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Published: 10:31, August 19, 2021 | Updated: 00:04, August 20, 2021
EU says import of J&J vaccines from S. Africa temporary
By Agencies
Published:10:31, August 19, 2021 Updated:00:04, August 20, 2021 By Agencies

This March 6, 2021 file photo shows vials of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Denver, the United States. (DAVID SALUBOWSKI / AP)

GENEVA / LONDON / MADRID / RABAT / ABIDJAN / NAIROBI / ADDIS ABABA / ACCRA / TUNIS / VALLETA / SARAJE VO / BERLIN / BRASILIA / OSLO / SANTIAGO / PARIS / ROME / MOSCOW / SKOPJE / STOCKHOLM - The European Commission said on Thursday it had reached a temporary agreement with South Africa to use a plant there to bottle Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines that are being imported into the EU.

The deal highlights the complexity of producing vaccines with factories spread across the world and is likely to stir concerns about drugmakers' power in negotiating supply deals with countries.

On Wednesday the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters he was "stunned" by news that J&J vaccines were being exported from South Africa to the EU, because the EU has already very high vaccination rates while in many African countries not even the most vulnerable have been vaccinated.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters he was "stunned" by news that Johnson & Johnson vaccines were being exported from South Africa to the European Union, because the EU has already very high vaccination rates while in many African countries not even the most vulnerable have been vaccinated

A spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters on Thursday the agreement with South Africa was reached after J&J faced problems in producing vaccines in the United States at a factory belonging to its partner Emergent Biosolutions.

Under the deal, Aspen Pharmacare bottles the vaccine substance produced elsewhere, and then transfers the finished doses to South Africa and the EU.

A J&J factory in Leiden, in the Netherlands, is a major producer of its vaccine substance for COVID-19 shots worldwide.

From September, J&J will transfer all bottling operations for vaccines directed to the EU to Leiden, the EU spokesperson said.

J&J was not immediately available for a comment.

Austria

Vaccines helped prevent symptomatic coronavirus infections for 91 out of every 100 vaccinated Austrians. Out of more than 150,000 symptomatic cases recorded this year, less than 2,900 were among the fully vaccinated, implying the 91 percent rate, the Austrian Agency for Health Food and Safety said in a report.

The data largely matches evidence from clinical trials on vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing more serious illness and deaths from the coronavirus.

Uganda

Uganda signed a commitment letter to buy 18 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccines to speed up the pace of COVID-19 inoculation.

The nation will pay US$5.50 per dose through the Covax facility, according Henry Mwebesa, director of general health services at the Health Ministry. The offer is “a cheaper and more reliable option” for the East African country, he said in an emailed statement.

Separately, the nation received a donation of 299,520 AstraZeneca Plc vaccines from the UK under a dose-sharing arrangement, the ministry said on Twitter.

Uganda has administered 1.24 million shots in the nation of about 42.7 million people. Total infections have doubled since the end of May to more than 97,000, propelled by the highly contagious delta variant, the ministry said.

Oxford study

A British public health study has found that protection from either of the two most commonly used COVID-19 vaccines against the now prevalent Delta variant of the coronavirus weakens within three months.

It also found that those who get infected after receiving two shots of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the AstraZeneca vaccine may be of greater risk to others than under previous variants of the coronavirus.

Based on more than three million nose and throat swabs taken across Britain, the Oxford University study found that 90 days after a second shot of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine, their efficacy in preventing infections had slipped to 75 percent and 61 percent, respectively.

That was down from 85 percent and 68 percent, respectively, seen two weeks after a second dose. The decline in efficacy was more pronounced among those aged 35 years and older than those below that age.

"Both of these vaccines, at two doses, are still doing really well against Delta... When you start very, very high, you got a long way to go," said Sarah Walker, an Oxford professor of medical statistics and chief investigator for the survey.

Highlighting the increased risk of contagion from the Delta variant, the study also showed that those who do get infected despite being fully vaccinated tend to have a viral load similar to the unvaccinated with an infection, a clear deterioration from when the Alpha variant was still dominant in Britain.

