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Thursday, April 15, 2021, 22:55
Global vaccine supply 'incredibly tight', COVAX 'needs funds'
By Agencies
Thursday, April 15, 2021, 22:55 By Agencies

Students and employees test themselves at a newly built COVID-19 test center for the beginning of the new semester at a university in Dortmund, Germany, April 12, 2021. (MARTIN MEISSNER / AP)

GENEVA / BUCHAREST / BUENOS AIRES / BRUSSELS / ADDIS ABABA / MADRID / PARIS / BRASILIA / LONDON / DUBLIN / BERLIN / ATHENS / ZURICH / ROME / CAIRO / ZAGREB / HAVANA / RABAT / QUITO / SANTIAGO / TIRANA / CARACAS / NICOSIA - The global supply of COVID-19 vaccine is "incredibly tight" and the COVAX dose-sharing facility is unlikely to procure much more supply in 2021 than doses already reserved, the Gavi vaccine alliance ceo Seth Berkley said on Thursday. 

"We urgently need commitments of a further US$2 billion from donors and US$1 billion from countries supported by multilateral development banks. Included in the US$2 billion we ask for is US$150 million from the private sector," Berkley told an event, referring to a funding target for June. 

Stanley Erck, Novavax CEO, said that the US-based company had vaccine production capabilities in more than 20 facilities and that it was "well on our way to securing regulatory authorisations around the world".

Germany

German Health Minister Jens Spahn urged the country's 16 federal states on Thursday to impose tougher restrictions quickly to try to slow a third wave of the coronavirus and not to wait until a national law on measures is passed.

His appeal came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped on Thursday by 29,426 to 3.073 million, the biggest increase since Jan 8. The reported death toll rose by 293 to 79,381, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) showed.

The country's healthcare system is getting stretched to the brink, with many hospitals overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. The occupancy rate in intensive-care units rose to 88 percent on Wednesday, the highest in more than a year. 

Doctors expect there will be 6,000 patients in intensive care by the end of the month, Spahn said.

"The situation in the hospitals is coming to a head, in some cases dramatically," RKI President Lothar Wieler said, adding the situation will be worse than during the second wave.

Spahn said Germany's vaccination campaign was gaining pace. Around 20 percent of the population will have been given at least a first dose by the end of April and all adults should have been offered a shot by the end of summer, he said.

Nonetheless, Spahn cautioned that it would take until the third quarter to achieve group herd immunity against COVID-19.

Germany would like to use Regeneron's COVID-19 monoclonal antibody cocktail as a treatment for this disease more broadly but needs to finalize some details on reimbursement, he said.

The leader of Germany’s most populous state ruled out negotiating a deal to buy Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine, and criticized other regions for doing so. 

North Rhine-Westphalia Premier Armin Laschet said Russia had been slow in providing data on the vaccine, which is why the European Medicines Agency has yet to recommend its use.

Medical workers attend to coronavirus patients in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, April 14, 2021. (BRIAN INGANGA / AP)

AstraZeneca 

The CEO of Astrazeneca Pascal Soriot said on Thursday that although the Anglo-Swedish company had hit "bumps on the road" it had been able to deliver large quantities of COVID-19 vaccines in the first quarter and was ramping up production. 

Soriot, speaking to an event of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, said that it had provided 38 million doses to the COVAX dose-sharing facility, and was committed to continue doing so, but that it was important for borders to remain open.

CureVac

German biotech firm CureVac said it has seen the number of requests for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine increase over the past few days, as concerns over rare side effects have hit some other coronavirus shots. A CureVac spokesman said on Thursday that requests have been coming in from various quarters, including governments and international organisations but he declined to elaborate. The group is to hold an analyst call on fourth-quarter results at 1400 GMT.

WHO

Global COVID-19 cases continued to increase for a seventh consecutive week, with over 4.5 million new cases reported last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported early Wednesday on its weekly update.

The number of newly reported deaths increased for the fourth consecutive week, increasing by seven percent compared to last week, with over 76,000 new deaths reported, according to the WHO.

The outbreak was especially violent in India, followed by the US, which saw a five percent increase of 468,395 new cases, and then Brazil with a rise of 463,092 new cases.

New virus variants continue to spread to other countries, with the variant B117 first identified in the UK reported in 132 countries, the variant B 1351 originating from South Africa present in 82 countries, and the P1 first identified in Brazil now found in 52 countries.

