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‘Blood on your hands if world steps back on tackling COVID’

A picture taken on May 8, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organization at the entrance of their headquarters in Geneva amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

LONDON / MOSCOW – If rich nations think the pandemic is over, they should help lower-income countries reach that point too, a senior World Health Organization official told Reuters.

In an interview, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward warned that richer nations must not step back from tackling COVID-19 as a global problem now, ahead of future potential waves of infection.

In the last few weeks, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the end of the pandemic was in sight, and US President Joe Biden said the pandemic was over.

ALSO READ: WHO chief: End of COVID pandemic is 'in sight'

"When I hear them say, 'Well, we're so comfortable here,' it's like, 'Great, now you can really help us get the rest of the world done'," said Aylward.

Aylward said that the group he co-ordinates, which focuses on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests worldwide, is not yet ready to move out of the emergency phase of tackling the pandemic and that countries need to be ready and have treatments in place for any further waves of infection.

"If you go to sleep right now and this wave hits us in three months… God – blood on your hands," he said.

He also stressed that Biden had a point domestically as the United States has good access to all COVID-19 tools. It has also not cut its global commitment to fighting COVID-19, he added.

Aylward co-ordinates the ACT-Accelerator, a partnership between WHO and other global health bodies to help poorer countries access COVID-19 tools.

The effort, which includes the vaccine-focused COVAX, has reached billions of people worldwide but has faced criticism for not acting quickly enough. 

There had been some speculation that the effort may wind up this autumn, but Aylward said it was simply changing its focus as the pandemic changes.

This photo, provided by Office of the Governor of New York, shows Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Boriken Neighborhood Health Center, in New York on Sept 7, 2022. (DON POLLARD / OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK VIA AP)

Moderna

Moderna Inc said on Friday it has requested US authorization for use of its Omicron-targeting COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents and children.

The company is seeking emergency use authorization of its updated vaccine in two age groups – adolescents aged 12 to 17 years and children aged six to 11.

The application for the bivalent vaccine for children between the ages of six months and under six years is expected to be completed later this year, the company said in a tweet.

ALSO READ: US rollout of new COVID-19 boosters off to slow start

Earlier this week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it expects COVID-19 vaccine boosters targeting circulating variants of the virus to be available for children aged 5-11 years by mid-October.

Moderna's mRNA-1273.222, a bivalent booster shot, contains the dominant BA.4/BA.5 variants along with the original coronavirus strain.

The updated vaccine is already authorized for adults, while rival Pfizer's bivalent vaccine is authorized as a booster dose for children over 12 years of age. 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla poses for pictures during the inauguration ceremony of the company’s new center for Digital Innovation and Business Operations and Services, in Thessaloniki, on Oct 12, 2021. (SAKIS MITROLIDIS / AFP)

Pfizer

Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said on Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19.

"I’m feeling well and symptom free," Bourla said in a statement.

Bourla, 60, back in August had contacted COVID-19 and had started a course of the company's oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, Paxlovid.

Paxlovid is an antiviral medication that is used to treat high-risk people, such as older patients.

Bourla has received four doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

The chief executive said he has not yet taken the new bivalent booster.

"I’ve not had the new bivalent booster yet, as I was following CDC guidelines to wait three months since my previous COVID case which was back in mid-August," Bourla added.

People wait to undergo a free rapid antigen test for the coronavirus disease at a testing center in the GUM, State Department store in Moscow on Jan 31, 2022. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)

Russia

Russia has registered 51,269 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 20,746,163, the official monitoring and response center said Saturday.

The nationwide death toll increased by 111 to 386,662, while the number of recoveries grew by 58,412 to 19,710,599, the center said.

Meanwhile, Moscow reported 4,101 new cases, taking its total to 3,177,014.