Brazil unveils its own COVID-19 shot with plans for July rollout









Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria shows the ButanVac vaccine candidate against Covid-19, at the Butantan Institute, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 26, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

CAIRO / MOSCOW/ NEW YORK / LONDON / SANTIAGO / TRIPOLI / LUSAKA / ROME / BRUSSELS / SAO PAOLO / BUENOS AIRES – Brazil’s Butantan Institute has developed its own COVID-19 vaccine, which it plans to roll out in the coming months and offer to low income countries to help fight the pandemic.

Sao Paulo-based Butantan, which has partnered with China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd to produce the CoronaVac shot, will begin trials for its own vaccine — dubbed the ButanVac — with plans to have supplies ready by July, the institute’s director Dimas Covas said at a press conference on Friday.

Butantan, Latin America’s biggest vaccine maker, has faced problems to import certain components to produce coronavirus shots and hopes to resolve hurdles by manufacturing everything locally. Tests could start in April pending regulatory approval, Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said at the press conference.

The plan is to begin mass production in May to have 40 million shots ready in July. Production would be fully focused on meeting local demand first before opening for exports to other countries as well. Phase 1 and 2 trials should be held simultaneously, followed by a phase 3. Tests will also be held in Thailand and Vietnam.

Brazil reported more than 100,000 new infections in the last 24 hours, again setting a record as the outbreak there continues to worsen. Total cases neared 12.3 million, the most after the US.

Latin America’s top economy also reported 2,777 fatalities, totaling 303,462, the Health Ministry reported, as leaders remained at loggerheads. President Jair Bolsonaro criticized lockdown measures again while Vice President Hamilton Mourao said virus deaths have risen above any acceptable level.

EU

European Union leaders agreed at a summit on Thursday to step up production of COVID-19 vaccines in Europe and improve the rollout of inoculations across member states, European Council President Charles Michel said.

“It’s absolutely vital of course that we keep on working to improve vaccine production in Europe, and improve our ability to distribute those to member states,” Michel told a news conference after chairing the meeting of the 27 countries’ leaders.

“This is our absolute priority and we are completely dedicated to that task along with the European Commission.”

The block's leaders voiced frustration over a massive shortfall in contracted deliveries of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines as a third wave of infections surged across Europe.

With inoculation programmes running far behind those of Britain and the United States, the bloc’s executive warned that vaccine exports by the British-Swedish company would be blocked until it delivers the shots it promised to the EU.

However, the EU’s plan to curb vaccine exports risks retaliatory measures that could jeopardize supplies for plants in Europe, and undercut the global effort to contain the pandemic. 

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made the case for a new, tougher mechanism to secure vaccines, given that the bloc has sent more shots to the rest of the world than it’s given its own people.

Global tally and vaccination

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 125.2 million while the global death toll topped 2.7 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

More than half a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, less than four months into the rollout.

So far, the shots have been given in 140 countries. The vast majority have gone to developed nations that secured early doses by the hundreds of millions, and of the doses given so far, 39 percent of have been administered in the US and the EU. On average, about 12 million doses a day are being administered across the world.

READ MORE: Brazil's virus chaos sparks fear, countermeasures from neighbors

Pfizer

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines could generate robust humoral immunity in pregnant and lactating women, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School looked at 131 women who received either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Among the participants, 84 were pregnant, 31 were lactating and 16 were not pregnant. Samples were collected between Dec. 17, 2020 and March 2, 2021.

The study found vaccine-induced antibody titers were equivalent in pregnant and lactating compared to non-pregnant women.

The antibody levels were "strikingly higher" than those resulting from coronavirus infection during pregnancy, according to the research team.

US

COVID-19 cases in the US are rising again, reversing course after months of decline and threatening another setback in the return to normality.

The seven-day average of new cases jumped to 57,695 Wednesday, 9.5 percent above the prior week, marking the biggest increase since Jan. 12, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

While that’s a fraction of the mid-January peak, the change in direction is worrisome as states open their economies, variant cases multiply, and the country races to vaccinate as many people as possible to stave off another wave.

US President Joe Biden said on Thursday he was setting a new goal of administering 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the United States in his first 100 days in office.

According to a report released by the Brookings Institution this week, the US squandered both money and lives in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, and it could have avoided nearly 400,000 deaths with a more effective health strategy and trimmed federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars while still supporting those who needed it.

US COVID-19 fatalities could have stayed under 300,000, versus a death toll of 540,000 and rising, if by last May the country had adopted widespread mask, social distancing, and testing protocols while awaiting a vaccine, estimated Andrew Atkeson, economics professor at University of California, Los Angeles.

UK

Britain’s medicine regulator has approved a 20-second COVID-19 test, the product’s distributor said on Friday as it launched a testing system it said could be used in airports, sports venues and businesses.

Rapid tests are seen as a key plank of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown, but concerns have been expressed about the accuracy of existing lateral flow devices.

The Virolens test, which is made by British start-up iAbra and TT Electronics, has been trialled at Heathrow Airport, and uses swabs of saliva.

Histate, which is distributing the test, said it would launch with immediate effect following the approval in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and was hoping for a further rollout in coming months.