The WHO also noted that existing vaccines have displayed reduced efficacy against variants, even if the related studies remained limited in number.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 138.2 million while the global death toll topped 2.97 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

WTO

The head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) laid out a series of actions on Wednesday for countries and drug makers to increase production of coronavirus vaccines and share them more widely and fairly.

Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called a closed-door meeting of producers, governments and others over inequitable access, with low-income countries administering just 0.2 percent of 700 million global doses.

In her concluding remarks, Okonjo-Iweala said that concerns over cross-border supply chains, including export curbs and shortages of skilled personnel, had reinforced her view that the WTO must play a central role in the response to the pandemic.

WTO members, she said, needed to reduce export restrictions and work to ease logistics and customs procedures.

They should also advance negotiations on a proposal by India and South Africa and backed by over 80 WTO members, to temporarily waive intellectual property (IP) rights of pharmaceutical companies.

The WTO head urged vaccine makers to increase technology transfer to bring in new manufacturing capacity and to be transparent on contracts and pricing. Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are among those producing the shots.

ALSO READ: In world first, Denmark ditches AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot

Africa

Many Africans who have received their first COVID-19 vaccine do not know when they will get a second shot because deliveries are delayed, the continent's top public health official said on Thursday. 

“We cannot predict when the second doses will come and that is not good for our vaccination programme,” John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told reporters on Thursday. 

Africa lags behind most other regions in COVID-19 vaccinations, with just less than 14 million doses having been administered on the continent of 1.3 billion, according to the Africa CDC. 

A woman receives a shot of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a state social security clinic during a vaccination drive for people over the age of 80 in La Paz, Bolivia, April 14, 2021. (JUAN KARITA / AP)

Americas

The Americas are not behaving like a region experiencing an ever-graver outbreak of COVID-19, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the WHO’s regional office, warned on Wednesday.

This rise in infections is alarming but not surprising given relaxed restrictions used to curb virus transmission, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said at a weekly news conference, adding that vaccination will not be enough to stop this wave of contagion.

"Highly transmissible variants are spreading, and social distancing measures are not as strictly observed as before," Etienne said. 

More people have been infected with COVID-19 in the region during the last seven days than during most weeks last year, Etienne noted, while weekly deaths outnumber those of any week in 2020.

More than 1.3 million people in the Americas were infected and nearly 36,000 died last week, PAHO said.

Countries with significant case increases should consider lockdown measures, though if outbreaks are already visible it may be too late, PAHO health emergencies director Ciro Ugarte said.

Albania

More than 200,000 elderly people have received the COVID-19 shot in Albania since the start of the vaccination campaign in January, Minister of Health and Social Protection Ogerta Manastirliu said on social media Wednesday.

According to the government, Albania has secured access to over 2.5 million vaccine doses, which could cover 45 percent of the population.

According to the health ministry, a total of 281,216 vaccine doses have already been administered to medical professionals, teachers and university lecturers, law enforcement staff, the elderly, pharmacy employees, etc.

On Wednesday, the ministry reported 207 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking the tally to 128,959, including 99,441 recoveries and 2,331 fatalities.

Argentina

Argentine President Alberto Fernández was given his medical all clear on Wednesday after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in April, though he never displayed more than mild symptoms and continued to work through a period of isolation.

Fernández, 62, had received two doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 at the start of the year.

His all-clear came the same day Fernández announced pandemic restrictions would be tightened in and around the capital to rein in a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases, including shutting schools and imposing a curfew from 8pm to limit social activity.

Fernandez said in a televised message the government would close schools in Buenos Aires for 15 days, curtail business hours and suspend sports, recreational and cultural activities. The restrictions would begin Friday and extend through April 30, he said.

Argentina on Wednesday reported 25,157 new  cases and 368 more deaths in the last 24 hours, the highest daily toll since Jan 18.

The new figures took the cumulative tally to 2,604,157 with 58,542 deaths, the Ministry of Health said.

Belarus 

Belarus reported 1,222 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, taking the national tally to 340,023, according to the country's health ministry. 

There have been 1,348 new recoveries in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number to 330,483, the ministry added. According to the ministry, a total of 2,393 people have died of the disease so far, including 10 over the past 24 hours.

Belgium

Belgium delayed beyond Friday the start of administering Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines at the company's request, the government said in a statement on Wednesday.

