Britain distributing COVID-19 shots to climate talks delegates

In this Feb 4, 2020 photo, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) sits with British broadcaster and conservationist David Attenborough during an event to launch the United Nations' Climate Change conference, COP26, in central London. (CHRIS J RATCLIFFE / POOL / AFP)

JUBA / ATHENS / CARACAS / BRASILIA / NICOSIA / VALLETTA / RABAT / HELSINKI / NAIROBI / ROME / GUATEMALA CITY / HAVANA / KINGSTON / JOHANNESBURG – The UK has started shipping COVID-19 vaccines to delegates attending global climate talks it is hosting next month who cannot access them at home, with the first shots to be delivered next week.

The COP26 conference, postponed from last year, takes place from Oct 31 to Nov 12 in Glasgow.

Typically delegates from more than 190 countries attend the annual talks, but with many countries still grappling with the novel coronavirus, climate and health experts have said poorer nations struggling to access COVID-19 vaccines could find sending delegates difficult.

"Vaccines are shipping and vaccination will begin next week and through mid-September before second jabs in October well ahead of COP26," British COP26 envoy John Murton said on Twitter on Friday.

He did not specify where the vaccines would be sent or how many are being shipped.

Britain said in June it would offer vaccines to those who needed them but some civil society groups have since raised concerns time was running out for two jabs to be given before the conference begins.

In another development, Britain's vaccine advisers said they were not recommending the universal vaccination of 12- to 15-year-olds against COVID-19, preferring to take a precautionary approach to assess the long-term impacts of rare heart inflammation.

There have been reports of heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, in young people following vaccination with Pfizer's shot, though the condition is usually mild.

Britain's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said on Friday it was expanding the eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations to more 12- to 15-year-olds with underlying health conditions than previously, but said the benefits of vaccination for healthy children were likely small.

AstraZeneca-EU vaccine dispute

AstraZeneca and the European Commission have reached a settlement on the delivery of pending COVID-19 vaccine doses by the drugmaker, ending a row about shortages that had weighed on the company and the region's vaccination campaign.

The dispute plunged the European Union into crisis earlier this year as states, under pressure to speed up vaccinations, scrambled for shots. It also caused a public relations crisis for AstraZeneca, which is led by Frenchman Pascal Soriot.

Brussels has since reduced its reliance on the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, with vaccine supplies coming from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Under Friday's settlement, AstraZeneca has committed to deliver 60 million doses of its vaccine, Vaxzevria, by the end of the third quarter this year, 75 million by the end of the fourth quarter and 65 million by the end of the first quarter of 2022.

The European Commission launched legal action against AstraZeneca in April for not respecting its contract for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and for not having a "reliable" plan to ensure timely deliveries.

The EU's executive body said that under the new agreement, member states would be provided with regular delivery schedules and if there were any delayed doses, capped rebates would be applied.

"There are significant differences in vaccination rates between our member states, and the continued availability of vaccines, including AstraZeneca's, remain crucial," said EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides.

About 92 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine have been distributed to EU member states so far, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. That is far below the 437 million doses delivered by Pfizer/BioNTech but ahead of the 77 million Moderna vaccine doses delivered.

AstraZeneca said it had released more than 140 million doses to date at no profit to the EU, including doses that have yet to be delivered to member states and EU consignments to COVAX or to other non-EU states.

Africa

The United States will ship more than 1.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four African countries through the global COVAX distribution program on Friday, a White House official said.

The shipments include 250,320 doses of the Moderna vaccine for the Democratic Republic of Congo, 657,080 Moderna doses for Uganda, 302,400 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for Guinea; and 35,100 doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech for Seychelles.

The doses are being delivered through COVAX, jointly run by the World Health Organization and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).

Brazil

Brazil’s health ministry said that 40 percent of the population above 18-years-old are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

About 64 million Brazilians have received two doses or the single dose of a vaccine, the ministry said in a note.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday signed off on a law allowing for vaccine and medication patents to be broken in a public emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the right-wing leader vetoed the provisions that patent holders would need to transfer the knowledge and supply the raw materials needed to duplicate the vaccines and medications.

