Pregnancy Vaccination, Rules for Unvaccinated, Kids' Mental Health: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

September 16, 2021

These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.

The UK is going ahead with an autumn programme of COVID-19 booster vaccinations for over-50s and other vulnerable groups. A full dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or a half dose of Moderna will be used 6 months after second doses. The UK's chief medical officers also recommended Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination for 12 to 15-year-olds. The decision came despite the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) deciding against mass vaccination of children. 

In England, the Government has a 'plan B' ready for a major rise in cases this winter, including the return of mandatory face coverings, and vaccine passports. As of Tuesday, 81.3% of over-16s were fully vaccinated, and 89.2% had received a first dose. The rate of new positive cases is down 18.4% over 7 days at a rate of 360 per 100,000 population. However, deaths rose by 4.4% and hospital admissions were up 2.5%.

In Germany the incidence of coronavirus infections remains fairly constant. The 7-day incidence of new infections is 77.9, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

Health authorities reported 12,455 new infections within one day. A week ago, there were 13,565 cases. According to the latest data, 83 deaths were recorded in Germany within 24 hours.

The Standing Commission on Vaccination at the RKI now recommends COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women from the second trimester and for breastfeeding women with two doses of an mRNA vaccine. Until now, vaccination was only recommended for pregnant women who were at special risk.

Increasingly more federal states want to use the so called '2G model' .  This bans unvaccinated people from entering certain areas of public life.  The aim is to further reduce infection and allow vaccinated and recovered people to have a largely normal everyday life again.

In France, the number of hospitalised COVID patients fell below 10,000 on Monday, the lowest since July. The decline is also seen in intensive care. Since the start of the vaccination campaign, 73.8% of the total population has received at least one dose of vaccine and 70% of people are fully vaccinated.

The announcement of mandatory vaccination for caregivers from September 15 helped boost the vaccination of health professionals. However, 300,000 unvaccinated workers risk being suspended or having to resign, a situation which could destabilise some hospital services and nursing homes.

The Franco-Austrian company Valneva suffered a setback with the British Government's decision to terminate its contract for the purchase of 100 million doses of its COVID candidate vaccine. UK ministers said the vaccine would not have been approved by regulators.

As the situation improves, people identified as being at-risk of severe forms of COVID-19 will be able to physically go back to work from September 27.

The former Minister of Health, Dr Agnès Buzyn has been indicted for "endangering the lives of others" as part of the management of the COVID-19 crisis. She is accused of being slow to take action in January 2020.

In Austria, 2624 new COVID-19 infections were reported on Wednesday. This is the highest number in 5 months. The 7-day-incidence rose to 164. There was also an increase in hospitalised COVID-19 patients. Progress on vaccination appears to be stalling while new measures include daily use of face masks, and antigen tests only being valid for 24 hours, except for schoolchildren.

In Switzerland on Tuesday, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) reported 1992 new infections since the previous day. Sixty-five people were admitted to hospital, and 11 people died due to COVID-19. Vaccination is now recommended for pregnant women from the 12th week of pregnancy.

In Italy, while remaining above the threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 population, the epidemic curve finally seems to be declining, with a national incidence of 64 new cases per 100,000 population. There's a slight increase in COVID-19. Most cases in the last 30 days occurred in unvaccinated people or in children under 12, who are not eligible for vaccination. A significant reduction in risk is confirmed in fully vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated people (a reduction of 77% for diagnosis, 93% for hospitalisation, 96% for ICU admissions and deaths) according to the National Institute of Health. Almost 40 million people have been fully vaccinated in Italy, 74% of the target population. The Italian Government is planning to make the Green Pass mandatory to all workers, in public and private workplaces. This decision has been criticised by the antivax movement and also some lawyers and ethicists.

In Portugal, more than 77% of the population is fully vaccinated. The country continues to lift restrictions and is restarting cultural events and tourism. There are still limits to concert hall capacities and proof of vaccination or negative test results are needed.

The Delta variant accounted for 99.7% of cases in the week to 5 September. The National Institute of Health also identified 66 cases of 'Delta Plus' variants.

Spain is already administering a third dose of vaccine to immunosuppressed people. On Thursday the Public Health Commission will decide whether to start giving a third dose to elderly people in healthcare facilities. COVID-19 cases continue to go down in Spain, with the incidence at 14 days at 86 cases per 100,000 population. On vaccination 78.5% of the population has received one vaccine dose, and  74.6% are fully vaccinated.

Vaccine hesitancy and refusal has stalled progress on getting the pandemic under control in the US.  President Joe Biden announced sweeping vaccine mandates that will affect two-thirds of all US workers.  These mandates include federal employees, healthcare workers, and people who work for companies that employ more than 100 people. He has also greatly expanded the availability of tests and testing. Some conservative governors and policy makers are fighting the new mandates in court.

More than 1800 Americans are dying of COVID-19 infections each day.  Nearly all of them are unvaccinated. Hospitals are under great strain in the South, where more than 95% of all intensive care unit beds are full.

The Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Carissa Etienne, said that COVID-19 has strongly impacted the mental and physical health of children and adolescents in the Americas, and urged countries to take specific measures to protect them, including the safe reopening of schools. She also warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated risk factors associated with suicidal behaviour and called for its prevention to be prioritised. 
In the Americas region, 1.4 million cases and 23,300 COVID-related deaths were reported in the last week.

In the Caribbean, infections have increased in Grenada, Barbados, and Bermuda.

In Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Belize, infections are on the rise and many hospitals are overcrowded. Meanwhile, the rest of the South American countries continue to report declining infections and deaths.

In Brazil, the average number of cases is the lowest since May 2020 and the average number of deaths has been falling for 3 weeks. In total, the country has had 587,138 deaths related to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

As of Monday, 34.83% of the Brazilian population was fully vaccinated, and 64.99% received a first vaccine dose. Booster doses were given to 105,509 people. However, the vaccination programme has been interrupted in some areas due to shortages.

The states of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro already require a vaccination certificate for access to public places, and this will also be required in Bahia. 

Australia's capital Canberra will remain in lockdown for an additional 4 weeks. The night curfew in Sydney ended on September 15, as COVID-19 vaccinations continue to increase. The state of New South Wales, which is the epicentre of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak reported 1257 new cases on September 13.

On September 13, New Zealand extended its lockdown in Auckland for at least another week when reports of several "mystery cases" of COVID-19, not linked to any existing clusters, surfaced in the city. New Zealand has purchased 500,000 vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Denmark to boost its vaccination programme. 

China has implemented local lockdowns and initiated mass testing in response to the latest COVID-19 outbreak in its Fujian province. The province has reported more than 150 new local infections in 5 days. Several cities in China issued travel warnings ahead of a mid-autumn festival holiday next week. Chinese authorities have reported that 91% of individuals in the 12 to 17-years age group have been fully vaccinated.

Japan will donate an additional 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Taiwan, along with 400,000 doses to Vietnam, 300,000 to Thailand, and 100,000 to Brunei.

The total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in India has passed 750 million.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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