WHO urges nations to follow US, give vaccine doses to fill gap

Vials of BioNTech/Pfizer's vaccine are lined up at Allergopharma's production facilities in Reinbek near Hamburg, Germany, on April 30, 2021 for the official start of production of the vaccine. (CHRISTIAN CHARISIUS / DPA VIA AP)

WASHINGTON / LONDON / KINSHASA / BOGOTA / SANTIAGO / ADDIS ABABA / KAMPALA / DAKAR / MEXICO CITY / PARIS / BERLIN / WINDHOEK / ABUJA / BUENOS AIRES /TUNIS / HELSINKI / HAVANA / JOHANNESBURG / NICOSIA / MOSCOW – Wealthy countries need to give more COVID-19 vaccines and follow the United States in making doses available immediately to cover a 200 million dose gap caused by Indian supply disruptions and manufacturing delays, a WHO senior adviser said on Friday.

Warning of a “two-track recovery”, the World Health Organization is urging wealthy countries to donate their surplus doses to poorer countries instead of giving them to less vulnerable groups, such as children. They have so far donated 150 million doses via the COVAX sharing scheme.

However, Bruce Aylward said on Friday that only a small portion of those doses will be available in the short-term in June, July and August when they can make a difference in slowing the pace of infections in the global pandemic.

“We are going to need twice that much and it’s got to be brought forward,” he said, referring to the size of wealthy country donations so far as G7 health ministers meet in Oxford.

“We don’t have enough confirmed doses from enough countries early enough to get the world on track to get out of this…,” he said. “We are setting up for failure if we don’t get early doses.”

He praised a US plan announced on Thursday to quickly share 25 million doses and encouraged other wealthy countries to follow suit.

Aylward estimated that Indian vaccine export disruptions and delays in getting other vaccines online meant that the COVAX sharing scheme had a gap of around 200 million doses.

UK

The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England almost doubled in the last week of May and the estimated reproduction “R” number crept up as the “delta” variant became more widespread, raising worries about the country’s unlocking plans.

COVID-19 restrictions in England are due to end on June 21, but the swift spread of the delta variant first detected in India is now threatening to derail that timetable.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday he would be cautious in lifting restrictions but there was nothing in the current data to suggest a delay. Statistics published on Friday, however, looked to be moving in the wrong direction.

The Office for National Statistics said an estimated 1 in 640 people in England had COVID-19 in the week ending May 29, compared to 1 in 1,120 a week earlier, marking the highest proportion since the first half of April.

Britain’s health ministry estimated that the reproduction “R” number in England remained at over 1 for a second week and the epidemic could be growing by as much as 3 percent each day.

The estimated R number was between 1.0 and 1.2, meaning that on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 10 and 12 other people. Last week, it was estimated at between 1.0 and 1.1.

The ONS estimates – based on samples of the population – also suggested the UK variant of COVID was no longer the dominant strain in England and that the increase in cases was down to the Delta variant.

Britain reported another 5,274 COVID-19 cases in the past 24-hour period, the highest daily tally since late March, according to official data released Thursday.

The new cases took the overall caselaod to 4,499,878.

Another 18 coronavirus-related deaths were also reported, bringing the toll to 127,812. 

Germany 

Demand for COVID-19 vaccines in Germany will continue to outstrip supply for several more weeks as the country nears the milestone of administering a first shot to half the population, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.

“We are still moving forward at high speed, but I know that demand is still exceeding supply and it will remain the case for several weeks more,” Spahn said Friday in an interview with Inforadio. “But we are talking about weeks rather than months and that means we have good prospects for the rest of the summer.”

More than 50 million doses had been administered as of Thursday, with roughly a fifth of the population fully inoculated, according to health ministry data.

Spahn said that while Germany’s campaign is lagging Britain’s by three to four weeks, everyone at age 12 years and older should be able to get a first shot by the end of August.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 3,165 to 3,695,633, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday. The reported death toll rose by 86 to 89,026.

Incidence per 100,000 people over the past seven fell below 30 on Friday after climbing to almost 170 on April 26, figures from RKI show.