Belgium said it received the first 36,000 J&J shots earlier this week and was expecting 62,400 more this month, with deliveries for May and June still to be decided. 

Almost two million people have received a first dose of a vaccine so far in Belgium, which has a population of some 11 million.

In another development, Belgium will allow bars and restaurants to reopen for the first time in six months on May 8, although only for outdoor consumption, after a four-week lockdown that has cut coronavirus infections but barely reduced pressure in hospitals.

Schools will reopen across the country from Monday, when a ban on non-essential foreign travel will also expire, although De Croo urged people to travel as little as possible.

Belgians will also be allowed to go back to the hairdressers from April 26, when non-essential stores can also reopen. Flea markets and theme parks will be able to operate from May 8, along with gyms catering for up to 25 people.

Brazil

Brazil will assign more private-hospital beds to attend to patients within the public healthcare system who have the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the National Coordination Committee for Confronting the COVID-19 Pandemic said on Wednesday.

The government will also work to remedy the lack of supplies for the intubation of patients by holding an international tender with the help of the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO's regional office, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said at a press conference following a meeting of committee members.

Brazil's richest and most populous state, Sao Paulo, has warned its ability to care for seriously ill COVID-19 patients is on the verge of collapse as it runs perilously low on key drugs, according to a letter to the federal government seen by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.

Sao Paulo state said it expects to run out of crucial intubation drugs, needed to sedate patients, in the next few days, the paper reported on Wednesday.

Brazil for several weeks has had some of the worst COVID-19 death tolls in the world, accounting for about a quarter of daily deaths attributed to the virus worldwide.

On Wednesday, the health ministry reported another 73,513 new cases and 3,459 deaths, bringing the totals to 13,673,507 confirmed cases and 361,884 fatalities.

Queiroga said Pfizer Inc would increase deliveries of its coronavirus vaccine to 15.5 million doses in the second quarter, up from a previous estimate of 13.5 million.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in the Brazilian state of Roraima are investigating reports that illegally-mined gold is being exchanged for COVID-19 vaccines in the Yanomami indigenous reserve, the prosecutors office told Reuters on Wednesday.

Cameroon 

Cameroon has set a goal to vaccinate 20 percent of its over 25 million population with a COVID-19 vaccine as the country is struggling with a new surge of infections, Cameroon's Minister of Public Health Manaouda Malachie said Wednesday. 

The Central African nation will have 1,752,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine via COVAX, and has ordered 4,000,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Manaouda told a press conference Wednesday night in the capital Yaounde. "Some of the vaccines will arrive this month and others will follow. Vaccination is now a cornerstone of our strategy to curb the spread of the pandemic," he added.

Canada

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine may be linked to “very rare events of blood clots,” but the benefits of the shot outweigh its potential risk, Health Canada said in a statement following an assessment of scientific data.

The federal agency has updated warnings about the possible side effects in product information and is providing information about potential symptoms as well as when to seek prompt medical attention following vaccination.

READ MORE: Vaccine blood-clot side effect puts focus on immune reaction

City workers fumigate a street to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in Santiago, Chile, April 14, 2021. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

Chile

Chile's health ministry on Wednesday reported 5,497 new COVID-19 infections and 30 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the cumulative caseload to 1,094,267 and the toll to 24,548.

Health Minister Enrique Paris noted in a communique that confirmed cases have increased nationally by 8 percent in the last seven days, and only three regions out of the country's 13 have seen a decline in cases.

Paris said that the Maule region registered the highest national incidence rate per 100,000 inhabitants, while the regions with the greatest increase in new cases in the last seven days were Magallanes, Atacama, Nuble and Maule.

Croatia

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on Wednesday presented the government's draft National Recovery and Resilience Plan for 2021-2026 to Parliament, saying that it should help the country overcome the current crisis and turn challenges into opportunities.

The plan contains proposals worth a total of 49.08 billion Croatian kuna (US$7.75 billion).

The COVID-19 crisis has cost Croatia 32 billion kuna, which is equivalent to 8.7 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), according to Plenkovic.

Cuba

Cuba reported on Wednesday 959 COVID-19 infections and 11 deaths were registered in the past day, bringing the cumulative caseload to 89,404 and the toll to 487, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Havana, which registered 527 cases, posted an incidence rate of 358.5 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the country.

