GENEVA — The chief scientist of the World Health Organization is warning of “even more dire situations” worldwide in the coronavirus pandemic if high-income countries start administering vaccine boosters ahead of poorer countries without vaccines.
With the U.S. health officials recommending booster shots for all Americans who have already been vaccinated, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan expressed concern that leaving billions of people in the developing world unvaccinated could foster emergence of new variants, like the delta variant, that is driving new cases in the United States and beyond.
“We believe clearly that the data does not indicate that boosters are needed,” Swaminathan said at a news conference in Geneva. She expressed more understanding for a recent U.S. decision to administer boosters to people with weaker immune systems.
WHO officials have repeatedly expressed concerns that variants will continue to crop up in areas where the virus goes unchecked and called for vaccine equity and “solidarity” among countries.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, said: “If we think about this in terms of an analogy, we’re planning to hand out extra life jackets to people who already have life jackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single life jacket.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, says 10 countries have administered 75% of all vaccine supply, while low-income countries have vaccinated “barely 2 percent of their people.” He says, “vaccine injustice is a shame on all humanity.”
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— US health officials call for coronavirus booster shotsfor all
— Mississippi opens second field hospital in Jackson amid surge
— Floridagovernor touts antibody treatment linked to donor while banning mask mandates
— TexasGov. Abbott is at least the 11th governor to test positive
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BERLIN — Germany has recorded an increase in newly reported coronavirus infections, even as the last of the country’s 16 states announced Wednesday that more than half its population has been vaccinated.
The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, says 8,324 cases of coronavirus were reported Tuesday, two-thirds more than a week earlier.
Berlin, Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia — Germany’s most populous state — all have high infection rates, particularly among younger adults and children. The agency blamed the rise in cases on lagging vaccination rates and summer vacation travel.
Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday called on Germans to get vaccinated, saying doing so “is a good deed, not just for yourselves but also for our society.”
The eastern state of Saxony became the last to report that more than 50% of its population are fully vaccinated. Nationwide, the share of the population that’s fully vaccinated stands at 58%.
MADISON, Wis. — A high-ranking Catholic cardinal who has COVID-19 is in serious condition on a ventilator and sedated. Cardinal Raymond Burke, who spoke out against mandatory vaccinations, tweeted on Aug. 10 that he had the coronavirus.
Officials at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which Burke founded in La Crosse, Wisconsin, issued a statement Tuesday saying Burke is in serious but stable condition at an undisclosed location. It says he has received sacraments from priests nearby and several relics have been placed in his room.
Burke has built a reputation as a fiercely conservative cleric and one of Pope Francis’ staunchest critics.
NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are recommending all Americans get COVID-19 booster shots.
The plan, as outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top health authorities, calls for booster doses eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. The booster doses could begin the week of Sept. 20.
“Our plan is to protect the American people, to stay ahead of this virus,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.
Health officials say people who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine also probably need extra shots because some effectiveness of vaccines wanes over time. But they say they’re awaiting more data and have yet to work out the details.
The overall plan awaits a Food and Drug Administration evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose, the officials say.
PARIS, Texas — A Texas school district is amending its dress code to require masks in hopes of sidestepping Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates.
The Paris Independent School District’s board of trustees voted to require masks as part of its dress code when classes begin Thursday. The district, which has about 3,800 students, is located about 100 miles northeast of Dallas.
The board said in a statement: “The board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues.”
Abbott’s order barring mask mandates has been challenged in court, and several larger school districts have imposed mask requirements despite the order.
Meanwhile, at least four school districts in the state have temporarily closed campuses because of coronavirus cases among staff and students.
The Paris board’s decision came the same day the governor tested positive for the coronavirus and statewide hospitalizations reached their highest level since late January.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka is closing swimming pools, gymnasiums and children’s parks, along with stricter rules for people going out of their homes, in an effort to control soaring coronavirus cases.
The rules, effective Wednesday, allow only one person to leave home other than for work. Indoor sport facilities will be closed, beach gatherings and musical shows are prohibited. State, private offices and businesses can operate with limited personnel and customers.
Sri Lanka is facing a rise in coronavirus cases, with health officials warning that hospital facilities and morgues have reached their full capacity. The government announced Wednesday it has approved the import of an additional 360,000 liters of liquid oxygen. However, it has ruled out a full lockdown because of the impact on the economy.
Sri Lanka has reported 365,683 cases and 6,434 confirmed deaths.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi, one of the nation’s least vaccinated states, has opened its second field hospital to treat a surge of coronavirus patients.
