WHO: Most African nations missed vaccine milestone

A minor receives a Sinovac jab from a healthcare worker in Pretoria, South Africa, Sept 10, 2021. (THEMBA HADEBE / AP)

PARIS / BRUSSELS / KINSHASA / RIO DE JANEIRO / MEXICO CITY / ZAGREB / ADDIS ABABA / ZURICH / LONDON / TBILISI / SARAJEVO / WARSAW / CHICAGO / KYIV / MOSCOW / SOFIA / VILNIUS – About 70 percent of African nations missed a target of vaccinating one out of every 10 people against COVID-19 by today, the World Health Organization said.

The delivery of shots needs to double in order for the continent to meet the next target of inoculating 40 percent of the population by year-end, Richard Mihigo, program area manager for immunization and vaccine development at the WHO’s Africa office, said on a conference call on Thursday. Half of the 52 African countries that have vaccination programs have inoculated less than 2 percent of their population, he said.

“While vaccine deliveries have increased almost 10-fold since June, we need the total number of vaccine deliveries received to date to more than double by the end of the year if we are to reach the next target,” Mihigo said.

US CDC

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged pregnant people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the benefits of vaccination outweigh any potential risks.

The agency had already recommended vaccination, but Wednesday it issued an “urgent health advisory” and cited low levels of immunization among pregnant populations. Only 31 percent of pregnant people have been vaccinated, with lower rates among Hispanic and Black people.

About 161 pregnant people have died from COVID-19 in the US, including 22 in August alone, the agency said. Pregnancy increases the risk of worse outcomes from COVID-19 , and the virus raises the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes like preterm birth and stillbirth.

Meanwhile, US health regulators' decision on whether to approve Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 could spill over into November if needed, the nation's top US infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, said on Wednesday.

The CDC said 214,043,376 people had received at least one dose while 185,537,265 people are fully vaccinated as of 6:00 am ET on Wednesday.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 233.2 million while the global death toll topped 4.77 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 8,295,563 as of Wednesday evening, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll rose to 210,648 while some 7,623,245 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease, the Africa CDC said.

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated 74 percent efficacy at preventing symptomatic disease, a figure that increased to 83.5 percent in people aged 65 and older, according to long-awaited results of the company's US clinical trial published on Wednesday.

Overall efficacy of 74 percent was lower than the interim 79 percent figure reported by the British drugmaker in March, a result AstraZeneca revised days later to 76 percent after a rare public rebuke from health officials that the figure was based on "outdated information."

The data looked at more than 26,000 volunteers in the United States, Chile and Peru, who received two doses of the vaccine spaced about a month apart. The results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

There were no cases of severe or critical symptomatic COVID-19 among the more than 17,600 participants who got the vaccine, compared with 8 such cases among the 8,500 volunteers who got the placebo. There were also two deaths in the placebo group but none among those who received the vaccine.

There were also no cases of a rare but serious blood clotting side effect called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia that has been linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University researchers.

Belgium

Participants at Belgium's Interministerial Health Conference agreed on Wednesday to offer a third COVID-19 booster vaccine to all people aged 65 and over before the end of 2021.

The agreement to offer a booster Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccination was confirmed by Christie Morreale, the Walloon minister of health.

The third dose will be given at least four months after the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, or the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine dose, and at least six months after the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The decision by Belgium's regional and federal health ministers aims to provide additional protection for people over 65, in particular those in nursing homes and with co-morbidities.

So far, 72.8 percent of Belgium’s population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to the Sciensano Public Health Institute.

The country has recorded 1,240,232 COVID-19 cases and 25,581 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Immunization of migrants began on Wednesday in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), with a group of 58 migrants receiving their first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

"I am very grateful that the relevant Bosnian health care institutions have recognized the importance of adding migrants to the list of vulnerable groups and enabled this immunization process," said Azra Ibrahimovic-Srebrenica, manager of the Temporary Reception Center for migrants in Usivak.

Ibrahimovic-Srebrenica told Xinhua that immunization is voluntary, but all of the approximately 450 migrants currently living in the camp will have the option of getting a jab.