Global tally

The number of coronavirus cases recorded worldwide has reached 171.96 million while the global death toll topped 3.69 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Inoculations against COVID-19 reached 2 billion as the world races to control the pandemic.

Africa

Reports of increasing COVID-19 cases in many African countries pose a threat to the continent's already fragile public health systems, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Thursday.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the continent was on the verge of a new wave of coronavirus infections amid easing of containment measures, cold weather and stalled vaccination targeting high-risk groups.

"The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear. It is crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19," Moeti said in a statement.

According to WHO, Africa has recorded a 20 percent spike in COVID-19 positive cases in the last two weeks while eight countries have witnessed a 30 percent increase in their caseload in a week's period.

African countries have acquired around 53.5 million COVID-19 vaccines so far, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Thursday.

A total of 38.1 million COVID-19 doses have been administered while around 0.54 percent of the population have received a full vaccine regimen, according to the Africa CDC.

As of Thursday evening, Africa has reported 4,867,727 confirmed cases, 131,441 deaths and 4,404,608 recoveries, the Africa CDC said.

People wait to be vaccinated as a nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Cuban Abdala COVID-19 vaccine at the Gustavo Aldereguia hospital in Cienfuegos, Cuba, May 30, 2021. (ISMAEL FRANCISCO / AP)

Calls for vaccines for developing countries

The World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Thursday called on countries anticipating excess vaccine supplies in the coming months to release their surplus doses and options "as soon as possible" to developing countries.

"The coronavirus pandemic will not end until everyone has access to vaccines, including people in developing countries," World Bank Group President David Malpass and IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a joint statement to the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries.

"Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery," said Malpass and Georgieva.

They noted that together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Trade Organization (WTO), the World Bank Group and IMF have urged international support for US$50 billion of financing aimed at achieving more equitable access to vaccines and thus helping to end the pandemic everywhere.

Malpass and Georgieva also urged vaccine manufacturers to prioritize the scale up of vaccine production, providing increased access for developing countries, adding that their multilateral organizations will work actively to encourage and support greater access.

ALSO READ: WHO move boosts vaccine equity

Argentina

Argentina reported 32,291 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 3,884,447, the Ministry of Health said Thursday.

The ministry said 553 more deaths were logged, taking the death toll to 79,873.

A total of 3,438,437 patients have recovered from the virus while 366,137 cases were still active, said the ministry.

The South American country has administered over 13.2 million vaccine doses, and more than 2.9 million people have been fully inoculated, according to the ministry.

Brazil

Brazil registered 1,682 COVID-19 deaths on Thursday and 83,391 new cases, according to data released by the nation's health ministry.

The South American country has now registered 469,388 total coronavirus deaths and 16,803,472 total confirmed cases.

Chile

Chile's health ministry on Thursday said it would raise the minimum age of men approved to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to 45 from 18, and suspend administering second doses until authorities complete an investigation into a man who had a blood clot after his first shot.

The ministry said a 31-year-old man had developed thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) – a rare but serious condition involving blood clots with a low platelet count – seven days after his first AstraZeneca vaccine injection.

In another development, Chile will extend lockdown measures in 16 cities, including the capital Santiago, due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, Deputy Health Minister Paula Daza said on Thursday.

The announcement came as Alberto Dougnac, deputy minister of assistance networks, reported 8,150 new cases, bringing the caseload to 1,403,101

An additional 213 deaths were also reported, taking the toll to 29,598.

Chile has so far vaccinated 10,928,685 people, of whom 8,180,288 have received both shots.  

Colombia

Colombia on Thursday approved the reopening of most large events it had banned to contain the pandemic, even with intensive care units likely to be full until the end of June and more than 90,000 dead from COVID-19.

"Right now what we are proposing is a safe reopening with conditions that allow us to move gradually, as vaccination grows and as cities move past this third peak," Health Minister Fernando Ruiz said in a statement, adding a fourth peak is possible.

Cities with ICU occupancy rates above 85 percent will continue to see some restrictions, Ruiz said, but other areas will be allowed to bring back events like concerts and sports matches, with audiences capped at 25 percent capacity. All three of Colombia's biggest cities, the capital Bogota, Medellin and Cali have ICU occupancy rates above 96 eprcent.

