Moderna to supply up to 500 million vaccine doses to COVAX

In this March 5, 2021 photo, doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in boxes at a McLeod Health mass vaccination site inside the Darlington Raceway in Darlington, South Carolina, US. (MICAH GREEN / Bloomberg)

LONDON / NEW YORK / PARIS / CAIRO – Moderna Inc agreed to provide as many as 500 million doses of its COVID-19 shot to the program known as COVAX in a boost for the global vaccination effort, but only a small fraction of the shipments are due to arrive this year.

The US drugmaker is joining developers including AstraZeneca Plc, Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson in supplying COVAX, which has faced setbacks in its bid to help lower-income nations. The vaccine last week was cleared for emergency use by the World Health Organization, making it eligible for COVAX.

COVAX has encountered funding challenges, delivery delays and other hurdles in a high-stakes campaign to narrow the vaccine-access gap. As India confronts a devastating resurgence of the illness, concerns are rising for many countries around the world that have been left behind their wealthier counterparts.

Rich countries last year snapped up vaccine supplies from Moderna and others, and the US alone has already administered more than 240 million doses. COVAX meanwhile has shipped about 50 million to more than 120 countries and territories, based on data through late April.

Novavax

Novavax has told the European Union it plans to begin delivering its COVID-19 vaccine to the bloc towards the end of this year, new guidance that could lead to a formal contract being signed as early as this week, an EU official told Reuters.

A deal would see Novavax supply a total of up to 200 million doses of the vaccine, providing the EU with booster shots to help contain the coronavirus and potentially guard against new variants, according to the official, who has direct knowledge of the discussions.

Novavax reached a preliminary deal with the bloc in December, but a final agreement has been delayed because the U.S. company has struggled to source some raw materials, Reuters reported in March.

The EU official, who declined to be identified because the matter is confidential, said Novavax still had production problems, but what had changed is that “now they have a delivery schedule”. 

EU

The European Union’s executive recommended on Monday that foreign citizens fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and those coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation be allowed to travel into the bloc without additional restrictions. 

The 27-nation bloc currently allows citizens of seven countries to come on holidays or for other non-essential reasons and the European Commission’s proposal would expand that list.

“The (European) Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine,” the executive arm said in a statement.

“This could be extended to vaccines having completed the WHO emergency use listing process. In addition, the Commission proposes to raise… the threshold related to the number of new COVID-19 cases used to determine a list of countries from which all travel should be permitted,” it also said, adding that should lead to the expansion of the list.

UK

Britain is on course to ditch the COVID-19 social distancing rule requiring people to stay at least one metre apart towards the end of next month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.

Johnson's government has set out a roadmap to end lockdown restrictions in stages as widespread vaccinations help to suppress infections.

June 21 has been set as a date when social distancing could end.

Asked about that possibility during a campaign visit in northern England, Johnson said: "I think we've got a good chance, a good chance, of being able to dispense with one-metre plus."

The one-metre plus rule means people need to stay at least that distance apart and take other mitigating measures to prevent the spread of infections. It has been heavily criticised by the hospitality industry.

The next stage of the government's unlocking plans is May 17, when restrictions on foreign travel are expected to be eased, but not lifted.

Daily lateral flow tests could be used as a way to prevent home-isolation for those who have been in contact with someone tested positive for coronavirus, British media reported Sunday.

Currently, these people are required to quarantine at home for 10 days but the measure could be scrapped if a trial in England, which gives daily lateral flow tests to as many as 40,000 people, is successful, Sky News reported.

The UK has now given a second vaccine to 15.3 million people, more than a quarter of the adult population. Almost 35 million people, over half the entire population have received a first shot.

Another 1,671 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,420,201, according to official figures released Sunday.

The country also reported another 14 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 127,538. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

A couple walk along the embankment opposite the Houses of Parliament in central London on April 30, 2021. (TOLGA AKMEN / AFP)

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US

Talks starting this week between the US and World Trade Organization over expanding access to vaccines will focus on how to get them “widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared,” according to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. “We’re going to have more to say about that in the days to come,” he said.

Trade Representative Katherine Tai is leading the US side, Klein said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Intellectual property rights is part of the problem, but really, manufacturing is the biggest problem,” he added.

India, South Africa and other countries are seeking a WTO waiver to more ease intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. administration is reluctant to let countries force drug makers to turn over proprietary know-how.

