A girl gets a dose of the Cuban made Soberana-02 vaccine for COVID-19 in Havana, Cuba, Aug 24, 2021. (RAMON ESPINOSA / AP)
AMSTERDAM / GENEVA / JUBA / LONDON / FRANFURT RIO DE JANEIRO / MEXICO CITY / OTTAWA / BERLIN / RABAT / ADDIS ABABA / MILAN – Cuba on Thursday will seek World Health Organization (WHO) approval of three COVID-19 vaccines, according to the state-run corporation that produces them, as it begins administering shots en masse to toddlers.
Rolando Perez Rodriguez, director of research and development at BioCubaFarma, made the announcement during a discussion broadcast by state media on Tuesday evening on a vaccination campaign that aims to immunize more than 90 percent of the population by November.
Cuba is the only country in the Caribbean to have developed its own vaccine against the virus. More than 65 percent of Cubans have currently received at least one shot and 37 percent have been fully vaccinated with three shots, according to the health ministry.
The country says its vaccines have an efficacy above 90 percent and initial results are similar to those of other top vaccines significantly reducing transmission, critical illness and death, though critics have complained those results have yet to be peer reviewed.
The vaccination campaign includes children as young as two with toddlers across the country scheduled to get the first of two shots starting on Thursday, Public Health Ministry official Doctor Maria Elena Soto said during the same broadcast, becoming the first in the world under six years of age to be immunized en masse.
Russian President Vladimir Putin “is feeling fine, absolutely healthy,” as he continues self-isolation after being exposed to a staffer with COVID-19, a spokesman said. Putin is maintaining a full work schedule, holding meetings by videoconference and limiting in-person contacts “as much as possible,” he said.
Hungary doesn’t plan to re-introduce lockdown measures since a majority of the population is now vaccinated, Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas said.
Even with infections set to rise, the government expects serious cases and deaths to be significantly lower now than in earlier waves of the pandemic, he told reporters Wednesday.
Hungary, which has had the world’s highest per-capita deaths from coronavirus after Peru since the outbreak of the pandemic, reported that 12 people died on Tuesday, the highest level for a single day in more than three months.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech during a debate on "The State of the European Union" as part of a plenary session in Strasbourg, France, on Sept 15, 2021. (YVES HERMAN / POOL / AFP)EU
The pace of vaccination against COVID-19 must be quickened across the globe to avert "a pandemic of the non-vaccinated", the European Union's chief executive said on Wednesday in her annual policy speech.
Ursula von der Leyen's second 'state of the union' address since she took over as European Commission president comes after two years that have tested the resilience of the bloc with the COVID-19 pandemic, a sharp economic downturn and strains over Brexit.
"Let's make sure that it does not turn into a pandemic of the non-vaccinated," von der Leyen told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France.
She said that the EU's first pandemic priority was to speed up global vaccination, given less than 1 percent of doses globally administered had been in low-income countries.
The European Commission, she said, will donate 200 million doses to low-income countries by the middle of next year, on top of 250 million doses already pledged.
The Commission president also said she saw "worrisome divergences" between the rates of vaccination in EU member states, adding that the bloc had secured 1.8 billion further vaccine doses to cover more initial and booster shots.
Von der Leyen said the European Union was setting up a health emergency response authority, designed to improve the bloc's response to cross-border health threats.
She proposed that the EU invest 50 billion euros (US$59.1 billion) by 2027 to improve its preparedness and resilience to future health threats.
She also said in her speech that 19 EU member states would have their economy back at pre-pandemic level this year, with the others following next year.
Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 225.7 million while the global death toll topped 4.6 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Africa has been "left behind by the rest of the world" as only two percent of the more than 5.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses administered globally have been administered there, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday, warning the world against vaccine inequity.
The WHO's aim is to vaccinate at least 40 percent of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70 percent by the middle of next year. However, only two countries in Africa have reached the 40-percent target, the lowest of any region, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during an online press briefing.
"That's not because African countries don't have the capacity or experience to roll out COVID-19 vaccines. It's because they have been left behind by the rest of the world," he said.
According to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) who also attended the briefing, less than 3.5 percent of Africans have been vaccinated against COVID-19, which is far short of the official target of 60 percent.A minor receives a Sinovac jab from a healthcare worker in Pretoria, South Africa, Sept 10, 2021. (THEMBA HADEBE / AP)
"This leaves people at high risk of disease and death, exposed to a deadly virus against which many other people around the world enjoy protection," Tedros said.
"The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective," he warned.
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The WHO said talks are underway with India for a resumption of COVID-19 vaccine exports to African countries following a pause during a deadly wave of infections earlier this year.
