COVAX to change rules after UK got more shots than Botswana

A health worker receives a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Francistown, Botswana, on March 26, 2021. (MONIRUL BHUIYAN / AFP)

HARARE / LONDON / ADDIS ABABA / TBILISI / SANTIAGO / ROME / BRASILIA / BRUSSELS / MOSCOW – COVAX, the organization meant to ensure fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines, is planning to overhaul the allocation methodology to ensure it takes into account the proportion of a country's population that has been vaccinated, including with shots bought directly from drugmakers, according to an internal document by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) reviewed by Reuters.

The proposal will be discussed at the GAVI board meeting on Tuesday, and the change could be enacted in the fourth quarter of this year, according to the document.

In March, as wealthy Britain led the world in vaccination rates and almost half its people had received a shot, COVAX allotted the country over half a million doses from its supplies.

By contrast Botswana, which hadn't even started its vaccination drive, was assigned 20,000 doses from the same batch of millions of Pfizer mRNA vaccines, according to publicly available documents detailing COVAX's allocations.

Other poorer nations, with fledgling vaccination drives at best, also received fewer shots than Britain. Rwanda and Togo were each allotted about 100,000 doses, and Libya nearly 55,000.

The distribution was driven by the methodology used by COVAX. Since January, it has largely allocated doses proportionally among its members according to population size, but regardless of their vaccination coverage.

This made some rich nations, which already had many vaccines through separate deals with pharmaceutical firms, eligible for COVAX doses alongside countries with no vaccines at all.

Asked why total vaccine coverage was not used earlier as a measure, Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO and COVAX official, told Reuters that the allocation terms could not be changed without the consent of COVAX's more than 140 member countries, though he did not elaborate on the process of reaching consensus.

He added that hard data on vaccines' efficacy, which strengthened the case for a change, was now available.

"What's becoming interesting now, only in the last couple of months, is the divergence between cases and deaths as a result of vaccination coverage," he said.

"We are learning that the single best indicator of mortality risk is the level of whole coverage, not just COVAX coverage."

EU

The European Commission has proposed extending the period of its scheme for monitoring and potentially limiting exports of COVID-19 vaccines from the bloc, a European Commission spokesperson told Reuters on Monday.

If not prolonged, the scheme would expire this week. It is unclear whether the 27 EU states will support the proposal, which requires a qualified majority to be adopted.

“Discussions are ongoing with member states, so we cannot comment further,” the spokesperson said. If extended, the scheme would remain in place until the end of the year.

The scheme has already been extended twice after its initial launch at the end of January, despite criticism from some smaller states that feared it was not necessary and could damage the bloc’s competitiveness.

Under EU rules, the Commission could appeal against a possible rejection by EU governments.

The EU Commission established the mechanism amid the bloc’s vaccine supply crisis and in a bid to curb exports by pharmaceutical companies deemed not to be respecting their commitments with the EU.

The mechanism has, however, allowed the export of hundreds of millions of shots made in the EU towards dozens of countries around the world.

It has been formally used to block only one shipment of 250,000 AstraZeneca doses to Australia in March, after the Anglo-Swedish firm cut supplies to the EU.

Meanwhile, Europe's medicines regulator said on Monday it was evaluating an application for use of a booster dose of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine to be given at least six months after the second shot in people over the age of 12 years.

A man receives a Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccine in a so-called 'Impfzug' (vaccination train) operated by Berliner S-Bahn in Gruenau near Berlin, Germany, on Aug 30, 2021, the start of a vaccination campaign on Berlin's circular Ringbahn railway. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP)

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 8,268,818 as of Sunday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 209,747.

Brazil

Pedro Guimaraes, a member of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations, has tested positive for COVID-19, the CEO of state lender Caixa Economica Federal said on his one of his social media accounts on Sunday.

Guimaraes, who said he was fully vaccinated, is the fourth member of the delegation that was with Bolsonaro in New York for his address to the United Nations to test positive.

He said he is asymptomatic, but has been isolated since Wednesday, when he returned to Brazil from New York.

Health minister Marcelo Queiroga, Bolsonaro's son Eduardo and one diplomat also tested positive for COVID-19. Queiroga, diagnosed during the visit, is still in isolation in a New York hotel.

The president said on Sunday he had a negative result in a COVID-19 test. Since the arrival to Brazil, all members of Bolsonaro's delegation are in isolation and have taken tests due to contact with the health minister.

