20% of serious England virus cases are pregnant, unvaccinated

A member of the public receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine at an inoculation center in Derby, central England, on Sept 20, 2021. (PAUL ELLIS / AFP)

MOSCOW / ROME / CARACAS / CAIRO / VANCOUVER / RIO DE JANEIRO / LONDON / SAO PAULO / HAVANA / KAMPALA – Pregnant women who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 account for almost 20 percent of critically ill coronavirus patients in England’s hospitals, according to the National Health Service.

One in five patients receiving treatments through a special lung-bypass machine since July were expectant mothers who have not had their first shots, the NHS said in a statement Monday. 

Even though women will have concerns about having the vaccine during pregnancy, there exists no link between getting jabbed and an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth or illness, according to Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“There is robust evidence showing that the vaccine is the most effective way to protect both mother and baby against the possibility of severe illness,” Morris said. Over 81,000 pregnant women in England have so far received their first dose, with 65,000 being fully vaccinated.

Britain on Sunday reported 34,574 new cases, bringing the tally to 8,154,306, according to official figures released Sunday.

Another 38 coronavirus-related deaths were also logged, taking the total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 137,735. The figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), warned that there could be multiple strains of flu ahead of an uncertain winter.

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, she said what is different this year is that COVID and flu are co-circulating, which increases the risk of serious illness and death.

This photo shows a general view of the offices of British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca PLC in Macclesfield, Cheshire on July 21, 2020. (PAUL ELLIS / AFP)

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca's experimental COVID-19 drug has helped cut the risk of severe disease or death in a late-stage study, the British drugmaker said on Monday, a boost to its efforts to develop coronavirus medicines beyond vaccines.

The drug, a cocktail of two antibodies called AZD7442, reduced the risk of severe COVID-19 or death by 50 percent in non-hospitalized patients who have had symptoms for seven days or less, meeting the main goal of the study.

AstraZeneca's therapy, delivered via injection, is the first of its kind to show promise both as a preventative medicine and as a treatment for COVID-19 following multiple trials. It is designed to protect people who do not have a strong enough immune response to vaccines.

"These positive results show that a convenient intramuscular dose of AZD7442 could play an important role in helping combat this devastating pandemic," Hugh Montgomery, the trial's principal investigator, said in a statement.

AstraZeneca, whose COVID-19 vaccine has been widely used globally, asked US regulators last week to grant emergency use authorization for AZD7442 as a preventative therapy.

AstraZeneca is submitting data from various AZD7442 studies to global health regulators, a spokeswoman said on Monday.

"We'll be continuing discussions with regulators around this new data," she said of Monday's trial results.

The trial took place across 13 countries and involved more than 900 adult participants, with one half receiving AZD7442 and the rest a placebo. Full trial results will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, AstraZeneca said.

AZD7442 contains laboratory-made antibodies designed to linger in the body for months to contain the virus in case of an infection. A vaccine, in contrast, relies on an intact immune system to develop targeted antibodies and infection-fighting cells.

"An early intervention with our antibody can give a significant reduction in progression to severe disease, with continued protection for more than six months," said Mene Pangalos, executive vice president at AstraZeneca.

While Monday's results cover the use of AZD7442 in non-hospitalized patients, a separate trial is also studying its use as a treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro speaks during a ceremony at the Ministry of Citizenship, in Brasilia, Brazil, Aug 2, 2021. (ERALDO PERES / AP)

Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Sunday he was not allowed to attend a league match between Santos and Gremio because the home club did not allow unvaccinated supporters into their stadium.

The soccer match was Santos' first with supporters present since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the club insisted it would only permit entry of vaccinated people or those who had a negative PCR test.

"I wanted to watch the Santos game now and they told me you have to be vaccinated," Bolsonaro said in a video posted on the website of the Metropoles news portal. "Why?"

Bolsonaro, who has refused to get vaccinated and encouraged others to follow his lead, claimed he had antibodies because he had already contracted COVID-19.

It was unclear whether Bolsonaro, a keen football fan who spent the weekend near Santos, tried to go to the game or whether his complaint was a general one about the need for what he called "vaccine passports."

A spokesman for Santos said the club had not been approached by the president's team and that all fans must follow the country's sanitary regulations.

Brazil has registered 182 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the number of deaths to 601,011, the Ministry of Health reported on Sunday.

The ministry stated that another 8,639 cases of COVID-19 were also recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 21,575,820.

Car cross the border into Canada, in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Aug 9, 2021. (EDUARDO LIMA / THE CANADIAN PRESS VIA AP)

Canada

Canada's health and long-term care industries are bracing for staff shortages and layoffs, as deadlines for vaccine mandates loom across the country, with unions pushing federal and provincial governments to soften hard-line stances.

For hospitals and nursing homes, a shortage of workers would strain the already overburdened workforce dealing with nearly two years of the pandemic. The uncertainty sparked by vaccine mandates underscores the challenges on the road to recovery.

