GAVI: Summit secures US$2.4b for virus shots for poor countries

A Kenyan health worker shows the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine vial, as part of the COVAX mechanism by GAVI (The Vaccine Alliance) to help fight against COVID-19 at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on March 5, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

LONDON / BRUSSELS / WARSAW / RABAT / SAN JOSE / TBILISI / WINDHOEK / NICOSIA / WASHINGTON / BANJUL / HAVANA / SANTIAGO / OTTAWA / QUITO / BUENOS AIRES / SAO PAULO / HELSINKI / ADDIS ABABA / WARSAW – The chairman of the GAVI vaccine alliance, Jose Manuel Barroso, said on Wednesday that a pledging summit secured nearly US$2.4 billion, bringing total contributions nearly to US$9.6 billion for the COVAX dose-sharing program to buy vaccines and deliver them to poorer nations.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga led pledges aimed at closing a US$1.7 billion funding gap that has hampered the distribution of coronavirus vaccinations to poorer nations around the world.

Australia and European countries also announced fresh contributions. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that his country was making a further US$50 million donation to the GAVI vaccine alliance's COVAX facility, bringing its total to US$130 million.

Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez, who announced a donation of 15 million doses and 50 million euros (US$61 million), said: "Only by leading by example we will be effective in preaching solidarity." Sweden, Austria and Luxembourg were among other countries to announce new donations, as well.

Russia

Russia’s third vaccine against COVID-19, CoviVac, is more than 80 percent effective according to preliminary data, the Interfax news agency cited the vaccine’s developer as saying on Wednesday.

The Chumakov Centre could produce six times more than the previously planned 10 million doses of the vaccine a year, Interfax added.

Also, Russia's single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine against COVID-19 has been approved for use in Mauritius, Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund, which markets the shot internationally, said on Wednesday.

Russia reported 8,832 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 2,842 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,090,249.

The government coronavirus task force said 394 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 122,267.

The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has said Russia recorded around 250,000 deaths related to COVID-19 from April 2020 to March 2021.

Seychelles 

Seychelles ordered all schools to close immediately on the islands of Praslin and La Digue and banned resorts from hosting residents from the main island of Mahe.

The measures were taken after a rise in cases on the two islands, the Indian Ocean archipelago’s health ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

Seychelles, which has vaccinated a greater proportion of its population than any other country, has been battling a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Sweden

From June 1, Sweden has started the first steps to ease the country's COVID-19 restrictions, meaning that restaurants can open longer, and public events can accommodate more people.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 171.19 million while the global death toll topped 3.56 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

IMF

Vaccinating the world is the most effective way to boost global output in the near term, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Tuesday, warning that low vaccination rates in some countries is "dangerous" for everyone.

The IMF chief participated in the joint press conference together with the heads of the World Bank Group, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), with a focus on a new joint call on scaling up equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Georgieva noted that countries with more fiscal space and rapid vaccinations are coming out of the crisis faster, but those, especially with low vaccination rates are falling further behind, and "that is dangerous for everyone because it would hold the global recovery back."

World Bank Group President David Malpass said that it's vital to speed up the supply chain of vaccines globally, urging countries to "shorten the time" from the manufacturing of the vaccine to shots in arms.

The World Bank chief noted that the multilateral lender has US$12 billion in vaccine financing available, and "more if needed" to help countries buy and distribute COVID-19 vaccines and encourage vaccinations.

By the end of June, he said, the World Bank will have approved vaccination operations in over 50 countries, adding that these countries can immediately use vaccines from COVAX, the WHO-led international campaign for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines around the world, from manufacturers, and from donor countries themselves as soon as they are made available.

"It's vital that we speed up the supply chain. We need to shorten the time from the manufacturing of the vaccine to shots in arms," Malpass said.

Colombia 

Colombia on Wednesday began what its government called a gradual opening of its border with Venezuela after a 14-month closure intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Colombia, whose porous border with Venezuela extends roughly 1,380 miles (2,220 km), has been the chief destination for Venezuelans fleeing their country's social and economic crisis. The two countries do not maintain diplomatic relations.

The gradual opening of river and land crossings was authorized starting at midnight on Wednesday, according to a resolution published by the Andean nation's interior ministry. The interior ministry said biosecurity measures in light of the COVID-19 pandemic established by Colombia's health ministry must be followed during crossings.

Colombia closed its borders in March 2020. It said its migration agency will schedule times for crossings and establish restrictions based on the last number of people's identity documents. Colombia reopened its borders with Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Panama on May 19.

European Union

European Union governments agreed on Wednesday to add Japan to their small list of countries from which they will allow non-essential travel, while holding off until at least mid-June for British tourists, EU sources said on Tuesday.

Ambassadors from the EU's 27 countries approved the addition of Japan at a meeting on Wednesday, with the change to take effect in the coming days.

