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Pfizer opens study of COVID shots updated to match omicron

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Pfizer opens study of COVID shots updated to match omicron

Pfizer has begun a study comparing its original COVID-19 vaccine with doses specially tweaked to match the hugely contagious omicron variant.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced the study on Tuesday.

COVID-19 vaccine-makers have been updating their shots to better match omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed.

Omicron is more likely than previous variants to cause infection even in people who’ve been vaccinated, but it’s not yet clear that a change to the vaccine recipe will be ordered. Among the issues regulators are weighing: Some of the first places to face an omicron surge already are seeing the mutant wane — and there’s no way to know if the next variant that arises will resemble omicron or be totally different.

The original vaccines still offer good protection against severe illness and death. Studies in the U.S. and elsewhere have made clear that adding a booster dose strengthens that protection and improves the chances of avoiding a milder infection.

“We recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address omicron and new variants in the future,” Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer’s vaccine research chief, said in a statement.

The new U.S. study is enrolling up to 1,420 healthy adults, ages 18 to 55, to test the updated omicron-based shots for use as a booster or for primary vaccinations. Researchers will examine the tweaked vaccine’s safety and how it revs up the immune system in comparison to the original shots.

Full study results will take many months as volunteers receive multiple vaccine doses — and as researchers measure how long virus-fighting antibodies remain at high levels after an omicron-adapted dose versus the regular booster.

Pfizer’s CEO told CNBC earlier this month that the company could have some omicron-matched doses ready as early as March. But doing what the company calls “at-risk” manufacturing doesn’t mean those doses will be rolled out to the public. Pfizer and other vaccine makers also have brewed and tested experimental doses to match previous variants, changes that ultimately weren’t needed but offered valuable practice at tweaking the recipe.

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WHO chief: The COVID pandemic is ‘most certainly not over’

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WHO chief: The COVID pandemic is ‘most certainly not over’

BERLIN (AP) — The COVID-19 pandemic is “most certainly not over,” the head of the World Health Organization warned Sunday, despite a decline in reported cases since the peak of the omicron wave. He told governments that “we lower our guard at our peril.”

The U.N. health agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told officials gathered in Geneva for opening of the WHO’s annual meeting that “declining testing and sequencing means we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus.” He also noted that almost 1 billion people in lower-income countries still haven’t been vaccinated.

In a weekly report Thursday on the global situation, WHO said the number of new COVID-19 cases appears to have stabilized after weeks of decline since late March, while the overall number of weekly deaths dropped.

While there has been progress, with 60% of the world’s population vaccinated, “it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere,” Tedros said.

“Reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions, and this in a world in which testing rates have plummeted,” he added.

Reported deaths are rising in Africa, the continent with the lowest vaccination coverage, he said, and only 57 countries — almost all of them wealthy — have vaccinated 70% of their people.

While the world’s vaccine supply has improved, there is “insufficient political commitment to roll out vaccines” in some countries, gaps in “operational or financial capacity” in others, he said.

“In all, we see vaccine hesitancy driven by misinformation and disinformation,” Tedros said. “The pandemic will not magically disappear, but we can end it.”

Tedros is expected to be appointed for a second five-year term this week at the World Health Assembly, the annual meeting of the WHO’s member countries.

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Wisconsin couple kills bear that attacked them in their home

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Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s record-breaking kick honored as NFL’s Best Moment of the Year

MEDFORD, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin couple say they killed a bear that attacked them inside their home after they spotted it eating from their bird feeder.

The Taylor County Sheriff’s office said the attack happened around 11 p.m. Friday at a home near Medford in north-central Wisconsin. The couple told authorities that the bear charged through a window after they yelled at it to go away.

Both the husband and wife were injured before they were able to stab the bear with a kitchen knife. Eventually, the man was able to grab a firearm and kill the animal.

The man and woman were treated at a hospital for several bites and other injuries before being released. The couple’s children were asleep in their bedrooms at the time and were not injured.

The sheriff’s office said the bear was an adult female, and one cub was seen running off as the bear ran toward the home. State wildlife officials took the bear for testing. Authorities have not specified what kind of bear it was.

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Following draft combine, what comes next for Orlando Magic with No. 1 pick?

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Following draft combine, what comes next for Orlando Magic with the No. 1 pick?

Considering the Orlando Magic’s draft lottery history, nothing is easy during the scouting process that culminates with the NBA draft in New York.

But when taking into account what lies ahead for them, the easier part is behind the Magic.

Orlando landing the No. 1 pick in the June 23 draft gave the Magic full control. Now they have the pressure — which they welcome — of making sure they choose the right player.

“We have more work to do,” general manager John Hammond said on In The Zone with Brandon Kravitz. “Evaluation of watching these guys a little more thoroughly, a little more succinctly. Most importantly, a chance to actually spend time with them, get to know them, run them through a battery and find out everything we can.”

The Magic will start hosting workouts at their facility for prospects over the next few weeks, giving them a chance to make more in-depth evaluations than they did during the draft combine in Chicago — where many of the top prospects didn’t take part in scrimmages, on-court drills or measurements.

Duke’s Paolo Banchero, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Auburn’s Jabari Smith are considered the top players in the draft.

Hammond reiterated that Orlando will choose the player the Magic believe will be the best in the long run, not just who fits next year’s team better.

“You hate to be too cliché and say, ‘We’re going to go with the best player on the board,’ but I really believe that when you get to this level of the draft, you live by that,” Hammond said. “We can’t sacrifice a lesser player just because we have this need. I don’t think any need can be that great.”

But would the Magic lean on the guys on their roster for those evaluations?

Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke), Chuma Okeke (Auburn) and Jalen Suggs (Gonzaga) all went to college where one of the top prospects did, although none of them did at the same time as the players the Magic are considering.

“[Wendell] probably knows Paolo, somewhat, maybe from the Duke connection,” Hammond said. “I don’t know if Chuma has a real strong relationship with Jabari. The interesting one is Jalen Suggs and Chet are close. If we’re going to consult with one on one situation, that’d be it.”

The Magic also have the Nos. 32 and 35 picks in the second round.

They spoke with multiple players during last week’s combine who could be available when they’re on the board with one of those second-round picks.

Orlando will bring in prospects it believes could be available in the range of those second-round selections for workouts.

“This is kind of like the dating process — you don’t know who that person is until you actually live with them,” Hammond said. “That’s when you make the full commitment. We’re going to have to get to know them the best we can.”

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.

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