COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Simon Torkington, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • This weekly COVID-19 news roundup brings you a selection of the latest news and updates on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as tips and tools to help you stay informed and protected.
  • Top COVID-19 news stories: Beijing tests millions over COVID cluster; US drops testing for incoming air travellers; Pfizer vaccines safe for small children, say staff at US regulator.

1. How COVID-19 is affecting the globe

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have passed 535.3 million globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The number of confirmed deaths has now passed 6.3 million. More than 11.94 billion vaccination doses have been administered globally, according to Our World in Data.

Authorities in China’s capital Beijing are racing to contain a COVID-19 outbreak traced to a 24-hour bar, Reuters reports. Millions in the city face mandatory testing and thousands are under targeted lockdowns. The re-emergence of COVID infections is raising new concerns about the outlook for the world’s second-largest economy.

The United States has lifted a requirement that people arriving by air test negative for COVID-19. The decision follows intense lobbying by airlines and the travel industry.

North Korea on Sunday reported 40,060 new people showing fever symptoms and one death amid the isolated nation’s first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak, state media KCNA said.

Drugmaker Moderna says a new version of its coronavirus vaccine produced a better immune response against Omicron than the original shot, as the company pursues a booster against a potential surge in infections this autumn. The vaccine – given as a fourth dose in a trial of more than 800 people – raised virus-neutralizing antibodies eight-fold against Omicron.

Available data suggest that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines do not change menstruation cycles, the European Union’s health regulator concluded last week. The assessment was prompted by reports of menstrual disorders after one or two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

The COVAX facility has delivered 1.53 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to 146 countries, according to data from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). COVAX is backed by GAVI and the World Health Organization, and in December it set a target of achieving 70% COVID-19 immunization coverage by mid-2022.

Construction of an mRNA vaccine factory to enable African nations to jump-start their own manufacturing network will begin in Rwanda on 23 June, COVID-19 vaccine-maker BioNTech says. The German company’s modular factory elements, to be assembled in Africa in so-called BioNTainers, will be delivered to the Kigali construction site this year.

Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in selected countries
Daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million people in selected countries Image: Our World in Data

2. Diabetes may increase long COVID risk; COVID while pregnant linked to baby brain development issues

Diabetes may increase the risk of long COVID, new analyses of seven previous studies suggest. Researchers reviewed studies that tracked people for at least four weeks after COVID-19 recovery to see which individuals developed persistent symptoms associated with long COVID, such as brain fog, skin conditions, depression and shortness of breath.

In three of the studies, people with diabetes were up to four times more likely to develop long COVID than people without diabetes. The researchers said diabetes appears to be “a potent risk factor” for long COVID, but their findings are preliminary because the studies differed in their methods, definitions of long COVID and follow-up times, and some looked at hospitalized patients while others focused on people with milder cases of COVID-19.

Researchers have also found that babies born to mothers who had COVID-19 while pregnant may be at higher-than average risk for problems with brain development involved in learning, focusing, remembering and developing social skills.

They studied 7,772 babies delivered in Massachusetts between March and September 2020, tracking them for 12 months. During that time, 14.4% of the babies born to the 222 women with a positive coronavirus test during pregnancy were diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder, compared with 8.7% of babies whose mothers avoided the virus while pregnant.

3. Pfizer COVID vaccines safe for small children, say staff at US regulator

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) staff reviewers say that Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines are effective and safe for use in children aged six months to four years. The FDA reviewers said in briefing documents published on Sunday evening that their evaluation did not reveal any new safety concerns related to the use of the vaccine in young children.

The FDA analysis of data from Pfizer’s trial was published ahead of a meeting of its outside advisers on 15 June. Recommendations from the external advisers will determine the FDA’s decision on the vaccines.

An early analysis of data from Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine based on 10 symptomatic COVID-19 cases identified when the Omicron coronavirus variant was dominant suggested a vaccine efficacy of 80.3% in under-fives.

COVID-19 shots for children under six are yet not approved in most parts of the world. It remains unclear how many parents will get their children vaccinated, as demand has been low for those aged five to eleven. The FDA last week released a staff review of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, saying the doses are safe and effective for use in children aged six months to 17 years.

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