Britain met that revised target but was left off the list because of an increase in COVID-19 cases arising from an infectious coronavirus variant first identified in India.

The EU new Digital COVID-19 Certificate reached an important milestone on Tuesday when it was launched in the bloc's seven member states one month ahead of the scheme's scheduled start on July 1.

It went live in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland, the European Commission said in a statement.

The certificate was proposed by the Commission to enable people to resume safe free travel this summer. The system allows the verification of certificates in a secure and privacy-friendly way.

Available in digital format or on paper, it will provide proof that its holder has been vaccinated against COVID-19, tested negative or recovered from an infection.

The Commission said that the gateway for the certificate had already been tested successfully in 22 countries. The regulation comes into force on July 1 with a phasing-in period of six weeks for the issuance of certificates for those member states that need additional time. However, those member states that have passed the technical tests and are ready to issue and verify certificates can already start using the system on a voluntary basis.

Ecuador

Ecuador this week launched a plan to vaccinate 9 million people against the novel coronavirus in 100 days, part of recently installed President Guillermo Lasso's plan to revive the economy by battling the pandemic.

Lasso recognized that the country needed to acquire further doses from overseas in order to reach that goal, and said the government was in talks with Russia over the purchase of some 18 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

Ecuador began its inoculation campaign in January, but former President Lenin Moreno's administration advanced slowly due to logistical issues, allegations of nepotism in the allocation of shots, and frequent changes of top health officials.

Lasso, a conservative ex-banker who took office on May 24, said he had also asked the United Nations to speed up the delivery of vaccines under the COVAX initiative intended to supply shots to poor countries. The World Health Organization, part of the UN system, oversees the program.

Ecuador recorded on Tuesday 1,653 new COVID-19 infections and 46 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the cumulative total to 427,690 cases and 15,137 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Another 5,483 deaths are considered to be COVID-19 related, but not verified, according to the ministry.

Britain

Britain is in talks with Oxford and AstraZeneca for additional doses of their COVID-19 vaccine that has been modified to better target the "beta" coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, and it will fund trials of the shots.

Britain has previously secured 100 million doses of the vaccine, developed at the University of Oxford and licenced to AstraZeneca, and the health ministry said the extra doses under discussion would be tailored to target the B.1.351 variant.

Oxford considers the variant top priority for vaccine developers, and AstraZeneca has targeted the development of new vaccines against variants by the autumn.

According to official figures released Tuesday, Britain reported zero daily coronavirus-related deaths for the first time since March last year.

The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain remains at 127,782. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

Another 3,165 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,490,438, according to the official figures.

In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced Tuesday that the majority of Scotland will remain in Level Two restrictions amid concerns over the spread of coronavirus variant first detected in India.

There would be a "slight slowing down" in the lifting of lockdown rules for much of Scotland amid the spread of variant named Delta by the World Health Organization, Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament.

United States

The United States will announce in the next two weeks how it will sell and distribute 80 million COVID-19 vaccine doses it has pledged globally, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado, Blinken said the administration of US President Joe Biden will focus on equitable distribution of the immunizations and not tie political strings to the process.

Biden on Monday said his administration will send at least 20 million doses of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, on top of 60 million AstraZeneca Plc doses he had already planned to give to other countries.

The Biden administration has been under pressure to share vaccines to help curb worsening outbreaks from India to Brazil, where health experts fear new, more contagious coronavirus variants could undermine the effectiveness of available shots.

Georgia

Georgian Health Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze on Tuesday tested positive for COVID-19.

The press office of the ministry said that Tikaradze feels well and continues to work remotely at home.

Tikaradze received the first dose of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine live on TV on March 23.

Georgia on Tuesday officially re-opened its land borders to foreigners after one-year lockdown.

Poland

Poland will triple the number of guests allowed at large gatherings like weddings, the health minister said on Tuesday, as the country eases COVID-19 restrictions further due to a falling number of cases.

The government's vaccination campaign coordinator said on Tuesday that Poland will offer COVID-19 vaccination to children aged between 12 and 15 from June 7.

Children above the age of 12 are the latest group to be offered the jab in Poland after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the cohort.

In the past 24 hours, 588 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed. This number is comparable to the same period last year during the first wave of the pandemic.

Morocco

The number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 reached 5,640,992 on Tuesday in Morocco, the Moroccan Ministry of Health said in a statement.

So far, a total of 8,772,982 first doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Morocco, the statement added.

Namibia 

Namibia on Tuesday recorded 24 COVID-19 deaths, the highest daily number since the novel coronavirus was reported in the country in March last year, according to Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula.

In a statement, Shangula said the 24 cases were recorded from all the regions in the country.

ALSO READ: South Africa, Kenya maintain firm hand against virus

Cyprus

Life in Cyprus is about to return to normal as the government decided to ease the coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday, Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said. He added that further relaxations will follow.

