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Published: 10:07, July 20, 2021 | Updated: 23:20, July 20, 2021
Global quest underway to speed COVID-19 vaccine trials
By Agencies
Published:10:07, July 20, 2021 Updated:23:20, July 20, 2021 By Agencies

An inmate receives a dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 at the Medium Correctional Center in Johannesburg, on July 20, 2021. (LUCA SOLA / AFP)

CHICAGO / GENEVA / OTTAWA / PARIS / WASHINGTON / TEGUCIGALPA / MALAGA / MEXICO CITY / ROME / NAIROBI / BUENOS AIRES / BERLIN / RIO DE JANEIRO / MONTEVIDEO / SANTIAGO / RABAT / KAMPALA / QUITO / DUBLIN / MOSCOW / HARARE - Scientists are working on a benchmark for COVID-19 vaccine efficacy that would allow drugmakers to conduct smaller, speedier human trials to get them to market and address a huge global vaccine shortage.

Researchers are trying to determine just what level of COVID-19 antibodies a vaccine must produce to provide protection against the illness. Regulators already use such benchmarks - known as correlates of protection - to evaluate flu vaccines without requiring large, lengthy clinical trials.

"You could use it to predict efficacy from a vaccine, which will be more important as we are less able to conduct placebo-controlled trials," said Stanley Plotkin, inventor of the Rubella vaccine and an expert on correlates of protection.

"The information is flowing in," he said. "By the end of this year, I think there will be enough data to convince everyone."An established benchmark for COVID-19 would allow drugmakers to conduct vaccine trials in just a few thousand people, about one-tenth the size of the studies conducted to gain authorization for currently widely-used coronavirus shots, researchers and drugmakers told Reuters.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 190.89 million while the global death toll topped 4.09 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Americas

While the continents of North, Central and South Americas only saw a small increase in cases recently, they still account for more than a quarter of all cases of COVID-19 reported worldwide, as well as 40 percent of all global deaths, World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on Monday.

"There were almost one million cases reported in the Americas last week," said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on COVID-19 for the WHO, during a live social media Q&A.

"In Brazil there were almost 300,000 cases reported last week. In the US, more than 200,000 cases reported," she said.

Van Kerkhove warned of a peak in the transmission level that has been observed in the region, saying that "they are stuck at a really high level of intensity, and they can't quite bring that transmission down."

The world at large saw a global increase of 11.5 percent in cases last week, WHO officials said, with Europe and the Western Pacific being the most affected.

The Americas region saw a moderate increase of 0.5 percent, but some countries were plagued by really sharp spikes in transmission possibly due to new variants, Van Kerkhove said.

The new Lambda variant first discovered in South America, however, does not seem to have brought an increase in cases, as it has started to be "outcompeted" by other variants, she added.

ALSO READ: Brazil approves trials with 3rd dose of Astra vaccine

A student walks through a disinfectant tunnel upon arrival at the Sacred Family school, a public Catholic institution in Huajchilla, Bolivia, on July 19, 2021, the first day of the resumption of in-person classes. (JUAN KARITA / AP)

Canada

The Canadian government announced Monday that it will allow fully vaccinated US citizens and permanent residents into Canada starting from Aug 9, while inoculated visitors from other countries will be allowed to enter from Sept 7.

The relaxation depends on Canada's COVID-19 rates remaining favorable, officials said.

"Thanks to the rising vaccination rates and declining COVID-19 cases, we are able to move forward with adjusted border measures," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference in Brampton, Ontario.

Some 50 percent of Canadian residents are fully vaccinated, and 75 percent have had one shot, government officials said.

The Canada-US border was closed to non-essential travel by mutual agreement on March 21, 2020 and the restrictions have been renewed each month since. It remained unclear Monday if or when the US administration plans to reciprocate for visitors to the United States.

People eligible to enter Canada must have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days beforehand. Children under 12 who are not vaccinated will not be required to quarantine if traveling with their fully inoculated parents. 

All travellers will still be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test result and proof of vaccination.

Meanwhile, a ban on all commercial and private flights from India will be extended due to the reportedly high rates of the Delta variant. 

US

Swiftly rising coronavirus cases across the United States and abroad fueled fears of a pandemic resurgence on Monday as the highly contagious Delta variant appeared to be taking hold.

