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Covid-19 exposes North Korea's vulnerable health care system
03:11 - Source: CNN

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CNN  — 

Covid-19 vaccine boosters might look a little different by the end of this year.

US regulators advised manufacturers last week to update the Covid-19 vaccine in time for the fall booster program with new formulas that would better protect against the more infectious Omicron subvariants, which are dominating coronavirus transmissions in the United States.

“We have advised manufacturers seeking to update their COVID-19 vaccines that they should develop modified vaccines that add an omicron BA.4/5 spike protein component to the current vaccine composition… so that the modified vaccines can potentially be used starting in early to mid-fall 2022,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said last Thursday. The FDA has not advised manufacturers to change the primary vaccine for those who still have not gotten the Covid-19 vaccination.

On the same day, the Biden administration announced that it had agreed to purchase 105 million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for delivery later this year. “This may include adult Omicron-adapted Covid-19 vaccines, subject to authorization,” Pfizer said in a statement.  

While current vaccines have been providing strong protection against severe disease since they were rolled out at the end of 2020, Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are better able to evade immunity from vaccines and previous infections, Jen Christensen reports.

BA.4/5 have been linked to soaring cases in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Germany and France. And the rise in infections comes as a pre-print study – based on the health records of more than 5.6 million people treated in the Veterans Affairs health system – found that repeatedly catching Covid-19 appears to increase the chances that a person will face new and sometimes lasting health problems after their infection.

As cases rise, some in the US are asking when the younger population will receive another jab. Marks said last Tuesday that there will be a conversation going forward to determine who needs another booster and what that booster will look like. At the moment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only recommends the fourth dose to those over 50 years old and the immunocompromised.

Nearly two-and-a-half years since the coronavirus pandemic began, the most infectious and transmissible variant yet has arrived.


Q: How should I protect myself amid the new Covid-19 wave?

A: At this point in the pandemic, many people may not want to plan their lives around Covid-19 anymore — especially if they’re generally healthy. On the other hand, those with underlying health conditions or who have concerns about long-haul symptoms are still trying to play it safe. Given just how contagious the new Omicron subvariants are, avoiding infection does require some planning and consideration, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen explains.

“A different injection site is used – for example, the Covid-19 shot in one leg and another vaccine in another leg,” she says, but she stresses the importance of children being “up to date with other immunizations to prevent other infectious diseases.” 

If they aren’t, she suggests checking with your pediatrician to see if they are due for other vaccines, too. As a mother of two children under five, Wen got her kids vaccinated as soon as they were able to be, and said the experience was akin to any vaccination appointment.

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.


People in Seoul, South Korea, watch a TV news report about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his country's Covid outbreak in May.

The severity of the virus varies by country. In South Africa, its BA.4/BA.5 wave led to an increase in Covid-19 cases but did not increase the risk of hospitalization. In Europe, cases and hospitalizations are rising as BA.4 and BA.5 become the dominant strain. It remains to be seen what the impact will be in the US.

As with past outbreaks of disease in North Korea, one of the biggest concerns surrounding the country’s Covid outbreak is that Pyongyang’s penchant for secrecy makes it hard to accurately gauge its severity, Paula Hancocks and Yoonjung Seo report. 

International NGOs and most foreign embassies have long vacated the country and tightly sealed borders mean access is impossible. 

The impoverished nation publicly acknowledged the virus had breached its borders for the first time in May. At the time, its leader, Kim Jong Un, described the outbreak as the “greatest turmoil” ever to befall the country. Two months and millions of suspected cases later, he claimed a “shining success” in stopping the disease in its tracks.

Last week, North Korean authorities blamed the outbreak on “unusual items” a couple of residents had come in contact with near the South Korean border, according to state media outlet KCNA. The South Korean government denied the possibility of Covid-19 spreading through leaflets sent from the South, quoting local and international health experts on the low risk of people being infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. 

Fauci says his Covid rebounded after Paxlovid

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, recently revealed he is experiencing a rebound of his Covid-19 infection after taking the antiviral medication Paxlovid. So far, Paxlovid rebound cases have been limited to small studies and experiences shared on social media.

Fauci described the “interesting course” his own infection had taken during an appearance at Foreign Policy’s Global Health Forum last week, saying he tested positive with “very minimal symptoms.” When they increased, given his age, he “went on Paxlovid for five days.” Fauci, 81, credited the drug with keeping him out of the hospital, Brenda Goodman and Virginia Langmaid report. 

After five days on the drug, he tested negative. He had three consecutive days of negative tests. On the fourth day he tested positive again – only, this time, his symptoms were worse, experiencing what people call a “Paxlovid rebound,” Fauci said.

Pfizer – the company that makes Paxlovid – has said its studies show rebounds are rare and happen with both people who took the drug and those who took a placebo pill. Because of this variation, the company doesn’t believe the rebound is tied to the drug.

A 14-year-old tiger died after contracting Covid in an Ohio zoo

A tiger at an Ohio zoo died of health complications caused by Covid-19, officials said last week. 

The 14-year-old Amur tiger, Jupiter, died on June 26 after developing pneumonia caused by the virus, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium said in a statement. Jupiter was undergoing long-term treatment for chronic underlying illnesses that made him more susceptible to Covid, the zoo said.

First Covid vaccine mandate enforced in mainland China


Read more here.

If you have been a staunch believer that vitamin D is a Covid-19 miracle cure, think again. Taking too much can lead to an overdose due to a toxic buildup of calcium in the blood, causing confusion, disorientation and problems with heart rhythm, among other afflictions.

Last week, the journal BMJ Case Reports published a paper about a British man who was hospitalized after overdosing on vitamin D. 

Advice for anxious new moms


We’re always waiting for something, whether it’s in line for our morning coffee, on hold with customer service, or the next Covid-19 booster shot. How can we make it feel less excruciating? CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, talks with waiting expert Professor Kate Sweeny to understand the science of waiting, why we evolved to hate it, and what we can do to deal with waits in our day-to-day lives. Listen here.