The Christian charity relief group Samaritan’s Purse arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, with more than 50 medical professionals, setting up tents with 32 beds in a garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Recently, an emergency field hospital with federal backing was set up elsewhere on the medical center campus.
Health officials say the surging delta variant is overwhelming the state’s hospital system. On July 27, some 726 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus. By Aug. 16, that figure stood at 1,623. Only 34% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.
Mississippi’s State Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs says this wave is impacting younger, unvaccinated people just as schools are resuming. More children are hospitalized, and one died last week.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says about 20,000 Mississippi students are currently quarantined for COVID-19 exposure — 4.5% of the public school population.
The medical center’s leader, LouAnn Woodward, renewed pleas for people to get vaccinated. She says unlike the natural disaster in Haiti, the situation in Mississippi is a “disaster of our own making.”
“We as a state, as a collective, have failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat, we have failed to use the tools that we have to protect ourselves,” she says.
There’s been a total of 392,300 cases and 7,880 confirmed deaths in a state of 3 million people.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been criticized for efforts to ban mask mandates and vaccine passports.
However, he’s touting a COVID-19 antibody treatment in which a top donor’s company has invested millions of dollars. DeSantis has been promoting the effectiveness of Regeneron, a monoclonal antibody treatment. Filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund, has $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals as well as options to buy its stock.
Citadel CEO Ken Griffin has donated $10.75 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis. Citadel’s investment in Regeneron is a tiny fraction of its overall $39 billion in investments.
GENEVA — The Swiss government plans to make coronavirus vaccinations free to thousands of cross-border workers.
Such vaccinations have been currently limited to citizens and residents of Switzerland and some others “due to the limited availability of vaccine doses,” the government said Wednesday. The Federal Council, the Swiss executive branch, wants to expand the availability of doses to “other people with close ties to Switzerland.”
More than 400,000 people who live in neighboring countries — mostly four European Union member states — have permits to work in Switzerland, a non-EU country of about 8.5 million. Many of those cross-border workers may already have been vaccinated in their home countries.
The council is proposing next week the government “assume the costs of vaccination for cross-border commuters, since they are regularly in Switzerland and could influence the course of the pandemic here.”
Health authorities have been dispensing Pfizer and Moderna in Switzerland.
CANBERRA, Australia — Qantas Group says the Australian airline company will require all of its workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Front-line employees — including cabin crew, pilots and airport staff — must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15, while remaining Qantas employees have until the end of March, the Sydney-based company said in a statement.
Exemptions will be made for employees unable to be vaccinated for documented medical reasons, the statement said. Such exemptions are expected to be “very rare.”
Qantas said a survey found that 89% of its workers were already vaccinated or planned to be. U.S. airlines are divided over whether to insist on their staffs getting vaccinated.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is adding his voice to a campaign to overcome vaccine skepticism, issuing a public service announcement insisting that vaccines are safe, effective and an “act of love.”
The video message released Wednesday is aimed at a global audience but directed particularly at the Americas. It features six cardinals and archbishops from North, Central and South America as well as the Argentine-born pope. It was produced by the Vatican and the Ad Council, which has produced a series of pro-vaccine ads in a bid to get more people vaccinated.
In his comments, Francis said: “Being vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the competent authorities is an act of love. And contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love.”
He added: “Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable.”
Francis had emphasized at the start of the pandemic the need to ensure equal access to the vaccine, especially for the poor. But faced with increasing skepticism about vaccines especially among religious conservatives, the Vatican has vowed an all-out effort to overcome hesitancy and encourage widespread vaccination.
VALLETTA, Malta — The small Mediterranean island nation of Malta has donated tens of thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Libya.
After having vaccinated over 90% of the eligible local population, Malta’s government decided to donate 40,000 AstraZeneca doses to the nearby North African country, a Health Ministry spokesperson said. Malta also donated 40,000 rapid test kits.
Malta has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world. Libya, with a population of 6.8 million, had only administered some 764,233 doses as of Aug. 9, according to the World Health Organization. Libya is the launching point for tens of thousands of would-be asylum-seekers who pay human traffickers to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says Southeast Asia is battling the world’s highest COVID-19 death toll, driven by the delta variant and unequal distribution of vaccines.
Southeast Asia recorded 38,522 deaths from COVID-19 in the last two weeks, nearly twice as many as North America, it says, citing data from John Hopkins University.
Seven of the top 10 countries where COVID-19 deaths have doubled the fastest are in Asia and the Pacific, with Vietnam, Fiji and Myanmar in the top five, according to Our World in Data.