COVAX cuts 2021 vaccine supply forecast by 500m doses

A health worker injects a syringe with a vial of the Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine for use in the trial at St. George's University hospital in London, Oct 7, 2020. (ALASTAIR GRANT / AP)

WASHINGTON / LONDON / CARACAS / OTTAWA / MADRID / MEXICO CITY / ROME / TUNIS / VALLETA / GENEVA / PRAGUE – The global program set up to immunize the world against COVID-19 cut its 2021 supply forecast by more than a quarter, hampered by delays in acquiring life-saving vaccines.

COVAX expects to have about 1.4 billion doses by the end of the year, the organizations coordinating the initiative said Wednesday. In June, COVAX had forecast that about 1.9 billion doses would be available by the end of 2021. Some manufacturers and countries have prioritized bilateral deals, while export bans and challenges in scaling up production are among other factors hindering the rollout, they said. 

COVAX expects to have about 1.4 billion doses by the end of the year, the organizations coordinating the initiative said Wednesday. In June, COVAX had forecast that about 1.9 billion doses would be available by the end of 2021

Manufacturing problems at Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca as well as delays in the regulatory review of shots developed by US biotech firm Novavax were further limiting factors, the organizations added.

“This is of course bad for the whole world as we’ve seen the dreadful consequences that take hold when the virus is left to roam unchecked,” Seth Berkley, chief executive officer of the vaccine alliance Gavi, told reporters in a briefing. “We cannot afford further delays.”

The effort to deliver vaccines equitably to the whole world has run into hurdles after wealthy countries raced ahead in protecting their own populations. Only a fifth of people in lower-income countries have received a first dose, compared with 80 percent in higher-income nations, according to Gavi and its partners.

COVAX now expects to hit a milestone of 2 billion doses for delivery in the first quarter of 2022. Covax so far has fallen short of its targets, delivering about 243 million doses to 139 countries. Berkley and others have called for transparency from manufacturers to ensure that developing countries aren’t getting bumped to the back of the queue. They’re also pushing for countries to give up their place in line if they have enough doses.

“Are we content?” Berkley said. “Absolutely not. But we are in the process of accelerating.”

On Tuesday, drugmakers reiterated calls for governments to share vaccine doses, saying Group of Seven countries have enough supplies to both satisfy their own needs and increase stocks available for low- and middle-income countries. Wealthy countries will probably have about 1.2 billion extra doses available to redistribute by the end of the year, according to estimates from Airfinity Ltd.

South Africa

Talks are underway with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) about running a booster trial in South Africa after the company’s COVID-19 vaccine was used in a mass trial of almost half a million health workers in the country. 

The trial would include participants from that study, known as Sisonke, and could possibly start in October, according to Glenda Gray, who is co-lead of the mass trial. It would add to a booster study in the country using ImmunityBio Inc.’s shot that has already started. 

“We are talking to J&J and the department of health about the feasibility of a boost,” said Gray, who is also the president of the South African Medical Research Council. “We would like to start that in October, in time for the fourth wave.”

While ImmunityBio’s trial is in its first phase, with about 50 participants, it is expected to reach its third and final stage in October, with about 10,000 people receiving doses, she said.

According to the latest results of Sisonke, J&J’s vaccine cuts the risk of getting infected with the disease by about half.

The vast majority of the breakthrough infections were mild, Gray said in an interview, citing unpublished data from the trial, which had earlier shown the shot’s effectiveness against severe illness.

The study included several weeks during which South Africa was going through a third wave of coronavirus infections, spurred by the highly contagious Delta variant. 

Initial results from Sisonke, released Aug 6, showed J&J’s single-dose vaccine was about 70 percent effective against hospitalization and as much as 96 percent effective against death. The trial didn’t include the use of a placebo. The final results which include three sets of data from private insurers and the government, will be submitted for publication in days, said Gray.

Novavax

Vaccine developer Novavax Inc said on Wednesday it has initiated an early-stage study to test its combined flu and COVID-19 vaccine.

The trial, to be conducted in Australia, will enroll 640 healthy adults between the ages of 50 and 70 years and who have either been previously infected with the coronavirus or given an authorized COVID-19 vaccine at least eight weeks prior to the study.