Devon Greyson, assistant professor of public health at the University of British Columbia, said officials are steering into uncharted waters with mass vaccine mandates, and it's not clear how workers will respond.

"A shortage of workers can mean people's health and well being. It's scary," Greyson said.

However, Greyson added, "we're in an ethical situation where it's also scary not to ensure that all health workers are vaccinated. So it's a bit of a Catch-22."

To tackle staff scarcity, at least one province is offering signing bonuses to nurses. Provinces including Quebec and British Columbia have made it mandatory for healthcare workers and nursing staff to be vaccinated to continue working in their respective fields.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also unveiled one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the world last week, saying unvaccinated federal employees will be sent on unpaid leave and making COVID-19 shots mandatory for air, train and ship passengers.

Layoffs have are started to hit, with one hospital in southern Ontario last week dumping 57 employees, representing 2.5 percent of staff, after its vaccine mandate came into effect. A long-term care home in Toronto put 36 percent of its staff on unpaid leave after they refused to get vaccinated, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported.

British Columbia will place staff at its long-term care and assisted living sector on unpaid administrative leave if they fail to get at least one shot by Monday.

Some 97 percent of long-term care staff in Vancouver and the surrounding areas have at least one dose as of Oct 6, the province said. But northern BC has only 89 percent of staff with at least one dose, although the data was still being updated.

The province recently changed the deadline, giving more time for people to receive their second vaccine dose. "It is because we know we have a very limited healthcare resource," Dr Bonnie Henry, the province's medical officer, said.

ALSO READ: UN chief appeals for $8b to vaccinate 40% of world in 2021

A girl gets a dose of the Cuban made Soberana-02 vaccine for COVID-19 in Havana, Cuba, Aug 24, 2021. (RAMON ESPINOSA / AP)

Cuba

The number of COVID-19 hospitalization and deaths in Cuba continue to decline as the Caribbean nation speeds up its pace of immunization rollout with homegrown vaccines.

Cuba on Sunday reported a total of 3,604 confirmed cases and 39 more related deaths, taking the national counts to 918,383 and 7,851 respectively.

For the past two weeks, the number of active COVID-19 cases on the island have dropped from 34,172 to 16,975, according to official data released by the Cuban Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP).

In addition, the daily COVID-19 deaths across the country have fallen from just well over 60 to less than 40 in a period of 15 days.

Francisco Duran, national director of epidemiology at the MINSAP, said that the highest COVID-19 transmission rates have been reported in the central region of the island nation.

"We must not leave the guard down despite the mass vaccination campaign," he said, adding that the Cuban people is bringing the sanitary emergency under control.

Egypt

Egypt's public prosecution said on Sunday it had ordered the arrest of three people after thousands of unused COVID-19 vaccines were found dumped along a water channel.

It said the vaccines had been allocated to the health directorate in the city of Minya, about 220 km south of Cairo, where 18,400 vaccine packages with a value of more than 5 million Egyptian pounds ($319,000) were found to be missing.

An inventory found nearly 5,000 more packages had been lost from the depot because of storage at improper temperatures, a prosecution statement added. It did not give the number of doses or type of vaccine, but an earlier official statement said they were made by China's Sinopharm.

Images posted on social media showed piles of white boxes scattered along the water channel's banks in Bani Mazar province, north of Minya.

The vaccines that were dumped went missing after being given by an authorized pharmacist to the driver of a Health Ministry vehicle to deliver to the Minya directorate, the prosecution said.

Initial investigations held the pharmacist and an official at the directorate's depot responsible for gross negligence, and they were ordered detained for investigations along with the driver after giving conflicting accounts, the statement said.

Egypt is aiming to vaccinate 40 million of its population of more than 100 million by the end of the year, but has struggled to ramp up its vaccination rate amid delays in supplies and some vaccine hesitancy.

European Medicines Agency

The European Union's drugs regulator said it was evaluating a marketing authorisation for an antibody cocktail developed by Roche and Regeneron for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19 in people above the age of 12.

The European Medicines Agency said on Monday it will assess the risks and benefits of the drug, called Ronapreve, and that it could issue an opinion within two months. The agency has already started a rolling review of the treatment.

Finland

Finland’s fur industry is organizing an inoculation program for minks in a bid to avert the extermination of the farmed animals as part of disease-prevention measures. 

The country has about half a million doses of a domestically developed vaccine ready to be deployed this winter, enough to protect the entire population of breeding minks from COVID-19. 

Minks are known to be particularly susceptible to the virus. Evidence from the Netherlands suggests the virus can jump from minks to humans.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 237.93 million while the global death toll topped 4.85 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against the mandatory sanitary pass called "green pass" in the aim to limit the spread of COVID-19 in central Rome on Oct 9, 2021. (TIZIANA FABI / AFP)

Italy

Italian police said on Sunday they had arrested 12 people including the leaders of the extreme right-wing party Forza Nuova, after clashes in Rome a day earlier over a government drive to make the COVID-19 "Green Pass" mandatory for all workers.