According to a statement from his office, those provisions were seen as being too difficult to implement and discouraging investment in researching new technologies.

Bolsonaro had previously criticized the law as potentially harming Brazil's commercial relationships.

Under the law, the president is the one who would determine when to break a patent in an emergency.

Carribean tourism

Just as tourism was beginning to show signs of recovery, the Caribbean has been hit by a new wave of coronavirus infections that is causing lockdowns and flight cancelations and overwhelming hospitals.

Countries including Jamaica, Martinique, The Bahamas, Barbados, St. Lucia, and Dominica have seen a rise in cases fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant and a relaxation of earlier restrictions. Misinformation spread on social media has also contributed to a low vaccine uptake.

The outbreak has prompted governments to impose restrictions including curfews and mandatory vaccinations as they deal with too few hospital beds, low levels of oxygen and exhausted healthcare workers.

Some countries, like the Cayman Islands, shut their borders to tourists, but others like Jamaica continued to welcome them, allowing the country of 3 million people to salvage some earnings.

Vaccine rollout in the Caribbean has been slow due to vaccine skepticism, logistical hold-ups and inadequate supply.

Jamaica has administered enough doses to give two shots to about 9 percent of the population, data compiled by Reuters show. Since the start of July, new COVID-19 cases more than tripled and now stand above 69,000, while hospitalizations have risen almost sevenfold.

Total cases in The Bahamas have jumped by almost half since the beginning of July. Active cases in Dominica skyrocketed from five on July 7 to 638 on Aug. 27.

In Martinique, the French government announced a three-week lockdown on Aug. 10 and asked tourists to leave the country.

In St. Lucia, infections are up eighteen-fold to over 1,900 since July 9, the Pan-American Health Organization said.

Cuba

Cuba prepares to resume classes next Monday through distance learning amid a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and children and adolescents will return to face-to-face lessons once they have been fully jabbed against COVID-19.

"While schools across the country remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students will be reached using televised lessons," Cuban Education Minister Ena Elsa Velazquez said in a televised speech.

The Caribbean nation will start vaccinating adolescents against coronavirus in the coming days and all children aged two to 11 from mid-September.

The COVID-19 rollout for children on the island will follow a format similar to that of the polio vaccination campaign, "with many people getting vaccinated in a short time," Cuba's Finlay Institute of Vaccines said on its Twitter account.

Maria Elena Soto, a senior official at the Cuban Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), said that the vaccination campaign for kids will be carried out in line with international standards.

"Children and adolescents will receive the three doses of (Cuba's) Abdala or Soberana COVID-19 vaccines," she said, adding that all workers from the educational sector will also be vaccinated.
Another 6,208 new coronavirus cases were recorded in Cuba in the last 24 hours, alongside another 87 deaths.

On top of that, the number of children and adolescents infected with the virus across the country remains high, despite a slight decline in COVID-19 cases over the past week, MINSAP said.

Cyprus

Cyprus joined other European Union (EU) countries in deciding to administer COVID-19 vaccine boosters to vulnerable people and health professionals, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas said here on Thursday.

Hadjipantelas told journalists that a third COVID-19 vaccine dose will be offered to people over 65, immunosuppressed persons of all ages, people living in care homes and health professionals provided six months have elapsed since their last shot.

Elena Panayiotopoulou, deputy director of the Health Ministry's Pharmaceutical Services, said on Aug 25 that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine would be used for the booster dose, even for those who completed their vaccination with another vaccine.

In another decision, the Cypriot government decided to extend to Sept 22 the COVID-19 restrictions currently in force.

Denmark

Denmark will start offering a third shot to people at retirement facilities, the country’s health authority said on Friday. 

The Nordic country started offering a third shot to patients with chronic diseases some weeks ago. 

The government is currently considering whether to provide third shots to the broader population.