Participants will receive a combination of the company's COVID-19 vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373, and its Influenza shot NanoFlu along with an adjuvant or vaccine booster.

"Combination of these two vaccines…may lead to greater efficiencies for the healthcare system and achieve high levels of protection against COVID-19 and influenza with a single regimen," Gregory Glenn, President of Research and Development at Novavax, said in a statement.

Novavax had said in May it expects seasonal influenza and COVID-19 combination vaccines to likely be critical in combating emerging COVID-19 variants. Its vaccine NanoFlu/NVX-CoV2373 had elicited robust responses to both influenza A and B and protected against the coronavirus in pre-clinical studies. read more

Novavax expects the trial results in the first half of 2022.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide have surpassed 221.9 million while the global death toll neared 4.6 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Austria

Austria’s government announced a roadmap of restrictions for unvaccinated people in an effort to curb the fastest pace of new infections since April. Those not taking a coronavirus shot will have to wear more protective FFP-2 masks in all shops from mid-September, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters Wednesday.

Further tightening, including limits on access to night clubs and bars as well as restrictions on tests that allow entrance to restaurants and museums will depend on occupancy rates in intensive-care units. Vaccinated people won’t face restrictions.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria, the European Union’s least-vaccinated nation where only about 20 percent of the population has been fully inoculated, registered 121 COVID-related deaths on Wednesday — the highest in four months. Hospitalizations are also at the highest since May.

Mistrust in institutions and doubts about the vaccines have slowed the pace of immunizations in the EU’s poorest member, prompting authorities to donate or sell doses to other countries before they expire. Lawmakers approved Wednesday a donation of 51,480 Pfizer jabs to neighboring North Macedonia. The shots expire Sept 30.

Czech Republic 

The Czech Republic on Wednesday recorded 588 new cases of coronavirus, the highest daily tally since May 25, as government officials predict a continued rise in infections.

In the past two weeks, the country has reported 25 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 137 in Germany, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday the government was not planning a return to broad lockdown measures – which had been eased going into the summer months – and ministers say local measures could be used in some instances.

The rise in cases reported for Tuesday was still well below peaks in daily infections seen during the waves between October 2020 and March 2021 when they reached into the thousands, hitting a peak of above 17,000 at one point.

Overall more than 30,000 deaths have been reported in the country of 10.7 million.

By the end of August, 63.5 percent of the adult population had been fully vaccinated.

Germany

Germany aims to accelerate its vaccination campaign with a special “action week” involving clubs, associations and other organizations, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.

The goal is make access easier for people who want to get a COVID-19 shot, and the effort will target sports facilities, churches, playgrounds and places of work, Spahn said in an interview with RTL television.

As of Tuesday, just under 62 percent of the German population was fully vaccinated, according to health ministry data.

Brussels

Brussels will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, recovery or a negative test in venues such as restaurants, cafes, hospitals and nursing homes starting Oct 1, according to a report by Le Soir.

Other areas of the country besides the Belgian capital do not plan to extend the mandatory use of a so-called COVID Safe Ticket beyond large-scale events where social distancing can’t be maintained. 

A man smiles as he gets a COVID-19 shot at a vaccination event before an NCAA college football game between Missouri State and Oklahoma State, in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Sept 4, 2021. (SUE OGROCKI / AP)

US

Three-quarters of US adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday, according to the White House, setting a new milestone in the country’s fight against the pandemic.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 193,798,688 of adults have had at least one shot, while 165,947,460 people, or 64.3 percent of the adult population, are fully vaccinated.

But with a continued surge of cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, President Joe Biden plans a speech Thursday to outline a “six-pronged strategy” to “get the pandemic under control,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

The US hit 70 percent of adults with at least one dose in early August, four weeks after Biden’s July 4th target for the achievement. Despite wide availabiltiy of free shots, hesitancy among many Americans — especially political conservatives — has left the US well behind many other countries in inoculating its population.

The true number of US infections at the end of 2020 was more than 100 million, just under a third of the population and far more than the 20 million previously reported, according to a study cited by the National Institutes of Health. Many cases were undetected because of limited testing and asymptomatic infections early in the pandemic.

The study, by researchers at Columbia University, used data from the CDC on how many people tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, which indicate past infections. The researchers calculated that just 11 percent of all cases were confirmed by a positive test result in March 2020.

