COVAX hopes to deliver delayed Astra shots to Africa in June, July

Workers load boxes of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, provided through the COVAX program, into a truck after they arrived by plane at the Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo, Madagascar, on May 8, 2021. (MAMYRAEL / AFP)

DAR ES SALAAM / VALLETTA / TUNIS / LONDON / CAPE TOWN / BRUSSELS / LUSAKA / SAO PAULO / BOGOTA / BERLIN / ADDIS ABABA / SANTIAGO / BELGRADE / RABAT / ZURICH / HAVANA / MOSCOW – The COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme hopes to send millions of delayed doses of AstraZeneca’s shots to Africa in June and July, but the deployment hinges on a Spanish manufacturing site securing regulatory approval, UN officials said on Friday.

Africa has been hit by a halt in vaccine exports from India which were due to make up a significant portion of the first phase of the COVAX roll-out. As a result, many recipients including health workers will not receive their second dose of the AstraZeneca shot within the recommended 12-week interval.

“The second dose gap is a huge issue,” World Health Organization senior adviser Bruce Aylward said at a virtual UN briefing.

“We are working hard with AstraZeneca and with our scheduling and we are about to reschedule about 16 million doses to try and cover those second doses” to be shipped out in late June and early July, he said.

Gian Gandhi, UNICEF’s COVAX coordinator, confirmed that it was seeking to provide 15-16 million doses to countries that received initial vaccine doses from India’s Serum Institute.

He said that their availability would depend on a Spanish manufacturing site receiving WHO emergency-use listing in order to produce the shot “very soon” and a rapid scale-up there. 

Global tally

The number of coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 172.62 million while the global death toll topped 3.71 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

ALSO READ: WHO urges nations to follow US, give vaccine doses to fill gap

G7

Health ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries have committed to a new agreement making it easier and quicker to share results from vaccine and therapeutic trials to tackle COVID-19 and prevent future health threats, according to a statement released Friday.

A Therapeutics and Vaccines Clinical Trials Charter will be rapidly implemented, according to the G7 Health Ministers' Declaration published after two days of in-person meeting in Oxford, England.

The charter will help deliver high-quality, reliable and comparable evidence from international clinical trials to speed up access to approved treatments and vaccines, according to the statement. This will include stronger collaboration in large scale international trials to enable greater diversity of participants, including pregnant people and children.

The charter will also help to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts, more quickly eliminate medicines that do not work, and produce robust clinical evidence that can be extrapolated to a larger number of populations and places to save more lives, it said.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, whose country holds the G7 presidency, said the agreement shows the commitment "not just to getting through the COVID-19 crisis, but also to make we're better prepared for future threats".

Albania

More than 300,000 citizens in Albania have received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine so far, Minister of Health and Social Protection Ogerta Manastirliu said Friday evening.

Manastirliu said that medical staff vaccinated a total of 4,591 citizens on Friday, taking the total number of vaccines doses administered so far to 791,912.

The health ministry on Friday reported 12 new cases, pushing the tally to 132,372. The death toll stood at 2,451.

Argentina

Argentina and Russia’s president formally announced Friday that a pharmaceutical company in the South American nation will start producing the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Alberto Fernandez spoke in a webcast event to kick off the vaccine’s production at Laboratorios Richmond S.A. in Buenos Aires. 

Argentina bet big on Sputnik last year as talks with other labs hit snags and production of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Latin America faced major delays. The country has received 8.9 million Sputnik doses this year, accounting for nearly half of its total vaccines, including 7.79 million doses of the first shot, and 1.14 million of the second.

Argentina reported 30,950 new cases and 539 more deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 3,915,397 and the death toll to 80,411, the Ministry of Health said Friday.

Belgium

Belgium cleared the way for indoor dining and drinking next week as an acceleration of COVID-19 vaccinations reduced strain on hospitals and allowed a further easing of restrictions.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at a news conference on Friday that from June 9, restaurants and bars can stay open later until 11:30 pm and serve customers in indoor spaces for the first time since closures late last year.