Histate said trials had indicated the test had 98.1% sensitivity, meaning it returns few false negatives, and 99.7% specificity, meaning few false positives.

Another 6,397 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,319,128, according to official figures released Thursday.

The country also reported another 63 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 126,445. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

Russia 

Russia registered 9,167 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 4,501,859, the country's COVID-19 response center said Friday.

Meanwhile, as Russia reported 405 more deaths and 10,880 new recoveries, the respective total stood at 97,017 and 4,120,161, the center said.

Moscow, Russia's worst-hit region, reported 1,813 new cases, taking its total to 1,019,122.

More than 118.8 million COVID-19 tests have been conducted across the country, the center said.

Poland

Poland reported a record number of coronavirus infections for the third consecutive day on Friday, with 35,143 new cases, health ministry data showed as the country’s healthcare system is testing the limits of its capacity.

The government has announced more restrictions on Thursday to curb the surging number of infections.

Hungary

The Hungarian government has planned to reopen schools and kindergartens from mid April, Gergely Gulyas, head of the Prime Minister's Office said Thursday, as cumulative COVID-19 cases in the country topped 600,000.

The country on Thursday registered 9,637 new cases in a 24-hour span, raising the national total to 603,347, according to official data.

"Kindergartens and schools can open on April 12 or April 19, depending on when the number of people vaccinated in Hungary will reach 2.5 million," Gulyas told an online press conference.

France

French President Emmanuel Macron said new measures to contain the epidemic might be needed in the coming weeks. 

More than a third of France, including Paris, is already locked down, in addition to a national curfew. “The next few weeks will be tough,” he said after a European Council summit Thursday.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran on Thursday announced "reinforced braking measures" in three more COVID-19 high-risk regions — Rhone, Aube and Nievre — in a bid to contain a third wave of the pandemic.

Starting from Friday midnight, outdoor gatherings are limited to six people in these three departments, and daytime travel less than 10 km from home is allowed while those within a 30-km radius of a person's home require a signed document.

Inter-regional travel will be banned but schools will remain open with reinforced health protocol, according to the minister.

A pharmacist prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in a pharmacy in Nantes, western France on March 25, 2021. (LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

BiH

The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) on Thursday, when the country recorded the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs of BiH said that 23,400 doses of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines arrived on Thursday morning at the International Airport in Sarajevo, the capital of BiH.

On the same day, the country recorded 1,956 new cases of COVID-19 and 77 coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 160,163 and total deaths to 6,144, according to the latest official data.

Ireland

Irish Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Thursday that "a lot more countries" will be added to the government's list that requires incoming passengers to stay in mandatory hotel quarantine.

Varadkar made the remarks while briefing the members of the lower house of the Irish parliament about the COVID-19 situation in the country, according to RTE, Ireland's national radio and television broadcaster.

Mandatory hotel quarantine is one of the latest measures taken by the Irish government to battle the COVID-19 pandemic that has so far claimed nearly 4,700 lives in the country since its outbreak in early 2020.

Ukraine 

A plane with the first batch of CoronaVac vaccine produced by Chinese company Sinovac Biotech arrived in Ukraine on Thursday night amid the rapid surge of COVID-19 infections in the country.

At Kiev Boryspil airport, the cargo was met by Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine Fan Xianrong, Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine Yevhen Yenin and Deputy Health Minister Viktor Lyashko.

"Despite the fact that there is a huge shortage of vaccine on the world market, China is actively supporting Ukraine on its vaccination path, which is evidence of the strategic nature of the Sino-Ukrainian relations and deep traditional friendship between the two countries," the ambassador said.

Romania 

Romania announced late Thursday that a series of stricter prevention and control measures, including early closure of businesses and restriction of traffic, will be adopted in cities and regions with severe coronavirus situation.

According to the decision of the National Committee for Emergency Situations, movement will be allowed on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until 20:00, two hours ahead of the current limit, and the activity of the economic operators will take place at most until 18:00, three hours in advance, in the localities where the incidence of COVID-19 infection exceeds 4 per thousand inhabitants in the last 14 days.

The measure will be stopped when the cumulative incidence rate in the last 14 days falls below 3.5 per thousand, explained Raed Arafat, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Interior who heads the National Committee for Emergency Situations.

Canada

Moderna Inc has delayed the shipment of 590,400 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine that were due to arrive in Canada this weekend, the federal procurement minister said on Thursday.

Moderna informed Canadian officials that the delay was due to a “backlog in its quality assurance process”, Anita Anand said, adding that the company assured the remaining doses will be shipped no later than Thursday next week.

Canada's cumulative COVID-19 cases surpassed 950,000 as of Thursday afternoon, with the total hitting 950,762, according to CTV.

Ontario, the most populous province with a population of more than 14 million, reported 2,380 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 336,070, including 7,280 deaths and 312,709 recoveries.

Quebec, another populous province in Canada, reported 945 new cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 305,435.

Canada's COVID-19 activity has leveled off at a high level since mid-February and average daily case counts are increasing, Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said in a statement on Thursday.

Tam said the national-level data show a seven-day average of 3,869 new cases daily on March 18 to 24 and now there are 37,100 active cases across the country.

