WHO calls for moratorium on COVID-19 booster doses

A handout photograph taken and released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on May 24, 2021, shows the Director General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivering a speech during the 74th World Health Assembly, at the WHO headquarters, in Geneva. (CHRISTOPHER BLACK / WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION / AFP)

WASHINGTON / BRUSSELS / BUENOS AIRES / LONDON / HAVANA / SANTIAGO / ADDIS ABABA / RABAT / SAO PAULO / GABORONE / MADRID / BERLIN / DUBLIN / MILAN / KYIV / MOSCOW / JUBA – The World Health Organization is calling for a moratorium on COVID-19 vaccine boosters until at least the end of September, its head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

The move was to enable that at least 10 percent of the population of every country was vaccinated, Tedros said.

"I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it," Tedros added.

The United States in July signed a deal with Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech to buy 200 million additional doses of their COVID-19 vaccines to help with pediatric vaccination as well as possible booster shots. read more

"We need instead to focus on those people who are most vulnerable, most at risk of severe disease and death, to get their first and second doses," Katherine O'Brien, director, immunization vaccines and biologicals at the WHO, told reporters.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 199.75 million while the global death toll topped 4.25 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

European Union

The European Commission has approved a supply contract with US firm Novavax to buy up to 200 million doses of its potential COVID-19 vaccine, the Commission said on Wednesday.

The move is part of the EU's strategy to diversify its vaccine portfolio after the bloc betted heavily for the coming years on messenger RNA (mRNA) shots produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

"Our new agreement with Novavax expands our vaccine portfolio to include one more protein-based vaccine, a platform showing promise in clinical trials," EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a statement.

Under the contract, EU states will be able to buy up to 100 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, with an option for 100 million additional doses until 2023, once the shot has been approved by the EU drugs regulator which is currently reviewing it, the Commission said.

Novavax reached a preliminary deal with the bloc in December, but a final agreement was delayed for months because the US company faced productions problems.

Novavax confirmed the deal in a statement and said it was working to complete the submission of vaccine data to the EU drugs regulator in the third quarter of this year, with delivery of initial doses expected to begin after approval.

ALSO READ: Delta's spread seen pushing herd immunity threshold above 80%

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 6,787,146 as of Tuesday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll rose to 172,007 while the total number of recoveries stood at 5,943,812, the Africa CDC said.A health worker takes oxygen cylinders to COVID-19 wards at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, Jan 30, 2021. (THOKO CHIKONDI / AP)

Latin America

Vaccination campaigns against the coronavirus in Latin America should prioritize vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and the homeless, who are at higher risk of dying from the virus, UNESCO said on Tuesday.

Health workers, educators, the elderly and people with pre-existing health risks were given priority in vaccine distribution in Latin America. But the region's gaping economic divisions also need to be considered, an official from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) told Reuters.

"This is the region hardest hit by COVID in the world. And it is a region with a lot of inequality," Guillermo Anllo, regional head for Latin America and the Caribbean of the agency's Scientific, Technological and Innovation Policy Program, said in a telephone interview from his office in Montevideo.

According to UNESCO projections, only a third of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean will have been immunized by the end of the year.

Study on kids with COVID-19

Most children who get COVID-19 recover within a week, according to a large UK study that may help soothe fears about whether kids who get sick will face the most protracted forms of the disease.

Some 4.4 percent of 1,734 children with symptomatic COVID-19 in the study experienced symptoms for longer than four weeks, most often fatigue, headaches and loss of smell, researchers said in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.

The research team followed 250,000 children in the UK, between five and 17 years old, between September of last year and Feb 22.

The analysis was done before the fast-spreading Delta variant had become dominant in the UK, though the research team said data pertaining to Delta in children has so far matched what was seen with earlier variants.

Brazil

Brazilian states and cities are preparing to suspend most limitations on businesses and gatherings as COVID-19 cases and deaths drop to the lowest in months while vaccinations pick up speed.

In Sao Paulo, many schools have reopened at full capacity for in-person classes this week, and the state will end restrictions on opening hours and capacity for most businesses starting Aug 17. Rio de Janeiro also has plans to ease rules as of Sept 2, including on the use of masks. The reopening will include a four-day celebration, Mayor Eduardo Paes said, adding that New Year’s festivities will be the largest in the city’s history.

