Some 3m virus doses to expire in Germany by end of June

In this file photo taken on Nov 30, 2021 a doctor vaccinates a patient against COVID-19 at a vaccination center in Sonthofen, southern Germany. (CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP)

WASHINGTON / THE HAGUE /BERLIN- Around three million COVID-19 vaccine doses are expected to expire in Germany by the end of June, a spokesperson for the health ministry said on Monday, as supply outstrips demand because a declining number of people are being vaccinated.

After a shortage in vaccine doses at the beginning of the vaccine campaign in early 2021, Germany stepped up its deliveries to meet growing demand, but a lower inoculation rate means Germany has more vaccine than it needs or can donate

A law mandating the general population get vaccinated, which had failed to pass the parliament last week could have increased demand and made use of the surplus shots. 

After a shortage in vaccine doses at the beginning of the vaccine campaign in early 2021, Germany stepped up its deliveries to meet growing demand, but a lower inoculation rate means Germany has more vaccine than it needs or can donate.

Around 76 percent of the population has received at least one dose, less than the level of more than 80 percent in western European countries including France, Italy and Spain.

The ministry declined to provide information on the possible cost of the doses' expiry, citing contract confidentiality.

BioNTech said last week its vaccine had a longer shelf life than previously estimated, meaning around seven million doses originally expected to expire by the end of June would be valid for longer.

Although countries in Africa, for instance, are in need of vaccines, Germany cannot donate its spare doses because of the difficulties of storing and transporting mRNA vaccines.

Britain

Britain will expand access to Pfizer's oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment to thousands more people by adding it to a trial to assess how best to use the drug in its highly vaccinated population, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

Paxlovid, a combination of Pfizer's new pill with an older antiviral ritonavir, was made available to thousands of people with compromised immune systems in Britain in February. 

Now Paxlovid is being added to the Panoramic national study in England, which is making antivirals available to a wide number of patients while collecting data on how the drugs should best be used in a vaccinated adult population.

Paxlovid was shown to reduce the relative risk of death or hospitalization by nearly 90 percent in clinical trials of high risk individuals given the treatment for five days. Currently it is advised to be taken during the early stages of COVID, though last month was added to another trial for hospitalized patients. 

In this file photo taken on May 15, 2021, people wait for their COVID-19 vaccine inside the International Conference Center during Peel Region's "Doses After Dark" overnight COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. (COLE BURSTON / AFP)

Canada

Ontario is in the sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic driven by the highly transmissible BA2 sub-variant of the Omicron coronavirus and hospitalizations are likely to rise over the coming weeks, the most populous Canadian province's top doctor said on Monday.

"In the last few weeks we have seen an increase in the percent positivity and upward trend in wastewater surveillance and a rise in hospitalizations. These trends are likely to continue for the next several weeks," Ontario's chief medical officer Kieran Moore said at a briefing.

However, Moore said a rise in infections was not unexpected as authorities lifted health restrictions after impact from the original Omicron variant started to wane, adding that Ontario now had tools, such as antiviral pills for COVID-19, to manage the impact on its health case system.

"Antiviral treatments, including the oral antiviral Paxlovid can help to reduce hospitalizations, protect hospital capacity, and protect patients at high risk of severe health outcomes," Moore said.

Netherlands

Starting from Monday, an official COVID-19 test is no longer needed in the Netherlands to confirm whether someone is infected with the virus, according to the Dutch government.

A self-test is the starting point from now on for determining if someone is infected with COVID-19. This means that it is no longer necessary to have this confirmed by the Municipal Public Health Services, as was usual before.

A GGD test remains possible for specific groups, for example, people who work in healthcare or who cannot use a self-test. A formal polymerase chain reaction test can still be requested by people who need proof of health, like those traveling abroad.

Healthcare workers are seen inside the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit in North Oaks Hospital in Hammond, Louisiana, on Aug 13, 2021. (EMILY KASK / AFP)

US

The Biden administration faces an April 18 deadline on whether to extend or end a mandate requiring travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and in transit hubs.

Industry groups and Republican lawmakers want the White House to end the 14-month-old mask mandate. But it comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases – including numerous US officials who attended a recent white-tie dinner in Washington.

New White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha told NBC News on Monday that US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  Director Rochelle Walensky will decide whether the mandate should be extended

New White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha told NBC News on Monday that US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  Director Rochelle Walensky will decide whether the mandate should be extended.

"I know the CDC is working on developing a scientific framework for how to answer that. We're going to see that framework come out in the next few days," Jha said, adding extending the mandate "is absolutely on the table."

The CDC, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, in February eased its guidance for face covering and now says nearly all of the U.S. population live in counties where they do not need to wear masks indoors.

Airlines, travel groups and the US Chamber of Commerce in a letter to Jha released on Monday reiterated a call to end the mask mandate.

"The science clearly supports lifting the mask mandate, particularly in the context of recent CDC guidance, which found that the overwhelming majority of the US population no longer needs to wear masks indoors," the letter said.

Last month, the US Senate voted 57 to 40 to overturn the public health order requiring masks on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, drawing a veto threat from President Joe Biden.

The mask requirements have resulted in significant friction on US airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration said that since January 2021, there have been a record 7,060 unruly passenger incidents reported – and 70 percent involved masking rules.

The administration is also considering lifting requirements that international visitors get a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel, as many countries have dropped testing requirements. The administration requires foreign air travelers to be vaccinated.