Many of the new outbreaks were in parts of the country where COVID-19 vaccinations have lagged, prompting political leaders to ramp up pressure on reluctant Americans to get the inoculations.

President Joe Biden, citing higher rates of COVID-19 in states with low vaccination rates, said during a speech that the nation's economic recovery hinged on getting better at controlling the pandemic. 

A federal judge on Monday ruled that Indiana University could require students to be vaccinated, rejecting claims in a lawsuit the mandate violated their rights under the US Constitution.

In another development Monday, the US warned citizens not to travel to the UK and Indonesia, two nations that are seeing a jump in COVID-19 infections. 

The State Department raised its advisory for both countries to Level 4, or do not travel, from Level 3, or reconsider travel.

India, where infections are still hovering near 40,000 a day but are a fraction of the highs in May, had its advisory lowered to Level 3 from Level 4.

READ MORE: Virus rankings method given thumbs-down

UK

Only the most vulnerable children and those living with at-risk adults will receive COVID-19 vaccinations in the UK, the government said Monday, ruling out a broader program due to fears over rare side effects.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, immunosuppression and profound learning disabilities, as well as children aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person, officials said. It will also be offered to healthy 17-year-olds within three months of their 18th birthday.

Britain's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said that 60 percent of people being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, correcting an earlier statement he made on Monday.

Vallance earlier said at a news conference with Prime Minister Boris Johnson that 60 percent of people being admitted to hospital with COVID-19 have had two doses of vaccine.

Britain on Monday reported 39,950 new coronavirus cases and 19 more deaths, bringing the tally to 5,473,477 and the toll to 128,727, according to official figures released Monday.

People walk in Oxford Circus, in London, Britain, July 19, 2021, the day most of the coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England. (ALBERTO PEZZALI / AP)

South Africa

South Africa vaccinated a record 223,969 people against COVID-19 on Monday, indicating that its inoculation program has overcome disruptions from widespread rioting last week. 

Daily vaccinations last week fell to as low as about 137,000 as the administering of the shots was disrupted in Gauteng and brought to a virtual halt in KwaZulu-Natal, the province worst hit by the violence.

Honduras

Honduras began Monday a mass vaccination campaign for those eligible for their second COVID-19 dose, with an aim to immunize 1.2 million people by Aug 4, the Ministry of Health said.

People started lining up early morning at immunization centers in universities, gymnasiums, schools and public buildings.

Workers in the tourism, transportation and airport sectors, as well as teachers and uninsured individuals are among those who are waiting for their second shot.

Honduras has confirmed 279,257 COVID-19 cases and 7,427 deaths, according to data from health authorities. 

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Monday reported 5,307 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 138 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,664,444 infections and 236,469 deaths.

Spain

Spain reported a new jump in its COVID-19 infection rate on Monday, with 61,628 cases registered since Friday, just as fully vaccinated British holidaymakers flocked to its beaches, giving hope to the hard-hit tourism sector.

The 14-day infection rate rose to 600 per 100,000 people on Monday from 537 on Friday, health ministry data showed. Spain also reported 23 deaths since Friday, bringing the coronavirus death toll to 81,119.

Still, deaths and hospitalizations have been lower than in previous waves thanks to a high rate of vaccination, which reached half of the population on Monday.

With 51,229,989 doses administered in total, 24,041,017 Spaniards, or 50.7 percent of the population, are now fully inoculated against the coronavirus, while 29,484,796, or 62.1 percent, have received their first dose.

A medical technician administers a nasal swab test at a mobile testing site in Versailles, west of Paris, July 15, 2021. (MICHEL EULER / AP)

France

France has entered a fourth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic, which is spreading at "lightning" speed, said government spokesman Gabriel Attal on Monday evening while announcing tough penalties for violations of health pass rules.

"We are seeing a wave faster than all the previous ones," Attal said at a press conference, noting that the incidence rate has increased by nearly 125 percent in one week.

The Delta variant, first detected in India, now represented 80 percent of infections in France, he added.

Earlier in the day, participants in a cabinet meeting adopted a bill containing new measures to contain the rapid spread of the virus, including compulsory vaccination for caregivers.

