AstraZeneca says early trial data indicates third dose helps against omicron

AstraZeneca says early trial data indicates third dose helps against omicron
Lab studies conducted by the University of Oxford last month already found a three-dose course of Vaxzevria boosted antibody levels in the blood against the rapidly spreading omicron variant.
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Updated 13 January 2022

AstraZeneca says early trial data indicates third dose helps against omicron

AstraZeneca says early trial data indicates third dose helps against omicron
  • The brief statement was the first by AstraZeneca on the protective potential of Vaxzevria as a booster shot following a two shot-course of either an mRNA based vaccine or Vaxzevria

AstraZeneca said on Thursday that preliminary data from a trial showed that its COVID-19 shot, Vaxzevria, generated an increase in antibodies against the omicron and other variants when given as a third booster dose.
The increased response, also against the Delta variant, was seen in a blood analysis of people who were previously vaccinated with either Vaxzevria or an mRNA vaccine, the drugmaker said, adding that it would submit this data to regulators worldwide given the urgent need for boosters.
AstraZeneca has developed the vaccine with researchers from the University of Oxford, and lab studies conducted by the university last month already found a three-dose course of Vaxzevria boosted antibody levels in the blood against the rapidly spreading omicron variant.
The brief statement on Thursday, which did not include specific data, was the first by AstraZeneca on the protective potential of Vaxzevria as a booster shot following a two shot-course of either an mRNA based vaccine or Vaxzevria. Vaccines based on mRNA technology are made by BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna.
The company said the findings “add to the growing body of evidence supporting Vaxzevria as a third dose booster irrespective of the primary vaccination schedules tested.”
The data on Vaxzevria’s potential as a booster came from a comparative analysis in a trial testing a redesigned vaccine which uses the vector technology behind Vaxzevria but targeting the now-superseded Beta variant. AstraZeneca is trying to show the Beta-specific vaccine has potential also against other variants and more trial data is expected during the first half of the year.
Separately, Oxford University and AstraZeneca last month started work on a vaccine specifically targeting omicron though Astra — as well as other vaccine makers in similar development projects — have said it was not yet clear whether such an upgrade was needed.
A major British trial in December found that AstraZeneca’s shot increased antibodies when given as a booster after initial vaccination with its own shot or Pfizer’s, but that was before the explosive spread of the omicron variant.
However, the study at the time concluded that mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna gave a biggest boost to antibodies when given as a third dose.
AstraZeneca and its contract manufacturing partners have supplied over 2.5 billion doses globally of its vaccine, even though it is not approved in the United States, while BioNTech-Pfizer have shipped about 2.6 billion doses.


France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases
Updated 13 sec ago

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases

France, Germany, Belgium report first monkeypox cases
PARIS: France, Belgium and Germany on Friday reported their first cases of monkeypox, joining several other European and North American nations in detecting the disease, endemic in parts of Africa.
Monkeypox was identified in a 29-year-old man in the Ile-de-France region, which includes Paris, who had not recently returned from a country where the virus is circulating, France’s health authorities said Friday.
Separately, the German armed forces’ microbiology institute said it has confirmed the virus in a patient who developed skin lesions — a symptom of the disease.
And in Belgium, microbiologist Emmanuel Andre confirmed in a tweet that the University of Leuven’s lab had confirmed a second of two cases in the country, in a man from the Flemish Brabant.
With the growing number of detected cases in several European countries, Germany’s health agency Robert Koch Institute has urged people returning from West Africa to see their doctors quickly if they notice any chances on their skin.
The rare disease — which is not usually fatal — often manifests itself through fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion and a chickenpox-like rash on the hands and face.
The virus can be transmitted through contact with skin lesions and droplets of a contaminated person, as well as through shared items such as bedding and towels.
Cases of monkeypox have also been detected in Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden as well as in the United States and Canada, leading to fears that the disease — normally concentrated in Central and West Africa — may be spreading.
Monkeypox usually clears up after two to four weeks, according to the WHO.