In the country with an estimated population of 3.5 million, only 1.2 million vaccines have been administered so far, according to the public health authorities of the Republika Srpska and the Federation of BiH.

To date, BiH has reported 233,775 cases of COVID-19 and 10,574 deaths from the disease, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.  

Brazil

Brazil's Butantan biomedical institute is in talks to sell a locally manufactured COVID-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac to other countries in South America and Africa, as the federal government has not ordered more of the shots.

Butantan Director Dimas Covas said on Wednesday that the institute also has contracts to supply the vaccine directly to Brazilian states.

Butantan is currently producing the shot developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd in the Sao Paulo state using inputs imported from China, but it aims to complete a factory for 100 percent local production by early next year.

Earlier this month, Butantan completed its contract to deliver 100 million doses the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, to Brazil's Health Ministry, without another deal in place.

Brazil recorded 17,756 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 676 deaths from COVID-19, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

Brazil has registered more than 21 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 596,122, according to ministry data.

Bulgaria

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bulgaria reached 500,112 after 2,142 new infections were reported in the past 24 hours, official data showed Thursday.

The death toll rose by 87 to 20,812 while the total number of recoveries increased by 1,306 to 435,780, according to the country's COVID-19 information portal.

The data also showed that 9,014 doses of coronavirus vaccines were administered in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of shots administered to 2.53 million.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, only 22.7 percent of the adult population in Bulgaria have been fully vaccinated, ranking the last in the European Union (EU).  

Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on Wednesday received a batch of Chinese Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines offered by the Chinese government at the N'djili Airport in the capital city Kinshasa.

In a hand-over ceremony at the the N'djili Airport in the capital city Kinshasa, attended by Chinese Ambassador to the DRC Zhu Jing and several officials of the DRC, Health Minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani welcomed the donation, saying the vaccines will be used to inoculate the Congolese people across the country.

Mbungani took the opportunity to call on his people to get vaccinated to better fight against the virus, highlighting the reliability of the Sinovac vaccine produced in China.

Since the start of the pandemic in the DRC on March 10, 2020, the country has reported 56,862 confirmed cases, including 1,084 deaths.  

Egypt

Poland sent over 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Egypt, the Polish foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

"More than 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines are on their way from Warsaw to Cairo. The donation of vaccines to Egypt is an expression of solidarity with an important partner of Poland in North Africa," the ministry said on Twitter.

Poland has earlier sent surplus vaccine doses to countries such as Australia, Spain, Norway, Ukraine or Taiwan.

Around 60 percent of Poles are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Vaccine Tracker.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 1,218 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 344,322 as of Wednesday evening, the Ministry of Health said.

The ministry reported 46 more COVID-19-induced deaths and 468 new recoveries during the same period, bringing the totals to 5,534 and 310,707, respectively.

The East African country has so far administered 3,660,632 COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the ministry.

EU

The European Union will extend a mechanism to monitor and potentially limit the export of COVID-19 vaccines from the bloc until the end of 2021 from the current deadline of end-September, an EU official said on Wednesday.

The European Commission, the EU's executive, said earlier this week it would propose such an extension, but initially not all governments supported it because vaccination campaigns in the EU have been advancing quickly and there are no longer any shortages of shots like in the first half of the year.

Still, uncertainty about the need to secure booster shots as new variants of the coronavirus emerge convinced all governments to retain some control over exports, the official said.

The EU's drugs regulator will decide on Monday whether to approve Pfizer's booster vaccine, but it is unlikely to give precise guidance on who should receive it, according to an internal document and two officials.

If the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives its backing for the jab, the 27-member block would join the United States, Britain and Israel which have already received the green light to deploy boosters, even though there is no consensus among scientists that they are necessary.

READ MORE: Romania prepares for restrictions as virus surges in east Europe

France

Pupils will from Oct 4 no longer have to wear protective face masks in French primary schools in areas with a low COVID-19 infection rate, according to a government decree released on Thursday.

Paris and nearby suburbs are not among the 47 metropolitan departments, or administrative districts, where mandatory wearing of masks will be ended, health ministry data showed.

