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FDA panel endorses booster shot for J&J COVID-19 vaccine

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U.S. health advisers endorsed a booster of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday, citing concern that Americans who got the single-dose shot aren’t as protected as those given two-dose brands.

J&J told the Food and Drug Administration that an extra dose adds important protection as early as two months after initial vaccination — but that it might work better if people wait until six months later. Unable to settle the best timing, the FDA’s advisory panel voted unanimously that the booster should be offered at least two months after people got their earlier shot.

“I think this frankly was always a two-dose vaccine,” said FDA adviser Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It would be hard to recommend this as a single-dose vaccine at this point.”

The FDA isn’t bound by the recommendation as it makes a final decision — and adding to the debate’s complexity, new research also suggests that J&J recipients might have a stronger immune response if their booster dose is from a competing brand.

Preliminary results from an ongoing study of different ways to “mix and match” different shots showed that a booster of any sort revved up people’s levels of virus-fighting antibodies — at least for a few weeks. And the most dramatic jump came from giving a Pfizer or Moderna shot after the single-dose J&J vaccination.

FDA’s advisers didn’t vote on whether that should be recommended but told the government to allow flexibility with boosters, saying there were no safety red flags even if it’s not yet clear just how much difference, if any, mixing and matching may make in long-term protection.

“In the real world all these kind of combinations are already happening so I think it’s a matter of some urgency for the FDA to help sort out what is admittedly a complicated and challenging scenario,” said Dr. Ofer Levy of Boston Children’s Hospital.

The government says all three U.S. vaccines continue to offer strong protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19, and that the priority is getting first shots to the 66 million eligible but unvaccinated Americans who are most at risk. But with the spread of the extra-contagious delta variant and signs of waning immunity against milder infections, the nation is moving toward a broader booster campaign.

Last month Pfizer boosters started being offered to seniors and younger adults at high risk from COVID-19 because of poor health, jobs or living conditions — at least six months after their initial vaccination. Thursday, the FDA advisory panel recommended the same approach for half-dose Moderna boosters.

But J&J’s vaccine has consistently shown lower effectiveness levels across a series of studies — and the FDA panel ultimately settled on another shot for any recipient 18 or older at least two months after their first vaccination.

“This is really — with the second dose — bringing it, I think, on par with those other vaccines in terms of effectiveness,” said Dr. Archana Chatterjee of Rosalind Franklin University.

The FDA will use its advisers’ recommendations to decide whether to authorize boosters for both J&J and Moderna. Next, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would rule on who should roll up their sleeves.

The vast majority of the 188 million Americans who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have received the Pfizer or Moderna options, while J&J recipients account for only about 15 million.

J&J’s vaccine is made with a different technology and on Friday, the company pitched its booster as a way to strengthen a robust vaccine that they said has retained its protective power over eight months. But FDA scientists pointedly challenged that assertion.

“There are data that suggest the effectiveness of this vaccine is actually less robust than the company’s presentation here,” said Dr. Peter Marks, FDA’s top vaccines official. “And that is a finding of concern particularly because that’s been seen in minority communities potentially and others.”

As for its booster, J&J presented results from a large study that found giving a second dose just two months after the first bumped protection against symptomatic COVID-19 to 94% from 70% in U.S. recipients. Giving that booster six months later instead prompted an even bigger jump in virus-fighting antibodies.

But in their own review, FDA scientists noted only a tiny portion of cases involved the delta variant, by far the dominant strain in the U.S. And while FDA’s reviewers found no new safety concerns about a second J&J dose, they noted other shortcomings. J&J followed booster recipients for little more than a month, making it hard to draw conclusions about the durability of protection. Also, FDA scientists stressed they hadn’t had time to independently confirm J&J’s data, which were submitted shortly before the meeting. That’s highly unusual and drew serious concern from the advisory panel.

The J&J vaccine was highly anticipated for its one-and-done formulation. But its rollout earlier this year was hurt by a series of troubles including manufacturing problems and some rare but serious side effects including a blood clot disorder and a neurological reaction called Guillain-Barre syndrome. In both cases, regulators decided the shot’s benefits outweighed those risks.


WASHINGTON (AP).

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

MedTech

Why BioTech is important

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Biotechnology has many advantages including helping improve food quality, quantity, and processing, as well as also has having functions in manufacturing, where simple cells and proteins can be manipulated to produce chemicals.

The source of biotechnology comes from the fact that technology aims to create tools to empower humans, aiming to change humans themselves to better fit them to the world. Also, Biotechnology is the application of advances made in the biological sciences, especially involving the science of genetics and its application.

Its implications in health and medicine gives the importance of Biotechnology, by having scientists being able through genetic engineering, which is the controlled alteration of genetic material, to create new medicines, including interferon for cancer patients, synthetic human growth hormone and synthetic insulin, among others.

As such, the significance of biotechnology is shown by having scientists use the tools of biotechnology to manipulate cells with increasing control, from precision editing of DNA to synthesizing entire genomes from their basic chemical building blocks. These cells could go on to become bomb-sniffing plants, miracle cancer drugs, or ‘de-extinct’ wooly mammoths, and biotechnology may be a crucial ally in the fight against climate change according to the Future of Life Institute.

“The impact of biotech is huge on people’s lives, having the majority of the food we eat coming from engineered plants, which are modified – either via modern technology or by more traditional artificial selection – to grow without pesticides, to require fewer nutrients, or to withstand the rapidly changing climate,” the institute added.