A measure which required international travelers to present a negative PCR test to enter Colombia will be suspended and in-person classes for preschool through university will restart from July 15 after staff are vaccinated.

The decision came the same day the health ministry reported a total of 90,353 COVID-19 deaths. Thursday also saw a new daily death record of 545 and a new high of 28,624 daily reported infections.

Colombia has so far administered more than 10.6 million vaccine doses, including 3.3 million second doses.

Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is facing a third wave of coronavirus infections, with its epicenter in the capital, Kinshasa, one of Africa's most-populous cities, Health Minister Jean-Jacques Mbungani said on Thursday.

Like many other African countries, Congo has officially reported relatively few cases and deaths, but health authorities are concerned about a recent spike in infections that saw 243 new cases recorded on Wednesday, the highest daily figure since March.

A low vaccination rate and haphazard observance of recommended hygiene practices were among the reasons for the rising infection rate, Mbungani said.

On Wednesday, the WHO said it was concerned about the spread in Kinshasa of the Delta variant first identified in India, which is thought to be more transmissible. The week ended May 30 saw an exponential increase in the rate of infections in Kinshasa, the WHO said.

In total, Congo has reported over 31,900 infections and 786 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.

Cuba

Cuba registered on Thursday 1,052 new COVID-19 infection and eight more deaths in the last day, bringing the totals to 145,567 cases and 985 deaths, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Of the total number of cases reported in the day, 1,011 were from community transmission, according to the ministry's national director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran.

Havana, the epicenter of the pandemic, reported 421 more daily infections, with an incidence rate of 373.9 per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest in the country.

So far, more than 2.2 million people have received at least one vaccine dose.

Cyprus

Cyprus reopened checkpoints closed by the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday, easing movement between its estranged Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations, months after they were sealed shut.

Nine checkpoints along a 180-kilometer ceasefire line splitting the east Mediterranean island reopened to civilians. Pre-pandemic, the checkpoints were used by thousands every day.

Under new common rules, people crossing must display a negative PCR or antigen test valid for 7 days. Scientists from the two sides will review the situation every two weeks.

A woman wearing protective face mask,shows her PCR test to an officer at Ledra crossing point in Nicosia, capital of Cyprus, on June 4, 2021. (PETROS KARADJIAS / AP)

Denmark

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen got her first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Friday in Copenhagen. 

At 43, Frederiksen is the youngest prime minister in the Nordic country’s history and she had to wait more than 5 months into the country’s vaccine program, which prioritizes by age.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 249 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 272,285 as of Thursday evening, according to the Ministry of Health.

Seven additional deaths were logged, bringing the death toll to 4,185, the ministry said.

The East African country also saw 936 new recoveries, taking the national count to 243,378.

According to the ministry, Ethiopia currently has 24,720 active cases, 367 of which are considered severe.

Finland

The Finnish government on Thursday extended its COVID-19 travel restrictions on other Schengen area countries until June 27.

In a press release, the government explained that COVID-19 continued to spread and for now Finland does not "yet have adequate measures to replace the restrictions".

However, air travel to Finland for all work purposes will now be allowed from the Schengen area and from European Union (EU) member states. Students will be allowed to enter the country for purposes of training included in their studies, according to the press release.

The COVID-19 situation has improved noticeably in Finland over the past week. The spread of coronavirus has slowed down in many areas, but significant regional differences remain, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said in a press release.

To date, 45.7 percent of the country's population have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine dose and 9.9 percent have gotten both doses, according to THL.

France

France will allow vaccinated travelers from the European Union (EU) to enter without showing negative COVID-19 tests starting June 9, a move designed to ease travel before the traditional summer holiday season.

The relaxed rules unveiled Friday for one of the region’s top destinations will organize countries into three categories, with visitors from so-called “green” nations accepted with proof of vaccination. These include all EU members as well as seven others ranging from Australia and Japan to Singapore and South Korea.