Meanwhile, efforts to develop an African base for COVID-19 vaccine production will focus on trying to replicate Moderna's shot, but a lack of progress in talks with the US company mean the project will take time, a senior WHO official told Reuters.
Martin Friede, WHO Initiative for Vaccine Research coodinator, said Moderna's vaccine had been chosen as an abundance of public information and its pledge not to enforce patents made the shot slightly easier to copy than some rivals.
But even if the hub manages without Moderna's help, it could take more than a year to get a distributable vaccine as clinical trials would only begin in the latter half of 2022, he added.
Brazil registered 13,406 new coronavirus cases and 731 new COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
Canada reported 3,955 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative total to 1,555,121 with 27,262 deaths, according to CTV.
Canada's total COVID-19 cases surpassed 1.5 million on Sept 1.
Alberta, a province with a population of 4.4 million, reported 1,434 new cases and nine fatalities.
The province now has 18,265 active cases and 822 hospitalizations, including 212 ICU admissions.
More than 90 percent of the ICU admissions are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw said on Twitter.
Ontario, Canada's most populated province, recorded seven additional deaths, bringing its pandemic toll to 9,624.
Quebec, another populous province with more than 8 million people, reported 633 new cases and seven deaths.
German biotech firm CureVac said on Tuesday it cancelled contract manufacturing deals for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine with two prospective partners, after rivals with approved shots have boosted production.
Agreements with Celonic Group of Switzerland and Germany's Wacker would be terminated but existing production deals with Rentschler Biopharma and Novartis would remain unchanged, CureVac said in a statement.
Manufacturing contracts with Bayer and Fareva were also unaffected, a spokesperson added.
"The continuous increase in mRNA manufacturing capacity together with the progress of large-scale vaccination efforts have strongly changed the demand for our first-generation COVID-19 vaccine, CVnCoV, over the last months,” said CureVac Chief Operating Officer Malte Greune.
CureVac in June and July published disappointing trial data on its initial vaccine candidate, and European regulatory approval is yet outstanding.
It is also working with GlaxoSmithKline on a next generation of COVID-19 vaccines.
Emergent to make Providence Therapeutics potential vaccine
Emergent BioSolutions Inc signed a five-year agreement with Canadian biotechnology company Providence Therapeutics to develop and manufacture its COVID-19 vaccine candidate for about US$90 million.
Emergent will produce drug substances for Providence's vaccine candidate, PTX-COVID19-B, as well as provide services for finished products such as filling the vaccine in vials at its Winnipeg facility in Canada.
The vaccine uses the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, also used in COVID-19 shots developed by Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc. Providence's vaccine is currently being tested in a mid-stage trial in Canada.
Emergent expects to manufacture tens of millions of doses of Providence's shot in 2022, as well as batches of formulated bulk drug substance for the vaccine with the potential to yield hundreds of millions more doses.
The agreement covers cost for manufacturing services, studies to support global supply chain activities, as well as facility and equipment investments, the companies said on Tuesday.
Ethiopia registered 1,664 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 325,379 as of Tuesday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.
The ministry reported 34 more deaths and 1,146 new recoveries, bringing the toll to 5,001 and the total number of recoveries to 293,092.
According to the ministry, Ethiopia currently has 27,284 active COVID-19 cases, including 783 in severe health conditions.
Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza at the same time is entirely possible, said a senior German health official on Tuesday.
There is no evidence that one of the two vaccines no longer works when administered simultaneously, Thomas Mertens, chairman of the Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) in Germany, told German public broadcaster MDR.
"In this respect, the precautionary measure of pulling the two vaccinations apart is no longer necessary," he said.
The flu immunity of the German population will likely be lower this year, as "flu cases were practically absent" last winter thanks to COVID-19 measures, said Mertens.
As of Tuesday, almost 51.8 million people in Germany have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, bringing the country's vaccination rate to 62.3 percent, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). More than 55 million people have received at least one vaccine dose.
The seven-day COVID-19 incidence rate in Germany fell to 81.1 per 100,000 people on Tuesday, compared to 81.9 the day before and 83.8 a week ago, according to the RKI.
The number of daily infections has been steady in recent days, with 6,325 new cases registered on Tuesday, which is 401 less than seven days ago, according to the RKI.
A teacher, left, has her so-called "Green Pass" checked by a school worker as she arrives at the "Isacco Newton" high school in Rome, Italy, Sept 13, 2021. (ANDREW MEDICHINI / AP)
The Italian government is set to approve a plan to require proof-of-vaccination documents for workers in the public and private sectors starting in mid-October, Corriere della Sera reported.
With agreement reached within the coalition led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a decree law may be approved on Thursday.
