Following is a summary of current health news briefs.

US CDC says existing antibodies can work against new COVID variant

Early research data has shown that antibodies produced by prior infection or existing vaccines against the coronavirus were sufficient to protect against the new BA.2.86 variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday. The Food and Drug Administration in the coming days is expected to authorize the updated vaccines that target the XBB.1.5 subvariant of Omicron, and early data provide encouraging signs for the new shots, CDC said. The public health agency added that the new BA.2.86 lineage of coronavirus was not driving the current increases in COVID cases and hospitalizations in the United States but rather attributed it to other predominantly circulating viruses.

Explainer-Do I need to worry about COVID again?

New data from scientists and vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech suggests that a newer, highly mutated variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 is not as alarming as some experts had feared when it was first detected several weeks ago.

Nicknamed “Pirola” on social media, the BA.2.86 Omicron subvariant is being tracked by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Biden administration takes abortion pill dispute to US Supreme Court

President Joe Biden’s administration took its battle to preserve broad access to the abortion pill mifepristone to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday as it appealed a lower court’s ruling that would curb how the drug is delivered and distributed. The Justice Department said it filed its appeal of an August decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that would bar telemedicine prescriptions and shipments of mifepristone by mail. The drug’s manufacturer, Danco Laboratories, also said it filed its appeal on Friday.

Abortion rights at stake as Florida court weighs DeSantis-backed ban

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration urged the state’s conservative high court on Friday to reverse decades of precedent and find that the state constitution does not protect abortion rights. State Solicitor General Henry Whitaker asked the Florida Supreme Court to uphold a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks, which went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated a nationwide right to abortion last year. If the state court does so, a more stringent six-week ban – one of the strictest in the nation – would automatically take effect a month later.

Lilly’s diabetes drug Mounjaro approved by UK watchdog

Eli Lilly’s diabetes drug Mounjaro has gained the backing of Britain’s healthcare cost-effectiveness watchdog, which said it would be a good option for patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said in draft final guidance that it estimates some 180,000 people could benefit from the new treatment.

Meta Platforms must face medical privacy class action

A U.S. federal judge said Meta Platforms must face a lawsuit claiming that it violated the medical privacy of patients who were treated by hospitals and other healthcare providers that used its Meta Pixel tracking tool. U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco said the plaintiffs could pursue claims that Meta violated a federal wiretap law and a California privacy law, and violated its own contractual promises governing user privacy on Facebook.

Massachusetts top court allows electric shock therapy for disabled patients

A Massachusetts institution for the developmentally disabled can continue to use controversial electric shock devices to address aggressive or self-harming behavior in residents, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday, though it left the door open to future challenges. In a unanimous ruling Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld a 2018 lower court ruling that the state acted in bad faith in regulating the Canton-based Judge Rotenberg Educational Center. JRC, which provides education and treatment to people with developmental disabilities and behavioral disorders, is the only institution in the country to use the treatment.

Kroger to pay up to $1.4 billion to resolve US opioid lawsuits

Kroger on Friday said it would pay as much as $1.4 billion to resolve thousands of lawsuits by U.S. states, local governments, and Native American tribes claiming the supermarket chain’s pharmacies helped fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic. Kroger agreed to pay up to $1.2 billion to U.S. states, counties, and municipalities and $36 million to Native American tribes to resolve the majority of opioid cases it faced. It will also pay $177 million to cover attorneys’ fees and expenses.

Analysis-Mexico has decriminalized abortion, but nationwide access remains elusive

In a sweeping decision that would have once seemed almost impossible in this Catholic country, where women were jailed for ending pregnancies, Mexico’s Supreme Court this week declared it unconstitutional for the federal government to criminalize abortion. It was a huge victory for abortion rights advocates who have pushed for such a comprehensive ruling since 2021 when Mexico’s top Court first struck down a law criminalizing abortion in the northern state of Coahuila.

England confirms 34 COVID cases linked to highly mutated variant – UKSHA

UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA) said on Friday that 34 COVID-19 cases linked to the highly mutated variant BA.2.86 had been identified in England. The Omicron offshoot carries more than 35 mutations in key portions of the virus compared with XBB.1.5, the dominant variant through most of 2023, a number roughly on par with the Omicron variant that caused record infections.

(With inputs from agencies.)

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