Meanwhile, the CDC on Tuesday raised its travel advisory to "Level 4: Very High" for Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Brunei because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The CDC also eased its ratings for the Netherlands, Malta, Guinea-Bissau and United Arab Emirates from "Level 4: Very High" to "Level 3: High," which urges unvaccinated Americans to avoid travel to those destinations.

The CDC also raised Australia from "Level 1: Low" to "Level 2: Moderate."

In addition, the CDC raised its advisory level for Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Ghana, Grenada, Turks and Caicos Islands to "Level 3."

ALSO READ: Need a PCR test for your next trip? That could be US$6,000

UK

Britain on Tuesday reported 209 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test on Tuesday, the highest daily total since March 9, government statistics showed.

Cases have been rising steadily since the start of August although death totals are impacted by irregular reporting patterns from hospitals over the weekend. Only 45 deaths were reported on Monday.

There were 37,489 new cases reported on Tuesday, compared to 41,192 reported on Monday.

In total, the UK has reported 7,056,106 confirmed cases and 133,489 deaths.

Nearly 89 percent of people aged 16 and over in Britain have had their first dose of vaccine and more than 80 percent have received both doses, the latest figures showed.

More than half of all teenagers aged 16 to 17 in England have  received their first dose, just over four weeks after the green light was given for this age group to be offered the vaccine

The latest data came as the British government has confirmed that the National Health Service (NHS) will receive an extra 5.4 billion pounds over the next 6 months to support its response to COVID-19 and help tackle waiting lists.

ALSO READ: Sweden to remove most remaining virus curbs this month

Venezuela

Venezuela has received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines through the COVAX mechanism intended for poor countries, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Tuesday, after months of delays the government attributed to US sanctions.

The shipment of 693,600 Sinovac Biotech Ltd. shots arrived early Tuesday, PAHO, the WHO’s regional arm, said.

The secretary of the National Medicine Academy, Huniades Urbina, confirmed the shipment had arrived in an interview with Union Radio Tuesday. 

Venezuela has the lowest vaccination rate in South America, according to PAHO data. A recent survey carried by academic experts showed that less than 12 percent of the population had been fully immunized. Government and opposition negotiators reached a deal on Monday to work together to address COVID-19, in one of the first agreements between the two sides as part of ongoing talks in Mexico City. 

Tanzania

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved nearly US$600 million in emergency lending for Tanzania’s health system and economic-recovery efforts as the nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fund’s executive board approved a total of US$567 million in funds — US$189 million under the Rapid Credit Facility and US$378 million under the Rapid Financing Instrument. The resources will help pay for the nation’s “urgent balance of payment needs” stemming from the virus, the IMF said.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has led to the collapse of the tourism sector and amplified the need for significant financing,” the Washington-based IMF said in a statement late Tuesday.

The funding announcement follows talks between the IMF and Tanzania, with the government committing to resume publishing data on the spread of COVID-19 in order to determine the outbreak’s severity and an appropriate response. The authorities had stopped releasing the data after former President John Magufuli downplayed the disease before he died earlier this year.

His successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, has since reversed Magufuli’s COVID-19 policies and launched a nationwide vaccination campaign. 

Spain

Spain's healthcare regulator approved on Tuesday a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines for people with severely compromised immune systems who are likely to have weaker protection from the conventional two-dose inoculation schemes.

The so-called booster shot should be administered 28 days after the previous one in some cases, and preferably the same type of vaccine is to be used, the Public Health Commission said in a statement. It would not say how many people could get such shots.

The authorities reiterated that there are no solid data available to recommend administering booster shots to the general population.

READ MORE: WHO chief urges joint efforts to prevent COVID-like pandemics

Health workers wearing personal protective gear are seen at the intensive care unit of the Idrissa Pouye de Grand Yoff Hospital in Dakar, Senegal, on July 28, 2021. (SEYLLOU / AFP)

Deaths from TB, AIDS in poor nations 'likely to rise'

Hundreds of thousands of people will die of tuberculosis left untreated because of disruption to healthcare systems in poor countries caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a global aid fund said.

In a few of the world's poorest countries, excess deaths from AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) could even exceed those from the coronavirus itself, said the head of the Geneva-based aid body, known as the Global Fund.

