France to use Astra vaccine for those aged 55 and over

In this undated photo, boxes of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccines in a cold store of Movianto in Netherlands. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

AMSTERDAM / LONDON / PARIS / MADRID / CARIO / ROME / MEXICO CITY / SAO PAULO / KYIV / SANTO DOMINGO / HARARE -France is resuming its AstraZeneca Plc vaccination campaign for people aged 55 and over.

“The High Health Authority (HAS) gives its green light to the resumption of vaccination with AstraZeneca for people aged 55 and over,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a Tweet.

For everyone under the age of 55, HAS recommends using other vaccines, an official at HAS said by phone, asking not to be identified in line with the agency’s rules.

The new guidance comes after the European Medicines Agency said that Astra is safe and efficient, though it may increase the risk of thrombosis. Until now, Astra was recommended for people over the age of 50.

France registered 34,998 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, the second biggest daily tally after Wednesday's 38,501 since mid-November 2020, bringing the country's cumulative number of positive cases to 4,181,607, according to data from the country's health authorities.

Meanwhile, coronavirus-related deaths and hospitalization continued an upward trend in France. A further 268 patients have died within a day, bringing the death toll to 91,679. Admissions to hospital rose by 75 to 25,389, while those in intensive care units totaled 4,246, up by 27 from Wednesday.


Poland’s total number of COVID-19 cases surpassed 2 million on Friday, according to health ministry data, as the country grappled with a third wave of the pandemic.

The country of 38 million has reported 2,010,244 coronavirus cases and 48,807 deaths in total since the start of the pandemic, the ministry data showed.

Poland surpassed one million cases at the start of December as the second wave of the pandemic slowed, but has faced a recent consistent and steep rise in cases fuelled by the more contagious variant of the virus first found in Britain.

On Friday Poland reported 25,998 new coronavirus cases and 419 COVID-related deaths, carrying out 86,100 tests in the last 24 hours.

The previous day it reported 27,278 new daily coronavirus cases, the highest number so far this year.


German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday he would be in favour of signing a national supply deal with Russia for its Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19.

“I can also well imagine that we conclude contracts – and conclude them quickly,” he told a weekly news conference, adding that Germany was in close contact with Russia on questions to do with the vaccine.

A prerequisite, however, is that there is more detail on how many doses could be delivered, he said. “I am actually very much in favour of us doing it nationally if the European Union does not do something.”

German health minister Jens Spahn on Friday dampened hopes that further coronavirus restrictions will be lifted soon, saying rising infections could mean that curbs to slow the spread of the virus may have to be re-imposed.

Germany’s coronavirus cases rose by the most in two months, just days before Chancellor Angela Merkel decides on how to proceed with the country’s lockdown restrictions. The number of new cases jumped by 28,489 in the 24 hours through Friday morning, the most since Jan. 21 according to data from Johns Hopkins University.


The US plans to send roughly 4 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine that it is not using to Mexico and Canada in loan deals with the two countries, yielding to requests to share vaccines with allies.

Mexico will receive 2.5 million doses of the vaccine and Canada is to receive 1.5 million doses, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“It is not fully finalized yet but it is our aim,” Psaki told a daily briefing. “Ensuring our neighbors can contain the virus is … mission critical to ending the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Joe Biden announced the US on Friday will clinch his goal of administering 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots in the first 100 days of his presidency, reaching the mark six weeks ahead of time.

Public health experts are concerned that the United States may witness a COVID-19 resurgence if states and people do not cautiously follow safety and protective measures.

More than a dozen states have seen an uptick in COVID-19 infections, including Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, and Nevada, according to the latest data of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although the country's national daily case average continues to fall — about 32.5 percent over the last month — nearly a third of all states have seen their average number of cases rise at least 10 percent, according to an ABC News report.


Based on its preliminary investigation, the European Medicines Agency on Thursday concluded that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is "safe and effective," while not definitely ruling out possible link to rare blood clots accompanied by low levels of blood platelets.

"Close safety monitoring of reports of blood clotting disorders will continue, and further studies are being instituted to provide more laboratory data as well as real-world evidence," the European Union regulator for medicines said in a statement.

Stressing the effectiveness of the vaccine jointly developed by British multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University, EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke told a press conference that EMA's Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee "has come to a clear scientific conclusion: this is a safe and effective vaccine."