The new regulation would extend the country’s use of the documents – known as Green Passes – to the private sector, transport including taxis. Green Passes are already available to individuals with a first vaccination, those recovered from COVID-19 and those able to demonstrate a negative test.
Italy reported 72 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday against 36 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 4,021 from 2,800.
Italy has registered 130.027 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the eighth-highest in the world. The country has reported 4.6 million cases to date.
Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 4,165 on Tuesday, down from 4,200 a day earlier.
There were 29 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 35 on Monday. The total number of intensive care patients fell to 554 from a previous 563.
Kenya is establishing a fill-and-finish facility for COVID-19 vaccines ahead of setting up a full-scale manufacturing plant to guarantee supply.
“We aim to start local production during the first quarter of 2022 and have a fully fledged human vaccine manufacturing capability by 2024,” according to the National COVID-19 Vaccine Deployment Plan published by the Ministry of Health.
Fill-and-finish facilities enable third parties to put ready-made vaccines into vials, seal and pack them for distribution.
The number of vaccination sites in Kenya will be increased to 3,000, from 800 currently, and the average number of daily inoculations will be doubled to 80,000 by month-end and increase to 150,000 by December, according to the plan.
Mexico's health ministry on Tuesday reported 12,929 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 1,046 deaths, bringing the total number of official infections since the pandemic began to 3,528,972 and the death toll to 269,015.
Mexico will send COVID-19 vaccines to Nicaragua in September, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday, in a rare sign of international engagement with the administration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.
Ebrard, who was speaking at a regular news conference, said the vaccines were part of Mexico's vaccine distribution efforts that include Honduras, Bolivia, Jamaica, Paraguay, and Belize.
He did not give details of how many vaccines would be sent to the increasingly isolated Central American country.
The vaccines are part of a deal with Argentina to produce doses for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Morocco reported on Tuesday 2,785 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 908,349.
The death toll rose by 65 to 13,683 while the total number of recoveries increased by 3,958 to 866,064, the health ministry said in a statement.
There were 1,684 people in intensive care units, the ministry said.
A total of 20,362,745 people have received their first COVID-19 shot and 16,875,343 people have received two doses.
The Dutch government on Tuesday announced it is easing COVID-19 restrictions and will introduce a "corona" pass showing proof of vaccination to go to bars, restaurants, clubs or cultural events.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte said most social distancing requirements will be dropped from Sept 25. The move mirrors announcements in other European countries.
Rutte said at a news conference he understood the emotional toll social distancing had taken on most people.
The measures that remain will be a mask requirement for public transportation and schools, and a recommendation that people work from home when possible.
The corona pass will be required for people aged 13 and up to enter venues such as restaurants, bars, cinemas, museums, concerts and festivals both indoors and outdoors.
More than 70 percent of the Dutch population, or 12.6 million people, have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination, while 65 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the official data.
The government's health advisory board on Tuesday said there was no need for a third shot known as a booster for the general population because vaccinations were still effective.
New infections have fallen to around 2,000 per day in the Netherlands, while roughly 450 COVID-19 patients are receiving treatment in hospital.
Roche Holding AG sees a high likelihood that COVID-19 will become seasonal and endemic, with 200 million to 500 million new infections each year.
The disease probably won’t become another “common cold,” Barry Clinch, global head of infectious disease clinical development, said on a conference call with analysts. Roche will keep working on COVID-19 treatments and diagnostics because it believes there will be a need for them, he said.
The virus will “become easier to manage over time” but will “still need management,” Clinch said. An optimistic scenario where cases plummet is less likely, as is a pessimistic one where constant mutations make the disease unpredictable, he said.
Sales of COVID-19 diagnostics and tests have helped prop up revenue as the Swiss company seeks to move beyond the loss of patents for a trio of cancer drugs that fueled its growth for more than a decade. Roche also sells an antibody cocktail to treat COVID-19 together with Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and is working on an antiviral pill.
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South Sudan on Tuesday received 152,950 doses of the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX Facility.
The shipment is the third batch of vaccine shipments to South Sudan through COVAX .
The latest vaccine arrival means that South Sudan has now received a total of 271,200 COVID-19 vaccine doses that are for providing protection against the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of Sept 12, some 76,207 South Sudanese have received their first dose while 17,588 persons have been fully vaccinated with two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Britain will roll out a COVID-19 vaccine booster campaign next week in which the homegrown shot from AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford will hardly feature at all.
Instead, the UK government is relying on shots from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., both based on messenger RNA technology, and only offering Astra in cases where people can’t have an mRNA vaccine.