Brazil’s health ministry on Tuesday reported 32,316 new cases and another 1,209 deaths, bringing the tally to 19,985,817 and the toll to 558,432.

While the virus is still killing almost 1,000 people a day, that’s down from a peak of more than 4,200. The moving average has fallen below 1,000 for the first time since January. Occupancy in hospitals has plummeted too, with intensive-care units across the nation about 60 percent to 65 percent full, down from more than 95 percent earlier this year.

The impact of the Delta variant in Brazil so far has been muted. The latest health ministry data show the country has identified some 250 cases of the variant, up from 170 a week ago. But the number likely doesn’t reflect the strain’s true toll as the country doesn’t test enough, said Gulnar Azevedo e Silva, the president of the Brazilian Association for Collective Health, known as Abrasco.

As of Monday, more than 143.6 million people in Brazil had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with over 42.1 million people fully vaccinated.

US

US President Joe Biden singled out Florida and Texas, where cases are surging, criticizing the pandemic response by the Republican governors in those states. The two states are responsible for about one-third of all new cases in the US in the past week, the administration said Monday.

“We need leadership from everyone,” Biden said at a briefing. “Some governors aren’t willing to do the right things to make this happen. I say to these governors, please, if you aren’t going to help, at least get out of the way for people who are doing the right thing.”

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Florida climbed to a record 11,863, even as Governor Ron DeSantis reaffirmed his stance against against new public-health mandates.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — which is available only through July 30 — shows Florida’s emergency department visits with confirmed COVID-19 continue to rise, but the pace of increases had begun to moderate.

The US state of Idaho is suffering a surge in COVID-19 infections among babies and toddlers, prompting an urgent call for unvaccinated adults to get jabs and “cocoon these kids

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has threatened to withhold funding to local school districts that have mask requirements, while Texas Governor Greg Abbott has banned vaccine mandates.

Elsewhere, Idaho is suffering a surge in COVID-19 infections among babies and toddlers, prompting an urgent call for unvaccinated adults to get jabs and “cocoon these kids”.

The current pace is 53 per 100,000 children from newborn to age 4, up from 16 per 100,000 two weeks ago, Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist at the Idaho Division of Public Health, said during an online briefing Tuesday, adding that the most likely cause was circulation of the Delta variant

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Tuesday warned the US was on a similar trajectory to a Delta variant outbreak like the one seen earlier this year in the United Kingdom.

"In order to make sure that by the time we get into the fall we don't continue to accelerate but turn around and start coming down acutely, we've got to get those 93 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated, who are not getting vaccinated," he said.

With the Delta variant surging, the Pentagon appears poised to do something it has not so far – mandate vaccinations to safeguard against COVID-19. Officials told Reuters a decision on next steps could come within days.

Meanwhile, New York City will require proof of vaccination for workers and customers at indoor restaurants, gyms and entertainment venues, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. 

UK

The UK recorded another 138 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest daily total since March 17, according to official figures released Tuesday.

The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 129,881. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

The country also reported another 21,691 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 5,923,820.

Teenagers in Britain aged 16 and 17 will be given the green light for COVID-19 vaccine within days before they head back to schools and colleges in September, The Sun reported.

UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is poised to give the nod as soon as the weekend, according to the report.

"Late teens are some of the most socially active members of society so if we can cut that transmission, it can only be a good thing," the report quoted a government official as saying.

A woman receives a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary inoculation center at the Tate Modern in central London on July 16, 2021. (TOLGA AKMEN / AFP)

Study on virus risk for double-vaccinated

Fully-vaccinated people have an around 50 percent to 60 percent reduced risk of infection from the Delta coronavirus variant, including those who are asymptomatic, a large English coronavirus prevalence study found on Wednesday.

Imperial College London researchers said people who reported receiving two vaccine doses were half as likely to test positive for COVID-19, adjusting for other factors such as age, whether or not the people tested had COVID-19 symptoms.

Focusing on those who had COVID-19 symptoms, effectiveness rose to around 59 percent, according to the study, which covered a period when the Delta variant completely displaced the previously dominant Alpha variant.

The estimates, which did not break down effectiveness by vaccine, are lower than those reported by Public Health England for Pfizer and AstraZeneca's shots. 

