Global policymakers urge more sharing of COVID-19 vaccines

A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine to a person in a vehicle at a drive-thru vaccination site at the Meigs County fairgrounds in Pomeroy, Ohio, US, on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (STEPHEN ZENNER / BLOOMBERG)

BRUSSELS / BUENOS AIRES / SARAJEVO / ATHENS / GENEVA / TIRANA / HARARE / RABAT / LONDON / PARIS / HAVANA / BERLIN / MEXICO CITY / WASHINGTON – A group of global policymakers tasked with responding to the COVID-19 health crisis on Friday urged nations with large vaccine stocks to share them with programs that distribute them to lower-income counties.

In a joint statement, the Multilateral Leaders Taskforce – which includes the heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization – said fewer than 2 percent of adults in most low-income countries were vaccinated, compared with almost 50 percent in high-income countries

In a joint statement, the Multilateral Leaders Taskforce – which includes the heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank Group, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization – said fewer than 2 percent of adults in most low-income countries were vaccinated, compared with almost 50 percent in high-income countries.

"This crisis of vaccine inequity is driving a dangerous divergence in COVID-19 survival rates and in the global economy," the group said.

It called on the Group of Seven nations – the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom – to "urgently" fulfill their vaccine-sharing pledges, noting that fewer than 10% of pledged doses have been shipped.

The group also urged nations to eliminate export restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines.

South Africa

South Africa’s daily vaccinations rose to a record on Aug 24, according to reconciled figures, indicating that the nation’s faltering inoculation program is back on track after it opened up eligibility for the shots to those aged 18 and above. 

People aged 18 to 35 were invited for vaccinations from Sept 1, months ahead of schedule, as limited take up from older age groups meant that daily vaccinations fell to below half of the 300,000 a day target. 

On Aug 24, the total was 273,640 shots administered. 

To date 11.65 million shots have been administered in the nation of about 60 million people with 5.45 million of those fully vaccinated.

Albania

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama warned on Thursday that vaccination against COVID-19 for students and university professors may become compulsory, depending on the epidemiological situation in the country.

Rama made the remarks while inspecting a student residence together with Minister of Education, Sports and Youth Evis Kushi.

According to Rama, vaccination may soon become compulsory for students and professors to enter university auditoriums. The move would take into account the latest increase in new infections in the country, as well as the current situation in the region and across the world.

Rama underlined that both professors and students attending university premises "have a responsibility to protect others, and the government has a responsibility to protect a vaccinated person from being threatened by an unvaccinated one."

On Wednesday, the country's Health Ministry reported a record number of 844 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, raising the country's total number of confirmed cases to 141,365, with 131,812 recoveries and 2,483 fatalities.

In this file photo dated Feb 23, 2021, Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez attends a ceremony with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador at the National Palace in Mexico City, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (MARCO UGARTE / FILE / AP)

Argentina

Argentine prosecutors have charged President Alberto Fernandez with allegedly breaking a mandatory quarantine, local media reported on Thursday, when he and his partner hosted a birthday party last year with friends.

Dailies Clarin and La Nacion reported the news, citing prosecutors, who did not immediately respond to a comment request from Reuters.

The case against Fernandez has grabbed headlines in past weeks as Argentina imposed stricter lockdowns than most countries to deal with the pandemic. In July of last year, Fernandez himself had banned all social gatherings before hosting one for the birthday of Fabiola Yanez, his partner.

Earlier on Thursday, Fernandez participated in a hearing in the case and offered to pay a fine to settle the case.

Opposition lawmakers have tried to start a political trial against Fernandez due to the party, although they have a slim chance of succeeding because most lawmakers are aligned with the government party.

Cuba

Cuba reported 8,509 new COVID-19 infections and 96 more deaths in the last day, to total 619,672 cases and 4,902 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health said on Thursday.

Denmark

As of Sept 10, Danes will no longer have to present their so-called corona passports at public events, the government said in a statement on Friday.

“The epidemic is under control and we have record high vaccination rates,” Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.

This photo shows a view of vials of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, at the Assad Iben El Fourat school in Oued Ellil, outside Tunis on Aug 15, 2021. (HASSENE DRIDI / AP)

European Medicines Agency (EMA)

Production of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at a plant of partner Rovi in Spain can continue after an initial assessment, the European Union drugs regulator said on Friday, as it continues its investigation of a contamination incident.

On Thursday Japan suspended the use of 1.63 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, with the company saying contamination could be due to a manufacturing issue on one of the production lines at its contract manufacturing site in Spain run by Rovi.

"COVID-19 vaccine production in Rovi is able to continue, following a preliminary risk assessment of the information received so far," the European Medicines Agency told Reuters in a statement on Friday.

"An investigation into the root cause is ongoing. EMA will be able to provide more information as the investigation progresses," it added.

