AstraZeneca says EU approves its COVID-19 shot as booster

In this Feb 11, 2021 file photo, a health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to be administered at a vaccination center set up in Fiumicino, near Rome's international airport. (ALESSANDRA TARANTINO / AP)

FRANKFURT / WASHINGTON / WINDHOEK / BUENOS AIRES / HAVANA – Drugmaker AstraZeneca said on Monday its COVID-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, has been approved in the European Union by the bloc's drugs regulator as a third-dose booster in adults following a committee endorsement last week.

AstraZeneca's vaccine can now be used as a booster following the two-dose Vaxzevria schedule or by those who have been previously vaccinated by an mRNA vaccine, such as the ones made by Pfizer and BioNTech or Moderna

The vaccine can now be used as a booster following the two-dose Vaxzevria schedule or by those who have been previously vaccinated by an mRNA vaccine, such as the ones made by Pfizer and BioNTech or Moderna.

"Ensuring a longer duration of immune protection is essential to the long-term management of COVID-19 globally, and boosters can address the waning of protection over time that has been seen with all primary vaccine schedules to date," Mene Pangalos, executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said in a statement.

A committee of the European Medicines Agency had endorsed Vaxzevria as a booster last Thursday, just weeks after the regulator backed the use of Pfizer-BioNTech's Comirnaty as a booster for adults previously inoculated with other vaccines. 

Several vaccine makers have indicated that most vaccinations this year will be booster shots, or first inoculations for children that are still gaining regulatory approvals globally.

Typically the final say on products' use in the European Union is decided by the European Commission.

Agentina

Argentina registered 43,487 COVID-19 cases this week, a 27.9-percent increase compared to the previous week, bringing the total number of infections to 9,178,795, the Ministry of Health said Sunday.

The ministry said in its weekly report that another 49 deaths have been registered, taking the national death toll to 128,825. Meanwhile, 323 people are currently hospitalized in intensive care units, which have an occupancy rate of 42 percent.

As of Sunday, the country has distributed 108,651,950 vaccine doses and administered 101,147,280 doses.

Cuba

The number of daily COVID-19 cases in Cuba continued to drop over the past week amid government efforts to keep the pandemic at bay.

No related deaths were reported in the Caribbean nation during the same period, according to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.

Cuba on Sunday registered 44 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths, taking the total number of infections to 1,104,979 and the national death toll to 8,529.

At present, there are 274 active COVID-19 cases on the island and three patients are being treated in intensive care units.

A healthcare professional prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine for health and social care workers at the Life Science Centre at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, northeast England, on Jan 9, 2021. (OWEN HUMPHREYS / POOL / AFP)

Global drugmakers

Global drugmakers are lobbying for wealthy nations to fund a supply mechanism that would secure vaccines for low-income countries without delay in case of a new pandemic, but said the proposal was contingent on free cross-border trade.

Trade barriers posed a big headache during the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said in a statement on Monday that global pandemic vaccine distribution needs to be put on a new footing because the world’s poorest countries were forced to wait for shots during the current pandemic.

"The industry is willing to reserve an allocation of real-time production for distribution to priority populations in lower income countries, as determined by health authorities during pandemics," said IFPMA director general Thomas Cueni.

The global debate on a better response to disease outbreaks is in full swing as health ministers will meet in Geneva this week for the World Health Organization's assembly, with vaccine-sharing among the many agenda items. 

Separately, the G20 group of nations has agreed to a multi-billion dollar fund for pandemic preparedness that will be set up outside the WHO.

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Cueni added the procurement mechanism needed funding by higher-income countries and could only work if materials and finished products can be shipped without barriers within a globalised supply chain.

"We are committed to working with governments and all stakeholders to help ensure that preparedness systems are put in place and maintained into the future," said Cueni.

Trade barriers posed a big headache during the COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year. Among the hurdles, key producer India banned vaccine exports for much of 2021, while the US Defense Production Act, which prioritises the domestic crisis response, slowed global delivery of equipment for vaccine makers. 

The COVAX vaccine-sharing facility was set up to secure distribution in poorer countries but it was overtaken by wealthier nations' faster procurement efforts, leaving other countries behind.

"COVAX was not sufficiently funded or organized quickly enough to secure advance purchase agreements for doses on a par with high-income country purchasers," lobby group IFPMA said.

People queue to be tested for COVID-19 in Windhoek, Namibia, on June 15, 2021. (DIRK HEINRICH / AP)

Namibia

Namibia is engulfed in the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections with more and more patients being admitted in the hospitals, Minister of Health and Social Services Kalumbi Shangula said Saturday.

Shangula said in a statement that the number of infections in the school environment and in the community is a matter of concern.

"We note with concern that patients who are admitted to ICU are those who are not vaccinated, he said.

According to a survey released recently, trust-related issues continue to drive COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Namibia, as many voice concerns about the safety and possible side effects of the vaccine.

Among citizens who say they are unlikely to get vaccinated, a majority are worried about getting a fake or counterfeit vaccine (23 percent); they don't think the vaccine is safe (14 percent); they don't trust the government to ensure that the vaccine is safe (12 percent); they fear that the vaccine may cause COVID-19 or bad side effects (7 percent); they don't trust the source of the vaccine (2 percent), or they think the vaccine was developed too quickly (2 percent), while others believe that God will protect them against COVID-19 (7 percent), the survey showed. 

Food and Drug Administration building is shown Thursday, Dec 10, 2020 in Silver Spring, Md. (MANUEL BALCE CENETA / AP)

US

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said on Sunday he expects a US Food and Drug Administration decision on authorizing Moderna's  vaccine for children under age five within the next few weeks.

Moderna completed its application and FDA experts are looking closely at the data, Jha said on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, adding that the analysis is likely to be completed in the next few week and that a final decision would follow a meeting of the agency's expert advisers.

"So my hope is that it's going to be coming in the next few weeks," he said.