The US, Canada, UK and most of the rest of the world are classified as “orange,” and vaccinated travelers still require negative PCR tests. Those who haven’t been inoculated can only enter for valid reasons and will need to self-isolate upon arrival for a week. So-called red-zone countries include Brazil, India and South Africa, for which severe restrictions will remain in place.

French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said Friday EU countries “have validated certificates” for vaccines that will be accepted as authentic and safe from fraud.

France's seven-day moving average of daily COVID-19 deaths fell below 100 for the first time since Oct 27, official figures showed on Thursday.

The number of people in intensive care decreased again by 77 to 2,677. 

Meanwhile, the toll increased by 70 to 109,828, while the overall caseload increased by 8,161 to 5.69 million.

Guatemala

Guatemala's President Alejandro Giammattei said on Thursday that the US will supply half a million COVID-19 doses to the Central American country.

"We were just told that the government of the United States will work with us and send half a million vaccines," Giammattei said in a recording shared by the government.

ALSO READ: Greece rolls out COVID-19 vaccines in migrant camps

Mexico

Mexico reported 2,894 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 216 more fatalities, bringing the total to 2,426,822 infections and 228,362 deaths, according to data from the health ministry released on Thursday.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that following a conversation with US Vice-President Kamala Harris, Washington had agreed to send Mexico one million doses of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine.

Mexico administered 1.06 million shots on June 2, surpassing the million mark in a day for the first time, according to data presented by Health Ministry official Jose Luis Alomia on Thursday. 

The country has administered 32.87 million doses and 13.4 million people are fully vaccinated with 23.2 million having received at least one dose.

Namibia

Namibia on Thursday recorded 717 COVID-19 cases, the highest daily count since the pandemic began last year, Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said in a statement.

Shangula said that COVID-19 cases were rising at an alarming rate nationwide.

"This is an indication that the public is not strictly following the COVID-19 infection prevention and control measures," the minister said.

The fresh cases were recorded in 13 regions nationwide, with the capital Windhoek  logging the most with 382 cases.

Namibia has so far reported 877 deaths and 56,981 confirmed cases.

Nigeria

The Nigerian government on Thursday said no victory can be declared yet over the COVID-19 pandemic, urging the citizens to continue to observe all the measures needed to keep the country safe.

"We are not yet out of the woods; there is no declaration of victory yet," Health Minister Osagie Ehanire told reporters in Abuja.

Ehanire emphasized "the need to continue to observe the COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical protocols," noting that although the number of cases recorded daily was becoming low, the country was still at risk of more infections.

According to the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency, more than 1.9 million Nigerians have received one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine while at least 148,258 have received both jabs.

As of Thursday, Nigeria has recorded 166,682 confirmed cases with 2,117 deaths.

Peru

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) has expanded its intervention efforts in Peru with a new facility in Cusco, to help relieve the pressure on treatment of the more critical cases.

“There are almost no beds available in intensive care units, and they are often occupied for long periods by severe COVID-19 patients,” said Francesco Segoni, MSF’s emergency coordinator in Peru, in a statement. “These two elements combine to create a bottleneck.”

Only 11 percent of the Peruvian population has received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and less than 4 percent is fully vaccinated, the group said.

On Monday, Peru’s official death toll almost tripled after a government review of data, giving it the highest per-capita mortality rate in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

A health worker takes out a set of vials of the Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 29, 2021. (YURI CORTEZ / AFP)

Russia

Russia said it has reached an accord with India allowing a “significant part” of Sputnik V produced there to be exported to third countries, potentially giving a boost to its ambitions for broader global use of its COVID-19 vaccine.

India will be one of the main production hubs for the Russian vaccine, along with China and South Korea, Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive officer of state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed Sputnik V’s development and is in charge of its foreign sales, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Friday.

In total, 20 manufacturers from 14 countries are either already making or will soon make Sputnik V, Dmitriev said. The goal is to have the capacity to supply 800 million people outside Russia with the vaccine this year, the RDIF chief said.

Russia expects the World Health Organization (WHO) to approve the Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus within two months, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) which markets the vaccine, told Reuters.

He said the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is also reviewing Sputnik V, "was provided with all basic existing information, there is no critical remarks for now at all".