Gyms, cinemas and theatres can reopen for the first time in more than half a year, albeit with strict limits, and Belgians may return to work one day a week and have more people in homes.

De Croo also gave details of how Belgium will handle European Union-wide coronavirus certificates to allow travel this summer. Belgium will pay for two of the COVID-19 tests that will be a condition to travel for those not fully vaccinated.

Those returning to Belgium from high-risk zones outside the EU will still have to quarantine and take PCR tests, even if they are vaccinated, De Croo said.

Brazil

Brazilian health regulator Anvisa on Friday gave the green light for states to import the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V, but with conditions attached, such as that it be used only on healthy adults.

Sputnik V tweeted that Brazil became the 67th country to authorize the vaccine.

“SputnikV will arrive in Brazil in July,” tweeted Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the Sputnik V vaccine abroad.

Brazil registered 1,454 more deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the toll to 470,842, the health ministry said on Friday.

A total of 37,936 new cases were reported, raising the caseload to 16,841,408, the ministry said.

Brazil now has a death rate of 224.1 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, said the ministry.

More than 70.4 million vaccine doses have been administered nationwide, and over 22.7 million people have received both jabs, it said.

Chile

Chile registered on Friday 8,273 new COVID-19 cases and 98 more deaths, bringing the total caseload to 1,411,346 and the death toll to 29,696.

According to the Ministry of Health, only two of the country's 16 regions have seen a decline in cases in the last seven days.

The regions reporting the highest number of infection were Aysen, O'Higgins, Nuble and the Santiago Metropolitan Region.

Aysen had the highest incidence rate per 100,000 inhabitants in the country, followed by Los Rios, Maule and Atacama.

Colombia

Colombia reported a record daily count of 30,000 COVID-19 cases, raising the national caseload to 3,518,046, the health ministry said on Friday.

Another 537 deaths were reported, bringing the death toll to 90,890, according to the ministry.

A total of 10,979,983 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across the country, and 3,369,264 people have been fully inoculated.

Cuba

Cuba reported on Friday 1,129 new COVID-19 cases and seven more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 146,696 and the toll to 992, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

Havana recorded 455 new cases, with the highest incidence rate in the country at 362.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The ministry, which has been carrying out a vaccination campaign in seven of Havana's municipalities, announced that starting on June 14, it will extend immunization to all of the capital.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported on Friday 922 new COVID-19 cases and 41 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 430,739 and the the toll 15,254.

Another 5,501 deaths are considered to be COVID-19 related, but not verified, according to the ministry.

The province of Pichincha led in the new infections in the last day with 285 cases, including 249 in the capital Quito, the epicenter of the pandemic in the country.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 347 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 272,632 as of Friday, said the Ministry of Health.

The ministry said eight more deaths were reported, bringing the death toll to 4,193.

The East African country saw 1,272 new recoveries, taking the national count to 244,650.

EU

The European Union (EU) on Friday submitted a plan to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it believes will more effectively broaden supply of COVID-19 vaccines than the intellectual property (IP) rights waiver backed by the United States.

A surprise US shift in May to support a waiver heaped pressure on remaining opponents, such as the European Union and Switzerland that are home to many drugmakers.

The European Commission, which oversees trade policy for the 27-nation EU, said on Friday it had submitted an alternative, focused on limits on export restrictions and making use of flexibility in existing WTO rules. 

The World Trade Organization will next be able to discuss the plan at meetings planned next Tuesday and Wednesday.

The EU contends that a waiver would not boost production and presented a three-part plan.

READ MORE: Greece rolls out COVID-19 vaccines in migrant camps

France

The number of people in intensive care with COVID-19 in France set a 2021 low on Friday, falling below the level reached after the end of France's second lockdown in November.

The health ministry reported that the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU had fallen by 106 to 2,571.