Cyprus

Cyprus's entire cabinet was inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 on Thursday in an attempt to win over a cautious public on the safety of the shots.

Eight ministers, two deputy ministers and three other senior officials received AstraZeneca shots at a vaccination centre in the capital Nicosia.

"We want to send a strong message that what is important is the vaccination, and not the vaccine itself," said Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who received a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in January. Two other members of the cabinet had been inoculated previously based on their age.

 At the present rate, Cyprus can expect to have vaccinated 70 percent of its population by the end of June, therefore acquiring herd immunity, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said.

Cyprus has to date reported 53,254 cases of COVID-19 and 277 deaths.

Denmark

Denmark is examining options for sharing AstraZeneca's vaccines with poorer nations after it halted use of the shots over concerns over rare blood clots, the World Health Organization Europe head said on Thursday. 

World Health Organization Regional Director for Europe Hans Henri P. Kluge on Thursday reaffirmed that the benefits of using the vaccine "outweigh the risk." 

"Let there be no doubt about it, the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in reducing COVID-19 hospitalization and preventing deaths. WHO recommends it to all eligible adults to gain protection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as quickly as possible," said Kluge during a virtual press conference. 

The Regional Director further pointed out that, of the 200 million people that have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, there is only "a very small number of cases of rare blood clotting disorders."

Denmark this week became the first country to stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine altogether, as European officials continue to investigate dozens of reports of very rare blood clots combined with low platelet counts that have arisen in the bloc, as well as Britain. 

The WHO, which along with Britain and the European Medicines Agency continue to recommend AstraZeneca's shot on the grounds that the benefits outweigh the risks, has been pushing countries not to hoard vaccines that they are not using.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported 2,950 new COVID-19 cases and 37 more deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 350,539  with 12,458 fatalities, the Ministry of Public Health said on Wednesday.

The province of Pichincha, where the capital Quito is located, as well as Guayas and Manabi had the highest concentration of infections in the last day, according to ministry figures.

The country, which is facing an upsurge in COVID-19 infections, confirmed its first case of the P1 variant of the coronavirus, which was first detected in Brazil, in a patient in intensive care at a local hospital in Loja.

Health Minister Camilo Salinas an investigation has been initiated to trace the patient’s contacts.

Egypt

Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed said on Wednesday that the government was preparing the vast Cairo International Convention and Exhibition Centre for mass COVID-19 vaccination, noting that the center can accommodate 10,000 citizens daily.

In a virtual cabinet meeting, Zayed said that 75 clinics were currently being prepared at the spacious venue, according to a cabinet statement.

Egypt started vaccinating medical staff of government hospitals with China’s Sinopharm vaccine in late January.

In early March, the North African country began vaccinating the elderly and patients with chronic diseases.

So far, Egypt has reported a total of 212,130 COVID-19 cases, including 12,526 deaths and 160,431 recoveries.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 1,893 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the tally to 234,405 as of Wednesday evening, said the Ministry of Health.

During the same period, 24 more deaths were reported across the country, bringing the toll to 3,252.

The country also reported 863 new recoveries, taking the total number of recoveries to 174,591.

EU

The European Commission announced on Wednesday that it would borrow 800 billion euros from the capital market in current prices until 2026 to fund the European Union's (EU) massive plan to bail out its COVID-stricken economy.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that talks were under way with Pfizer/BioNTech for a new contract for 1.8 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to be delivered in 2022 and 2023.

She said in a statement that the new contract was sought after the European Union (EU) drew the lessons during the first phase of the pandemic.

France

France will have vaccinated 12 million people with a first shot of the vaccine by Thursday evening, said French Prime Minister Jean Castex. 

Castex was speaking after he visited a vaccination centre in the Paris region with his health minister Olivier Veran.

France saw a decline in the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units on Wednesday, and the daily death toll fell, but the number of new infections continued to grow.

Health ministry data showed ICU numbers dropped by 50 to 5,902, the first fall in nearly a week.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said earlier on Wednesday that peak hospitalization levels have not yet been reached and that difficult times are still ahead.

The health ministry reported 297 additional deaths in hospitals on Wednesday, pushing the toll to 99,777. 

France also reported 43,505 new cases, taking the total to about 5.15 million.

Attal said the coronavirus was still circulating actively in the country, with signs of improvement in some parts of southern France but a worsening situation in other parts, such as Auvergne-Rhone Alpes.