European Union

EU countries will not face shortages if and when they decide to deliver booster shots of coronavirus vaccine to their citizens, according to the European Commission’s Thierry Breton. 

The bloc is producing 300 million doses a month, Breton said in an interview on France2 TV.

A medical staff takes care of a COVID-19 patient at the intensive care unit of the hospital Les Abymes (Centre hospitalier universitaire) in Pointe-a-Pitre, on the French Caribbean archipelago of Guadeloupe, on Aug 6, 2021. (CEDRICK ISHAM CALVADOS / AFP)

France

The reinforced measures will be in place for travel to France from Turkey as of Aug 28 at 11:59 pm, according to statement on the website of the French embassy in Turkey on Friday.

The COVID-19 infections have been steadily decreasing for a few days in mainland France and the latest models go in the direction of stabilization in coming days and weeks, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday.

"The virus has been steadily decreasing" for several days, the minister told a press conference, adding that the health situation was however "tense" in the hospitals of Bouches-du-Rhone and Occitanie in the south of the country.

France now has over 11,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, including some 2,200 in intensive care. The number of daily infections stood between 22,000 and 25,000 this week after a peak of over 28,000 on Aug 17 and 18.

"We will have 50 million vaccinated in the first week of September," he said, urging the still-hesitant to get vaccinated. Some 48 million people in France have so far received at least one vaccine dose.

Germany

Daily COVID-19 infections in Germany continued to rise as 12,626 new cases were registered within one day, 4,226 more than a week ago, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said on Thursday.

The COVID-19 incidence in Germany in the past seven days reached 66.0 per 100,000 citizens on Thursday, up from 61.3 the previous day and 44.2 a week ago, according to the RKI.

"We are again in the exponential growth of infections and also serious illnesses," Christian Karagiannidis, president of the medical association DGIIN, told the Rheinische Post on Thursday.

ALSO READ: J&J says COVID-19 booster shot triggered an antibody surge

Health workers take part in a rally in Athens on Aug 26, 2021. Workers at public hospitals in Greece were holding a five-hour work stoppage Thursday to protest a government decision making vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for all health care workers in the public and private sector. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 214.67 million while the global death toll topped 4.47 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Greece

Hundreds of Greek frontline health workers protested on Thursday against a plan to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for the care sector as infection rates remained high.

Healthcare workers observed a four-hour work stoppage against new rules obliging medical staff to vaccinate against the coronavirus, and to call for more resources to public health.

The mandatory jab comes into effect for healthcare workers on Sept 1. Those who do not comply and have not had at least one shot of a vaccine will be suspended from their jobs.

According to the POEDIN labour union, about 10 percent of healthcare workers have not had a first vaccine jab. Protesters said that while the call for vaccination was widely acknowledged and complied with by healthcare workers, the view of a dissenting few should to be respected.

Greece on Thursday reported 3,538 new coronavirus cases in a single day, with 28 deaths. It reported a record daily rate of 4,608 infections on Tuesday. 

The Greek public hospital workers union will support unvaccinated colleagues, said its president, Michalis Yiannakos.

"They consist of a tiny number, and have for the last 18-19 months been on the frontlines, caring for patients in the COVID-19 wards, and have not ever gotten infected, and now they are being thrown out on the streets," he said.

Honduras

Honduras on Thursday agreed to purchase an additional 2.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from drugmaker Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech to ensure the country will have enough for all Hondurans over 12 years old this year.

"It is with great satisfaction that I can tell you that we just signed an extension of the vaccine purchase contract with Pfizer-BioNTech for another 2.7 million doses," Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said on Twitter.

The new agreement is in addition to the 4.4 million doses Honduras started receiving last month, he said.

"With the extension of the contract with Pfizer … we have made sure that in 2021 there will be enough doses to protect every Honduran over 12 years of age, as was my promise."

A medical worker takes a swab sample from a man for a COVID-19 test in Tiflet, Morocco, on Aug 3, 2021. (CHADI / XINHUA)

Morocco

The total number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Morocco reached 14,068,939, the Moroccan Ministry of Health said on Thursday.

So far, a total of 18,022,176 first doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Morocco, said the ministry in a statement.

Morocco's tally of COVID-19 infections rose to 836,494 as 7,357 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, while the total recoveries increased by 9,522 to 757,268, according to the statement .

The death toll from the coronavirus in Morocco rose by 97 to 12,176, it added.

Russia

Russia on Friday reported 798 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours as well as 19,509 new cases, including 1,509 in Moscow.

Official case numbers have been gradually falling since a surge of infections that was blamed on the contagious Delta variant peaked in July.

Slovenia

Students and teachers who have not been inoculated against COVID-19 or recovered from the disease will have to take weekly tests, the Slovenian government said on Thursday as infections in the country rose to their highest since May.

The government, which earlier this week stopped providing free rapid tests to encourage more people to get vaccinated, said it would cover the costs of testing students.