The Fund's annual report for 2020, released on Wednesday, showed that the number of people treated for drug-resistant tuberculosis in countries where it operates fell by 19 percent. A decline of 11 percent was reported in HIV prevention programs and services.

"Essentially, about a million people less were treated for TB in 2020 than in 2019 and I'm afraid that will inevitably mean that hundreds of thousands of people will die," Executive Director Peter Sands told Reuters.

While precise death tolls are as yet unknown, Sands said that for some poor countries, such as parts of the Sahel region in Africa, excess deaths from the setback in the fight against diseases such as TB or AIDS might prove higher than from COVID-19 itself.

Sands said services were affected by COVID-19 lockdowns while clinics, staff and diagnostics normally used for TB were instead deployed for COVID-19 in countries such as India and across Africa. He added that he expected further disruptions this year due to the Delta variant.

The Geneva-based Global Fund is an alliance of governments, civil society and private sector partners investing more than US$4 billion per year to fight tuberculosis, malaria and AIDS. 

Mexico

Mexico’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 15,784 new cases of COVID-19 in the country and 1,071 more deaths, bringing the total number of official infections since the pandemic began to 3,449,295 and the death toll to 264,541.

Severe flooding led to the deaths of 17 people, most of whom had COVID-19, at a hospital in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo after torrential rains caused the River Tula to burst its banks, authorities said on Tuesday.

Malta

Maltese educational authorities on Tuesday announced the easing of COVID-19 restrictions for schools ahead of the reopening on Sept 28.   Teachers and children will have to continue wearing masks while at school, with kindergarten teachers required to wear both a mask and a visor. Certain subjects such as physical education and lessons in laboratories will no longer banned as they were last year.

Education Minister Justyne Caruana said at a news conference that depending on their size, certain schools will retain a hybrid model of online and classroom lessons.

Social distancing will remain mandatory, the minister said, with desks spaced at between one and two meters depending on the child's age.

School assemblies can be held, but social distancing and the principle of bubbles must be respected, she added.

Activities involving parents remain banned, but this may change according to the national COVID-19 situation.

If a child or a member of their household tests positive for coronavirus, the whole family will have to quarantine. Vaccinated students will have to quarantine for seven days and take a test before returning to school. Non-vaccinated students will have to quarantine for 14 days.  

READ MORE: PTSD: Each COVID-19 surge poses a risk for healthcare workers

Travelers wearing face masks walk through the arrivals hall at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, on Sept 7, 2021, as Canada begins to allow entry for fully vaccinated foreigners who have had a full course of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine. (ZOU ZHENG / XINHUA)

Canada

Canada began Tuesday to allow entry for fully vaccinated foreigners who have had a full course of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine.

Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson.

To be eligible, foreigners must have been allowed at least 14 days to pass since their last vaccine shot and show proof of a negative molecular test for COVID-19 that's no more than 72 hours old.

They are also required to use the ArriveCAN app or online web portal to upload their vaccination details.

As of Monday, there were 1,516,094 cases of COVID-19 reported in Canada, including 27,022 deaths, according to CTV.

Italy

Italy is inching closer to achieving herd immunity against the coronavirus, according to Italy's pandemic commissioner.

Army Corps General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, also Italy's extraordinary commissioner for the coronavirus emergency, said that more than 80 percent of eligible residents in Italy had received at least one vaccine dose, and he predicted the same percentage of eligible residents would be fully vaccinated by the end of September.

Herd immunity refers to a point when enough of a population has resistance to an infectious disease, and it becomes difficult for the disease to spread in that population.

More than 70 percent of those in the 19-29 age group had received at least one dose, which was a milestone for the country, said the general.

Figliuolo also urged caution, noting that 1.8 million Italian residents in their 50s — a vulnerable age group — were not yet vaccinated.

According to the Health Ministry, nearly 39 million Italians had been vaccinated as of Tuesday, equivalent to 72.2 percent of the country's population aged 12 or older.

Tunisia

The Tunisian Ministry of Health reported on Tuesday 580 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally of infections in the North African country to 675,771.

The death toll rose by 20 to 23,901 while the total number of recoveries reached 642,423, the ministry said in a statement.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Tunisia reached 2,505, including 479 in intensive care units and 105 mechanically ventilated, it added.

A total of 2,525,771 Tunisians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far.