Meanwhile, France will use Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as planned despite its suspension in the US, Attal said.

Finland

The coronavirus pandemic is easing in Finland as new cases have declined for a couple of weeks.

The number of hospitalized patients, the share of positive tests and the reinfection rate have all declined, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said on Thursday.

“This shows restrictions set by the government about a month ago have had an impact,” Mika Salminen, who heads the department for health security, said at a press conference. “The closing of bars and restaurants had the biggest impact.”

Incidence over the past two weeks fell to 104 per 100,000 people from 160 in the prior fortnight. The overall decline masks regional differences, with the weakest situation still in the most densely populated south.

Finland has just under 83,000 confirmed cases and 881 people have died of the illness.

Greece

Greece plans to lift a seven-day compulsory quarantine for visitors from the European Union and five other countries, including the US, UK, Serbia, Israel and United Arab Emirates, as of next week, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The April 19 move is part of a gradual re-opening of a tourism sector that’s one of the country’s most important, said the person, who asked not to be named as the decision hasn’t been announced. The visitors will still need to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from within 72 hours before arrival.

Greece will make self-testing for COVID-19 compulsory for service workers in sectors including shops, restaurants and transport, authorities said on Wednesday, as the government looks to gradually reopen the economy.

As well as retail, restaurant and transport staff, workers in cleaning services, hair salons and betting shops will be required to do one test a week from April 19, Labor Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said at a weekly COVID-19 briefing.

Authorities reported 3,089 new cases and 81 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday. The pandemic has now caused a total of 304,184 infections in Greece along with 9,135 deaths.

Hospitals around Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki have struggled to cope in recent months. The situation in the wider Athens area, where nearly half of the country's 11 million population lives, has stabilized, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias told reporters.

Hungary

Hungary's government is in talks with all possible suppliers to make up for an expected shortfall of half a million vaccine doses, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said on Thursday.

"Inoculations require vaccines and we know that another one of the shots ordered by Brussels will be missing, the Janssen vaccines will not arrive. That means half a million fewer shots," Gulyas said in an online briefing.

IBM

International Business Machines Corp (IBM) said on Wednesday its cybersecurity unit has uncovered more digital attacks targeting the global COVID-19 vaccine supply chain since the issue was originally flagged late last year.

The cloud services provider said it recently found that the phishing campaign has targeted 44 more companies which are involved in the complex logistical work of distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in 14 countries.

The campaign is targeting organizations associated with the COVID-19 vaccine "cold chain" - the process needed to keep vaccine doses at extremely cold temperatures as they travel from manufacturers to recipients.

IBM said some of the mails from hackers were sent several months in advance of the approval of any vaccine variant. 

Ireland

Ireland is on track to ease restrictions from May 4 to allow the phased reopening of all retail stores and hairdressers and will also develop a plan for further reopenings in June and July, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday.

The number of cases per 100,000 people measured over the past 14 days has fallen to 132 this week.

Ireland's plan for 80 percent of adults to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June remains on track after Pfizer Inc-BioNTech announced additional European deliveries on Wednesday, its health minister said.

Ireland restricted the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine this week, while Johnson & Johnson delayed delivery of its shot to Europe. Dublin will also decide over the next week whether to extend the gap between inoculations of the Pfizer jab to eight or 12 weeks, Stephen Donnelly said.

Italy

Italy said on Wednesday it had suspended the use of some 184,000 shots of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, after the brand delayed its introduction in Europe following a health scare in the United States.

The first shipment of vaccines from the US company reached Italy on Tuesday, but for now it will not be distributed to regional centers, the office of the country’s COVID special commissioner said.

Meanwhile, the head of healthcare management in Italy’s largest region, Lombardy, said on Wednesday there was a growing reluctance amongst residents to accept AstraZeneca’s vaccine because of safety fears.

“The rejection of AstraZeneca has been seen in numerous regions,” said Antonino Spirlì, acting president of Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, where the region’s main hospital reported up to 70 percent of people were turning down AstraZeneca.

Italy reported 16,168 new coronavirus cases and another 469 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the tally to 3.81 million and the toll to 115,557.

Medical staff personnel administer Moderna's COVID-19 shot at a vaccination site in Rome, Italy, April 14, 2021. (CECILIA FABIANO / LAPRESSE VIA AP)

J&J

US public health advisers concluded a meeting on Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine without a vote, effectively extending a pause on its use while they seek more data on a rare clotting side effect.