“Manufacturers have substituted petroleum-based ingredients with biomaterials in many consumer goods, such as plastics, cosmetics, and fuels. Your laundry detergent? It almost certainly contains biotechnology. So do nearly all of your cotton clothes,” it noted.

Even so, biotech is present in our detailed lives, helping us in every way possible, such as the assistance to prenatal screening and home pregnancy test, in addition to immunizations and antibiotics, which improved life expectancy. Also, biotechnology is the main reason for many drugs that heal diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

On the other hand, biotechnology has its own disadvantages and consequences for the fact that microbes are tiny and difficult to detect, however the dangers are enormous. Further, engineered cells could divide on their own and spread in the wild, with the possibility of far-reaching consequences.

The unintended consequences of benign research or the purposeful manipulation of biology to cause harm, are factors that prove that biotechnology can be harmful.

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iSTAR gains European approval for implant for glaucoma surgery

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While glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness affecting around 100 million people worldwide, iSTAR Medical, a Belgium-based medtech company pioneering novel minimally-invasive implants for glaucoma surgery (MIGS), announced Wednesday, that its breakthrough MIGS device, MINIject™, has been approved in Europe for open-angle glaucoma patients.

As such, MINIject enables more patients to be effectively treated with MIGS because of its powerful and sustained performance combined with an excellent safety profile.

In addition, it represents the most promising and fastest-growing glaucoma therapy, due to its enhanced safety profile compared to traditional surgery. Studies by iSTAR Medical across four trials in over 150 patients, show that MINIject demonstrates a balance of powerful and sustained intra-ocular pressure (IOP) reduction with a positive safety profile.

“With today’s European approval, MINIject becomes the only commercially available MIGS device targeting the supraciliary space as a natural outflow pathway for IOP reduction,” Michel Vanbrabant, CEO of iSTAR Medical, said.

“This is a major milestone for iSTAR Medical and our mission to bring truly next-generation MIGS devices to the glaucoma community,” he noted. “I want to thank our team, our investors, and our medical partners for their continued belief in a safer and better way to manage glaucoma by targeting the supraciliary space, with an implant powered by our proprietary STAR material,” the CEO added.

Professor Dr. Burkhard Dick, head of the Department of Ophthalmology at University Eye Hospital Bochum, Germany, and one of the MINIject STAR-II trial investigators, treated the first patient with MINIject after European approval.

 Moreover, MINIject is being investigated in iSTAR Medical’s pivotal STAR-V study, which was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in July 2021, the results of which will be instrumental to gain commercial access for MINIject in the U.S. market.

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EU regulator authorizes Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for kids 5-11

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The European Union’s drug regulator on Thursday authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for use on children from 5 to 11 years old, clearing the way for shots to be administered to millions of elementary school pupils amid a new wave of infections sweeping across the continent.

It is the first time the European Medicines Agency has cleared a COVID-19 vaccine for use in young children.

The agency said it “recommended granting an extension of indication for the COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty to include use in children aged 5 to 11.”

After evaluating a study of the vaccine in more than 2,000 children, the EMA estimated that the vaccine was about 90% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in young children and said the most common side effects were pain at the injection site, headaches, muscle pain and chills. The agency said the two-dose regimen should be given to children three weeks apart.

At least one country facing spiking infections didn’t wait for the EMA approval. Authorities in the Austrian capital, Vienna, already have begun vaccinating the 5 to 11 age group. Europe is currently at the epicenter of the pandemic and the World Health Organization has warned the continent could see deaths top 2 million by the spring unless urgent measures are taken.

The EMA green light for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and German company BioNTech has to be rubber-stamped by the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, before health authorities in member states can begin administering shots.

Earlier this week, Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said shipping of vaccines for younger children in the EU would begin on Dec. 20.

The United States signed off on Pfizer’s kids-sized shots earlier this month, followed by other countries including Canada.

Pfizer tested a dose that is a third of the amount given to adults for elementary school-age children. Even with the smaller shot, children who are 5 to 11 years old developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults getting the regular-strength shots, Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president, told The Associated Press in September.

But the studies done on Pfizer’s vaccine in children haven’t been big enough to detect any rare side effects from the second dose, like the chest and heart inflammation that has been seen in mostly male older teens and young adults.

American officials noted that COVID-19 has caused more deaths in children in the 5 to 11 age group than some other diseases, such as chickenpox, did before children were routinely vaccinated.

Earlier this month, the EMA said it began evaluating the use of Moderna Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 6 to 11; it estimated that a decision would be made within two months.

Although children mostly only get mild symptoms of COVID-19, some public health experts believe immunizing them should be a priority to reduce the virus’ continued spread, which could theoretically lead to the emergence of a dangerous new variant.

Researchers disagree on how much kids have influenced the course of the pandemic. Early research suggested they didn’t contribute much to viral spread. But some experts say children played a significant role this year spreading contagious variants such as alpha and delta.

In a statement this week, WHO said that because children and teens tend to have milder COVID-19 disease than adults, “it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers.”

It has appealed to rich countries to stop immunizing children and asked them to donate their doses immediately to poor countries who have yet to give a first vaccine dose to their health workers and vulnerable populations.

Still, WHO acknowledged that there are benefits to vaccinating children and adolescents that go beyond the immediate health benefits.

“Vaccination that decreases COVID transmission in this age group may reduce transmission from children and adolescents to older adults, and may help reduce the need for mitigation measures in schools,” WHO said.


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP)

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