The United States has administered 245,591,469 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Sunday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Sunday. 

A total of 243,463,471 vaccine doses had been administered by May 1, the CDC said.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica's internationally renowned green escapes are likely to suffer through a second year of costly tourist hesitancy as the spread of the pandemic intensifies in the Central American nation, further battering the key travel sector.

Amid an April surge of COVID-19 infections, hospital beds are scarce in the tropical country. Its infection rate last week surpassed even tragedy-struck India and Brazil, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Given the lack of widespread testing, the real figures could be even worse.

Costa Rica's hoteliers and other travel businesses expected increasingly vaccinated travelers from top markets in North American and Europe to inject an infusion of cash for the industry after record-low visits last year, but that does not seem likely anymore.

Germany

Stable new COVID-19 infection numbers in Germany are fuelling hopes that intensive care units won't be overburdened, the head of the German hospital federation (DKG) told the mass tabloid newspaper Bild. 

"The majority of hospitals in Germany are feeling a first, slight easing," DKG President Gerald Gass was quoted as saying. "We are looking at about two weeks of relatively constant numbers in terms of new infections, which gives us confidence that we don't have to be concerned about an exponential rise in patients in need of intensive care." 

Bild said that 5,019 coronavirus patients were currently being treated in intensive care units around Germany, down from a peak of 5,106 hit on April 26 amid the country's third wave of the pandemic.

France

France reported 113 new coronavirus deaths in hospitals on Sunday, down from 195 on Saturday, and the lowest since October, health ministry data showed, on the eve of an easing of the country's lockdown restrictions. 

The number of people in intensive care rose by 4 over 24 hours, to 5,585, halting five consecutive days of decline. There were also 9,888 new confirmed virus infections, taking the total to 5.65 million – the world's fourth highest.

France's death toll since the start of the epidemic stands at 104,819, the eighth highest tally globally.

Greece

People across Greece celebrated the Christian Orthodox Easter on Sunday under a COVID-19 lockdown for a second year in a row, gathering with family and friends in small groups and expressing hope for the post-pandemic era.

Traditionally, Easter is an opportunity for many people to leave the urban centers to celebrate in the countryside.

As the country is still in its second lockdown since last November and travel outside of prefectures is still forbidden, Greeks either roasted lamb on a pit along small streets or in their backyard.

Italy

Italy reported 144 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday against 226 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 9,148 from 12,965. 

The average number of cases and deaths reported each day has fallen over the last few weeks, with infections at 35% of the peak reported in November. 

Italy has registered 121,177 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak started last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the seventh highest in the world. Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 18,345 on Sunday, down from 18,381 a day earlier.

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Russia

Russia reported 8,489 new coronavirus infections on Monday, including 2,635 in Moscow, bringing the total national tally of infections to 4,831,744. 

The Russian coronavirus crisis centre said 336 more deaths of coronavirus patients had been confirmed in the last 24 hours, taking the official death toll to 111,198.

Spain

A pharmacy worker who was selling fake negative COVID-19 test certificates so that people could travel to Morocco has been arrested, Spanish police said on Monday. The 24-year-old man, who was arrested in El Ejido, southern Spain, charged Moroccan people 130 euros (US$156) for each fake certificate which allowed them to fly home from Spain, according to the authorities. They said he had a second job running his own travel business and selling plane tickets.

Canada

Canada reported 7,145 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday, bringing the cumulative total to 1,234,181 cases, including 24,300 deaths, according to CTV.

Coronavirus variants now make up the majority of Canada's new COVID-19 cases, Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said on Sunday.

Argentina 

Argentina coronavirus cases hit 3 million on Sunday since the pandemic began, as medical workers said hospitals were full to capacity despite toughened government measures to bring down the spread of infections. 

The country's health ministry said there were 11,394 new cases over the last 24-hour period, bringing up the grim new milestone, with 156 new deaths taking fatalities to 64,252.

Brazil

Brazil registered 1,202 COVID-19 deaths on Sunday and 28,935 additional cases, according to data released by the nation's Health Ministry. The South American country has now registered 407,639 total coronavirus deaths and 14,754,910 total confirmed cases. 

New cases in Brazil have fallen since a late March peak, although they remain high by historical standards. Total COVID-19 deaths in the country are second only to those of the United States.

Rio de Janeiro suspended the administration of the second dose of Sinovac vaccine for 10 days because of shortages, O Globo reported citing the city hall. Vaccine stock in the city has run out, as in other municipalities in Rio de Janeiro state.