After scrutinizing evidence related to the blood clots during an hours-long emergency meeting Wednesday, advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they lacked adequate information to make recommendations on how to respond to reports of the rare blood clots. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices didn’t give a precise date for when they’ll reconvene to reconsider the vaccine.

That leaves J&J’s shot in limbo. The delay isn’t expected to slow the US vaccination campaign much, the Biden administration has said, with shots from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. flowing. Still, an extended pause could cast doubt about the shot that’s helping vaccinate rural communities and other hard-to-reach populations.

J&J said it continues to believe in the positive benefit-risk profile of its COVID-19 vaccine.

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority, and we strongly support awareness of the signs and symptoms of this extremely rare event to ensure the correct diagnosis, appropriate treatment and expedited reporting by health care professionals,” Scientific Director Paul Stoffels said in a statement.

The company will revise protocols on its COVID-19 vaccine study and exclude pregnant health workers from a trial in South Africa set to include 500,000 people. 

The move came after US regulators paused the shot’s rollout on concerns of a rare and severe blood-clotting side effect.

While all studies are delayed, plans to run trials on children and pregnant women in South Africa have been set aside for now, said Glenda Gray, the co-lead of the South African studies, in an interview on Wednesday.

Latvia

Like most other European Union (EU) members, Latvia started its COVID-19 vaccination campaign at the end of last year, aiming to immunize most of its population by the end of this summer.

However, due to various reasons, the vaccination campaign has not been as smooth as expected, which now calls Latvia's chances of achieving herd immunity by August or September into question.

The main obstacle to Latvia's vaccination drive has been delays in vaccine deliveries, but blunders have also been made by the Baltic country's health authorities.

Addressing Latvia's slow vaccine rollout at a government meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said he was confident that the health ministry was capable of coping with the task of immunizing the population against the virus. 

Libya

Libya's Ministry of Health on Wednesday announced receiving 150,000 doses of the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine Sinovac from Turkey.

The ministry said the batch was provided within the framework of mutual cooperation between Libya and Turkey.

So far, Libya has received a total of 400,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Libyan Government, which urged the people to register online to receive the vaccine.

Libya's National Center for Disease Control on April 10 started a vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in the capital Tripoli, with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah and Health Minister Ali Zanati being the first persons to get the jabs in the country.

According to Ali Zanati, vaccination priority will be given to medical staff treating COVID-19 patients inside isolation units, followed by the elderly with chronic diseases, and then medical workers in different hospitals and medical centers.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Libya so far is 170,045, including 155,117 recoveries and 2,834 fatalities, according to the Libyan National Center.

Malawi

Malawi will destroy 16,440 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after they expired, Ministry of Health spokesman Joshua Malango said. 

The expired vaccines form part of a shipment of 102,000 doses donated by the African Union and had just three weeks until expiry when they were delivered.

Merck 

Merck & Co Inc on Thursday said it plans a large study of what could become the first pill to target the coronavirus in people at risk of severe COVID-19, but will no longer pursue use of the experimental antiviral drug in hospitalized patients. 

The company said it would study the drug molnupiravir in a Phase 3 trial among COVID-19 patients out of hospitals who have at least one risk factor for poor outcomes, such as advanced age, obesity or diabetes.

Mexico

Mexico's government reported 5,113 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 518 more fatalities, according to data from the health ministry on Wednesday, bringing the country's total to 2,291,246 infections and 210,812 deaths.

Moderna

Moderna Inc, looking to boost production of its COVID-19 vaccine, met with Nexus Pharmaceuticals Tuesday to discuss manufacturing the shot at the company's new plant in Wisconsin, which has the capacity to process and fill 30 million doses a month, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

It remains unclear if the meeting will result in a deal to manufacture vaccines at the Nexus plant, the sources said.

Moderna's chief executive on Wednesday said the company was unlikely to markedly speed up its vaccine production in the next few months, though it expects the output to have increased significantly by 2022.

Moderna is still on track to deliver between 700 million and one billion doses globally in 2021, Stephane Bancel said.

Morocco

Morocco on Wednesday reported 703 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally of infections to 503,664, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Another five more deaths were reported, lifting the toll to 8920.

The total number of recoveries increased by 640 to 489,928, the ministry said, adding that there were 447 people still in intensive care units.