Studies show the mRNA vaccines as boosters provide a very good immune response, regardless of the first two shots people originally received, UK health authorities said Tuesday. The program calls for an extra dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech SE vaccine as the preferred option, while a half dose of the Moderna shot may be offered as an alternative.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he hopes the beefed-up vaccination program starting next week will be enough to keep the virus under control.
Johnson warned he could bring back compulsory face masks, advise people to work from home and mandate the use of vaccine passports if a surge in COVID-19 cases this winter threatens to overwhelm the UK’s National Health Service.
READ MORE: UK to begin virus booster drive for over-50s next week
In this Sept 3, 2021 file photo, pupils line up at a COVID-19 test station as they enter their new secondary school for the first time at Wales High school, Sheffield, England. (RUI VIEIRA / AP)
Under Johnson's winter plan published Tuesday, the government will also roll out the UK’s biggest-ever vaccination campaign against influenza – with free flu shots available to teenagers and all over-50s as well as vulnerable groups.
But in a televised Downing Street news conference, Johnson said further measures must be kept “in reserve” and that proof of vaccination in particular is “an important part of our repertoire”.
Johnson also said he was considering “simplifying” the so-called traffic light rules for international travel and wants to make “the burdens of testing less onerous for those who are coming back into the country.” More details are expected to be announced before the end of the month.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, standing alongside Johnson, said that while COVID-19 cases had stabilized to “some extent,” the UK was coming into the “most difficult part of the year.” The number of people in hospitals with the virus is “drifting up” and variable around the country, he said.
The UK on Tuesday reported 26,628 new cases and another 185 deaths, bringing the tally to 7,282,810 and the toll to 134,446, according to the latest official data.
Also on Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid signaled that a requirement for expensive PCR tests for COVID-19 for international travelers arriving in Britain would be dropped in favor of cheaper lateral-flow-tests.
The US government plans to more directly control where COVID-19 antibody treatments are sent amid a surge in infections and hospitalizations in states with large pockets of unvaccinated people.
Hospitals and other care providers will no longer be able to directly order monoclonal antibody therapies from distributors, according to a Sept 13 update posted on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website.
Instead, the US government will determine what quantity of the drugs to ship to each state and territory based on COVID-19 case numbers and use of the treatments locally. State health departments will then determine how to distribute the antibody therapies to hospitals and other sites, according to the HHS update.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc said on Tuesday the US government will buy 1.4 million additional doses of its COVID-19 antibody cocktail, REGEN-COV, bringing the total doses purchased by the US government to nearly 3 million.
Meanwhile, the US may not have enough tests to keep pace with the Biden administration’s tightened workplace COVID-19 mitigation measures.
Under regulation expected in the coming weeks, companies with 100 or more employees will need to require that workers get vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. That could represent nearly double the volume of tests currently being processed, and may make already hard-to-find rapid tests more scarce and lengthen wait times in lines and for results.
The US is now last among the world’s most powerful democracies when it comes to vaccinations, squandering an early lead and plentiful supplies to be surpassed even by Japan, which started inoculating months later. The US has administered at least one dose to 63.1 percent of its residents, now the lowest among the Group of Seven nations.
In this Sept 14, 2021, file photo, a syringe is prepared with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic at the Reading Area Community College in Reading, Pennsylvania. (MATT ROURKE / AP)
On global vaccination, the US is pushing global leaders to endorse what it calls ambitious targets for ending the COVID-19 pandemic, including ensuring 70 percent of the world's population is vaccinated against the virus by the 2022, according to a draft US document viewed by Reuters on Tuesday.
The three-page outline is addressed to countries, international organizations, and private sector groups invited to a virtual COVID-19 summit planned by the US on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly beginning this week.
In another development, American army officers who refuse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus could be suspended from their duties and possibly discharged, the US Army said on Tuesday.
Commanders, command sergeants major, first sergeants and officers in Command Select List positions who refuse to be vaccinated and are not pending an exemption request would face suspension and relief if they refuse to comply, the Army said in a statement.
Zimbabwe’s cabinet has barred unvaccinated civil servants from reporting to work with immediate effect.
Only workers who have taken the coronavirus vaccine will be allowed to report for duty, Minister of Information Monica Mutsvangwa told reporters at a post-cabinet briefing in the capital, Harare on Tuesday.
The country is slowly opening up economic and social activity after a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Only vaccinated people are allowed to attend church gatherings and sit-in at restaurants.
The southern African nation has received 11.8 million vaccine doses from purchases and donations since the start of the government’s program. At least 1.9 million people were fully vaccinated as of Sept 13 out of the 10 million the state is targeting in order to reach herd immunity, according to the health ministry. It remains unclear how many of the state’s workers estimated at over 300,000 are vaccinated.