READ MORE: Tougher terms: Why the EU is paying more for new virus shots

Argentina

Argentina began to vaccinate adolescents in risk groups between the ages of 12 to 17 against COVID-19 on Tuesday.

The group of people includes those with diabetes, grade 2 obesity, chronic cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic respiratory disease and liver disease.

All vaccination centers in the province of Buenos Aires, the most populated in the country, began the immunization of this group on Tuesday with the Moderna vaccine, said Victoria Anadon, undersecretary for technical, administrative and legal affairs of the health ministry of Buenos Aires province.

As of Monday, Argentina has accumulated 4,947,030 COVID-19 cases and 106,045 deaths. 

The South American country has administered more than 32.69 million vaccines doses so far.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund said it’s reached agreement to produce 3 million doses of the second shot of its Sputnik V vaccine in Argentina this month, after a presidential adviser in the Latin American country criticized delays in deliveries.

Laboratorios Richmond SA will start making Sputnik vaccines available in Argentina starting this week with an initial batch of 150,000 doses, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is in charge of Sputnik’s international rollout, said by email on Tuesday.

Netherlands

Weekly COVID-19 cases in the Netherlands continue to fall with 21,005 infections reported on Tuesday, down from 37,343 in the previous week. 

The national health service said the country appears to have reached a peak in COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 541 new admissions reported in the past week, down by 23.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Tuesday reported 18,911 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 657 fatalities, bringing its total to 2,880,409 infections and 241,936 deaths.

Some 97 percent of the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in Mexico in the current wave of the pandemic are unvaccinated, Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo Lopez-Gatell said on Tuesday.

"The vaccine has a very, very important protective effect in reducing the most serious forms of the disease … where people need to be hospitalized," the official said.

So far, just over 48 million people have been inoculated with at least one dose of available vaccines against COVID-19 in the country, Lopez-Gatell noted.

The Mexican government aims to immunize everyone over 18 years old, or about 89.4 million people, with at least one shot by October.

Cuba

Cuba reported 9,629 new COVID-19 infections and 80 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the totals to 413,251 cases and 2,993 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health said on Tuesday.

Havana registered 1,698 cases in the last day, followed by the provinces of Ciego de Avila (1,434) and Cienfuegos (998). 

Chile

Chile recorded 616 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, the lowest daily tally since April 2020, Health Minister Enrique Paris said on Tuesday.

The total caseload now stands at  1,618,457. 

Another 24 deaths were also reported, taking the death toll to 35,640.

Paris said that the positivity rate in 11 regions of the country was lower or equal to 2 percent in the past day.

The official added that all 16 regions of the country had seen a decrease in cases in the last 14 days, while 15 had reported declines in the last seven days.

Morocco

Morocco reported on Tuesday 8,760 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally of infections in the North African country to 642,683.

The death toll rose by 64 to 9,949 while the number of recoveries went up by 5,466 to 574,918. 

A total of 14,314,037 people have received their one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine while 10,437,707 have gotten two shots.

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

Botswana

Botswanan President Mokgweetsi Masisi on Tuesday appealed to his US counterpart, Joe Biden, to assist the southern African country with COVID-19 vaccines.

Masisi made the appeal during a closed-door meeting with visiting US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland here in Botswana's capital city, press secretary of the presidency Batlhalefi Leagajang told reporters.

Masisi "expressed frustration at the slow pace of vaccine distribution which he said has resulted in the loss of many lives," said Leagajang, adding that the assistance could be by sales or donations.

Botswana has put many of her development projects on hold and channeled money towards the fight against COVID-19, including vaccine payments, Leagajang said.

Spain

Spain's COVID-19 contagion rate continues to fall, with the two-week rate dropping 19 points on Tuesday compared with the previous day.

The 14-day coronavirus contagion rate was 653.81 cases per 100,000 of population, according to health ministry data, compared to 673.52 cases on Monday.

The proportion of hospital beds used for coronavirus patients fell to 8.69 percent on Tuesday from 8.90 percent the day before.

However, slightly more intensive care beds are being used to treat patients, with the proportion rising to 20.40 percent on Tuesday from 20.02 percent on Monday, health ministry data showed.

So far, Spain has reported 4,523,310 confirmed cases and 81,773 deaths.

