorium on booster shots at least until the end of September “to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up.”

He says “third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations, where there is evidence of waning immunity against severe disease and death.” He cites the “very small group” of immunocompromised people who didn’t respond sufficiently to their original shots or are no longer producing antibodies.

Tedros adds: “But for now, we do not want to see widespread use of boosters for healthy people who are fully vaccinated.”

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Micronesia’s president tells AP: Mandated vaccines to avoid spread

— Vaccinations in rural India increase amide supply concerns

— Sound bite ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ captures part of story

— France starts COVID-19 booster shot campaign for elderly

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— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronvirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING

LONDON — Britain is offering a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine to up to half a million people who have severely weakened immune systems to give them additional protection.

The government’s vaccine advisers says people over 12 years old with conditions such as leukemia, advanced HIV and recent organ transplants will be offered a third jab.

Professor Wei Shen Lim of the official Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunization says the move aims to reduce the risks of hospitalization and death for the severely immuno-suppressed, a population estimated at 400,000 to 500,000 people, or less than 1% of the total population.

The offer is separate to decisions on a wider vaccine booster program, details of which haven’t been confirmed. Health Secretary Sajid Javid says that booster program, which prioritizes older age groups, is still planned to start this month. More than 78% of Britain’s population over age 16 have received both doses of the vaccine. The government’s vaccine advisory committee hasn’t decided whether to include all healthy teens age 12 to 15.

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MADRID — Spain has reached its initial goal of fully vaccinating 70% of its population for the coronavirus, according to the health ministry.

Despite a slow rollout of vaccines at the start of the year, Spain’s public health care system has fully vaccinated more than 33 million people. Over 92% of those over 40 years old are fully covered.

Health Minister Carolina Darias says vaccinations will continue because of the coronavirus, which is forcing certain health restriction to remain in place.

Also, Spain’s board of vaccine experts has recommended a third shot of vaccine be administered to those people with weak immune systems, such as transplant recipients. Its national and regional health authorities will take up the issue on Sept. 8 when they hold their weekly meeting on the pandemic.

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BERLIN — The World Health Organization has inaugurated a new “hub” in Berlin meant to better prepare the globe for future pandemics.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday launched the new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn says it’s part of an effort to build “a world safer from upcoming pandemics in the future.” The German government is investing $100 million in the facility.

It aims to promote better information-sharing and analysis, leading to better coordinated decision-making after the patchy global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, says “the faster we identify new infectious disease risks, the faster we can respond.”

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NEW DEHLI — More students in India can return to a classroom for the first time in nearly 18 months.

Authorities have given approval to partially reopen more schools despite apprehension from some parents and signs that infections are rising.

Schools and colleges in at least six more states will reopen in a gradual manner with health measures in place throughout September. Activities have been slowly returning in India after the trauma of a ferocious coronavirus surge this year brought daily life in the country to a halt, sickened tens of millions and left hundreds of thousands dead.

A number of states returned last month to in-person learning for some age groups.

Daily new infections have fallen sharply since their peak of more than 400,000 in May. On Saturday, India recorded 46,000 new cases, the highest in nearly two months.

Meanwhile, India has dramatically increased vaccination rates in its vast rural areas, where around 65% of its nearly 1.4 billion people live in villages served by fragile health care systems. Even though demand for vaccines has been increasing in villages, supply constraints continue for the world’s largest maker of vaccines. Experts say it’s unlikely the country will reach its objective of vaccinating all adults by the end of 2021.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s health minister says rising coronavirus cases mean citizens should remain vigilant.

Adan Niedzielski commenting Wednesday on latest figures that show 366 new infections, compared to 234 a week ago, and five deaths from COVID-19.

“It’s a 50% increase, and maybe it’s good because it’s a sign that will remind us about the need for discipline because the pandemic is still with us,” Niedzielski said on radio RMF FM.

He says almost half of the 38-million nation has been fully vaccinated and should reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

“Vaccinations are a gift for us from the science and we should use it as a precaution,” Niedzielski said.

Poland has registered nearly 2.9 million infections and 75,300 confirmed deaths.

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PARIS — France has started administering coronavirus booster shots to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions.

The move is meant to shore up their vaccine protection against the highly contagious delta variant. People can get the shot on the condition a minimum six-month period has passed since they got fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

The Health Ministry says about 18 million people are eligible for the booster shot.

France has been facing increased cases since July, with a slight decrease in recent weeks — from 23,000 per day around mid-August to the current 17,000. Health officials are concerned about a reversal of the trend as children return to school on Thursday.