Ioannou told the state-run Cyprus News Agency that the recent significant improvement in the country's epidemiological status allows the government to further ease the restrictions introduced over the past few months to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The restrictions on almost all activities were lifted on Tuesday. Hospitality venues can again serve guests in indoor spaces. Casinos, conference and trade fair venues, theaters, amphitheaters and other performing arts venues can also operate, albeit at 50 percent of capacity only.

However, people must hold a so-called SafePass to be allowed to enter such premises. The pass proves that they have either been vaccinated, have a negative coronavirus test or have recovered from a COVID-19 infection in the past six months. Social distancing and mask wearing remain mandatory.

Cuba

Cuba registered 1,057 new COVID-19 infections and seven more deaths in the last day, bringing the total to 143,323 cases and 965 deaths, the Public Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

Of the new infections, 1,021 were from community transmission, according to the ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran.

Chile

The Chilean government will create a US$2 billion fund to finance the fight against COVID-19 and strengthen health services, President Sebastian Pinera said in his annual speech to Chile’s congress.

The government will resort to increased public debt and state savings to pay for emergency funding, the president said.

On Tuesday, Chile reported 5,040 new COVID-19 infections and 44 more deaths in the last 24 hours, to bring the total caseload to 1,389,357 and death toll to 29,344, the Ministry of Health said.

So far 1,315,860 patients have recovered from the disease, while 43,239 are in the active stage.

In the last seven days, according to the ministry, only two of the country's 16 regions registered a drop in infections.

Canada

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) announced its updated guidance on Tuesday to allow mixing and matching approved COVID-19 vaccines in most scenarios.

Under the updated guidance, people who received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine may receive Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for their second dose, unless contraindicated. Four vaccines, developed by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, have been authorized for use in Canada to date.

The new guidance also advises that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be mixed for first and second doses.

But it is not recommending AstraZeneca after a first shot of Pfizer or Moderna because of safety concerns and limited data on the use of this combination.

While NACI is advising that the vaccines can be safely used in combination, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said Canadians should try to get the same dose in a series if possible, specifically when receiving Pfizer or Moderna.

ALSO READ: Canada's virus cases seen falling if restrictions maintained

Brazil

A decrease in local COVID-19 vaccine production has slowed the pace of Brazil's inoculation drive and contributed to a growing number of people not taking their second doses, according to the latest data from the Fiocruz biomedical institute.

Brazil administered 21 million COVID-19 shots in May, down 14.2 percent from the 24.5 million vaccines injected in April, according to data compiled by the federally funded Fiocruz and state Health Departments. More than 10.5 million second doses were given in April, compared with 6.6 million last month, the data show.

Experts said a lack of shots, coupled with misinformation about vaccines, had led millions of Brazilians to only take one dose so far. The slowing pace is likely to extend Brazil's outbreak. More than 460,000 Brazilians have died from COVID-19, the second highest total after the United States.

On Tuesday, Brazil reported 2,408 more deaths from COVID-19, taking the nationwide tally to 465,199, the Ministry of Health said.

A total of 78,926 new infections were detected, raising the caseload to 16,624,480, the ministry said.

Argentina

Argentina on Tuesday reported 641 more COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the national death toll to 78,733.

The Ministry of Health said that tests detected 35,355 new cases, bringing the nationwide count to 3,817,139.

In May, there were four daily counts of COVID-19 deaths exceeding 600 with the highest being 745 on May 18.

Finland

Psychological distress had risen in all parts of Finland during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic between September 2020 and February 2021, according to a survey conducted by the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

In 2020, 14 percent of Finns reported psychological symptoms and distress. However, in 2018 the corresponding figure was 12 percent, said THL in a press release about the survey issued on Tuesday.

According to the survey named FinSote 2020, the percentages of residents with significant psychological distress were highest in the capital city of Helsinki with 17 percent. Access to health care services was more difficult, especially in the Helsinki region, during the epidemic, said THL.

The survey showed that increased difficulties in getting medical care appear to have focused on the areas worst hit by the epidemic. For example, in Uusimaa, where the capital city of Helsinki is located, the proportion of those who did not get adequate medical services increased from 16 percent in 2018 to 22 percent in 2020.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 249 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 271,790 as of Tuesday evening, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

The ministry said six new deaths were reported, bringing the death toll to 4,171.

Germany

Germany has begun preparations to tackle a potential “fourth wave” of the virus should it materialize after the summer, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Spahn said he has initiated discussions with experts from Germany’s RKI public-health institute on how the nation can prepare better than when the “second wave” hit in October.

“We will begin learning the lessons much earlier this year and hopefully avoid this fourth wave or bring it swiftly under control,” Spahn said in an interview with ZDF television. The steady decline in Germany’s incidence rate since late April is positive, but citizens should still exercise caution, he added.