A total of 4,529,399 people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 4,166,701 people have received both jabs.

Netherlands

The Dutch health ministry said it would follow Johnson & Johnson’s guidelines to keep its COVID-19 vaccines in storage for now.

The move came after US official called for a pause in the use of the J&J shot.

The ministry said it would wait for new guidance from the European Medicines Agency, which is expected next week, before administering any shots.

Novartis

Swiss drugmaker Novartis has signed a deal to make ingredients for Roche’s Actemra treatment that is being repurposed for people with COVID-19, the company said on Thursday.

The arrangement is the third transaction signed by Novartis following agreements with BioNTech and CureVac to make therapies for other firms to help fight the pandemic.

Actemra is a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis which is also being tested in various clinical trials to treat COVID-19 associated pneumonia.

Poland

Poland started administering Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shots on Thursday as benefits from the vaccine outweigh potential risks, government and drug office representatives said. 

The Polish government on Wednesday extended the nationwide lockdown by a week, saying that the recent "zenith of the epidemic's third wave" was starting to affect health care facilities.

The lockdown was due to expire on April 18.

However, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said that nurseries and preschools will be allowed to open starting on Monday, while restrictions on outdoor sports will also be lifted.

Poland on Wednesday reported 21,283 new cases, bringing the tally to 2.6 million. Nearly 60,000 deaths had been reported.

Portugal

Portugal will do its best to avoid visitors having to quarantine on arrival this summer, its secretary of state for tourism said on Wednesday, as Europe moves towards adopting a COVID-19 passport to try to kick-start the travel industry.

Rita Marques said during an online conference the country would try "at all costs to avoid quarantines and additional COVID-19 tests" if the travel pass plan goes ahead.

Romania

The first shipment of 60,000 Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Romania on Wednesday. 

Pending the conclusion of an investigation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for possible blood clot risk, the vaccines will be stored in a warehouse, the National Coordinating Committee for Vaccination Activities against COVID-19 (CNCAV) said.

Romania is also set to receive another 100,000 doses this month, 518,400 doses in May and 1.6 million in June.

Romania is stepping up its vaccination campaign to combat a new wave of the pandemic. In the past seven days, the daily number of vaccinations in the country has increased from 55,339 to 76,590. To date, more than 2.37 million Romanians have been vaccinated, 1.46 million of them with two doses.

Russia

Russia reported 8,944 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, including 2,455 in Moscow, taking the official national tally to 4,675,153.

The government coronavirus task force said 398 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing the toll to 104,398.

The developers of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine said it hasn’t produced any instances of the dangerous blood-clotting that forced US officials to urge a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

Sputnik’s first dose uses the same human adenovirus as the Johnson & Johnson inoculation, but they have “significant differences in their structure” and it isn’t appropriate to extrapolate safety data from one to the other, the state-run Gamaleya Center said in a statement.

South Sudan

South Sudan's government has lifted COVID-19 restrictions as the number of infections continues to decline. Hussein Abdelbagi Akol, Vice President for service cluster and chair of the country's national task force, said the decision to lift the COVID-19 partial lockdown came as a result of the low infection rate in the country. 

"After a thorough consultation with stakeholders, it gives me great pleasure to announce the lifting of the COVID-19 pandemic partial lockdown in the country," Akol said in a statement issued on Wednesday evening in Juba. 

The decision to lift the COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday came as South Sudan recorded 16 new COVID-19 cases bringing the cumulative number of infections to 10,416, 10,148 recoveries and 114 deaths.

Spain

Spain is confident it can maintain its coronavirus vaccination targets despite the United States suspending the Johnson & Johnson shot and delays to its European rollout over clotting concerns, the government said on Wednesday.

Spain will receive between four and five million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine than expected in the second quarter, Health Minister Carolina Darias said at a press conference.

The country received an initial delivery of 146,000 J&J doses on Wednesday, which the health ministry said would be kept in storage pending new guidance from the European Medicines Agency, expected next week.

Accelerating the vaccination campaign has become increasingly urgent as Spain's national infection rate creeps higher. On Wednesday, the rate as measured over the preceding 14 days exceeded 200 cases per 100,000 people for the first time since late February.

The ministry reported 10,474 new cases, bringing the overall tally to 3.39 million, while the death toll climbed by 131 to 76,756.