Thousands of people took to the streets of the Italian capital on Saturday to oppose the move. Some tried to break past police in riot gear guarding access to Prime Minister Mario Draghi's office, while a separate group broke into the headquarters of Italy's main CGIL trade union and turned its offices upside down.

Overnight, dozens of protesters also tried to break into the accident and emergency unit at Rome's Policlinico Umberto I hospital, where one of them was being kept for treatment, forcing health workers to barricade themselves inside, emergency department head Francesco Pugliese told reporters on Sunday.

Draghi introduced the pass – a digital or paper certificate confirming its holder has either received at least one vaccine dose, has tested negative or has recently recovered from the virus – in the summer to help prevent infections and encourage people to get vaccinated.

The certificates were initially needed to enter many cultural and leisure venues, but their scope has gradually been widened. Last month, the government made it compulsory for all workers.

More than 80 percent of all Italians over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated as of Oct 10.

Under the green pass system for workers, accepted by unions and employers, any worker who fails to present a valid health certificate from Oct. 15 will be suspended with no pay, but cannot be sacked.

"It was a fascist squad attack, and it is unacceptable," CGIL's head Maurizio Landini said on Sunday, speaking to supporters in front of the union offices in Rome.

The riots drew widespread condemnation, including from Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, the leaders of the rightist League and Brothers of Italy parties, respectively.

The police said in a statement that 38 police officers were injured during the Rome anti-vax clashes.

Merck

Merck & Co Inc said on Monday it has applied for US emergency use authorization for its tablet to treat mild-to-moderate patients of COVID-19, putting it on course to become the first oral antiviral medication for the disease.

Its authorization could help change clinical management of COVID-19 as the pill can be taken at home. The treatment, molnupiravir, could halve the chances of death or being hospitalized for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19, according to the drugmaker.

Viral sequencing done so far have showed it is effective against all coronavirus variants, including Delta, Merck said.

The interim efficacy data on the drug, which has been developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, had heavily impacted the shares of COVID-19 vaccine makers when it was released last week.

A woman wearing a face mask walks in Moscow on Oct 5, 2021. (DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP)

Russia

Russia reported 957 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday, close to the all-time high of 968 reported two days earlier.

The government coronavirus task force also said it had recorded 29,409 new cases in the last 24 hours, an increase from 28,647 cases on Sunday.

Moscow, which reported 5,002 cases on Monday, said it was launching free "express" antibody-based tests for COVID-19 at a number of locations including shopping malls in an attempt to avert a new wave of restrictions.

The number of people hospitalized over the last two weeks in the capital has doubled in comparison with the previous fortnight, the Interfax news agency quoted the city's COVID-19 task force as saying.

Meanwhile, Russia will suspend test-firing rocket engines at one of its design bureaus in the city of Voronezh until the end of the month to conserve oxygen supplies for COVID-19 patients, a top space official said on Sunday.

"In view of growing demand for medical oxygen to treat the sick, today we decided to suspend test firing rocket engines at Voronezh's Chemical Automatics Design Bureau ranges until the end of the month," the head of Russia's space agency tweeted.

"Our company alone supplies up to 33 tonnes of oxygen per day," Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said.

Uganda

Uganda on Monday opened more vaccination centers in the capital, Kampala, in efforts to inoculate more people against COVID-19.

Emmanuel Ainebyoona, spokesperson for the health ministry, told Xinhua by telephone that the new centers would be located in taxi parks and relaxation areas.

"We shall have vaccination centers at the national stadium as well as various open spaces," he said.

The centers are targeting priority groups but anyone who turns up would be vaccinated, Ainebyoona said.

As of Oct 8, about 2.3 million doses had been administered, according to the latest figures by the ministry. 

The country has so far reported 124,646 COVID-19 cases, 96,278 recoveries and 3,176 deaths.

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A nurse inoculates a man with a dose of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine during house to house vaccinations in the popular neighborhood of El Valle in Caracas, Venezuela on Sept 27, 2021. (ARIANA CUBILLOS / AP)

Venezuela

Venezuela on Sunday received a second batch of 2.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX mechanism, while the government said it hoped to reach immunity for 70 percent of Venezuelans by the end of the month.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and Unicef representatives, as well as the Venezuelan government, were present at Maiquetia international airport outside Caracas to receive the doses.

As well as the doses supplied by COVAX, Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said Venezuela can also count on doses of Russian jab Sputnik V, the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, and Cuba's Abdala vaccine to inoculate its population.

Venezuela now has more than 29 million vaccine doses, Alvarado said, adding the number would cover the vaccination of 70 percent of the population by the end of October.

Half of Venezuela's population has been vaccinated, according to the government, though academics and specialists say it is more likely closer to 21 percent.

The South American country received an initial batch of 693,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by China's Sinovac Biotech in early September.

Venezuela expects to receive a total of 11 million doses through COVAX, overseen by the GAVI alliance and the World Health Organization.