Kremlin blames record virus deaths on slow vaccination rate

A man wearing a face mask walks in central Moscow on Sept 28, 2021, amid the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
(ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP)

Russia reported 895 new COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, the most recorded in a single day since the pandemic began, with the Kremlin blaming the slow pace of vaccinations and a more virulent virus.

Cases are rising after a third wave over the summer and officials are considering bringing back safety restrictions, although they say a Moscow lockdown is not being looked at. 

The coronavirus task force reported 25,110 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours. The record daily death toll is Russia's sixth in recent weeks.

"The numbers are really very bad, and this is indeed a cause for concern. The main reason is the insufficient level of vaccination," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

"The virus is getting more virulent… As a rule, those who have not been vaccinated are severely ill and unfortunately die," he told reporters on a conference call.

Russia has administered both shots of a coronavirus vaccine to 42.2 million people and needs to inoculate 35.9 million more to reach collective immunity, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said.

Meanwhile, Russia's Finance Minister Anton Siluanov is self-isolating, the head of the upper house of parliament said on Tuesday.

"We wish you to get well as soon as possible and get out the self-isolation regime," Valentina Matvienko told Siluanov who joined the budget hearings at the upper house of parliament via a video link.

Matvienko did not explicitly say that Siluanov was self-isolating due to COVID-19, days after President Vladimir Putin ended his two-week self-isolation after dozens of people in his entourage had fallen ill with the novel coronavirus.

Angola

Angola plans to vaccinate around 15 million adult citizens against COVID-19, President Joao Lourenco told reporters here Monday.

The African country expects to receive another batch of Sinopharm vaccines from China by the end of 2021 and more vaccination posts will be opened across the country, Lourenco said after a visit to the headquarters of the local multisectoral commission for the prevention and fight against COVID-19.

To date, Angola has registered 59,371 COVID-19 cases and 1,584 related deaths.

This photo shows a general view of the offices of British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca PLC in Macclesfield, Cheshire on July 21, 2020. (PAUL ELLIS / AFP)

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca has requested emergency use authorization from US regulators for its new treatment to prevent COVID-19 for people who respond poorly to vaccines because of a weakened immune system.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said it included data in its filing with the Food and Drug Administration from a late-stage trial that showed the drug reduced the risk of people developing any COVID-19 symptoms by 77 percent.

The antibody therapy called AZD7442 could protect people who do not have a strong enough immune response to COVID-19 vaccines or to supplement a vaccination course for those, such as military personnel, who need to booster their protection further, AstraZeneca has said.

While vaccines rely on an intact immune system to develop targeted antibodies and infection-fighting cells, AZD7442 contains lab-made antibodies designed to linger in the body for months to contain the virus in case of an infection.

A US authorization for AZD7442 – based on two antibodies discovered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the United States – could be a major win for AstraZeneca, whose widely used COVID-19 vaccine has yet to be approved by U.S. authorities.

Talks regarding supply agreements for AZD7442 are ongoing with the United States and other governments, AstraZeneca said.

In this photo dated May 20, 2020, a pharmacy technician holds a bottle and a pill of hydroxychloroquine at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, United States. (GEORGE FREY / AFP)

Brazil

Brazilian healthcare company Hapvida Participacoes said in a securities filing late on Sunday it has prescribed hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients.

Hapvida admitted prescribing hydroxychloroquine in the early days of the health crisis when it still believed it could benefit patients. But it said those prescriptions never corresponded to the "majority" of drugs it prescribed.

The company added it is no longer prescribing the drug.

Local media have reported doctors in the northeastern state of Ceara alleging the company forced the prescription of ineffective drugs for COVID-19 patients such as hydroxychloroquine.

A Brazilian congressional investigation has been probing Prevent Senior, a privately owned health insurance company, for allegedly prescribing ineffective drugs and delaying ICU admissions during the pandemic.

Hapvida said it has opened 1,000 ICU beds, hired 6,000 health professionals and expanded its hospital network during the pandemic.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 562 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 349,231 as of Monday evening, the health ministry said.

A total of 43 new COVID-19-related deaths and 1,903 more recoveries during the same period were reported, bringing the national death toll to 5,765 and total recoveries to 317,074.

This file photo dated April 20, 2021 shows an exterior view of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (PETER DEJONG / FILE / AP)

European Medicines Agency (EMA)

The European Union's (EU) medicines agency on Monday approved booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for all people aged 18 and over.

The Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a statement that data for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine had shown a rise in antibody levels when a booster shot is given approximately 6 months after the second dose in people aged 18 to 55.

It recommended that the booster doses "may be considered at least 6 months after the second dose for people aged 18 years and older."

Meanwhile, the EMA also recommended an extra dose of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for those with severely weakened immune systems.

The EMA said that it had given the green light after studies showed that an extra dose of these vaccines increases the ability of organ transplant patients with severely weakened immune systems to produce antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19.

Georgia

Georgia on Monday reported 867 new COVID-19 cases, taking its total to 618,620, according to the country's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

Data from the NCDC showed that 30 people died in the last 24 hours, raising the death toll to 9,068.

A picture shows the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) logo on the front of the new production building in Montrose, Scotland on Oct 22, 2018. (ANDY BUCHANAN / POOL / AFP)

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

London-based drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline Plc said on Monday it signed a deal to supply 10,000 doses of its COVID-19 monoclonal antibody therapy to the Canadian government.

"With the emergence of variants of concern across the country, in particular the Delta variant, new therapies like sotrovimab are important to treating the disease in its early stages," said Ranya El Masri, head of government affairs and market access for GSK Canada.

The drug, sotrovimab, developed in partnership with Vir Biotechnology Inc, was approved by Canada in July to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 patients, above 12 years of age, who are at high risk for progressing to hospitalization or death.

The deal allows Canada's provincial and territorial healthcare systems to gain access to sotrovimab from this month and provides an option to the Canadian government to purchase additional doses next year based on its needs, GSK said.

Sotrovimab has also been approved for treating COVID-19 in the United States, Japan and the European Union, among others.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 235.89 million while the global death toll topped 4.80 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

A customer wearing a face mask is checked at the entrance of a pub before getting indoor services in Dublin, Ireland, on July 26, 2021. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Ireland

Ireland's daily count of COVID-19 cases stood at 892 on Monday, falling below 1,000 for the first time since mid-July, according to the Irish Department of Health.

Daily cases in the country had remained above 1,000 for 79 consecutive days since it jumped to 1,170 on July 17.

Over the last few weeks, Ireland also saw a continuous drop in weekly cases after a peak in late August, according to the World Health Organization.

In the week ending Aug 23, Ireland recorded 12,640 cases, higher than the peak weekly figures in the first and second wave of the pandemic in the country but lower than that in the third one.

The previous three waves in Ireland peaked in mid-April and mid-October in 2020 and early January in 2021 respectively, and the current wave, which has seen much fewer deaths thanks to the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines starting around early July.

More than 90 percent of people aged 16 or above in Ireland have been fully vaccinated, official data showed.

Most of the current COVID-19 restrictions in the country, including requirement for physical distancing, mask wearing outdoors and in indoor private settings, will be removed on Oct. 22, according to a plan previously announced by the Irish government.

This file photo dated March 6, 2021 shows vials of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Denver, the United States. (DAVID SALUBOWSKI / AP)

Johnson & Johnson 

Johnson and Johnson asked the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize the second dose of its COVID-19 vaccine for adults as a booster after a study showed it provided strong protection against infection.

The submission includes results from a late-stage clinical trial that found a second dose of its one-shot vaccine given 56 days after the first dose provided 94 percent protection against moderate to severe disease, the company said in a statement on Tuesday. 

Last week, the FDA said it had scheduled a meeting of its outside scientific advisers to discuss potential boosters for the J&J and Moderna Inc vaccines on Oct 14-15.

If authorized, J&J’s booster could give millions more Americans additional protection against the coronavirus. On Sept 24, some recipients of the Pfizer Inc-BioNTech SE vaccine became eligible for a supplemental dose, including those 65 and up. 

Norway

Norway will soon begin to offer a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines to those aged 65 and older, Health Minister Bent Hoeie said on Tuesday.

Beginning in late October or early November, the vaccine will be offered to those who received their second dose at least six months earlier.

More than 90 percent of all Norwegians aged 18 and above have now received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and some 85 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, says the Institute of Public Health.

In this file photo taken on March 4, 2021, vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 are seen as elderly people are inoculated amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, at the Belisario Porras school San Francisco neighbourhood in Panama City. (LUIS ACOSTA / AFP)

Pfizer/BioNTech

The effectiveness of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE vaccine in preventing infection by the coronavirus dropped to 47 percent from 88 percent six months after the second dose, according to data published on Monday that US health agencies considered when deciding on the need for booster shots.