EU

Europe's medicines regulator said on Friday it was reviewing if there was a risk of a rare inflammatory condition after inoculation with COVID-19 vaccines, following a report of one case with Pfizer/BioNTech's shot.

The European Medicines Agency's (EMA) safety committee is looking into multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) after a 17-year-old male in Denmark reported the condition, the regulator said, adding that the teenager had since fully recovered.

The panel is also looking into cases of blood clots in veins with Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, the regulator said, adding that the issue was distinct from a rare side-effect identified earlier.

Pfizer and J&J did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

MIS causes swelling in parts of the body as well as tiredness, fever, diarrhoea, stomach pain, headache, chest pain and breathing difficulties. It has also been reported as a side-effect in children infected by the novel coronavirus.

The Danish teen had no history of COVID-19, the EMA said, adding that there was no change to current European Union recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine use.

Venous thromboembolism was included in the risk management plan for J&J's vaccine as a safety issue to be studied, the EMA said. The regulator is looking into the issue as a separate condition from blood clots with low platelets.

Finland

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has proposed that a third COVID-19 booster vaccine be offered to at-risk groups, even though it said that the number of new infections continued to fall in the country.

The total number of new confirmed cases between Aug 23 and Aug 29 was 4,064, about 300 fewer than in the previous week. The 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 inhabitants was 152, 18 percent less than in the preceding two-week period, the THL said in a press release issued on Thursday.

Although the number of COVID-19 cases among children aged 10 and below is increasing, the incidence rate is still higher among unvaccinated working-age adults.

On Wednesday, the THL recommended that a third vaccine dose should be administered primarily to all those over the age of 12 whose body's immune response is reduced due to the disease or its treatment.

Germany

Germany is experiencing a “pandemic of the non-vaccinated,” and it’s vital to convince more people to take COVID-19 shots to prevent hospitals from being overloaded, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.

“In intensive-care units, 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients aren’t vaccinated, and the infection numbers among non-vaccinated are 10-12 times higher,” Spahn said in an interview with DLF radio. “That’s why the decisive question for the fall and winter is whether in these September weeks many millions – above all younger people – can be convinced to get a shot.”

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 219.12 million while the global death toll topped 4.54 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: Europe's stark vaccine divide leaves East far behind

Paramedics with ambulances take part in a rally in Athens, Greece on Sept 2, 2021. Hundreds of Greek health care workers, accompanied by ambulances, marched through central Athens Thursday to protest regulations mandating coronavirus vaccines for anyone working in their sector. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)

Greece

Greece on Thursday offered unvaccinated health care workers a second chance to get a shot against COVID-19 and allow those who have been already suspended to return to work as hundreds of them protested against mandatory vaccination.

Greece has suspended from their jobs nearly 6,000 frontline health care workers who missed a Sept 1 deadline to get at least one vaccine shot, a government official told Reuters.

Hundreds of those workers staged a five-hour work stoppage on Thursday and took to the streets in Athens and other Greek cities for a second time in less than a month to protest against the new rule.

A labour union official for hospital workers POEDIN said that a total of 10,000 unvaccinated staff could be suspended, disrupting operations at understaffed Greek hospitals at a time when infections remained high and were likely to rise further.

"We have worked so hard during the pandemic and this is what we get," said protester Anna Haritou, who worked as a midwife at an Athens hospital until she was suspended on Wednesday.

Attempting to ease any fallout, the government on Thursday said legislation would be amended to allow workers be removed from suspension and get back to their jobs immediately as long as they got the first dose in the coming days.

A key condition is that they conclude their vaccination.

"Mandatory vaccination for the workers of the NHS (National Health System) was legislated to help safeguarding public health," health minister Thanos Plevris said on Thursday.

"Since we do not intend to punish (people), we will introduce an amendment."

About 53 percent of the Greek population is fully vaccinated and authorities hope to bring that figure up to 70 percent by the autumn.

Greece on Thursday reported 2,840 new coronavirus daily cases and 33 deaths.

Guatemala

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei announced new national transport curbs and social restrictions on Thursday in an effort to contain a surge of coronavirus infections and relieve pressure on hospitals.