It also said the same conditions – having recovered from the illness or been vaccinated or tested negative, would apply to anyone over 15 taking part in indoor sports and recreational activities, just as it had earlier ruled for public performers.

Some local media reported that education authorities have issued instructions that teachers who do not comply with the required conditions should be fired but Reuters could not confirm the reports.

Slovenia on Thursday reported 509 new cases of COVID-19, with a positive test rate of 17.3 percent. The National Institute of Public Health said that the seven-day average of confirmed cases was 363 and the 14-day incidence per 100,000 population was 199.

The Alpine country of just over 2 million people has fully vaccinated nearly a half of its population.

ALSO READ: US FDA grants full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine

People queue to receive a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination center set up in a bus parked outside Premier League club Newcastle United's St James's Park soccer stadium in Newcastle, northeast England, on Aug 15, 2021. (LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP)

UK

Scotland reported a record number of daily coronavirus infections after restrictions were lifted and schools reopened. 

There were 6,835 cases in the past 24 hours, more than at any time since the pandemic began and twice the number a week ago. That also was a reflection of a record number of tests carried out, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at a briefing on Friday. One third of new cases in Scotland are among those people who are vaccinated, she said.

The numbers don’t bode well for the rest of the UK as the bulk of school pupils in England prepare to return early next month. Most restrictions on social distancing, mass gatherings including concerts and soccer matches and pubs and restaurants have been lifted across the UK.

The administration in Edinburgh is monitoring the potential pressure on the health service as it tries to catch up with a backlog of treatment. Sturgeon said vaccinations had shown they offered enough protection to avoid serious illness in most cases, though there were 479 people in the hospital with COVID compared with 312 a week ago. 

Sturgeon urged people to stay vigilant, meet outdoors and continue to minimize physical contact where possible. She said, though, there were no plans for a circuit-breaker lockdown.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 patients face a much higher risk of developing blood clots than those vaccinated with AstraZeneca Plc or Pfizer Inc’s shots, according to a large UK study. 

For every 10 million people who receive the first dose of AstraZeneca, about 66 more will suffer from a blood-clotting syndrome than during normal circumstances, according to the study published in the British Medical Journal. 

This figure compares with 12,614 more incidences recorded in 10 million people who have tested positive for COVID-19. 

The study followed 29 million people who received their first doses of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine between December and April, and also tracked about 1.7 million COVID-19 patients. 

Another 38,281 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 6,628,709, according to official figures released Thursday.

The country also reported another 140 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 132,143.

Medics transfer a patient on a stretcher from an ambulance outside of Emergency at Coral Gables Hospital where Coronavirus patients are treated in Coral Gables near Miami, on Aug 16, 2021. (CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP)

United States

The number of coronavirus patients in US hospitals breached 100,000 on Thursday, the highest level in eight months, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as a resurgence of COVID-19 spurred by the highly contagious Delta variant strains the nation's health care system.

US COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past month. Over the past week, more than 500 people with COVID were admitted to hospitals each hour on average, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As the vaccination campaign rapidly expanded in early 2021, hospitalizations fell and hit a 2021 low of 13,843 on June 28.

However, COVID-19 admissions rose suddenly in July as the Delta variant became the dominant strain. The US South is the epicenter of the latest outbreak but hospitalizations are rising nationwide.

Florida has the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients, followed by Texas and California, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. More than 95 percent of intensive care beds are currently occupied in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

The Delta variant, which is rapidly spreading among mostly the unvaccinated US population, has also sent a record number of children to hospital. There are currently over 2,000 confirmed and suspected pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to HHS.

Three states – California, Florida and Texas – amount to about 32 percent of the total confirmed and suspected pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States.

Children currently make up about 2.3 percent of the nation's COVID-19 hospitalizations. Kids under 12 are not eligible to receive the vaccine.

This photograph taken on March 5, 2021 shows the flag of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

WHO

A senior World Health Organization (WHO) official has said that misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines has become another risk factor that is "really allowing the virus to thrive."

Speaking during a live Q&A on COVID-19 on Tuesday, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, said that misinformation is keeping people from getting the shots, driving an increase in cases around the world.

"In the last four weeks or so, the amount of misinformation that is out there seems to be getting worse, and I think that's really confusing for the general public," she said.

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

The Zimbabwean government will not force students to be vaccinated against COVID-19, after its announcement that those aged between 14 and 17 are now eligible for vaccination.

Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told the Senate on Thursday that reports on social media alleging mandatory vaccination for pupils before they can resume classes next week are false.

"With the advent of social media, there is a lot of fake news. That is why we have Cabinet briefings timely for people to validate. There is no government policy to have children vaccinated before going to school," the minister said.

Mutsvangwa announced Wednesday that the COVID-19 vaccination is now open for 14 to 17 year age groups.

Until now, the vaccination program has been open to people aged 18 years and above