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

Chile

Chile reported 775 new cases and eight more deaths from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on Sunday, for a total 1,651,750 infections and 37,440 fatalities, the Ministry of Health reported.

The ministry stated that COVID-19 cases have risen by 28 percent nationwide over the last seven days, although hospitalizations remain at low levels thanks to widespread vaccination against the disease.

A total of 4,486 people are in the active stage of the disease and 391 patients are currently hospitalized, including 291 on ventilators.

Georgia

Georgia on Sunday reported 1,132 new COVID-19 cases, taking its total to 606,492, according to the country's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

Meanwhile, 30 people died in the last 24 hours, raising the death toll to 8,817.

Italy

Italy reported 44 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, compared with 50 the day before, the health ministry said, and the daily tally of new infections fell to 3,099 from 3,525.

Italy has registered 130,697 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 4.66 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 3,435 on Sunday, down from 3,497 a day earlier.

There were 22 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 26 on Saturday. The total number of intensive care patients rose to 483 from 481 previously.

ALSO READ: Norway to end COVID-19 curbs, return to 'normal life'

People on the streets celebrate the end of the COVID-19 restrictions, in Oslo on Sept 25, 2021. Police in Norway on Sunday reported dozens of disturbances and violent clashes including mass brawls in the Nordic country’s big cities after streets, bars, restaurants and nightclubs were filled with people celebrating the end of COVID-19 restrictions. The Norwegian government abruptly announced Friday that most of the remaining coronavirus restrictions would be scrapped from Saturday and that life in the nation of 5.3 million would return to normal. (NAINA HELEN JAMA / NTB VIA AP)

Norway

Norway suffered outbreaks of violence across many of its cities as revelers celebrated the lifting of COVID-19-related restrictions from Saturday afternoon, according to local media.

The police in Oslo registered about 50 fights and other disturbances, while several people were arrested for possession of machetes, knives and other weapons, public broadcaster NRK reported.

An elderly couple wearing protective face masks against COVID-19 walks past the Pfizer Inc headquarters on Dec 9, 2020 in New York City. (ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

Pfizer

Pfizer Inc said on Monday it has started a large study testing its investigational oral antiviral drug for the prevention of COVID-19 infection among those who have been exposed to the virus.

The mid-to-late-stage study will test Pfizer's drug, PF-07321332, in up to 2,660 healthy adult participants aged 18 and older who live in the same household as an individual with a confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 infection.

In the trial, PF-07321332, designed to block the activity of a key enzyme needed for the coronavirus to multiply, will be administered along with a low dose of ritonavir, an older medication widely used in combination treatments for HIV infection.

Pfizer has also started another study of PF-07321332 in non-hospitalized, symptomatic adult patients.

In another development, Pfizer will submit data to the US Food and Drug Administration on vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 within “days, not weeks,” Albert Bourla, the company’s CEO, said on ABC’s This Week

“If they approve it, we will be ready with our manufacturing to provide this new formulation of the vaccine,” he said.

He said the dosage for young children is one-third that of the vaccine for adults. 

Last week Pfizer and BioNTech said that formulation produced strong antibody responses in children in a large-scale trial. The companies also plan to share the data with regulators in Europe.

Russia

A small-scale clinical study of the combined use of the AstraZeneca and Sputnik Light vaccines against COVID-19 has shown strong antibody growth in a majority of the study's participants, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said on Monday.

The data was collected from 20 people who took part in a 100-person study in Azerbaijan that began in February. They first received the AstraZeneca shot followed by the one-dose Russian-made Sputnik Light shot 29 days later, RDIF said.

"According to the results of the interim analysis, a fourfold or higher increase in neutralizing antibodies to the spike protein (S-protein) of the SARS-CoV-2 was found in 85 percent of the volunteers on the 57th day of the study," RDIF said.

South Africa

South Africa has officially exited its third wave of coronavirus infections, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases said.

New infections fell to below 1,000 on Sunday and the positivity rate of tests was 5 percent, the institute said in a statement.

“Nationally we have exited the third wave according to the current definition,” it said.

With almost 2.9 million confirmed infections and over 87,000 deaths, South Africa has been worse hit by the virus than any other country in Africa.

Slow delivery of Johnson & Johnson vaccinations is hampering South Africa’s inoculation drive, Business Day reported, citing Nicholas Crisp, acting director-general of the country’s health department. 