The study was conducted in partnership with Britain's Office of National Statistics (ONS) and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 209.27 million while the global death toll topped 4.39 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

A senior gets a third shot of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine during a campaign to give booster shots to the elderly over the age of 86, at the Bicentenario stadium in Santiago, Chile, Aug 11, 2021. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

WHO

Current data does not indicate that COVID-19 booster shots are needed, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday, adding that the most vulnerable people worldwide should be fully vaccinated before high-income countries deploy a top-up.

The comments came just before the US government said it planned to make the booster shots widely available to all Americans starting on Sept 20 as infections from the Delta variant of the coronavirus rise. 

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, asked about the need for boosters to increase protection against the disease, said at a Geneva news conference: "We believe clearly that the data today does not indicate that boosters are needed."

Two doses should be given to the most vulnerable worldwide before boosters are administered to those fully-vaccinated, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward said

Further research was needed, she added.

Two doses should be given to the most vulnerable worldwide before boosters are administered to those fully-vaccinated, WHO senior adviser Bruce Aylward said.

Meanwhile, the WHO and Unitaid expressed concern over a statement from Roche Holding AG warning of a global shortage in the drug Actemra.

In a joint statement, the WHO and Unitaid encouraged Roche to “facilitate technology transfer and knowledge and data sharing” to broaden access to the drug.

In June, the WHO recommended Actemra as treatment for severe cases of COVID-19. 

ALSO READ: WHO: Global new virus cases kept rising in last two months

US

US President Joe Biden beefed up his administration’s response to a nationwide surge in coronavirus infections on Wednesday, laying out a series of actions including vaccination boosters and possible legal action against governors who have blocked mask requirements in schools.

The US is facing a new wave of COVID-19 infections, primarily among the unvaccinated and driven by the Delta variant. Deaths have been rising again with Tuesday's toll surpassing 1,000.

The plan to start offering booster shots on Sept 20 to all vaccinated US adults marks a massive expansion to a program previously limited to those with weakened immune systems. 

He also announced a new requirement that nursing homes ensure their staff are vaccinated in order to receive federal funding. And he directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to take steps such as exercising oversight authorities and taking legal action to counter governors who have prevented schools from requiring children to wear masks.

Healthcare workers and elderly people who got their shots at the beginning of the year will become eligible for the boosters first. The US will begin issuing the boosters to fully vaccinated adults who received their second shot at least eight months earlier.

Earlier Wednesday, US health officials including Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, Food and Drug Administration Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a joint statement about the decision.

“Based on our latest assessment, the current protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death could diminish in the months ahead, especially among those who are at higher risk or were vaccinated during the earlier phases of the vaccination rollout,” they said in the statement.

South Africa

The South African provinces of the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal can expect to see their COVID-19 case rates rise in the third wave of infections in the country, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said.

Gauteng, where a quarter of South Africans live, and North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga are over the worst of the wave while the Northern Cape and Free State are continuing to see “a steady number of new cases”.

South Africa is the worst hit nation in Africa by the coronavirus, having reported over 78,000 deaths and 2.6 million infections. 

As many as four out of five South Africans may have contracted the coronavirus, indicating that the country may be one of the world’s hardest-hit nations by the disease, the chief actuary at Africa’s biggest health insurer said. 

Emile Stipp, the actuary at Discovery Health, based his calculations on the country’s case-fatality rate and excess deaths, a measure of the number of fatalities compared with an historical average. They are thought to provide a more accurate picture of the impact of the pandemic than the official toll.

The infection rate of between 70 percent and 80 percent, as estimated by Stipp, is high by global standards and could push South Africa close to so-called herd immunity, estimated at between 80 percent and 90 percent by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Still, it’s possible that the Delta variant of the virus could reinfect those who contracted other strains.

Stipp said he based his assessment on the assumption that 90 percent of excess deaths reported by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) were due to COVID-19. The SAMRC estimates South Africa’s excess death number at 238,949 during the pandemic, compared with an official COVID-19 death toll of 78,377. The country’s case fatality rate is 3 percent.

