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Coronavirus digest: Get a booster after 3 months, says German vaccine body

Germany's vaccine body has shortened the recommended period before receiving a COVID booster. That comes as the EU's medicines agency said its too soon to say if jabs must be changed to fight omicron. DW has the latest.

Picture showing a syringe and two vials of vaccine with the words booster in the background

The vaccine authority in Germany has shortened the recommended waiting period between a second dose of vaccine and receiving a booster shot

Germany's Permanent Vaccination Commission, or STIKO, has cut the recommended period between receiving a second COVID-19 shot and a booster from six to three months.

The vaccine authority said that anyone over the age of 18 should now have a booster of an mRNA vaccine three months after completing the first two doses.

Previously the recommended waiting period to receive a booster shot had been six months.

People who had a COVID-19 infection confirmed by a laboratory diagnosis should also receive a single dose three months after the infection according to the recommendation.

According to a preliminary study conducted by BioNTech and Pfizer, three doses were found to neutralize the omicron variant, while two doses were found to offer protection against severe infection.

Older people or those who had previous illness were to be given preference when it came to boosters. The Robert Koch Institute posted details of the updated recommendation on Twitter. 

Here are the latest major coronavirus developments from around the world:

Europe

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not been able to provide clarity as to how effective available vaccines are against the omicron variant.

The head of the EU health agency said on Tuesday that there was currently not enough data and that it was too soon to say whether a specific vaccine for omicron would be needed.

"There's no answer yet on whether we will need an adaptive vaccine with a different composition to tackle this (Omicron) or any other variants," Emer Cooke said.

Cooke told members of the media: "We need to see more data on the impact of the variant on the effectiveness of the approved vaccines as well as to gather further evidence."

The number of COVID cases in Germany has increased by 23,428, with 462 more deaths, said the Robert Koch Institute.

The RKI subsequently recommended "maximum contact restrictions" that should "start immediately" and be continued until mid-January. It also urged the reduction of travel to the "absolutely necessary."

Germany is set to introduce new rules that will come into effect "at the latest" on December 28 prohibiting private gatherings of more than 10 people who are either vaccinated or have recovered against the virus.

In the southern city of Mannheim, 13 police officers were injured on Monday night as protesters reacted angrily to an attempt by authorities to end an unauthorized march against restrictions.

One officer was hospitalized after protesters, who had gathered without the necessary approval from the relevant authorities, resisted efforts by police to end their demonstration.

Despite the current fall in patients in intensive care units in Germany, health authorities are bracing for an uptick in cases as they expect the omicron variant to dominate in January.

Watch video 01:32

Europe struggles to curb omicron spread

German consumer sentiment worsened for the second month in a row due to the new variant, said a key survey by pollster GfK. The poll said the forward-looking barometer fell to -6.8 from a revised figure of -1.8 for December. 

"The high incidence of the virus due to the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic with further restrictions and higher prices are increasingly weighing on the consumer climate," said consumer expert Rolf Bürkl. 

In Romania, nearly 2,000 protesters demonstrated against a proposed COVID-19 green pass in workplaces, with some forcing their way into the courtyard as they chanted "freedom" and waved Romanian flags. Some held posters that said, "Stop mandatory vaccination."

The protest lasted approximately two hours and no arrests were made. Only 39.2% of Romanians are fully vaccinated.

Due to rising cases, Spain's Catalonia province has announced plans to place restrictions on public life. The number of people in restaurants, cultural and leisure facilities will be limited, and a nighttime curfew from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. will be put in place. Clubs, bars and dance clubs will be closed.

If approved by Catalonia's Supreme Court, the rules will come into place from Friday, for an initial period of 15 days. 

Oceania

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged states to avoid further lockdowns due to the omicron variant. While cases have gone up, hospitalizations in the country have remained relatively low. 

"We have got to get past the heavy hand of government and we have got to treat Australians like adults. We're not going back to lockdowns. We're going forward to live with this virus with common sense and responsibility," said Morrison.

Watch video 13:17

Is the worst over for Australia?

New Zealand on Tuesday postponed the reopening of its borders until the end of February over concerns about the spread of the omicron variant. 

The country had planned to ease its international border restrictions from January, with all foreign tourists being allowed into the country by April. Non-quarantine travel for New Zealand citizens in Australia, which was supposed to open from January 16, will be pushed back until the end of February.

"There's no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it's important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans," said COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins at a press conference. 

Americas

The omicron variant has now become dominant in the United States, accounting for about 73% cases. An unvaccinated man in Texas has become the first casualty in the country to die of the variant. 

Health authorities are worried about the quick spread of the variant, and are concerned numbers might soar during the holiday season. 

President Joe Biden urged citizens to get vaccinated, in a speech Tuesday. Late Monday, the White House announced that Biden had been in close contact with a staff member who later tested positive for COVID-19. The White House said the president has since tested negative twice and will test again on Wednesday.

Asia

People over the age of 30 in Pakistan will now receive booster vaccine doses, as authorities try to contain the spread of the new omicron variant.

People over 50, health care workers and those with compromised immunity were already eligible for booster jabs. Pakistan has seen a steady decline in cases recently, and detected its first case of omicron last week. 

India recorded 200 cases of the new variant on Tuesday, from across 12 states. The capital city, New Delhi, and the western state of Maharashtra made up most of the cases, said the Health Ministry. 

The number of omicron cases have doubled over the last week, but there have been no deaths reported so far. 

Middle East

Kuwait will now make it compulsory for travelers arriving into the country to get a COVID booster shot, if more than nine months have passed since their vaccination.

The government has said arriving travelers will also have to quarantine at home for 10 days unless they can produce a negative RT-PCR test taken not more than 72 hours prior to their arrival. 

Global

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, has called upon nations to redouble their efforts in ending the pandemic. He said countries should rein in holiday season celebrations because large gatherings would allow a greater spread of the omicron variant

"We have to focus now on ending this pandemic," he said, adding that it was better to "celebrate later than to celebrate now and grieve later." He told reporters that 2022 must be "the year we end the pandemic."

tg/rt (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)

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