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New monovalent COVID-19 vaccines approved in US; The latest health stories from around the world

Article by Lalita Panicker, Consulting Editor, Views and Editor, Insight, Hindustan Times, New Delhi 

After the US Food and Drug Administration authorized new monovalent COVID vaccines on early last week, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices backed the decision a day later with a nearly unanimous vote in favour of universal XBB-containing shots. 

Reports of a mutating virus and COVID hospitalisations of about 17,000 people a week in the United States, according to the health protection agency, led to a 13-to-1 vote by the committee. 

“We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes from COVID-19,” CDC director Mandy Cohen noted in a statement after the vote. “CDC is now recommending updated COVID-19 vaccination for everyone 6 months and older to better protect you and your loved ones.” 

Close to 153 million doses of last year’s bivalent booster have already been administered in the United States, and now, vaccination rates are declining. It is a concern that was raised in the meeting of the CDC Advisory Committee with predictions showing that hospitalisations are expected to rise again this year, leading to the decision to go for a universal recommendation to add clarity for people.  

The committee heard that deaths among children with COVID were uncommon; however, half of those who died had no underlying medical conditions. 

“These are deaths from a vaccine preventable disease,” Matthew Daley, Institute for Health Research, Kaiser Permanente, Aurora, Colorado, said at the meeting before voting in favour of the 2023-2024 monovalent, XBB-containing vaccines. 

The COVID vaccines will, therefore, have a new formulation this year that will focus on circulating variants.  The move pushes last year’s bivalent vaccines out of circulation because they will no longer be authorised for use in the United States. 

The updated mRNA vaccines for 2023-2024 are being revised to include a single component that corresponds to the Omicron variant XBB.1.5. Like the bivalents offered before, the new monovalents are being manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer. 

The new vaccines are authorized for use in individuals age 6 months and older. And the new options are being developed using a similar process as previous formulations, according to the FDA. 


The increase in cases of COVID-19 in the northern hemisphere is worrying healthcare authorities around the world, who are aware that these countries usually experience a peak in respiratory infections during the winter months. 

During a recent press conference, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged nations to closely monitor COVID-19 cases and report the number of hospital admissions caused by the disease over the last few months, especially in Europe. 

“The virus is currently reinfecting large numbers of individuals, millions of people, every week,” warned Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s COVID-19 technical consultant. “We don’t have a good idea of the number of infections and reinfections currently happening, because monitoring has been relaxed. But we have some indications of the current trend, in terms of impact.”   

Around the world, more than 1.4 million new cases of COVID-19 and more than 2300 deaths were reported between July 17 and August 13, 2023, which is an increase of 63% and a reduction of 56%, respectively, compared with the previous 28 days. 

Van Kerkhove mentioned the slight increase observed in Europe in recent months. “It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, and this is really not what we expect when we talk about respiratory diseases such as the flu, which usually peak during the winter months.”   

These cases are “of concern,” she said, especially in countries trying to navigate other problems such as mpox, the plague, earthquakes, heatwaves, and forest fires, where there are fewer beds available for patients with COVID-19. 

This concern comes as WHO is monitoring several new variants, such as the strain known as BA.2.86. According to WHO, around 10 cases have been detected in Denmark, Israel, the United Kingdom, the United States, and South Africa. It has also been detected in wastewater in Switzerland and Thailand. 

“We have only detected a few cases,” said Van Kerkhove during the press conference. “We can’t determine its spread, because we don’t have enough data. We can’t predict with certainty what’s going to happen with this variant or any other variant. But we are expecting the number of cases to keep going up.” 

This variant has not been given a name with a Greek letter, a feature reserved for so-called variants “of concern,” she clarified. 

Just a few days ago, the so-called EG.5 strain had the world’s attention. 


All three health priorities of India’s G20 presidency found a mention in the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration released on 9 September. 

The declaration spoke of strengthening primary healthcare, health workforce, and essential health services to better-than-pre-pandemic levels, ideally within the next two to three years. In addition to focusing on epidemics such as tuberculosis and AIDS, the G20 recognised the importance of research on long COVID. 

The declaration also stressed the importance of one health approach — where diseases in animals, plants, and humans are tracked by the same mechanism — with focus on tackling antimicrobial resistance. 

The G20 health track that concluded last month was one of the most successful under India’s presidency: not only did India manage to build consensus on all three of its priority areas, it also managed to launch a proposed repository of scalable digital health platforms. 

The three priorities kept in mind the economic and social disruption caused by Covid-19, and what could be done to prevent such losses in the future. 

The priorities included: 

* Building resilient systems for health emergency prevention, preparedness, and response. 

* Strengthening cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector with focus on ensuring equitable availability and access to vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics during a pandemic. 

* Creating a platform for sharing digital health innovations and solutions to ensure better and universal health coverage.  

The consensus was reached with some compromises — India did not insist on countries contributing towards a $200-million fund for a digital health programme, or on a permanent platform for sharing knowledge, intellectual property rights, and resources for developing vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. 

With the pandemic highlighting the importance of digital health innovation, India committed to developing a platform for sharing scalable solutions under the World Health Organisation (WHO) that can be utilised by its member states. This culminated in the launch of Global Initiative on Digital Health (GIDH), with four main pillars — an investment tracker, a repository of existing digital health solutions, knowledge sharing for implementation and country-specific adaptation of these solutions, and an ask tracker to monitor the needs of different countries. 

While a $200-million fund proposed by India did not find consensus among countries, several non-profits have committed to the fund. 

India has committed to offering its vaccine management platform CoWIN, its tele-medicine platform e-Sanjeevani, and its Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission platform as digital public goods to others. 


Novo Nordisk says that, in a trial of more than 17,000 people, its weight-loss drug semaglutide (sold as Wegovy) reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with obesity. Semaglutide mimics a gut hormone, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which helps to control blood sugar, the feeling of being full and the progress of digestion. The trial results show that, over five years, a once-weekly injection of semaglutide reduced cardiovascular events by 20%. Novo Nordisk, based in Bagsværd, Denmark, had previously reported that the drug benefited people with type 2 diabetes in a similar manner. Semaglutide achieved more than US$9 billion in sales last year, and the new data are expected to further boost sales of the drug. 

Nature Reviews Drug Discovery | 3 min read

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