READ MORE: Taste of freedom in UK, but Europe deaths top 1m

This photo captures a few groups of people seated in front of the Swiss House of Parliament in Bern on April 14, 2021. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

Sweden

Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, registered 7,095 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, health agency statistics showed. 

The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 41 new deaths, taking the total to 13,761. The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks. Sweden's death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbours' but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.

Switzerland

The Swiss government announced further easing of its COVID-19 restrictions on Wednesday, allowing restaurants to reopen outdoor terraces from next week and sports events to take place with audiences.     

The government said cinemas, theaters and concert venues will also be allowed to readmit guests from Monday, April 19, although visitors will have to wear masks and keep a safe distance apart.

Outdoor events would be allowed with up to 100 visitors, and up to 50 audience members would be allowed at indoor venues such as cinemas, theaters and concert halls.

Universities and adult education centres will be allowed to resume in-person classes at reduced capacity, it added.

"Despite rising case numbers we can carefully open up as we have another situation in terms of testing and vaccinations," Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters.

On Wednesday, the number of cases in Switzerland increased by 2,601, taking the total infections to 627,968. The death toll rose by 14 to 9,844.

UK

The British government reported 2,491 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 4,378,305, according to official figures released Wednesday.

The government also reported another 38 people who died within 28 days of their first positive test, bringing the total to 127,161. 

According to government figures, more than 500 genomically confirmed cases of the variant related to South Africa have been detected in Britain.

Surge testing is to take place on Thursday in an area of north London after cases of the South Africa variant were detected there.

Meanwhile, more than 32.3 million people have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.

About half the British adult population would have likely tested positive for coronavirus antibodies by the end of March, the latest data from the British Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed Wednesday.

An estimated 54.9 percent of people in private households in England had COVID-19 antibodies in the week to March 28, said the ONS.

UK study on Astra shot

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine generated a stronger cellular immune response than the Pfizer and BioNTech shot in people over 80 years old, a study by UK researchers shows.

Responses in T cells - a type of white blood cell that helps fight viruses - were seen in 31 percent of participants receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine and 12 percent of the Pfizer-BioNTech group, according to the University of Birmingham and UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium. Elderly people receiving a single dose of either vaccine showed equivalent antibody responses after five weeks.

It’s unclear if the different levels of T cell responses observed will have any impact on clinical effectiveness, the researchers said.

US

Vaccine hesitancy in the US is shrinking, though 1 in 7 residents remain wary about getting a COVID-19 vaccine, largely because of concerns about side effects.

That segment is younger and less educated than average, according to a tracker released Wednesday by the US Census Bureau that uses Household Pulse Survey data. 

Residents were surveyed before US regulators on Tuesday recommended pausing Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines because of concerns about rare blood clots.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) panel ended discussion about the J&J vaccine without taking a vote, leaving it unclear how long the distribution of the shot will remain paused in the US.

Some panel members advocated for a monthlong pause, while others were concerned about the effects of not having the J&J vaccine available, especially to the communities it was being targeted toward.

As a result, distribution of the vaccine will remain halted at least until the panel meets next, perhaps in a week to 10 days.

Venezuela

Venezuela is risking further delays to an already stalled COVID-19 vaccination campaign by seeking to use specific brands of vaccines while shunning readily available ones, opposition leader Juan Guaido said on Wednesday.

The COVAX global vaccine program has offered to sell doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Venezuela, pending a payment arrangement, but the government of President Nicolas Maduro blocked its use following concerns about blood clotting.

Guaido said at a news conference that Maduro allies had internally discussed the idea of seeking out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but that they had not mentioned it in talks with the opposition or formally requested access to the vaccine.

"Insisting on one type of vaccine over another means delaying, it means complicating" the vaccination campaign, he said. "There are not enough vaccines on planet Earth to meet the needs at this time."

As of Tuesday, Venezuela had recorded a total of 176,972 COVID-19 cases and 1,815 deaths.

Zambia 

One hundred and six people received the COVID-19 vaccine jab on the first day of the launch of the vaccination program, a senior government official said Thursday.

Zambia officially launched the vaccination program Wednesday, with the first phase targeting health workers and other people most at risk.

Minister of Health Jonas Chanda, who was the first to receive the jab as a medical doctor, said the 106 people were vaccinated at the launch and so far no adverse events have been reported.

He said only a few reports of common side effects like other routine vaccinations such as headaches and pains at the point of injection have been noted.

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