KRWG

Health

Please note:  Sometimes, NPR publishes headlines before the story and/or audio is ready; check back for content later if this occurs.  We also publish national/world news on our home page.

Last month, I flew from Lusaka, Zambia — my homeland — back to Washington, D.C., where I now work.

It was my first trip to the country in a year and a half. It was invigorating to go home. So much had changed. Everyone was excited about the peaceful election of a new president — people were calling it "a new dawn." And I got to spend time with my mother. I missed her cooking so much, especially her dry fish stew, and we got to chat together under the cool shade of her avocado tree.

With the omicron variant continuing to spread in a number of countries, including the U.S., scientists have been anxiously awaiting data to answer this question: How well will the vaccines work against this new variant?

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, scientists in South Africa and Germany released preliminary results from two small studies that begin to provide answers.

Editor's Note: Warning, some of these images contain racist and offensive content.

Part of me can't believe that editors reviewed and approved and published racist headlines and cartoons about the highly contagious omicron variant, first detected in Botswana and South Africa.

But another part of me can believe it.

A Canadian biotech firm is reporting positive results from a large study of its COVID-19 vaccine. What makes it unusual is that the key ingredient of the vaccine is grown in plants.

Medicago has already developed an experimental flu vaccine in Nicotiana benthamian, a plant related to tobacco. When the pandemic struck, the company decided to try to make a COVID-19 vaccine.

Now it appears those efforts have succeeded.

El Salvador and China have now been declared malaria-free.

That's one of the encouraging takeaways from the new annual report on malaria issued on Monday by the World Health Organization. But the sobering news is that despite progress in some countries, this debilitating and lethal disease took a greater toll in 2020 than in the recent past.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

When Karina Ahuanari's mother Teresa died of COVID on April 24, 2020, at a hospital in Peru's port city of Iquitos, their family had no idea what happened to her body.

At the time, the country was in lockdown and people couldn't leave their homes. Despite the COVID restrictions, Ahuanari's brother and sister-in-law went to the hospital to try to find the matriarch of their family.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Each week, we answer frequently asked questions about life during the coronavirus crisis. If you have a question you'd like us to consider for a future post, email us at goatsandsoda@npr.org with the subject line: "Weekly Coronavirus Questions." See an archive of our FAQs here.

The Philippine government, beset by charges of incompetence and corruption in its handling of the pandemic, has mounted a vaccination campaign that any of its Southeast Asian neighbors might envy. Over the course of just three days this week the country vaccinated 7.6 million people ages 12 and above. 34.53% of the country is now fully vaccinated.

Researchers in Botswana and South Africa just detected the omicron variant a few weeks ago, but already many scientists are predicting that the efficacy of the vaccines will likely take a hit, probably a big hit, when it comes to stopping infections of omicron. And more breakthrough infections will likely occur if (and that's a big if) omicron spreads here in the U.S.

At the same time, there's hope that vaccines will still offer good protection against severe disease and hospitalization, especially with a third dose.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

With the first case of omicron confirmed in California and more cases expected across the U.S., public health officials who know the difference between good and bad crisis communication say they can't afford to be quiet and wait

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Scientists and world leaders have warned from the beginning of the pandemic that nobody is safe until the entire world is vaccinated against the coronavirus. Here's how President Biden put it on Monday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

The discovery of the omicron variant of the coronavirus — which has a high number of concerning mutations — has kicked off a frenzy of research. Scientists are racing to figure out how transmissible this variant is and how resistant to vaccines it is.

They're also grappling with a mystery: How did omicron get created?

Today is World AIDS Day, an annual opportunity to show support for people living with HIV and honor those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses.

Member states of the World Health Organization are banding together to make a plan to deal with future pandemics like the COVID-19 outbreak.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The worrisome omicron variant of the coronavirus has been turning up all over the world. It has not been found in the United States yet. But as the president's chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, told NPR today...

The omicron coronavirus variant was already in the Netherlands a week before South Africa reported the new variant to the World Health Organization, according to a Dutch health agency.

African leaders are pushing back on travel bans imposed by wealthy or Western nations in an effort to stop the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant — and expressing their anger that the result of South Africa's openness in sharing news of the variant has led to what they see as punitive measures.

The variant was detected last week in Botswana and South Africa, and since then it's been found in countries across the globe from Scotland to Canada. It's still unclear where the latest known strain originated.

Updated December 3, 2021 at 5:30 PM ET

Scientists in South Africa now have evidence that the omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads more than twice as quickly as the delta variant in that country.

"This wave seems much faster than the delta wave. And we thought the delta wave was really fast. It's unbelievable," says Juliet Pulliam, who directs South Africa's DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis at Stellenbosch University.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Updated November 29, 2021 at 3:17 PM ET

When the omicron variant of COVID-19 was first identified in South Africa, the country's scientists were quick to inform global health leaders of the new mutations they had found.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Updated November 28, 2021 at 6:49 PM ET

As more cases of the omicron variant are revealed around the world, President Biden was briefed Sunday by his COVID-19 response team, including his chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor and the president's chief medical adviser, said on Sunday that it's inevitable that the omicron variant of the coronavirus will be detected in the U.S.

While no cases of the variant have been detected in the U.S. so far, there have been cases detected in Botswana, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Israel, the Netherlands, Australia and Hong Kong.

Pages