The data, which was published in the Lancet medical journal, had been previously released in August ahead of peer review.

The analysis showed that the vaccine's effectiveness in preventing hospitalization and death remained high at 90 percent for at least six months, even against the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

The data suggests that the drop is due to waning efficacy, rather than more contagious variants, researchers said.

Researchers from Pfizer and Kaiser Permanente studied electronic health records of roughly 3.4 million people who were members of Kaiser Permanente Southern California between December 2020 – when the vaccine first became available – and August of 2021.

"Our variant-specific analysis clearly shows that the (Pfizer/BioNTech) vaccine is effective against all current variants of concern, including Delta," said Luis Jodar, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Pfizer vaccines.

A potential limitation of the study was a lack of data on adherence to masking guidelines and occupations in the study population, which could have affected frequency of testing and likelihood of exposure to the virus.

Vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant was 93 percent after the first month, declining to 53 percent after four months. Against other coronavirus variants, efficacy declined to 67 percent from 97 percent.

"To us, that suggests Delta is not an escape variant that is completely evading vaccine protection," said study leader Sara Tartof with Kaiser Permanente Southern California's Department of Research & Evaluation.

"If it was, we would probably not have seen high protection after vaccination, because vaccination would not be working in that case. It would start low, and stay low."

Testing for variants is more likely to fail in vaccinated individuals, which could lead to overestimation of variant-specific effectiveness in the study, the authors cautioned.

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for older adults and some Americans at high-risk of getting infected. Scientists have called for more data on whether boosters should be recommended for all.

Portugal

Portugal will give a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine to people aged 65 and older from next week, starting with the most vulnerable groups, such as care home residents and those over 80 years old.

The southern European nation, which has the world's highest vaccination rate with 85 percent of its total population fully jabbed, started last month to give an extra COVID-19 shot to those aged over 16 with weakened immune systems.

It is now extending it to everyone aged 65 and older starting Oct 11, the health secretary of state, Antonio Sales, said late on Monday.

He said the booster could only be administered six months after people received their second dose.

ALSO READ: France doubles vaccine pledge to 120m

UK

Another 35,077 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 7,934,936, according to official figures released Monday.

An elderly man walks past a social placard advising to wear a face mask as a measure against the coronavirus disease in the center of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on April 28, 2021. (SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP)

Ukraine

The number of daily coronavirus-related deaths in Ukraine topped 300 for the first time since mid-May, health ministry data showed on Tuesday.

The ministry reported 317 deaths over the past 24 hours and 9,846 new infections.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has been growing for several weeks and the government has tightened lockdown restrictions.

Last week, the daily tally of infections jumped to almost 12,000, the highest number since April.

Ukraine, with a population of 41 million, has recorded around 2.47 million COVID-19 cases and 57,205 deaths. Only 5.82 million people have been fully vaccinated, according to health ministry figures.

United Nations

A United Nations official on Monday stressed the need for open access to scientific information, basic science research and innovation on COVID-19 to help reduce the spread of the disease in Africa.

Hubert Gijzen, regional director for eastern Africa at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that all resources developed on COVID-19 should be made available in a transparent manner.

"The open access to scientific information will empower journalists and the public with fact-checking tools on COVID-19," Gijzen said during the launch of COVID-19 health information portal for media practitioners in Kenya's capital Nairobi.

Gijzen said that there was a need for information that is verified, relevant and reliable, but also in languages and formats that are easily understood.

He said the platform should help tackle misinformation and disinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic online and offline through equipping media practitioners with safety and security mechanisms and fact-checking skills and competencies.

Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Health, said the pandemic demanded effective and well-coordinated public communication to enhance public response and elicit cooperation.

Kagwe noted the pandemic fight has been hampered by diffusion, misinformation and conspiracy theories revolving around its preventive measures.

He said that correct and timely information needs to get to all segments of society in terms of the preventive measures and the roles and responsibilities of different players in curbing the spread of the virus

A Northwell Health employee (left) volunteers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination by the company's director of employee health services at Long Island Jewish Medical Center during a press conference in Queens, New York on Dec 14, 2020. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

United States

Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for a disproportionate number of the half million excess deaths last year, according to a new US study that examines mortality both directly and indirectly related to COVID-19.

Researchers compared the number of people who died from March to December 2020 with the number of deaths that had been projected to occur before the pandemic. 

They found 477,200 excess deaths, with more than twice as many occurring among Blacks, Latinos, American Indians and Alaskan Natives compared with Whites and Asians of similar age. About 74 percent of the excess deaths were attributed to COVID-19.