The move follows an improvement in the COVID-19 situation France since the government accelerated its vaccination campaign.

Areas where masks will cease to be mandatory in primary schools must have fewer than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 citizens for five consecutive days.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday France was planning to extend a state of emergency until next summer to deal with the epidemic.

This would mean that the government would keep the power to extend or reinstate restrictive measures such as lockdowns, limits on crowd movements and the health pass that currently is required until Nov 15.

Passengers board a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines plane to Amsterdam in Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, US, on Sept 27, 2021. (ANGUS MORDANT / BLOOMBERG)

G7

Transport and health ministers of the G7 countries are due to meet virtually on Thursday to discuss ways to restart international travel, according to people familiar with the matter. 

The meeting is being organized by the UK, which holds the presidency of the Group of Seven nations this year, said the people, who asked not to be identified ahead of any official statement. 

While the gathering is aimed at moving closer to a consensus on how to ease border restrictions, major decisions on travel have been made at the highest levels of most governments, for example at the White House, not the Transportation Department, in the US.

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While some countries, notably members of the European Union, have used so-called vaccine passports to successfully resume cross-border travel, others including the US have held back on implementing app-based technology over concerns ranging from politics to privacy or fairness between people who have and haven’t received the shots. Another sticking point has been whether to recognize vaccines in countries where they haven’t been approved.

Even as countries start to reopen borders, the easings have been piecemeal, frustrating airlines and travel companies hard-hit by the collapse in tourism brought on by the coronavirus. A high-level consensus by the G7 could provide a template for common rules across the globe and spur consumer confidence in international travel rules.

Rising vaccination levels have spurred some countries to start opening up. The UK is due to ease coronavirus testing requirements for fully vaccinated people arriving in England early next month.

The US announced Sept. 20 that it would soon allow entry of foreign air travelers starting in “early November,” ending a ban on most visitors from Europe that had stood since mid-2020. Details such as which vaccines would be recognized and the start date haven’t been announced.

Georgia

Georgia on Wednesday reported 1,929 new COVID-19 cases, taking its tallyto 611,269, according to the country's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

The death toll rose by 33 to 8,917.

As of Wednesday, the country had administered a total of 1,774,769 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the NCDC.  

Lithuania

Amid increased COVID-19 infection rates, the Lithuanian government on Wednesday decided to reimpose a mask mandate and issue recommendations on working from home for both private and public sectors.

People are required to wear masks indoors in public spaces, including shops, public transport, schools and event venues, except for children under the age of 6, people with disabilities who cannot cover their faces, and exercising individuals. Additionally, the mask mandate will not apply to service provision when it is impossible to serve a masked customer.

The government adopted the new rules due to the spread of the Delta variant. Last week, Lithuania moved into the worst "black" zone under the nation's color-based pandemic classification system.

So far, 67.7 percent of the population in Lithuania has been vaccinated against COVID-19, but the proportion is still insufficient to contain the virus.

On Wednesday, Lithuania reported 1,847 new infections — the highest daily record since early July, with 14 deaths in the past 24 hours.

Mexico

Mexico recorded 9,796 confirmed coronavirus cases and an additional 596 fatalities on Wednesday, according to Health Ministry data, bringing the total number of cases to 3,655,395 and the overall death toll to 276,972.

A healthcare worker inoculates a child with a dose of the CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine at the Providencia school in Santiago, Chile, Sept 27, 2021, as vaccinations began in schools for children between the ages 6 to 11. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

PAHO 

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday it was in advanced talks with vaccine makers to buy additional COVID-19 shots for its member states in the Americas to complement bilateral deals, donations, and doses they are receiving via the COVAX mechanism.

PAHO has reached an agreement with Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac, and is expecting to sign new accords soon to buy vaccines with emergency use listing approval from other suppliers for 2021 and 2022, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said.

"PAHO has helped COVAX deliver 50 million doses to our region, including nearly 14 million donated doses, and we have the capacity to quickly scale this support, so we urge countries not to delay their donations as lives hang in the balance today," said Etienne.