No negative side-effects were detected during trials of a combined vaccine using AstraZeneca and Oxford University's shots and Russia's Sputnik V, the Interfax news agency reported.

Russia has been asked to create a vaccine combining its Sputnik V shot and a Chinese shot, Interfax quoted Dmitriev as saying on Friday. Trials for the shot could be conducted in Arab countries, Dmitriev was cited as saying. He gave no indication who had requested the project.

In another development, Russia said that several countries including Hungary have approached Moscow to agree on mutually recognizing each other's COVID-19 vaccination certificates, the TASS news agency reported, citing Health Minister Mikhail Murashko.

Russia reported 8,947 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, including 2,817 in Moscow, taking the official national tally to 5,108,129. The toll rose by 377 to 123,037.

Senegal

France has donated 184,000 doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to Senegal through the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, the program's sponsors said in a statement on Thursday.

This is the second batch of COVID-19 vaccines Senegal has received through the global scheme, after an initial 324,000 AstraZeneca doses arrived in March.

The arrival of the latest batch is timely. Senegal's supply of vaccines is running low just as thousands of people are due for their second jabs. Most of the country's 16 million citizens have yet to receive a first dose.

Around 456,000 people in Senegal had been vaccinated as of Tuesday, program sponsors said.

Senegal has recorded around 41,500 coronavirus cases and 1,142 deaths since the pandemic began, according to figures from the Africa CDC.

READ MORE: GAVI: Summit secures US$2.4b for virus shots for poor countries

South Africa

It is worrying that South Africa has been experiencing a sustained increase in newly confirmed COVID-19 cases, said an official with the country's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Adrian Puren, the acting executive director of NICD, made the remarks after 5,782 new COVID-19 cases were recorded Wednesday.

Puren said it was dangerous as four provinces which include Gauteng, Free State, Northern Cape and North West had already entered the third wave of the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, South Africa had reported 1,675,013 confirmed cases and 56,711 deaths.

In another development, South African scientists has developed AwezaMed app, which can translate English medical messages into 11 official languages of the country. The Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation believed it would help save lives in the fight of combating COVID-19.

Tunisia

The Tunisian health ministry on Thursday reported 1,576 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 350,487.

The death toll went up by 46 to 12,839 in Tunisia, while the total number of recoveries reached 307,778, the ministry said in a statement.

So far 1,016,860 people have been inoculated, according to the latest figures published by the ministry.  

Uganda

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Thursday received his second and final jab of the COVID-19 vaccine, as he urged the public to adhere to the COVID-19 prevention procedures, according to a State House statement.

"I urge Ugandans to get vaccinated. We started with the high-risk groups like health workers, teachers, security and people with comorbidities. Our target is to cover over four million people," Museveni said.

Figures from the Ministry of Health showed that as of June 1, the country's caseload stood at 49,759 cases, with 47,760 recoveries and 365 deaths. So far 677,084 people have been vaccinated.  

US President Joe Biden speaks about the US' COVID-19 vaccination program, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, June 2, 2021. (EVAN VUCCI / AP)

US

The White House laid out a plan for the United States to share 25 million surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to the world, with the first shots shipping as soon as Thursday, and said it would ease other countries' access to US-made supplies for vaccine production.

President Joe Biden said the US would give the vaccines without expectation of political favors in return. The dose shipments are the first of some 80 million COVID-19 vaccines that Biden has pledged to provide internationally this month.

The US will donate nearly 19 million doses through the COVAX international vaccine-sharing program, Biden said in a statement. Through COVAX, some 6 million doses would go to Latin America and the Caribbean, about 7 million doses to South and Southeast Asia and roughly 5 million to Africa.

The remaining doses, amounting to just over 6 million, would go directly from the US to countries including Canada, Mexico, India and South Korea, he said.

The 25 million doses Biden announced on Thursday will not include supply from AstraZeneca, the White House said.

In a separate development, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said evidence of severe cases among adolescents and young adults leading up to the CDC’s recommendation of a vaccine for that age group underscore the urgency getting them vaccinated.

“I strongly encourage parents to get their teens vaccinated, as I did mine,” Walensky said at a White House briefing on Thursday.