The AstraZeneca vaccine's benefits in protecting people from COVID-19 with the associated risks of death and hospitalization outweigh the possible risks, Cooke said, adding that "the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots."

The European Union faces a tough task in seeking to introduce so-called COVID-19 passports by June to get people traveling again, according to the owner of France’s busiest airport.

READ MORE: Europe, with millions of doses unused, is divided on export ban


Hungary will extend its coronavirus lockdown for at least another week from Monday after daily COVID-19 deaths rose to another record, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.


Italy will resume using the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday, following the announcement of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that the vaccine was safe, authorities said on Thursday.

"The Italian government welcomes the announcement by EMA … The priority remains to administer as many jabs as possible in the shortest time," Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a note released by his office.

Italy's Ministry of Health reported on Thursday that a further 423 patients have died of the coronavirus, pushing the accumulative COVID-19 death toll to 103,855 since the pandemic first officially started in the country in late February 2020.

Also on Thursday, the Ministry of Health reported that 24,935 new coronavirus infections had been detected, bringing the country's total active infections to 547,510.


Bulgaria is ready to resume inoculations with AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Bogdan Kirilov, executive director of the Bulgarian Drug Agency (BDA), said here on Thursday.

The country suspended the use of the vaccine last Friday after the death of a vaccinated woman.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said earlier on Thursday that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, Kirilov recalled at a briefing.

The BDA's analyses have also confirmed that there are no problems with the vaccine's quality, Kirilov said.

In addition, the conclusion of the deceased woman's forensic examination showed that there was no causal link between her death and her vaccination, Kirilov said. There were no blood clots in her body, he said.


The Portuguese government announced on Thursday that it will resume the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine next Monday, after a three-day break to check for possible adverse reactions from vaccinated people.

"The vaccination plan suffered a pause in the AstraZeneca vaccine and will be started again from Monday. We will resume the plan, speeding it up and catching up, "said the coordinator of the pandemic immunization task force, Vice Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo, at a press conference.

The decision was made following the announcement by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that it reclassified the AstraZeneca vaccine as "safe and effective".


Britain will pilot using COVID-19 certificates to re-open sport to fans, culture minister Oliver Dowden said on Friday, saying it was crucial to get crowds back to major events this summer for the future of the industry.

“Another thing that we are considering is a COVID certification, and we’ll be testing whether we can use COVID certification to help facilitate the return of sports,” Dowden, whose department is responsible for sport, said.

Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed Thursday that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 far outweigh the risks, calling on people to continue to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Following a rigorous scientific review of all the available data, the regulator said that "the available evidence does not suggest that blood clots in veins (venous thromboembolism) are caused by COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca" developed by pharmaceutical and biotechnology company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

The statement came after a growing number of countries in the European Union suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precautionary measure, based on reports of blood clots in persons who had received the vaccine.

The MHRA said that it made the conclusion after having a detailed review of report cases as well as data from hospital admissions and GP (general practitioner) records.

Another 6,303 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,280,882, according to official figures released Thursday.

The country also reported another 95 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 125,926. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.


Spain will restart inoculations with the AstraZeneca vaccine next Wednesday following Thursday's announcement by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that it had reached "a clear scientific conclusion" that the vaccine was "safe and effective" after fears that it could cause blood clots.

Health Minister Carolina Darias explained that the Spanish authorities need a few days to technically prepare for the continued use of the vaccine.

Next Monday, the ministry is scheduled to "hold a new meeting with the regions to decide which groups will start to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine in our country," she said.

At the same press conference, Maria Jesus Lamas from the Spanish Medicines Agency stressed that "the balance of risks from the AstraZeneca vaccine continues to be favorable….We cannot establish a causal relationship between the vaccine and blood clotting."

On Thursday, the Spanish Health Ministry reported 6,216 new coronavirus cases and 117 deaths, taking the cumulative tally of infections to 3,212,332 and of deaths to 72,910.

ALSO READ: Europe braces for Astra vaccine decision after suspension fiasco

Global tally

The number of coronavirus cases recorded worldwide surpassed 121.7 million while the global death toll topped 2.68 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.


Belgium recorded on Monday another 5,034 coronavirus cases, the highest daily count since mid-November, data from the public health institute Sciensano showed on Thursday.

Sciensano explained that due in part to the time lag between sampling and reporting, the data reported for the last few days always need to be revised.

The average daily number of confirmed cases this week was 3,052, an increase of 29 percent from the previous week.