The study, which was published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is the first of its kind to look at excess deaths by taking into account the annual growth of the US population by age, race and ethnicity. 

It adds to a growing body of research about the unequal burden of the pandemic through a race and ethnicity lens.

“Black, Latino and Indigenous populations historically have lived in lower-income communities with poorer access to care and education than wealthier white communities,” said Harrison Lobdell, an emergency room physician in Austin, Texas, and co-founder of the Wellness and Equity Alliance, who was not involved in the study.  “When a second hit, such as COVID-19, comes along, the effects of these health inequities are magnified, and result is the excess deaths amongst these populations.”

Lack of access to testing and a higher chance of being exposed to COVID-19 at work contributed to higher infection rates among minorities, according to Thomas LaVeist, dean of the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. 

Multigenerational households are also more common in minority families, meaning less room for physical distance, said LaVeist, who wasn’t involved in the study.

The study was conducted by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. 

The researchers relied on death certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and population projections from the US Census Bureau.

They found the discrepancy in excess deaths was even wider for conditions not related to COVID-19. Excess mortality for Black, American Indian and Alaskan Native men and women was three to four times higher from conditions not related to COVID-19 compared with Whites.

These disparities were particularly pronounced among people ages 75 and older, in whom non-Covid deaths were 9 times higher for Black men compared to White men. 

While disparities in health-care access and outcomes are well-known to researchers, most public attention has been focused on COVID-19 specifically, said Steven Cohen, a social epidemiologist at the University of Rhode Island who wasn’t involved in the study.There’s been less discussion about how to reduce the gaps in other diseases that affect racial and ethnic minorities more often.

In another development, New York State's largest healthcare provider, Northwell Health, has fired 1,400 employees who refused to get COVID-19 vaccinations, according to a spokesman, Joe Kemp.

As with other healthcare companies that have recently terminated workers for not complying with vaccine mandates, the fired employees represent a small percentage of Northwell's workforce of more than 76,000, all of whom are now inoculated.

New York's vaccination mandate for healthcare workers went into effect last week. Several other states, including California, have imposed similar measures.

Officials have credited the requirements with increasing the rate of vaccination, though a small number of employees have decided they would rather lose their jobs than get shots.

Northwell announced its vaccine mandate in August, weeks before the state requirement. The company's mandate extended to both clinical and non-clinical workers.

"Our goal was not to terminate employees," Kemp said. "Our goal was to get people vaccinated."

Kemp said the terminations will have no impact on patient care at Northwell's 23 hospitals and other facilities.

"Northwell regrets losing any employee under such circumstances," the company said in a statement. "We owe it to our staff, our patients and the communities we serve to be 100 percent vaccinated against COVID-19."

A woman is administered a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine dose at the Gaube comprehensive primary health care center in Kuje, Nigeria on Sept 1, 2021. (GBEMIGA OLAMIKAN / AP)

Vaccine intellectual property

A year after South Africa and India introduced a novel proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines and therapies at the World Trade Organization, negotiations are deadlocked and directionless, trade sources said on Monday after a meeting on the topic.

More than 100 countries backing the waiver say it will help save lives by allowing developing countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines. But a handful of countries, including some hosting major pharmaceutical firms such as Switzerland, remain opposed. 

Washington threw its weight behind the proposal in May, raising expectations of a breakthrough that has so far failed to materialize.

At a closed-door TRIPS Council meeting on the waiver on Monday, Norway's Dagfinn Sorli seemed frustrated and asked delegates: "Where do we go from here?," according to three trade sources who attended.

He urged delegates to come forward quickly with advice on next steps, the sources added. "I definitely need your advice," he told them.

ALSO READ: WTO vaccine talks: Chances of patent waiver seen as remote

The meeting was the penultimate scheduled session on the waiver ahead of a major ministerial conference in November-December which provides a rare opportunity for new trade deals, such as on intellectual property, to be finalized.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has identified solutions to vaccine inequity as a priority for the global trade body, which has been facing questions recently about its relevance.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said in a statement on Friday that the administration of US President Joe Biden should urge countries that remain opposed to the waiver to change their stance.

"This would pave the way for additional manufacturers to help increase the production and supply of these lifesaving medical tools and meet the global need," it said.

Opponents said in Monday's discussions that it was not yet clear that a waiver would help remove barriers to vaccine equity such as raw material scarcity and supply chain issues, according to the sources.