Norway stabbing suspect married to one of the victims: Police

Norway stabbing suspect married to one of the victims: Police
The attacker was initially suspected of having chosen victims at random. (Shutterstock)
Updated 59 min 16 sec ago

Norway stabbing suspect married to one of the victims: Police

Norway stabbing suspect married to one of the victims: Police
  • At least three people were stabbed with a sharp object, leaving one critically injured
  • Police at first said the attack in the village of Nore as random

A suspect was arrested in Norway after at least three people were stabbed with a sharp object, leaving one critically injured Friday, police said.
Police at first said the attack in the village of Nore as random, but later clarified that there was “a family relationship” between the assailant and at least one of the victims.
“This is a family from Syria, and the perpetrator and one of the injured are married,” police inspector Odd Skei Kostveit said in a statement.
Police said the suspect was a man who had received a restraining order in December following an investigation of domestic violence.
The suspect, who also was injured, was held on suspicion of “grievous bodily harm,” police said.
Two people were flown to a nearby hospital by helicopter, police said.
Nore, a village in the Numedal valley, is located 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Oslo, Norway’s capital.
It was not immediately clear where in the village the attack took place. Norwegian media said a bus driver and students from a local school overpowered the suspect.
The school confirmed the incident on its website and said that its crisis management team was assisting the police and following up with the school’s students and staff.
Police spokesman Tor Richard Jansen confirmed that civilians overpowered the alleged assailant and “handed him over to firefighters” who arrived before the police.
William Scott, who was in the area delivering goods, told the VG newspaper he saw an injured woman lying on the ground.
“At first I thought it was a collision because there was a large pool of blood on the ground,” he said.
Norwegian broadcaster TV2 cited a witness saying bleeding victims came running from behind a convenience store. Pools of blood were seen on the asphalt, TV2 said.
“Such acts of violence are serious and despairing,” Norwegian Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said in a statement.
The village which is surrounded by mountains, sits 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Kongsberg, where five people were fatally stabbed and four wounded in October when Espen Andersen Bråthen attacked strangers with a bow and arrows and knives.
Andersen Bråthen pleaded guilty at the start of his trial Wednesday. He also faces 11 counts of attempted murder for the attack in Kongsberg, a former mining town of 26,000 people.


Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain
More than 1,700 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday. (File/AFP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain

Russian troops likely to redeploy from Mariupol: Britain
  • Russia will likely use troops from the city to reinforce operations elsewhere in the eastern industrial Donbas region, Britain’s Defense Ministry said

KYIV: With the number of defenders left holed up in a Mariupol steel factory dwindling, Russian commanders will be coming under increasing pressure to reallocate troops from the strategic southern port city to bolster their offensive in eastern Ukraine, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Friday.
More than 1,700 defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered since Monday, Russian authorities said, in what appeared to be the final stage in the nearly three-month siege of the now-pulverized port city.
An unknown number of defenders remain in the sprawling complex, which is the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city — a target from the start of the invasion that has been under effective Russian control for some time.
If the factory falls, Russia will likely use troops from the city to reinforce operations elsewhere in the eastern industrial Donbas region, but the duration of the stiff resistance will complicate or prolong that maneuver, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in a daily intelligence report.
“Staunch Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol since the start of the war means Russian forces in the area must be re-equipped and refurbished before they can be redeployed effectively,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.
“Russian commanders, however, are under pressure to demonstrably achieve operational objectives. That means that Russia will probably redistribute their forces swiftly without adequate preparation, which risks further force attrition.”
Analysts have said it is likely that most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the battle there have already left.
How long the remaining troops in the Azovstal factory can still hold out, however, is not clear.
In a brief video message Thursday, the deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, which led the defense of the steel mill, said he and other fighters were still inside.
“An operation is underway, the details of which I will not announce,” Svyatoslav Palamar said.
Ukrainian troops, bolstered by Western weapons, thwarted Russia’s initial goal of storming the capital, Kyiv, and have put up stiff resistance against Moscow’s forces in the Donbas, which President Vladimir Putin now has set his sights on capturing.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had gathered personal information from hundreds of the soldiers who had surrendered — name, date of birth, closest relative — and registered them as prisoners as part of its role in ensuring the humane treatment of POWs under the Geneva Conventions.
Amnesty International said in a tweet that the POW status means that the soldiers “must not be subjected to any form of torture or ill-treatment.”
At least some of the fighters were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists. Others were hospitalized, according to a separatist official.
While Ukraine expressed hope for a prisoner exchange, Russian authorities have threatened to investigate some of the Azovstal fighters for war crimes and put them on trial, branding them “Nazis” and criminals.
The Azov Regiment’s far-right origins have been seized on by the Kremlin as part of an effort to cast Russia’s invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.