Curro Holdings Ltd., which operates private schools in South Africa, may fire teachers who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the year, News24 reported, citing Chief Executive Officer Andries Greyling. 

Mexico

Mexico reported a record daily rise in COVID-19 cases with 28,953, bringing the tally to 3,152,205, the Health Ministry said in its daily report Wednesday. 

The ministry reported 940 additional COVID-19 deaths, taking the overall toll to 250,469.

Mexico had vaccinated 61 percent of adults as of Aug 16 with at least one dose, a little more than half having received complete vaccination, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said on Twitter on Tuesday. 

Of Mexico’s COVID-19 deaths in 2021, 95.5 percent were unvaccinated people, 2.5 percent were partially vaccinated and 2 percent vaccinated, Lopez-Gatell said.

The US will ship 1.75 million Moderna vaccines to Mexico during the weekend after health regulator Cofepris authorized Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in the country.

READ MORE: Vaccine hesitancy rises among Mexico's youth as Delta spreads

Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara tested positive for COVID-19 after being exposed to the coronavirus but has now recovered, the presidency said on Wednesday.

Ouattara's office announced on Aug 3 that he was self-isolating but did not previously announce that he tested positive.

The presidency's statement said Ouattara tested negative on Wednesday and he has returned to his usual activities.

Greece

Greece’s national vaccination committee approved COVID-19 booster shots for immune-suppressed individuals and other vulnerable groups. 

The country will start to administer the third vaccines in early September, senior Health Ministry official Marios Themistocleous said. 

The number of new cases is expected to peak at the end of September or in early October, he said.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 7,354,862 as of Wednesday evening, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll from the pandemic stood at 185,706 while the number of recoeveries reached 6,484,952, the Africa CDC said.

Ghana

Ghana on Wednesday received 249,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines through the COVAX Facility to aid the ongoing efforts in inoculating the people against COVID-19.

This is the third time the West African country received vaccines fromCOVAX .

According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), the country has inoculated some 1,271,393 persons. The GHS on Monday started another round of vaccination with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in COVID-19 hotpots across the country.

Ghana's COVID-19 stood at 112,378, along with 945 deaths, as of Wednesday.

UK

The UK reported 33,904 new cases of COVID-19, government data showed on Wednesday, meaning cases between Aug 12 and Aug 18 were up by 7.6 percent compared with the previous seven days.

In total, the UK has reported 6,355,887 confirmed cases. The daily cases figure was the highest since July 23 but the success of UK's coronavirus vaccination campaigns has reduced the number of deaths sharply from earlier this year.

Wednesday's data showed a further 111 people were reported as having died within 28 days of a positive test for COVID-19, taking the seven-day increase to nearly 8 percent. The toll stands at 131,260.

In mid-January, when daily cases were also running at about 30,000 a day, deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test were averaging more than 1,000 a day.

A total of 47.41 million people had received a first dose of a vaccine against coronavirus by the end of Aug. 17 and 40.99 million people had received a second dose.

ALSO READ: UK authorizes Moderna virus vaccine for use in adolescents

Men chat at a street in Jeremie, Haiti, Aug 18, 2021, four days after the city was struck by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. (MATIAS DELACROIX / AP)

Haiti

Haiti's COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been stalled by Saturday's quake and medical personnel, equipment and logistical support is urgently needed to help the country deal with multiple health emergencies, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday.

Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of PAHO, the WHO's regional arm, said at a virtual briefing that scores of hospitals in three regions had been either damaged or destroyed, while PAHO's health emergencies director Dr. Ciro Ugarte said the vaccination campaign had stuttered as health teams switched their priorities.

"We hope that the international community can come together to provide the urgently-needed air and ground logistics support to evacuate patients and transport essential humanitarian supplies - this is needed now," Etienne said.