An emergency plenary session was held on Thursday in Belgium, where Prime Minister Alexander De Croo called for extreme caution.


The Czech government on Thursday decided to extend restrictions that were set to expire on March 21, according to Health Minister Jan Blatny.

The only difference is that under the new policy, people could have sports or leisure activities in a larger area, still within their own district but not limited to the town of their home.

"Newly, they will be limited to the entire district. This means that it will be possible to move around the district for nature, sports and the like. However, restrictions on movement between districts remain in force," Blatny said.


The Danish Medicines Agency said it’s gotten 10 reports of blood clots occurring after vaccination with the AstraZeneca shot, one ending in death.

“It cannot be concluded whether there may be a connection with the vaccine, as studies have not been completed,” the agency said in statement Thursday. More than 140,000 Danes have received the AstraZeneca vaccination.

Denmark will ease some restrictions on March 22, before a previous deadline of April 6, after the number of virus cases stabilized in recent weeks. The limit on public crowds will be raised to 10 from 5 and more students will be allowed to return to schools, the government said in a statement on Thursday.


Norway’s prime minister, who faces elections in September, will be the subject of a police probe after she flouted her own government’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Erna Solberg admitted in an interview with state broadcaster NRK that she breached national guidelines when she took part in a family gathering that included more people than currently allowed. Police will look into the matter, local media cited the Southwestern Police District as saying in a statement on Friday.

An investigation at Rikshospitalet in Oslo has found that a immune response caused the blood clots in three health workers after they received the AstraZeneca vaccine, Pal Andre Holme, the hematologist leading the probe, said on Thursday.

“The findings support our hypothesis that we launched quite early that these patients have had a powerful immune response which resulted in, among other things, the formation of antibodies, which can ignite the platelets and thus give a thrombus,” Holme told reporters.

The investigation hasn’t yet been able to conclude why only some people have this response.


Canada's most populous province of Ontario is in the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said Thursday.

"We are in the third wave, it's just a matter of what kind of wave will it be," Williams said.

His comments came after three straight days of rising COVID-19 case numbers in Ontario. The province confirmed 1,074 new infections on Tuesday, 1,508 on Wednesday, and 1,553 on Thursday.

The total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ontario now stands at 323,509, including 7,202 deaths and 303,493 recoveries.


The more contagious coronavirus variant that was first discovered in Britain accounted for more than three-quarters of the COVID-19 cases identified in Malta recently, Health Superintendent Charmaine Gauci said here on Thursday.

Gauci said that the percentage of cases linked to the more transmissible variant is increasing. Until last month, the variant first detected in Britain had accounted for just eight percent of the new cases, but Gauci said the authorities now see a steady increase in links to this variant.

Malta's health authorities reported 243 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of active cases to 3,034. The cumulative total now stands at 27,515. Two more patients have died, bringing the total number of fatalities to 363.


Finland has introduced mandatory health checks at its borders, the Southern Finland Regional State Administrative Agency said in a press release on Thursday.

All passengers entering the country through the Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport, Helsinki's seaports or at the Vaalimaa border crossing point from Russia must undergo mandatory health checks immediately after entry. As part of the examination, passengers may also be subjected to COVID-19 testing.

Starting next week, a Finnish commercial health service provider will offer Finnish customers "gargling tests" for COVID-19, reported Finnish news agency USU on Thursday.

The report said that persons to be tested will gargle with a common salt liquid and spit it out for analysis. The current method of using a long stick to the nose was thought to be painful for many.

Piia Aarnisalo, the laboratory director at Terveystalo, a leading private healthcare service provider headquartered in Helsinki, told USU that the sample will then be tested with the usual PCR method in the way the nose tests have been done. "But with gargling, the sample comes from further down in the throat, where the viruses abound more than in the mouth."


As Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak spirals out of control, the country is facing a dangerous new shortage, threatening to drive fatalities even higher: a lack of staff in intensive care units.

The Brazilian government expects COVID relief payments to reach 45.6 million families, the presidential press office said in a statement on Thursday.

Some medical professionals are burned out after months of grueling, soul-sapping work. Others are simply unable to keep up with the endless flow of critical COVID-19 patients pushing the country’s healthcare system to the brink.

Brazil on Thursday reported 2,724 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, the second-highest daily figure since the onset of the pandemic in February 2020.

According to the Ministry of Health, 86,982 new cases of COVID-19 were detected in the same period, marking the third-highest daily figure for the country.