Cuba

Cuba once again surpassed a thousand daily cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), reporting 1,071 infections and 10 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Sunday.

With these new figures, the total cases have risen to 108,693 and deaths have risen to 664.

Havana remains the epicenter of the outbreak in the country, with an incidence rate of 446.9 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Cuba is currently battling a new wave of the virus and authorities have responded by reapplying preventive health measures and closing many public spaces along with placing restrictions on arriving international travelers.

In the capital, the ministry is preparing for a mass vaccination campaign in May with two Cuban vaccine candidates, Soberana-02 and Abdala.

Colombia 

Colombia registered 15,909 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, taking its nationwide tally to 2,893,655, the ministry of health and social protection said Sunday.

The country also reported 485 more deaths, raising the national death toll to 74,700, said the ministry.

According to the ministry, a total of 5,112,694 doses of vaccine have been applied in the South American country, and 1,700,471 people have received a second jab.

Chile

The Chilean Ministry of Health reported 6,122 new cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on Sunday, bringing the total to 1,210,920, and registered 104 more deaths, bringing the death toll to 26,561.

The ministry said in its daily report that 1,143,565 people have recovered from the disease so far, while 40,142 are in the active stage, with 3,318 people hospitalized in intensive care units and 2,831 of these patients on ventilators.

Chilean Minister of Health Enrique Paris said that COVID-19 infections in the country have decreased by 12 percent in the last 14 days.

Ecuador 

Ecuador registered 2,710 new cases and nine more deaths from the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), bringing the total number of cases to 387,299 and deaths to 13,579, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Sunday.

The ministry said there were also anther seven deaths that were likely caused by the disease, bringing the total to 5,161.

The province of Pichincha, where the capital Quito is located, continues to be the worst affected by the disease, with 136,436 cases and 2,782 deaths, most of them reported in Quito, and an incidence rate of 4,226 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Sunday reported 1,093 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 65 more deaths, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 2,347,780 and fatalities to 217,233. 

Separate government data published in March suggested the actual death toll may be at least 60 percent above the confirmed figure.

Tunisia

Tunisian Health Ministry on Sunday reported 1,009 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 311,743.

The death toll from the virus rose by 60 to 10,868 in Tunisia, the ministry said in a statement.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the North African country reached 2,789, including 521 in intensive care units, while the total number of recoveries reached 262,602, it added.

Kenya

Kenyans rushed to book the standard gauge railway train that shuttles between the capital Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa ahead of the resumption of the service on Monday after a one-month hiatus.

The government on Saturday lifted the restriction of movement in and out of Nairobi following a month of lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, thus, allowing resumption of the train service.

Citizens jammed the online booking train service, taking up space until May 7 a few hours after the restriction was lifted.

On Sunday, Kenya Railways announced in a statement that it will resume the passenger train service on Monday.

"The schedule remains unchanged with the intercounty train departing at 8 am, and the express train at 3 pm and night train at 10 pm," said the corporation, adding customers with unutilized tickets are allowed to book another day of travel.

Nigeria 

Nigeria will deny entry to passengers who have visited India, Brazil and Turkey in the last 14 days as part of measures to avoid a third viral wave, Lagos-based ThisDay Newspaper reported, citing a statement from Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government.

The new travel advisory takes effect on May 4, the federal government, the newspaper reported. The government has also introduced a precautionary fine of US$3,500 per passenger on any airline that ignores the new guideline.

South Africa

Pfizer Inc. will ship 4.5 million doses of its COVID -19 vaccines to South Africa by June helping the nation ramp up its inoculation drive.

The first 325,260 doses will arrive Sunday night, Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s health minister said in a statement. The government also expects Johnson & Johnson to release stock from the Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd.’s plant in the nation by the middle of May following a verification process with regulators, according to the statement. Aspen is making the J&J vaccines under license.

Ethiopia 

Ethiopia registered 322 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 258,384 as of Sunday evening, the country's Ministry of Health said.

Meanwhile, 17 new deaths from COVID-19 were reported during the same period, bringing the national death toll to 3,726, the ministry said.

The East African country reported 360 more recoveries, taking the national count of COVID-19 recoveries to 200,508.

According to the ministry, Ethiopia currently has some 54,148 active COVID-19 cases, of whom 883 are under severe health conditions.