Almost 44 million people, or 65% of the French population, are fully vaccinated.

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TIRANA, Albania — Albanian health authorities started compulsory vaccination for the medical staff, teachers, professors, and students on Wednesday.

They are obliged to hand over the vaccination passport until the end of the month or show results from periodical coronavirus tests. Those who decline will be fined ($29-$48).

The month of September is open for anyone 18 and older to get a shot. With the end of the tourist season comes the return of those entering the country to show a vaccination passport or negative virus test in the last 72 hours.

Albania has seen a significant surge of the daily virus cases in August. About one-fourth of the 2.8 million population has been fully vaccinated.

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ATHENS, Greece — Staff at public hospitals have held protests around Greece on the deadline to comply with a vaccination mandate for health care workers or face suspension without pay.

The government says the measure is needed to safeguard hospitals amid a third major surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. But health care unions say it is unnecessary, noting that an estimated 95% of doctors and 90% of other staff at the country’s largest hospitals are fully vaccinated.

Infection levels spiked in August to the highest level recorded in the country, and pressure on hospitals has been building in recent weeks.

Nearly 64% of Greece’s adult population is fully vaccinated, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, while the European Union average reached 70% Tuesday.

Health care unions in Greece say they support the government’s vaccination campaign but oppose mandates. A three-hour work stoppage at public hospitals is planned Thursday.

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ISTANBUL — A Turkish family that lost eight members to COVID-19 over a five-month period is calling on scientists to examine their genetic make-up to determine if they are more prone to the virus.

Burak Genc, 24, was the first in the family to die, in early November last year, followed by his father Muhammet six days later. Within six weeks they were followed by four other relatives, who are believed to have contracted the virus at the funerals or during visits to pay their condolences.

Two more members of the family died in February and April. After alerting the authorities, the remaining 25 members of the family were vaccinated and they have not suffered a loss since.

According to Turkish Health Ministry data, 60% of over-18s have received two doses of vaccine. However, the country has experienced rising case numbers since restrictions were relaxed in July, and daily infections hover around 20,000. Some 21,900 cases were recorded on Tuesday and there were 252 confirmed deaths.

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CAIRO — The number of daily COVID-19 cases confirmed in Egypt has grown steadily in recent weeks amid relaxed precautionary measures and the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

The Health Ministry reported Tuesday 279 cases in 24 hours and nine deaths, compared to 194 cases and seven deaths on the same day last week.

The delta variant first was detected in Egypt in July. Daily reported cases have gone up as authorities relaxed restrictions, allowing concerts and other large events where few participants wear face masks or maintain a distance from others.

Authorities have reported a total of 288,440 confirmed cases and 16,736 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic, but the actual numbers are believed much higher due to limited testing.

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JERUSALEM — Palestinian health authorities are launching a vaccination drive for students in the Gaza Strip ages 16-18 as the territory contends with a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Health officials began giving the Pfizer vaccine in Gaza Strip schools on Wednesday and aim to inoculate more than 100,000 students in the coming weeks. Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank began a similar drive on Tuesday.

The Gaza Health Ministry reported six deaths and more than 1,400 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest number since a new wave of infections began in August.

Less than half the population of the West Bank has received a first vaccine dose, and around 15% of Gaza’s population has gotten a first shot.

The Palestinians received 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine last week donated by the United States through COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative distributing vaccines to poorer nations.

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ROME — The Italian government has vowed to crack down on demonstrators threatening to block train tracks as a rule requiring COVID-19 tests or vaccines takes effect for long-distance domestic travel.

Starting Wednesday, passengers on domestic flights, trains traveling between regions and some ferries must show a so-called “Green Pass” certifying that they’ve had a least one dose of vaccine, tested negative in the past 48 hours or recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months.

Local buses, trams and subways are exempt from the rule, which was announced weeks ago.

Some 70% of Italy’s residents who are 12 or older and eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated. But confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen during the summer as the delta variant drives up transmission rates.

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BERLIN — Authorities in Germany’s capital have started offering booster shots against COVID-19 to vulnerable groups.

Dozens of mobile teams will be visiting elder care homes in Berlin starting Wednesday to administer third vaccine doses to residents.

Several other German states already are offering boosters to older adults or people who are immunocompromised. Those groups received their first shots six months ago.

Germany has seen a drop in public demand for vaccinations, with about 60% of the population fully vaccinated so far. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week that the country plans to more than double the number of doses it donates to poor countries this year to 70 million amid a supply glut.

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