Etienne said both the Haitian government and aid organizations were experiencing "tremendous difficulties" in moving supplies and personnel into stricken areas, and that PAHO had not been able to deploy sufficient numbers of emergency medical teams.

Haiti's COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which only began in July with the arrival of 500,000 doses donated by the US government through the COVAX vaccine distribution scheme, has faltered, said Ugarte. Around 21,000 people have been give a vaccine dose so far.

COVID-19 cases and deaths are rising rapidly across the Caribbean, particularly in Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba, as well as rising in Costa Rica and Belize, but cases are falling in most of South America, PAHO said.

Spain

More than 30 million people in Spain have now received two doses of vaccine against COVID-19, the Ministry of Health confirmed on Wednesday.

Data published by the ministry showed that 30,261,332 Spaniards, or 63.8 percent of the population, are now fully vaccinated, while 35,072,910, or 73.9 percent of the population, have received one vaccine dose.

However, vaccination numbers are still considerably lower for the groups aged 12-19 (9.3 percent), 20-29 (35.8 percent) and 30-39 (58.5 percent). The Spanish government hoped the speed of vaccination would increase as people return from their holidays.

Also on Wednesday, the ministry reported 11,956 new COVID-19 cases and 144 deaths, taking the tally to 4,745,558 with 82,883 fatalities.

The country's 14-day COVID-19 incidence continued to fall to 378.13 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Morocco

The total number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Morocco reached 12,341,745, the Ministry of Health on Wednesday said in a statement.

So far, a total of 16,961,675 first doses have been administered in Morocco, according to the statement.

Morocco's infection tally rose to 782,097 Wednesday, as 9,703 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll increased by 103 to 11,345 while the total recoveries rose by 7,197 to 688,902, according to the statement.

Kenya

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday said the night curfew and a ban on public gatherings will be extended by 60 days amid concerns over surging COVID-19 infections linked to the Delta variant.

According to Kenyatta, there was an exponential rise in infection rates countrywide, linked to unrestrained gatherings and movement in breach of public health guidelines.

"In particular, 18 counties have recorded a positivity rate above 20 percent over the last week," said Kenyatta, adding that eight additional counties had recorded a positivity rate of above 30 percent.

Kenyatta said extending the night curfew, which begins from 10 pm to 4 am, and prohibiting all forms of public gatherings by two months will help tame the virus transmission as the country grapples with a fourth wave of the virus.

Attendance at social gatherings including weddings and funerals will be restricted to 100 persons, in a bid to prevent them from becoming super spreader events.

In another development, Kenya granted emergency use authorization for Moderna and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines, said Pharmacy and Poisons Board Chief Executive Officer Fred Siyoi.

The East African nation will receive two million Sinopharm doses, with the first batch of 200,000 shots donated by China expected in September, Willis Akhwale, head of its vaccine advisory team, said in a separate interview. It also expects 1.76 million doses of Moderna, with an initial 800,000 shots arriving in Nairobi next week.

North Macedonia

The government of North Macedonia has decided to impose new restrictions from Sept 1 to fight the spread of COVID-19, Health Minister Venko Filipce announced on social media on Wednesday.

Starting from Sept 1, all travelers entering the country must present a vaccination certificate, or a document proving they have either had COVID-19 in the last 45 days, or had a negative test result from a PCR test taken 72 hours before entering the territory of North Macedonia.

Citizens returning to the country without a PCR test, or a certificate proving they have had COVID-19 or been vaccinated, will have to self-quarantine for seven days.

Meanwhile, Filipce said that people working in institutions will not be ordered to have a vaccine, underlining that such an obligation is only applied in highly frequented places where the risk of transmission increases.

According to data from the health ministry, a total of 17,427 people were vaccinated over the past 24 hours, taking the total number of vaccinations in the country to 1,097,855, of which 485,464 have received two doses.

Another 1,081 new cases and 15 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the last 24 hours, taking the tally to 164,529 and the toll to 5,589.