While South Africa has ample supply of Pfizer vaccines, it needs J&J’s for people in remote areas, since those shots can be stored with normal refrigeration and only one dose is needed.

“We don’t have plenty of J&J vaccines, and that is a problem for us because there are communities that are very hard to get back to a second time,” Crisp said. No doses were delivered in May and June and only 1.5 million were in July, Crisp said. South Africa has agreed to buy 31 million. 

Medical workers remove the body of a coronavirus patient who had died, past others as they lie on their beds, in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Machakos, Kenya on Aug 20, 2021.  (BRIAN INGANGA / AP)

Study published by Oxford University

The COVID-19 pandemic reduced life expectancy in 2020 by the largest amount since World War Two, according to a study published on Monday by Oxford University, with the life expectancy of American men dropping by more than two years.

Life expectancy fell by more than six months compared with 2019 in 22 of the 29 countries analysed in the study, which spanned Europe, the United States and Chile. There were reductions in life expectancy in 27 of the 29 countries overall.

The university said most life expectancy reductions across different countries could be linked to official COVID-19 deaths. There have been nearly 5 million reported deaths caused by the new coronavirus so far, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

"The fact that our results highlight such a large impact that is directly attributable to COVID-19 shows how devastating a shock it has been for many countries," said Dr Ridhi Kashyap, co-lead author of the paper, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

There were greater drops in life expectancy for men than women in most countries, with the largest decline in American men, who saw life expectancy drop by 2.2 years relative to 2019.

Overall, men had more than a year shaved off in 15 countries, compared to women in 11 countries. That wiped out the progress on mortality that had been made in the previous 5.6 years.

In the United States, the rise in mortality was mainly among those of working age and those under 60, while in Europe, deaths among people aged over 60 contributed more significantly to the increase in mortality.

Kashyap appealed to more countries, including low- and middle-income nations, to make mortality data available for further studies.

“We urgently call for the publication and availability of more disaggregated data to better understand the impacts of the pandemic globally,” she said.

ALSO READ: Life expectancy for UK males falls first time in 40 years

UK

Another 32,417 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 7,664,230, according to official figures released Sunday.

The country also recorded another 58 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 136,168.

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to examine the FY 2022 budget request for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 19, 2021 in Washington, DC. (GREG NASH / POOL / AFP)

United States

Parts of the US health system “are in dire straits,” as the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant forces some states to prepare for rationed medical care, Rochelle Walensky, head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said. 

“That means that we are talking about who is going to get a ventilator, who is going to get an ICU bed,” Walensky said on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “Those are not easy discussions to have, and that is not a place we want our health care system to ever be.”

Idaho, among the US’s least-vaccinated states, and Alaska have said that hospitals can begin to ration medical care if needed. A major hospital in Montana also implemented so-called “crisis of care standards” to prioritize who is treated. Health officials warned the measure could be widened across the state. 

The Delta surge has moved in intensity around the US, now hitting the northwest. Nationwide, the number of people dying in hospitals appears to have peaked, according to US Department of Health and Human Service data. 

Walensky defended her decision last week to overrule a panel of CDC advisers and broaden eligibility for third shots of the Pfizer Inc-BioNTech SE vaccine. 

The panel approved boosters for those ages 65 and older, those in long-term health-care facilities and those ages 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions. The CDC head went further, ruling that people at high risk of exposure at work or elsewhere may also receive a third dose. 

She called her decision “a scientific close call.”  

“I felt it was appropriate for those people to also be eligible for boosters,” she said.

Walensky said she hoped it would be safe for children to go trick-or-treating this Halloween. 

“If you’re able to be outdoors, absolutely,” she said. “Limit crowds. I wouldn’t necessarily go to a crowded Halloween party, but I think that we should be able to let our kids go trick or treating in small groups.”

A military personnel inoculate a dose of SinoVac vaccine to a citizen at a mobile clinic in Emganwini township, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on 3 Aug 2021. (ZINYANGE AUNTONY / AFP)

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe on Sunday received the fourth batch of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine doses from China.

Chinese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Guo Shaochun handed over the consignment to Zimbabwean Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the country's minister of Health and Child Care, at Harare's Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.

Zimbabwe has so far received four batches of vaccine doses from China since the start of the vaccination program in February.

Slightly over 3 million Zimbabweans have received one dose of the vaccine, while more than 2.1 million people – about 15 percent of the country's population of 14 million – are now fully vaccinated.