ALSO READ: WHO: COVID-19 cases top 60 million in Europe

Germany

Germany will immediately start donating all remaining deliveries of AstraZeneca Plc’s shot to COVAX, the international program that provides developing countries with vaccines, Health Minister Jens Spahn told RND in an interview.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 3,571 to 3,777,446, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. 

The reported death toll rose by 25 to 91,704, the tally showed.

Ireland

Five Roman Catholic bishops from Ireland’s 22 dioceses are set to defy COVID-19 restrictions after instructing local parishes to hold communion and confirmation services this month, drawing a sharp rebuke from the government, which have pleaded with them to wait until they consider further easing curbs later this month.

Ireland has been gradually unwinding its third and longest lockdown and will only consider easing measures beyond a recent reopening of indoor dining at the end of August over concerns about the more infectious COVID-19 Delta variant.

Regular religious services resumed for the first time this year in May. However, baptisms will only return, under one of Europe’s toughest lockdown regimes, from this week, with ministers wary about advising that communions and confirmations may proceed due to the large social gatherings that usually follow these Catholic ritual events, known as sacraments.

Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran said the ceremonies, which were postponed in March, would be “slimmed down” in a similar way to last year, with families told not to hang around in the church for photographs afterwards and urged to limit the numbers for any subsequent gatherings.

Prime Minister Micheál Martin has said he does not approve of any unilateral breaching of regulations, while Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said that any such breach could put people’s lives at risk.

Italy

Italy reported 27 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday against 23 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 4,845 from 3,190.

On Monday the ministry data from the Lazio region around Rome were incomplete due to a hacker attack on its system for booking COVID-19 vaccinations, the ministry said.

Italy has registered 128,115 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 4.36 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 2.196 on Tuesday, up from 2,070 a day earlier.

There were 26 new admissions to intensive care units, up from 25 on Monday. The total number of intensive care patients increased to 258 from a previous 249.

Ukraine

Ukraine has received 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Denmark, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday.

"We're grateful to our Denmark friends for their support in overcoming this global challenge," Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine has lagged behind other European countries in vaccinating its population of 41 million people. So far, 2.1 million Ukrainian citizens have received two jabs as of July 4.

Russia

Russia reported 22,589 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, including 2,502 in Moscow, taking the official tally since the pandemic began to 6,356,784.

The government coronavirus task force said 790 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 161,715.

A view of the V&A Waterfront, which usually attracts millions of visitors every year but is now sparsely populated, in Cape Town, South Africa, on April 28, 2021. (RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

South Africa

The epicenter of a third wave of coronavirus cases in South Africa that’s being driven by the highly infectious delta variant has shifted from the economic hub of Gauteng to Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province, where hospitals are at risk of being overwhelmed.

The Western Cape had more than 38,000 active COVID-19 cases by midday on Tuesday, while there were less than 24,000 in Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. Almost 3,700 virus patients are currently in hospitals in the coastal region, with 708 of them in intensive care.

The province has increased the number of beds dedicated to coronavirus patients, secured more ventilators and employed additional health-care staff, its Premier Alan Winde said on Tuesday. Three field hospitals have also been opened and an agreement with private hospitals to accommodate excess patients if capacity at state facilities ise reached, remains in place, he said.

“The health department indicates that the system is coping, while under pressure,” but there is always a concern that capacity will be inadequate when infections peak and that hasn’t yet happened, Winde said. “We continuously monitor our capacity, especially in our critical-care space.”

South Africa has confirmed more than 2.47 million COVID-19 infections across the nine provinces, and almost 73,000 of those who were diagnosed with the disease have died. Gauteng accounts for about 35 percent of the total cases and the Western Cape 16 percent.

South Sudan

South Sudan's health officials on Wednesday warned of surging COVID-19 infections at the community level and urged people to comply with containment measures like wearing of masks and social distancing.

Angelo Goup Thon, manager for the Emergency Operation Center, said the bulk of new cases have been in the capital, Juba.

Mary Denis, director of health education at the Health Ministry, said deaths related to COVID-19 have been recorded outside health centers in significant numbers.

Poland

New virus cases in Poland are rising by about 20 percent a week, putting them on track to exceed 1,000 in late August or early September, according to Health Minister Adam Niedzielski. 

At that point, the government would start with imposing new regional restrictions, he said.

Lithuania 

Lithuania started vaccinating people in high-risk groups with a third shot on Wednesday. Patients with blood illnesses were the first to receive the top-up dose.