France also reported 6,953 new cases on Friday, the sixth consecutive day the number remained below 10,000, which had not happened since early September 2020. An addiditional 88 deaths were also posted on the same day.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 2,294 to 3,697,927, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. 

The reported death toll rose by 122 to 89,148. 

Italy

Italy reported 73 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday against 59 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 2,557 from 1,968.

In total, Italy has registered 126,415 deaths and 4.227 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 5,488 on Friday, down from 5,717 a day earlier.

There were 22 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 24 on Thursday. The total number of intensive care patients fell to 836 from a previous 892.

Italy administered almost 600,000 vaccine doses on Friday as the country continues to accelerate the inoculation campaign amid an easing of restrictions that started last month. Hospitals and vaccination centers gave out a record 598,510 shots, reaching a total of about 37.1 million doses to date, according to the Ansa newswire.

Malta

Malta has detected its first case of the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India, the country's superintendent of public health said on Friday.

At her weekly briefing, Charmaine Gauci said the Delta variant was detected late on Thursday and was being investigated by the health authorities.

She said less than half of Malta's cases were from the original strain of COVID-19, with the rest involving the variants.

Meanwhile, Gauci said that according to the latest figures, 541,178 people had received vaccines, with 226,341 of them fully vaccinated. 

Two new cases of COVID-19 were found between Thursday and Friday from 2,545 swab tests. The number of active cases has now dropped to 74 while the toll stood at 419.

A man has his temperature checked before entering the Arena Mexico for the Copa Dinastias event of the World Wrestling Council (CMLL) in Mexico City on May 28, 2021. (CLAUDIO CRUZ / AFP)

Mexico

Mexico will administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shots it is getting from the United States to 18 to 40 year olds along the Mexico-US border region with the aim of reopening the shared border by late June, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Friday.

Mexico reported 206 newly confirmed fatalities from COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the death toll to 228,568, the health ministry said.

Mexico City is reopening schools, convention centers and concert halls this month as COVID-19 cases and deaths reached their lowest levels in over a year, even as the outbreak worsens in other parts of Latin America.

Soccer stadiums and movie theaters will be able to fill half their seats and gyms will hold classes, in a gradual return over the course of this month. Surrounding the capital, Mexico state, the nation’s most populous, has also reduced its COVID-19 restrictions to the lowest level, or “code green”.

“More economic activities will open and jobs will recover,” Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum told reporters Friday.

The reopening will mean millions of children will be able to return to schools starting on Monday, after Mexico shut down all in-person classes for more than a year. 

Montenegro

Citizens of all EU member countries, as well as Israel can enter Montenegro without any conditions related to COVID-19, the government decided on Friday at a meeting. It also relaxed prevention measures ahead of the tourist season.

Weddings, prom nights, and other celebrations with up to 50 guests will be allowed once again, while bars and restaurants can operate from 7 am to midnight. Likewise, groups of up to 50 people can attend excursions and visit sites across the country.

Minister of Health Jelena Borovinic Bojovic told national broadcaster RTCG that 20 percent of the country's adults have been fully vaccinated. According to official data, the country has administered 234,278 vaccine doses.

Montenegro reported 41 new cases and four deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 99,758 and the toll to 1,591.

Morocco

A total of 9,072,565 people have received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Morocco by Friday, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The number of full vaccinated people has reached 5,840,597, according to the statement.

Morocco's COVID-19 caseload on Friday rose by 346 to 520,769, according to the statement.

The toll went up by four to 9,169.

Namibia

Namibia reported a record 717 new cases in a day and Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said hospitalizations and deaths have risen sharply.

The surge “is an indication that the public is not strictly following the COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures,” Shangula said Friday. 

The country’s supply of medical oxygen is under pressure, according to the health ministry.

Poland

Poland registered 415 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours, down from 775 a week earlier, according to data from the health ministry. 

The death toll from the pandemic rose by 38 to 74,139.