Argentina

Argentina’s government will suspend flights arriving from Brazil, Mexico and Chile amid a spike in virus cases in parts of Latin America. 

The curbs will start on March 27, according to a government official, who asked not be identified because the decision hasn’t been officially published.

Argentina on Thursday logged 146 new COVID-19 deaths over the past 24 hours, bringing the nationwide death toll to 55,092, its health ministry said.

Meanwhile, the country registered 8,238 new cases, raising the national tally to 2,278,115.

Mexico 

Mexico became the third country with more than 200,000 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19, with its official toll trailing only those of the US and Brazil. 

Deaths increased 584 to 200,211, according to Health Ministry data. Still, hospital occupancy — which had hovered near 90 percent for weeks in the capital — has also fallen, with no states reporting more than half of their beds full.

Ecuador 

Ecuador on Thursday reported 1,849 new cases of COVID-19 infection and 39 more deaths from the disease in the previous 24 hours, raising the total caseload to 318,656 and the death toll to 11,759.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, another three fatalities were "probable" COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total number of suspected but unconfirmed pandemic deaths to 4,823.

Of the total number of cases, 271,847 people are considered to have recovered, while 517 are currently hospitalized in serious condition.

Since January, the South American country has faced an exponential increase in infections, which has overwhelmed hospital system in several cities.

Cuba

Cuba's Ministry of Public Health on Thursday reported 816 new COVID-19 infections in the last day, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 69,802, along with three more deaths for a total of 408.

Of the cases reported on Thursday, 808 were from community transmission, which, according to the ministry's national director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran, is the highest figure since March 13, when it was 909.

In addition, more than half of the new cases were in Havana, the epicenter of the pandemic on the island, which reported 447 cases in the last day.

Chile

Chile's Ministry of Health on Thursday announced the Metropolitan Region, where the capital is located, and other areas will enter lockdown on Saturday, March 27, as Holy Week approaches amid a rise in cases of the novel coronavirus disease.

Lockdown restrictions on mobility and gatherings will impact nearly 16 million people, with exceptions made for essential workers.

According to official figures, tests detected 7,023 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, while 122 more people died of the disease in the same period, raising the caseload to 954,762 and the death toll to 22,524.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 493,353 on Thursday as 511 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

The death toll hit 8,788 as two more patients died, it said.

The total number of recoveries from COVID-19 in Morocco increased to 481,074 after 467 new ones were added, while 412 people are in intensive care units, the statement added.

The COVID-19 fatality rate in Morocco stands at 1.8 percent while the recovery rate is 97.5 percent.

Meanwhile, 4,289,281 people have received so far the first vaccine shot against COVID-19 in the country, and 3,071,117 people have received the second dose.

Tunisia

Tunisian Health Ministry on Thursday reported 783 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 248,037.

The death toll from the virus rose by 26 to 8,663, the ministry said in a statement.

During a press conference held at the government's headquarters, Hechmi Louzir, director of the Institut Pasteur and member of the national committee for the fight against COVID-19, assured that additional doses of vaccines from the world will be delivered to Tunisia in the coming period.

Algeria 

Algeria on Thursday reported 105 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the North African country to 116,543.

The death toll from the virus rose to 3,071 after two new fatalities were added, said the Algerian Ministry of Health in a statement.

Meanwhile, 93 more patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries in the country to 81,158, the statement added.

A donation of Chinese Sinopharm vaccines arrived in Algeria on Feb. 24 to help combat the pandemic.

Zambia

Zambia's Cabinet has approved the acquisition, deployment and financing of the COVID-19 vaccine, a senior government official said Thursday.

The Cabinet has agreed to acquire the free COVAX vaccine financed by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) under the World Health Organization (WHO) arrangement for the first phase.

Minister of Health Jonas Chanda said about 3,677,000 Zambians aged 18 years and above out of the targeted eligible 8,436,000 people will be vaccinated in the first phase, representing 20 percent of the total population.

Botswana

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Union (EU) on Thursday launched a European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) funding project to strengthen COVID-19 and public health emergency response in Botswana.

The total grant is about 13 million Pula (1.1 million U.S. dollars), said Josephine Namboze, WHO Representative to Botswana and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), at the launch of the project in the country's capital Gaborone.

The pandemic has shown the vulnerability of the whole world to public health threats of international concern, and reminded us of the need for health security as a concerted effort for both governments and partners, Namboze added.

Ambassador of the EU to Botswana and the SADC Jan Sadek said the project is another example of the EU support to Botswana's COVID-19 response.

Rwanda 

Rwanda on Thursday announced a plan to increase this year's Economic Recovery Fund by more than three times to 350 billion Rwandan francs (about US$358 million) in order to support the recovery of businesses severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Economic Recovery Fund, currently valued at 100 billion Rwandan francs (about 102 million dollars), prioritizes sectors including tourism and hospitality, manufacturing, transport and logistics, agro-processing, education, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) linked to domestic and global supply chains, said Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente, while presenting the economic recovery plan in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic to parliament.

The manufacturing industry was one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, falling by 19 percent, while the construction sector dropped by 6 percent, according to Ngirente.