People queue to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Skopje, North Macedonia, Aug 18, 2021. (TOMISLAV GEORGIEV / XINHUA)

Sweden

A new strain of the COVID-19 Delta variant has been found in Sweden, with some cases being detected among fully vaccinated individuals, local media reported on Wednesday.

Eight infections caused by the Delta variant with the E484Q mutation were found in Uppsala, some 70 kilometers north of Stockholm, Swedish Television reported.

All the new cases are reported to be linked to overseas travel.

"We take all variants against which vaccines may not have the same protection seriously," Mats Martinell, medical manager at the sampling unit of Uppsala Region, told Swedish Television.

According to the latest official data, more than 1.11 million COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Sweden.

As of Wednesday, 80.5 percent of the adult population have received at least one vaccine dose, while 61.1 percent have had two doses.

Tunisia

Tunisia’s health ministry reported on Wednesday 2,952 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally in the North African country to 629,702.

The death toll from rose by 30 to 22,148 while the total number of recoveries reached 579,852, the ministry said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, the Tunisian presidency announced the relaxation of some anti-COVID-19 restrictions, including the easing of the nightly curfew and allowing cafes and restaurants to remain open until 10 pm.

Malta

Malta has donated 40,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and the same amount of rapid test kits to Libya, according to Health Minister Chris Fearne.

The donations were part of an European Union effort to supply vaccines and test kits to countries that are lagging behind in their vaccination roll-out.

Bosnia and Herzegovina 

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has delivered Dexamethasone drug worth US$1 million to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), said the Ministry of Civil Affairs of BiH on Wednesday.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, BiH has received medicine and PCR tests  from UNICEF worth US$ 3 million, said the ministry, adding that Dexamethasone will soon be distributed to medical facilities across the country.

BiH is currently bracing for a fourth wave of the pandemic. A total of 420 new cases were reported over the past 24 hours, a sharp increase from 15 cases reported on July 8, according to official data.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 8,400 to 3,843,775, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday.

The reported death toll rose by 22 to 91,943, the tally showed.

Brazil

Brazil reported 41,714 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours, as well as another 1,064 deaths, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The South American country has now registered 20,457,897 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 571,662, according to ministry data.

As vaccination advances, the rolling 7-day average of COVID-19 deaths has fallen to less than one third of the toll of almost 3,000 a day at the peak of the pandemic in April.

Norway

Norway will offer all 16- and 17-year-olds their first COVID-19 vaccine dose after those over 18 are fully vaccinated, the government said on Wednesday.

The vaccinations for this group could start within a few weeks, Camilla Stoltenberg, the head of the Norwegian Institute Public Health, told broadcaster NRK.

Almost 88 percent of those over 18 in Norway have now received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 53.5 percent of those are fully vaccinated, the institute said on its website.

France

France has added Algeria and Morocco to its list of countries deemed high-risk COVID-19 zones as it battles a fourth wave of infections.

The new measure, which will take effect on Saturday, means people arriving from the two African countries will have to undergo strict protocol measures, such as self-isolating.

French health authorities reported on Wednesday that the number of patients being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) for COVID-19 has risen above 2,000 for the first time since June 14.

That figure has more than doubled in less than a month as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus is putting a renewed strain on the French hospital system.

Italy

Italy reported 69 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday against 54 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections increased to 7,162 from 5,273.

Italy has registered 128,579 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the eighth-highest in the world. The country has reported 4.46 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 - not including those in intensive care - stood at 3,559 on Wednesday, up from 3,472 a day earlier.

There were 50 new admissions to intensive care units, edging up from 49 on Tuesday. The total number of intensive care patients rose to 442 from a previous 423.

Russia

Russia registered 21,058 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 6,684,531, the official monitoring and response center said Thursday.

The death toll grew by 791 to 173,700, while the number of recoveries increased by 24,017 to 5,963,054.

Moscow - Russia's worst-hit region - reported 2,142 new cases, taking the city's total to 1,549,386.

A fifth Russian vaccine against COVID-19 is "on the way," Anna Popova, head of Russia's consumer rights and human well-being watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said earlier this week.


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