Russia

Russia reported 9,145 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, including 2,897 in Moscow, taking the official national tally to 5,117,274.

The government coronavirus task force said 399 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 123,436.

Russia revised its COVID-19 death toll for April to 20,323, an increase of 80 percent from early official reports, compared with 24,042 in March, according to the Federal Statistics Service. The data include people who were infected with the virus when it was not regarded as the cause of death.

Russia may provide coronavirus vaccinations for a fee to foreigners who travel to the country, President Vladimir Putin said at an economic forum on Friday, as Moscow seeks to enhance its global reputation with its Sputnik V vaccine.

Addressing the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Putin said many people are coming to Russia to get a shot. "I am asking the government to study this issue in full by the end of the month, to establish conditions for foreign citizens to get vaccinated in our country for a fee," he said without providing more detail.

Serbia

The production of Russia's Sputnik V  COVID-19 vaccine officially started on Friday at the Institute of Virology, Vaccines and Sera "Torlak" in Belgrade, the Serbian government confirmed in a press release.

The production, launched by the institute director Vera Stoiljkovic, was witnessed by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, via a video meeting.

"We are witnessing a great step forward for our country Serbia in the fight against COVID-19…After three validation series, we are now starting the organized serial production of four million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine," Vucic said.

Seychelles

Seychelles, which has seen COVID-19 cases surge despite vaccinating a greater proportion of its people than any other nation, expects to know the results of analysis of virus samples sent to a Kenyan institute in about two weeks.

A team from the World Health Organization has also been working with the island nation of 98,000’s health ministry for the last few weeks, said Jude Gedeon, the country’s public health commissioner, at a press conference on Friday.

Despite fully vaccinating 67 percent of its population with AstraZeneca Plc and Sinopharm vaccines, cases began to climb last month. Most cases are mild and no fully vaccinated people have died.

While samples have been sent to Kenya Medical Research Institute, so far only the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa last year, and the original viral strain found in Wuhan have been identified as being present on the island, he said.

As of June 3 there were 1,233 active cases in the country, an increase from 1,079 on May 29.

South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has welcomed the World Health Organization (WHO)'s approval of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac Biotech for emergency use.

He called the approval "a crucial step," saying it will pave the way for South African health product regulators to consider purchasing the Sinovac vaccine, according to a release from the presidency.

He hoped the approval will mean more vaccines for his population and those in poorer countries.

READ MORE: WHO move boosts vaccine equity

Switzerland

Certificates for COVID-19, both in electronic and paper forms, will be issued from June 7 while the complete system surrounding certificates should be ready by the end of June, the Swiss Federal Council declared Friday.

As the ordinance forming the legal basis of COVID-19 certificates was approved Friday, the Swiss government declared in a statement that they will be introduced gradually ahead of next week.

They will be issued to anyone who has been vaccinated, tested negative or can prove that they have recovered from COVID-19.

Electronic certificates will include a storage app, COVID Certificate, and a checking app used to scan the QR code present both on electronic and paper certificates.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan addresses the national assembly at the Parliament in Dodoma, Tanzania, on April 22, 2021. Hassan said on June 3 that foreign embassies and international organizations in Tanzania can import COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate their citizens and staff. (PHOTO / AFP)

Tanzania

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Friday gave the green light to foreign embassies and international organizations based in the country to import COVID-19 vaccines for their citizens and staff.

The president said that foreign embassies and organizations should vaccinate their citizens and staff according to arrangements made by their respective countries, according to a statement issued by the Directorate of Presidential Communications in the capital Dodoma.

Hassan directed the Ministry of Health to coordinate the importation of the vaccines. She also directed the ministry to submit to the cabinet guidelines on procurement and funding of vaccines.

According to the statement, Hassan announced the decision when she received a work plan proposed by a special team that she formed in April to evaluate the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The team of medical experts had urged the government to take contingency and response plans against COVID-19, including the resumption of releasing data on the viral disease.