Giammattei opted against the toughest lockdown measures but said from Saturday, auto transport will be prohibited for most trips from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am and social gatherings such as weddings and public sports events will be banned for at least four weeks.

The president, who is a medical doctor, said in a televised speech the measures were "urgent and necessary to contain the spread of the pandemic".

"It will give our hospital system a chance to breath," he said, as the capital's biggest hospital reported it could take no new patients due to the surge of COVID-19 cases.The new measures require the approval of Congress, which is expected to be granted on Friday.

Guatemala, Central America's biggest country with about 18 million residents, has posted nearly 480,000 coronavirus infections and more than 12,000 deaths, according to official data.

To date, only 1.3 million Guatemalans have been fully vaccinated.

A health worker administers a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (Janssen) against COVID-19, on Aug 5, 2021 at the Ambreck pharmacy, in Milan. (MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP)

Italy

Italy will start administering a third COVID-19 vaccine shot to people with the most fragile immune systems and plans to extend the use of the so-called Green Pass certificate, the country's leaders said here on Thursday.

The government might also consider making COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for everyone.

Following the first cabinet meeting after the summer break, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said during a joint press conference with several ministers that 80 percent of the country's population would be fully immunized by the end of September.

As of Thursday, some 70.68 percent of Italians aged over 12 have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the Health Ministry.

The cabinet is now inclined to offer a third COVID-19 vaccine dose, starting with "people with the most fragile immune systems," according to Health Minister Roberto Speranza.

The government also plans to make the use of the COVID-19 Green Pass mandatory for public venue access.

The Green Pass certificate proves that its holder has received at least one vaccine dose, or is fully vaccinated, or has previously contracted the infection and is still immunized, or has tested negative.

Kenya

Kenya's Ministry of Health on Thursday received 358,200 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to intensify the fight against the pandemic in the country.

Mutahi Kagwe, Health Cabinet Secretary said the vaccines donated by the Canadian government will enable Nairobi to scale up ongoing vaccinations to reach 10 million people by the end of the year.

He noted that over 3.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been received in the country as of Thursday, adding that Kenya expects an assortment of 4.6 million more doses in the coming weeks.

The vaccines arrived through the global COVAX initiative, which is co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Medical workers wearing protective gear take swab samples to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through for people returning from Croatia, Spain, Malta and Greece, at the San Carlo hospital, in Milan, Italy, Aug 25, 2020. (LUCA BRUNO / AP)

Malta

Malta is speeding up plans to give booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to the elderly following a spike in infections in the elderly people who had already been vaccinated, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Thursday.

Booster shots will start being rolled out on Monday, he explained, a week earlier than planned. The decision comes after Maltese health authorities identified two clusters of COVID-19 infections in people who had already received both doses of the vaccine.

Addressing a press conference, Fearne explained that a cluster of nine elderly people who contracted COVID-19 was recorded in one care home, and a cluster of five cases was registered in another.

As well as the elderly, booster shots will also be given to vulnerable people who are immuno-suppressed. 

Fearne said that the booster shots will be either Pfizer or Moderna, even for those who originally took the AstraZeneca vaccine. A decision will be made soon on whether to roll out booster shots to the rest of the population.

Morocco

Morocco announced on Thursday 5,383 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally of infections in the North African country to 872,351.

The death toll rose to 12,819 with 70 new fatalities, while 2,239 people were in intensive care units, it said.

South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa strongly encouraged all citizens to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, but said the government won’t make it mandatory to do so.

His comments came a day after Mondli Gungubele, a minister in his office, said that the government was considering introducing a vaccine passport as part of a series of measures to help open up the economy. They also followed announcements by Discovery Ltd., South Africa’s largest medical-insurance administrator, and private school operator Curro Holdings Ltd. that they will compel their staff to get the shots.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday that scientists had told the government that at this stage the C.1.2 coronavirus variant detected locally was not a threat.

The C.1.2 variant was first identified in May and has now been seen in all of the country's nine provinces.