Under the bill, a compulsory health pass for access to cultural and leisure venues will come into force on July 21. For bars and restaurants and certain shopping centers, "the pass will be due on Aug 30, the time for those who wish to be vaccinated," said Attal.

The bill, to be presented to parliament at the end of the week, also includes an obligation of 10-day isolation for people who test positive for COVID-19.

Those who do not comply with the health pass rules may face a fine of from 1,500 euros up to 45,000 euros, as well as one year in jail, according to Attal.

ALSO READ: France opens doors to vaccinated travellers, restricts others

Italy

The total number of people inoculated against COVID-19 in Italy, who have completed the vaccination cycle with two doses or a single shot, stood at 27,581,936, or 51.07 percent of the population over the age of 12, according to the government's website on the virus situation.

Italian politicians should throw their weight behind the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on Monday, wading into a row over mainly rightist leaders who have yet to get inoculated.

A recent rise in infections, fueled by the more contagious Delta variant, has given a renewed sense of urgency to the vaccination program, with the government concerned that almost 40 percent of the adult population has still not received a shot.

Among those yet to be vaccinated are Matteo Salvini, head of Italy's largest party, the rightist League. Other prominent figures, such as Giorgia Meloni, who leads the far-right Brothers of Italy, have refused to say if they have been vaccinated.

Africa

Greater investment in home-grown research and development of a safe and efficacious vaccine is crucial in order to boost the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, experts said in a virtual forum in Nairobi on Monday.

Githinji Gitahi, CEO of Nairobi-based international health advocacy group, Amref Health Africa said the continent's ability to defeat the pandemic hinges on domestic financing toward the development of effective vaccine candidates.

He urged African governments to increase the budget earmarked for COVID-19 vaccine research even as they negotiate with foreign pharmaceutical companies for patents to facilitate local production of the essential life-saving commodity.

Among issues discussed by health experts who spoke at the virtual forum organized by Amref Health Africa included solving COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy that is rampant in the continent amid misinformation.

READ MORE: African countries to receive US-donated virus vaccines 'in days'

Argentina

More than 70 percent of Argentines over the age of 20 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the health ministry said Monday.

"With a weekly application rate of around 2,300,000 doses in the last three weeks, and the nonstop arrival of vaccines, the strategic plan for vaccination against the SARS-CoV-2 virus is advancing in the different age groups," the ministry said in a statement.

Some "70 percent of people over 20 years of age already have one dose, and 54 percent of those older than 70 years of age have completed" both doses, the ministry said.

Argentina has so far registered 4,769,142 cases and 101,955 deaths, while more than 27.75 million vaccines have been administered since December.

A view of a COVID-19 vaccination center in Gostinny Dvor, a huge exhibition place in Moscow, Russia, on July 12, 2021. (PAVEL GOLOVKIN / AP)

Russia


Russia on Tuesday reported 23,770 new COVID-19 cases, including 3,188 in Moscow, pushing the total number of cases confirmed during the pandemic to 6,006,536. 

The government also reported 784 coronavirus-related deaths, including 101 in Moscow. 

Russia is facing a surge in cases that authorities have blamed on the Delta variant and the slow rate of vaccinations.

Brazil

Brazil has registered 542 more COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising its national death toll to 542,756, the health ministry said Monday.

As many as 15,271 new cases were detected, taking the total caseload to 19,391,845, the ministry said.

The South American country, which is experiencing a new wave of infections with hospitals overwhelmed by patients, has a mortality rate of about 258 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, said the ministry.

As of Monday, 124.1 million people in Brazil have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and more 33.9 million people have been fully vaccinated.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported 247 new COVID-19 infections and six more deaths in the last 24 hours, raising the cumulative caseload to 476,312 and the toll to 16,237, the Ministry of Public Health said on Monday.

In its daily report, the ministry also announced another 5,721 deaths considered to be related to COVID-19 but not verified.

According to the ministry, the province of Pichincha led in the number of new infections with 70, with the capital Quito, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, registering 67 of that total.

The most affected age group is 20 to 49 years old, representing 60 percent of those infected, according to the health ministry.

Uruguay

Uruguay's Public Health Minister Daniel Salinas announced Monday that the country’s vaccination campaign against COVID-19 will be extended to large companies with the introduction of mobile vaccination sites.