The country is one of a handful of African countries that have not yet received vaccines, according to the World Health Organization.

The government reported 509 infections and 21 coronavirus-related deaths before it stopped reporting cases in May 2020.

Tunisia

The Tunisian health ministry warned on Friday of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

"The health situation in Tunisia is very critical," said Nissaf Ben Alaya, spokesman of the ministry, at a press conference held at the government's headquarters.

During the past two weeks, the alert level in 21 of the country's 24 governorates has been rated "very high," she said, adding that the death toll was still on the rise.

The ministry on Friday reported 1,816 new cases and 63 more deaths, bringing the tally to 352,303 and the toll to 12,902.

UK

Civil servants in England are drawing up contingency plans to delay the June 21 easing of virus restrictions, the Financial Times reported. 

A senior civil servant closely involved with coronavirus planning said officials are drawing up plans to delay the country’s final phase of easing, possibly to July 5, and looking at trading off some measures against others, the paper reported.

In another development, the UK will accelerate its vaccination program so it can stay on its path out of lockdown, the Telegraph reported. People 40 years and older are set to get their second vaccine dose within eight weeks, instead of 12.

The time between doses has already been cut for people in the UK over the age of 50 to help keep a lid on the spread of the virus. Ministers hope that accelerating the pace will help to keep the planned June 21 lifting of restrictions, the Telegraph reported.

According to official figures released Friday, Britain recorded a further 6,238 coronavirus cases, the highest daily figure in more than two months, bringing the tally to 4,506,018.

Another 11 coronavirus-related deaths were also reported, bringing the toll to 127,823. 

England's coronavirus reproduction number, also known as the R number, has risen slightly to between one and 1.2. Last week, the figure stood at between one and 1.1.

Nearly 40 million people, or three-quarters of adults in Britain, have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.

US

Almost one-third of adolescents hospitalized with COVID-19 were admitted to an intensive care unit in January-March of this year, and 5 percent needed machines to help them breathe, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a report released Friday.

The agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report showed that adolescent hospitalization rates had fallen in mid-March from a peak of 2.1 per 100,000 in January, but then rose again in April to 1.3 per 100,000.

The findings also showed that cumulative COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates for adolescents between October 2020 and April were as much as three times higher than flu-associated hospitalization rates from three recent influenza seasons.

The new data on adolescents reinforced the importance of continued COVID-19 prevention measures, such as vaccination and wearing of masks if not fully vaccinated, according to the report.

In another development, the US government plans to provide more vaccine donations in the months ahead and is counting on the authorization of AstraZeneca Plc doses that are stuck in a safety review, a State Department official said.

Meanwhile, Hawaii will lift inter-island travel restrictions starting June 15, Governor David Ige said. 

More than half of the state is fully vaccinated, Ige said. When the inoculation rate reaches 60 percent, the state will drop the quarantine requirement for vaccinated travelers within the US. At 70 percent, all restrictions will be lifted, he said.

Zambia

China on Friday handed over 50,000 face masks to the University of Zambia, Zambia's biggest public university, to help the institution in the fight against COVID-19.

The face masks comprise 30,000 from Jilin province and 20,000 from the Chinese Embassy in Zambia.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's government said on Friday citizens should not panic because it had enough COVID-19 vaccines for those needing a second shot after some centres ran out of doses this week and turned people away.

The southern African nation, which aims to vaccinate 10 million people by the end of the year, has to date received just over 1.735 million doses from Sinopharm, Sinovac and Covaxin.

Some 684,164 people have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while another 364,240 got their second shot.

Agnes Mahomva, the national coordinator on government's response to COVID-19, told state broadcaster ZBC that just over a million doses had been used so far and that those needing second shots would get them.

Mahomva said centers that were vaccinating faster than others, especially in Harare and second biggest city Bulawayo, had run out vaccines.

She said Zimbabwe would take another shipment of vaccines "any minute now" without saying from where.