Health News Roundup: Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus; Drugmakers, scientists begin the hunt for long COVID treatments and more

Following is a summary of current health news briefs.

Factbox-Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

Australia will roll out the fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines to its most vulnerable population starting next month, authorities said on Friday, as the country looks to limit fresh outbreaks ahead of winter. DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

Drugmakers, scientists begin the hunt for long COVID treatments

After producing vaccines and treatments for acute COVID-19 in record time, researchers and drugmakers are turning to find a cure for long COVID, a more elusive target marked by hundreds of different symptoms afflicting millions of people. Leading drugmakers, including those who have launched antiviral pills and monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19, are having early discussions with researchers about how to target the disease, five scientists in the United States and the UK told Reuters. Companies including GlaxoSmithKline, Vir Biotechnology and Humanigen confirmed they had spoken to researchers on trials using their current treatments against long COVID. Others including Pfizer and Roche said they are interested but would not elaborate on plans. Researchers, biotech companies and public health experts say major pharmaceutical companies are integral to getting a proven treatment for the disease, which currently afflicts more than 100 million people, according to the World Health Organization. “When you look at the numbers for heart failure, for diabetes, etc, that is the ballpark we are talking about,” said Amitava Banerjee, a leading researcher on a long COVID trial.

European drug regulator clears J&J, Legend’s CAR-T therapy

The European Medicines Agency on Friday recommended the use of Johnson & Johnson and its partner Legend Biotech Corp’s CAR-T therapy to treat multiple myeloma, nearly a month after the treatment was cleared in the United States. The drug, Carvykti, was initially tested in China and later in the United States and Japan.

Hong Kong govt to resume services on April 1 as city logs lowest infections in a month

Hong Kong will gradually resume public services from April 1, the government said on Friday, with the global financial hub posting its lowest number of daily infections in about a month. Government departments will return to normal service by April 21, it said in a statement, part of a broader easing of strict coronavirus measures which have created widespread frustration for residents and businesses.

German health minister urges people at risk to get second COVID booster

Germany’s health minister on Friday urged people over age 60 with risk factors such as high blood pressure or a weak heart to get a second booster shot against COVID-19 to reduce their risk of getting seriously ill. Karl Lauterbach said he had asked the STIKO vaccine authority to adjust its current recommendation for a second booster to include a bigger group of people.

Russian health regulator says medicine shortage due to spike in demand

Russian healthcare regulator Roszdravnadzor on Friday said medicine shortages were due to “artificially” higher demand and that suppliers were not currently able to replenish stocks on time, the RIA news agency reported. Russians have rushed to stock up on anti-depressants, sleeping pills and contraceptives among other products since the conflict in Ukraine began, data released on Thursday showed, with people buying a month’s worth of medicine in just two weeks.

Japan’s Shionogi signs govt supply pact for pill to fight COVID

Japan’s Shionogi & Co has signed a basic agreement with the government to supply an oral COVID-19 treatment it is now developing, the firm said on Friday. The government is considering buying a million doses of the drug pending regulatory approval, the company added in a statement.

NYC Mayor Adams lifts vaccine mandate for pro athletes, performers

New York Mayor Eric Adams said on Thursday he was lifting the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for professional athletes and performers, allowing unvaccinated Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving to play at home and lifting a cloud ahead of Major League Baseball’s opening day. Adams said he signed an order exempting New York City-based athletes and performers from the city’s private employer vaccine mandate imposed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio. That mandate requires private-sector workers to show proof of vaccination.

Shanghai’s COVID ‘slice and grid’ model comes under pressure as cases surge

Shanghai’s bespoke approach to tackling coronavirus outbreaks is coming under strain as new cases rise in the Chinese metropolis, with authorities reluctant to impose a comprehensive lockdown as other cities have done. The city of 26 million has become a testing ground for China’s ability to control flare-ups of the more contagious but less deadly Omicron variant while keeping the economy steady in an approach it describes as “slicing and gridding”, which involves screening neighborhoods one by one.

Costs of going unvaccinated in America are mounting for workers and companies

Nearly a year after COVID vaccines became freely available in the U.S., one-fourth of American adults remain unvaccinated, and a picture of the economic cost of vaccine hesitancy is emerging. It points to financial risk for individuals, companies, and publicly funded programs. Vaccine hesitancy likely already accounts for tens of billions of dollars in preventable U.S. hospitalization costs and up to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths, say public health experts.

(With inputs from agencies.)

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