The campaign will begin in the capital Montevideo, with the goal of promoting immunization among people who have not visited traditional vaccination centers.

The mobile sites will be made available to companies in different industries, including meat packing plants and poultry farms, he said.

Some 57 percent of the country's population has received both COVID-19 vaccine doses, while 69 percent has received the first dose, making Uruguay one of the most advanced in terms of immunization, according to health authorities.

Uruguay has so far reported 378,875 COVID-19 cases and 5,883 deaths.

Chile

Chile reported on Monday 1,015 new COVID-19 infections and 25 more deaths were registered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,600,883 cases and 34,539 deaths.

According to the Ministry of Health, the number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants has dropped from 327 in April to 81 in July, a decrease of 75 percent.

Confirmed deaths due to the disease have fallen by 18 percent in the last seven days and by 23 percent in 14 days.

In addition, hospital occupancy rate has fallen to 87 percent, the lowest figure since December 2020, while critical admissions have decreased by 65 percent.

A gym worker disinfects free wights and dumbells at a gym in Santiago, Chile, July 19, 2021. Santiago is moving into phase 3, ending with the weekend quarantines and allowing more people inside restaurants and gyms as the city relaxes its lockdown rules. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

Ireland

Ireland is easing COVID-19 restrictions for international travelers coming from some of the European countries and the United States starting from Monday, according to Irish national radio and television broadcaster RTE.

Travelers from the 27 European Union (EU) member countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Britain and the United States will no longer be required to quarantine if they have proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, have recovered from the disease, or have had a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival, according to the report.

The relaxation came at a time when Ireland has been witnessing a notable increase in the number of confirmed cases over the last week or so.

On Monday, the Irish Department of Health reported 1,017 new cases in the country.

The five-day incidence in Ireland averages 1,159 cases per day, the highest since Feb 2 of this year, said the department in a statement on Monday.

Cuba

Cuba reported on Monday 6,505 new COVID-19 infections and 61 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 288,392 cases and 1,966 deaths.

Director of hygiene and epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health Francisco Duran said that comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity have been most frequently related with COVID-19 deaths.

Meanwhile, the country has administered 8.2 million doses of Cuban-produced vaccines, with 3.3 million people having received one shot of a vaccine.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 558,785 on Monday as 1,153 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The country's coronavirus death toll rose by 16 to 9,466, while total number of recoveries increased by 1,580 to 533,229, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

So far, 11,410,509 people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 9,692,075 having received the second shot as well.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands reported 69,731 weekly cases on Tuesday, up from 51,957 last week. The number of hospitalizations has gone up in recent days, though at a slower pace than infections. Official figures showed 50 new admissions on Monday, the biggest daily increase since May 10.

The Dutch government has reintroduced some restrictions, including limiting opening hours for bars, while a recommendation for people to work from home if possible was reinstated from Monday.

Uganda

Uganda has lost 16 medical doctors to COVID-19 in four weeks, a local medical workers' association said Monday.

Mukuzi Muhereza, secretary-general of the Uganda Medical Association, told Xinhua by telephone that the deaths were recorded between the last part of June and early July.

They died of COVID-19 from various places across the country, Muhereza said.

Uganda has so far registered 90,656 COVID-19 infections and 2,392 deaths in the pandemic.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,183 to 3,746,410, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday.

The reported death toll rose by 34 to 91,397, the tally showed.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s government on Tuesday ordered that all its workers should receive a COVID-19 vaccine and only 10% of civil servants report for duty, with the rest working from home in a bid to curb the spread of the pandemic.

The head of the public commission, Jonathan Wutawunashe, said in a circular to government departments that all civil servants - about 250,000 - were considered frontline workers who should get COVID-19 shots.

More than 1.1 million people have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Zimbabwe has recorded 85,732 infections, a quarter of them since end of June and 2,697 deaths to date.

“All heads of ministries are directed to ensure that all civil servants under their jurisdiction should be vaccinated,” Wutawunashe said.

After initial hesitancy, more Zimbabweans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19, with the government promising to import more vaccines from China.

Wutawunashe said only health workers and those providing critical government services would be allowed access to their offices while Zimbabwe was under a lockdown that includes a dawn-to-dusk curfew, shorter working hours and a ban on inter-city travel.


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