It contains some mutations associated in other variants with increased transmissibility and reduced sensitivity to neutralising antibodies, leading researchers to flag its detection to the government and the World Health Organization (WHO).

"At this stage they (scientists) have assured us it's not really a threat, they are just watching it," Phaahla said at a news conference, noting C.1.2 had only been detected in small numbers so far.

He added that it was almost certain that the country would face a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections around the end of the year.

Genomic sequencing data from South Africa this week showed that C.1.2 accounted for 2.4 percent of genomes sequenced in August, versus 2.5 percent in July and 1.2 percent in June. The Delta variant accounted for roughly 95 percent of sequences in August.

South Sudan

South Sudan said it has begun producing oxygen following the successful installation of the country's first oxygen plant at Juba Teaching Hospital.

The Health Minister, Elizabeth Achuei, said the World Health Organization (WHO)'s implemented oxygen plant would bolster the country's preparedness for oxygen in anticipation of the third wave of COVID-19.

"South Sudan will no longer be importing oxygen from neighboring countries and this means oxygen will be supplied to facilities on time and more lives will be saved," Achuei said in a joint statement issued on Wednesday evening.

The oxygen plant was procured as part of measures to support the country's ongoing COVID-19 response with a grant from the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group's concessional lending arm.

With a generation capacity of 2,500 liters per day and the ability to refill around 72 D-type oxygen cylinders daily, the plant will be a centralized production and supply hub for remote locations.

Fabian Ndenzako, WHO Representative for South Sudan, said the installation of the oxygen plant will be a great boost to provide intensive care treatment to the critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, responds to questions by Senator Rand Paul during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 20, 2021. (J SCOTT APPLEWHITE / POOL / AFP)

United States

Three doses of COVID-19 vaccine may become the standard regimen for most people, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said Thursday at a briefing. 

A study in Israel showed dramatic improvement in protection among recipients of three doses of the vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, normally given in two doses, Fauci said. 

If the gains last, “you’re going to have very likely a three-dose regimen being the routine regimen,” he said. 

The durability of immunity will need to be confirmed when data are presented to the Food and Drug Administration, Fauci added. 

The Biden administration is facing criticism over a plan announced last month to make third doses available to Americans eight months out from their second shot, starting in late September. 

Some critics have said the White House is getting ahead of US public-health and drug authorities, who still must give their go-ahead. 

Health experts are still unsure about whether COVID-19 vaccines will administered on a regular, repeating schedule, like annual flu shots.

Separately, the US government will allocate US$2.7 billion to expand vaccine manufacturing, though it’s not yet clear which companies will receive the funds, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response team announced Thursday. 

The money will be used to increase production of ingredients and supplies used to make vaccines. It will support the manufacturing of raw materials, vials and syringes, as well as the bottling process known as fill-finish, according to an official familiar with the plan.

The investment will “help us deliver on the president’s commitment to be an arsenal of vaccines for the world, and strengthen our long-term capabilities to respond to future threats,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said at a briefing Thursday.

Contracting will begin over the next several weeks, Zients said. 

Zients said the US has now donated 130 million doses to other nations. Biden has pledged to donate more than 600 million doses by mid-2022.

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A healthcare worker inoculates an inmate with a dose of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaign at the women's prison in Los Teques, Miranda state, Venezuela, July 2, 2021. (MATIAS DELACROIX / AP)

Venezuela

At least 3.3 million Venezuelans, or just over 10 percent of the population, have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to a survey by a group of doctors linked to the South American nation's universities.

The survey showed that 25.3 percent had received one dose and 10.6 percent had received both. 

Applying those results proportionally to the entire population, he concluded that 6.4 million people, or 22 percent of the population has received one shot and 3.3 million, or 11 percent, has received both.

The data is similar to vaccinations rates tracked by Our World in Data, which shows 21 percent receiving at least a first dose and 12 percent fully vaccinated.

Since May, the government of President Nicolas Maduro has been administering the Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines to combat the pandemic.