Brazil's total COVID-19 death toll now stands at 287,499, while its accumulated caseload has reached 11,780,820, making the South American the second worst hit by the pandemic, after the United States, in terms of both deaths and cases.


Mexico will continue to restrict non-essential travel across its border with the United States for another month, and take the same measure on its southern border to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Thursday.

The restriction was due to expire on Sunday, a year after taking effect on March 21, 2020, but will now remain in place until April 21, the ministry said via Twitter.

To the south, where Mexico borders on Guatemala and Belize, the measure will begin on Friday.

"Additionally, the government of Mexico will deploy sanitary control measures in the north and south of the country," the ministry added.


Cuba's Public Health Ministry reported on Thursday 689 new COVID-19 infections in 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases to 64,414, as well as another four deaths to reach 384 deaths.

The ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran pointed out during his daily report that the registered cases constitute the lowest figure in the last five days.

Havana continued to have the highest incidence rate, with 278 per 100,000 inhabitants after reporting 446 infections in the same period.


Ecuador's Public Health Ministry on Thursday reported 1,831 new COVID-19 infections and 26 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing to 307,429 the number of accumulated cases and 11,528 deaths.

According to the daily report, the provinces of Pichincha, Guayas and Manabi compiled the highest number of cases in the one day.

The three provinces have also recorded the highest mortality figures during the pandemic, which has pushed hospital capacity to the limit.


Nearly seven million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Africa targeting high-risk groups like healthcare workers, teachers and security officers, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Thursday.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said immunization drive against the virus has gained steam in the continent amid a quest to flatten the curve and reopen key economic sectors fully.

"Although Africa received vaccines late and in limited quantities, a lot of ground has been covered in a short space of time," Moeti said in a statement issued in Nairobi.

"This is due to the continent's vast experience in mass vaccination campaigns and the determination of its leaders and people to effectively curb COVID-19," she added.


The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from China arrived in Djibouti on Thursday. The vaccines, made by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac, will help the African country's immunization campaign against the pandemic.

The Chinese COVID-19 vaccines arrived on Thursday morning at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, and a ceremony, attended by Chinese ambassador to Djibouti, Zhuo Ruisheng, Djiboutian Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf and Djiboutian Health Minister, Mohamed Warsama Dirieh, was held.


Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 490,575 on Thursday as 487 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll mounted to 8,748 as three COVID-19 patients died, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

The total number of recoveries from COVID-19 in Morocco increased to 477,879 after 574 new ones were added, while 420 people are in intensive care units, the statement said.

The COVID-19 fatality rate in Morocco stands at 1.8 percent while the recovery rate is 97.4 percent.

Meanwhile, 4,252,723 people have received so far the first vaccine shot against COVID-19 in the country, and 2,246,753 people have received the second dose.


Algeria on Thursday reported 154 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the North African country to 124,842.

The death toll from the virus rose to 3,051 after three new fatalities were added, said the Algerian Ministry of Health in a statement.

Meanwhile, 128 more patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries in the country to 80,407, the statement added.

Cape Verde

Helga Badiane, a 63-year-old nurse, became the first of six health workers to receive the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Praia, capital of Cape Verde, on Thursday.

Her inoculation also symbolizes the official kick-off of the vaccination campaign in the archipelago which targets health professionals in this first phase.

"We have been waiting for this day for a year. It is a remarkable day for health professionals and for all Cape Verdeans," Badiane said after receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.


Ethiopia has recorded the highest number of weekly COVID-19 cases in the African continent with 9,329 new COVID-19 cases, the Africa Centers for Disease Control (Africa CDC) disclosed on Thursday.

This large weekly COVID-19 cases increase has pushed the number of confirmed cases in the east African country to 179,812 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday morning, making Ethiopia the fifth most COVID-19 affected nation in the continent.

South Africa came second with 8,352 COVID-19 weekly COVID-19 cases increase, with war-torn Libya and Egypt recording the next highest number of weekly COVID-19 cases increase with 5,335 and 4,421 new COVID-19 cases, according to a press statement released by Africa CDC.

South Africa

ImmunityBio Inc. will have its first COVID-19 vaccine made in South Africa by The Biovac Institute, a partly state-owned company, once regulators approve it.

ImmunityBio’s vaccine, which is in phase 1 trials in South Africa and the US, uses a cold germ, known as adenovirus 5, to act against the coronavirus.