The agreement with Sinovac is to buy 8.5 million vaccine doses for 2021 and some 80 million doses next year, said Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of PAHO, the regional branch of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Over a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the Americas and 35 percent of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated, but stressed that coverage has not been uniform, said Etienne.

Canada, Chile, Uruguay, and Puerto Rico have fully vaccinated over 70 percent of their populations, while 10 countries and territories in the region have yet to vaccinate 20 percent of their populations and Haiti has inoculated less than 1 percent of its people.

Last week the Americas saw nearly 1.5 million new infections and more than 26,000 COVID-19 related deaths, more than any other global region, according to PAHO figures.

Russia

Russia reported 867 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours on Thursday, another new record amid a spike in infections.

The authorities reported 23,888 coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours, up from 22,430 on Wednesday.

Russians may soon be able to receive COVID-19 vaccines not registered in the country from clinics set up in a special economic zone, under a healthcare ministry proposal, Russian Kommersant daily reported.

According to the Kommersant report, the healthcare ministry has proposed allowing clinics set up in the Moscow International Medical Cluster to import vaccines made abroad, such as the Pfizer/BioNTech, or Moderna shots.

It was unclear whether and when the proposed regulations could be enacted.

The ministry had no immediate comment on the matter.

Slovenia

Slovenia on Wednesday temporarily suspended the application of Johnson & Johnson's Janssen COVID-19 vaccines after the death of a young woman, health minister Janez Poklukar was quoted as saying by the STA national news agency.

Johnson & Johnson was not available for an immediate comment.

"The patient had blood clots and bleeding in the brain at the same time, intensive care was not successful," Igor Rigler, a neurologist at the Ljubljana hospital center, told the STA.

Poklukar said he was not familiar with the details of the case. "I can't make comments, but the conditions have been met for clarifying all the circumstances of what happened," he said.

READ MORE: Pfizer submits data for virus vaccine use in younger kids

Switzerland

Switzerland has agreed to buy 150,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson that will arrive this week and be distributed to regional authorities next week, the government said on Wednesday.

Switzerland has relied so far on vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna using new mRNA technology but also considered standard vector jabs from Johnson & Johnson to help persuade more people to get immunized.

"People aged 12 and over are still recommended to be vaccinated primarily with an mRNA vaccine, as this offers a very high level of protection and is very safe," the Federal Office of Public Health said.

But it noted that health experts had recommend J&J's vaccine to all persons over 18 who cannot be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine for medical reasons or who reject the mRNA vaccine.

Switzerland and tiny neighbor Liechtenstein have recorded nearly 840,000 infections and almost 10,700 deaths from COVID-19 since the coronavirus pandemic began. Around 58 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Study on long-term COVID-19 symptoms

At least one long-term COVID-19 symptom was found in 37 percent of patients three to six months after they were infected by the virus, a large study from Oxford University and the National Institute for Health Research showed on Wednesday.

The most common symptoms included breathing problems, fatigue, pain and anxiety, Oxford University said, after investigating symptoms in over 270,000 people recovering from COVID-19.

The symptoms were more frequent among people who had been previously hospitalised with COVID-19 and were slightly more common among women, according to the study.

The study did not provide any detailed causes of long-COVID symptoms, their severity, or how long they could last.

It, however, said older people and men had more breathing difficulties and cognitive problems, whereas young people and women had more headaches, abdominal symptoms and anxiety or depression.

UK

Another 36,722 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 7,771,294, according to official figures released Wednesday.

The country also recorded another 150 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 136,525. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

Ukraine

The number of daily new coronavirus infections in Ukraine rose to almost 12,000 over the past 24 hours for the first time since April, health ministry data showed on Thursday.

Ukraine also reported 194 coronavirus-related deaths.

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

Ukraine lifted lockdown restrictions as cases dropped over the summer but last week imposed a nationwide "yellow" code, which curbs mass events and limits the occupancy rates of gyms, cinemas and other venues.

Ukraine, with a population of 41 million, has been among the European countries most affected by the pandemic, with around 2.42 million COVID-19 cases and 56,274 deaths since the start of the health crisis.