Police: 1 dead, 4 wounded in Chicago shooting

Police: 1 dead, 4 wounded in Chicago shooting
Updated 20 May 2022

Police: 1 dead, 4 wounded in Chicago shooting

Police: 1 dead, 4 wounded in Chicago shooting
  • An investigation is ongoing

CHICAGO: One person was killed and another four people were shot in Chicago on Thursday, authorities said.
Police spokesperson Tom Ahern said the shooting occurred at about 10:40 p.m. on the Near North Side.
One person died and the other four were taken to local hospitals in conditions ranging from serious to critical, Chicago Sun-Times reported. Police did not release their names or ages.
No additional details about the circumstances behind the shooting or any suspects has been released. An investigation is ongoing.


Biden leaves for Asia under Ukraine, N.Korea nuclear shadows

Biden leaves for Asia under Ukraine, N.Korea nuclear shadows
Updated 20 May 2022

Biden leaves for Asia under Ukraine, N.Korea nuclear shadows

Biden leaves for Asia under Ukraine, N.Korea nuclear shadows

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE: President Joe Biden left Thursday for South Korea and Japan to cement US leadership in Asia at a time when the White House’s attention has been pulled back to Russia and Europe — and amid fears of a North Korean nuclear test during his trip.
Biden wants the trip to build on recent moves accelerating a years-long US pivot to Asia, where rising Chinese commercial and military power is undercutting Washington’s dominance.
But highlighting competing demands from Europe, Biden met right before his departure with the leaders of Finland and Sweden to celebrate their applications for joining NATO — a seismic development sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In another sign of growing US involvement in the conflict, the White House said Biden would put his signature while in Asia on a massive, $40 billion Ukraine weapons and aid package passed Thursday by Congress.
Signing the bill “expeditiously” will ensure no gap in the funding flow, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Seoul.
A separate crisis awaits Biden on arrival, however — jitters that North Korea’s unpredictable leadership will choose his trip as the moment to test a nuclear capable missile or even a test nuclear explosion.
Despite a spiraling Covid outbreak, Pyongyang’s “preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and they are only looking for the right time,” South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-keung said after being briefed by Seoul’s spy agency.
Sullivan said there was “real risk of some kind of provocation while we’re in the region, whether in South Korea or Japan.”
“We know what we will do to respond to them. We have communicated with not just our allies, but also with China,” he said.
Biden heads to Japan from South Korea on Sunday. He will hold talks with the leaders of both countries, as well as joining a regional summit of the Quad — a grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States — while in Tokyo.
During the first leg, he will visit US and South Korean troops, but will not make the traditional presidential trek to the fortified frontier known as the DMZ between South and North Korea, the White House said.
Hours ahead of Biden arriving, South Korea’s newly elected, strongly pro-US President Yoon Suk-yeol signaled a warm welcome, tweeting: “A mountain shows its way to the summit to those who seek it. I am confident the ROK-US alliance that seeks to uphold the values of democracy and human rights shall only elevate in the future.”

'Wind at our back'

Sullivan said ahead of the trip that Biden is bound for Asia with “the wind at our back” after successful US leadership in the Western response to President Vladimir Putin’s now almost three-month-long invasion of Ukraine.
The high military, diplomatic and economic cost imposed on Russia is seen in Washington as a cautionary tale for China, given Beijing’s stated ambitions to gain control over democratic-ruled Taiwan, even if that means going to war.
Earlier this month, CIA Director William Burns said Beijing is watching “carefully.”
“I think they’ve been struck by the way in which particularly the transatlantic alliance has come together to impose economic costs on Russia as a result of that aggression,” he said.
Sullivan said the administration wants not so much to confront China on the trip as to use Biden’s diplomacy to show that the West and its Asian partners will not be divided and weakened.
He pointed to cooperation from South Korea and Japan, among others, in the sanctions regime against Russia led by European powers and the United States. He also referred to Britain’s role in the recently created security partnership AUKUS.
This “powerful message” will be “heard in Beijing,” Sullivan said, “but it’s not a negative message and it’s not targeted at any one country.”

Sullivan said the United States is braced for North Korea to again defy UN sanctions by conducting a nuclear test.
If that happens, the US response will be coordinated with South Korea and Japan, Sullivan said, adding that Washington had been in touch with Beijing as well.
This could include trigger “adjustments to the way that our military is postured in the region,” Sullivan said.
But he denied that a North Korean nuclear test would be seen as a setback for Biden’s diplomacy.
“It would underscore one of the main messages that we are sending on this trip, which is that the United States is here for our allies and partners.”