South Korea approves Pfizer vaccine for five-year-olds; UK emergency loan losses hit £16bn

South Korea approves Pfizer vaccine for five-year-olds; UK emergency loan losses hit £16bn

Hello. Tom Ambrose here and I’ll be bringing you all the latest Covid news over the next few hours.

First off is the news that South Korean health officials have approved Pfizer’s Covid vaccine for children aged five to 11, expanding the country’s immunisation programme in the face of a massive Omicron outbreak.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported a record 171,452 new virus cases on Wednesday, nearly a 40-fold increase from levels in mid-January when Omicron first emerged as the country’s dominant strain. The 99 new deaths were the highest daily tally since 31 December, when the country was grappling with a Delta-driven surge that buckled hospital systems.

More than 500 virus patients are now in serious or critical condition, up from around 200 in mid-February, the Associated Press reported.

In a long-awaited announcement, the Ministry of Drug and Food Safety said it approved the Pfizer vaccine as the country’s first shot to be used for children aged five to 11. The KDCA said it will announce a vaccine rollout plan for this age group in March.

The Pfizer shot is already used for children aged five to 11 in more than 60 countries, including the United States and in the European Union, the MDFS said in a press release. The vaccine will help protect younger children from infections or serious illness amid South Korea’s fast-developing Omicron surge, it added.

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Medical workers take nasal swab samples from people at a makeshift testing site in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP

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Teenagers and younger children have been linked to a rising number of infections in recent weeks, according to KDCA data.

The country had earlier approved vaccinations for people 12 years and older. As of Wednesday, 86.4% of South Korea’s more than 51 million people have been vaccinated and nearly 60% have received booster shots.