WHO warns of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines

A health worker holds a vial of the Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 while Charles Chaplin's movies are projected at the Lumiere movie theater, used as vaccination center, in Rosario, Santa Fe province, Argentina, on March 26, 2021. (MARCELO MANERA / AFP)

BRUSSELS / BARCELONA / GENEVA / ADDIS ABABA / SAO PAULO / OTTAWA / SANTIAGO / HAVANA / PRAGUE / QUITO / PARIS / BERLIN / NAIROBI / MEXICO CITY / RABAT / MOSCOW / KHARTOUM / LONDON – The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said it was concerned about the potential criminal exploitation of the huge unmet global demand for COVID-19 vaccines, warned against counterfeit vaccines and urged people to stick to government-run vaccination programs.

According to WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, several ministries of health, national regulatory authorities and public procurement organizations across the world had received suspicious offers to supply COVID-19 vaccines.

The WHO is "aware of vaccines being diverted and reintroduced into the supply chain, with no guarantee that cold chain has been maintained," he said, adding that counterfeit vaccines have been sold on the internet, primarily on the dark web. There have also been reports of "criminal groups" reusing empty vaccine vials.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said it was concerned about the potential criminal exploitation of the huge unmet global demand for COVID-19 vaccines, warned against counterfeit vaccines and urged people to stick to government-run vaccination programs.

According to Ghebreyesus, several ministries of health, national regulatory authorities and public procurement organizations across the world had received suspicious offers to supply COVID-19 vaccines.

A health worker prepares a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Francistown, Botswana, on March 26, 2021. (MONIRUL BHUIYAN / AFP)


The European Medicines Agency approved on Friday two factories for the production of COVID-19 vaccines, with the European Union banking on them to boost deliveries in the second quarter and accelerate the slow pace of inoculations in the bloc.

The EMA said in statement it had cleared the Halix production site in the Netherlands that makes the AstraZeneca vaccine and a facility in Marburg in Germany producing BioNTech/Pfizer shots.

The European Union has blamed massive shortfalls of AstraZeneca doses for the slow roll-out of vaccines across the bloc, while BioNTech/Pfizer has plans to sharply increase its deliveries in the second quarter.

European Internal Markets Commissioner Thierry Breton said vaccines produced by AstraZeneca within the bloc would stay there until the company returns to fulfilling its delivery commitments.

AstraZeneca’s request to the EMA for authorisation of its Dutch plant run by subcontractor Halix was only confirmed on Wednesday by EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

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African countries had conducted over 39.8 million COVID-19 tests, said the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

The Africa CDC, a specialized healthcare agency of the African Union (AU), said COVID-19 tests that were conducted by African countries during the past week, registered a 5-percent increase from tests carried out in the previous week, the agency announced in its latest continental update issued late Thursday.

According to the agency, Africa's total COVID-19 positivity rate is 10.3 percent.

The African continent reported 4,154,938 COVID-19 cases with 111,318 deaths as of Friday noon, while 3,723,621 patients have recovered from the disease, according to the latest figures from the Africa CDC


Brazil reported 3,650 new deaths, breaking a record for fatalities for the second day this week as the nation’s outbreak continues to worsen. A record was set for new cases on Thursday, when more than 100,000 daily infections were reported. Occupancy of intensive care beds in 17 of 27 states has risen above 90 percent.

Some 64.4 percent of active cases of the novel coronavirus disease in Sao Paulo, Brazil, correspond to the more contagious and deadly P.1 variant that emerged in the Amazon, according to a study released by Sao Paulo's city hall on Friday.

The report was carried out by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo's Institute of Tropical Medicine and released by the city's Secretary of Health Edson Aparecido.

The study also showed that 6.8 percent of the cases in the city belonged to the coronavirus variant that emerged in the United Kingdom.

A doctor from Humber River Hospital administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a LOFT community housing complex in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, March 26, 2021. (COLE BURSTON / AFP)


Canada is expected to see a cumulative total of almost one million COVID-19 cases next week as the country's coronavirus variants continue spreading, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said Friday.

With variants now circulating widely, the PHAC said the COVID-19 case number could rise to 12,000 a day if Canadians maintain or increase the number of people they are in contact with daily.

As of Friday afternoon, Canada reported a cumulative total of 955,030 cases and 22,830 deaths, according to CTV.


Chile registered 7,626 new COVID-19 infections in one day, the highest number ever, surpassing the record for the second time this month and bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 962,321, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

According to the ministry's report, another 63 deaths were registered in the same period, for a death toll of 22,587.


Cuba reported on Friday 832 new COVID-19 infections in the last day, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 70,634, along with five more deaths to a total of 413, the Public Health Ministry said.

The ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology Francisco Duran reported in his daily broadcast that of the infections registered in the last day, 805 of them were contacts of confirmed cases, which verifies the high level of transmission in the Caribbean country.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic's Chamber of Deputies on Friday approved the extension of the country's state of emergency till April 11.

The government had submitted a request to the lower house to extend it till April 27, but a compromise was struck.

Without the prolongation, the current state of national emergency would have expired on March 28.

The state of emergency is needed for most of the government's coronavirus restrictions to stay in force, mainly the measures restricting people's movement.


Ecuador recorded 2,795 new COVID-19 infections and 38 more deaths in the last 24 hours, the Public Health Ministry said on Friday, bringing the total figures to 321,451 cases and 11,797 deaths.

The South American country is facing an uptick in infections in seven of its 24 provinces, as the hospital system nationwide is swamped due to the sustained increase in cases.

In several cities, local authorities have imposed restrictive measures to contain the spread of the virus, including no crowds.


Ethiopia has recorded the highest number of weekly COVID-19 cases in the African continent with 11,898 new COVID-19 cases, the Africa Centers for Disease Control (Africa CDC) said.

This is the second consecutive week that the East African country registered the highest number of weekly COVID-19 cases in the African continent, as the country reported 9,329 new COVID-19 cases last week, that was said to be the highest weekly increase for the previous week, according to the Africa CDC continental update issued late Thursday.


France will send a school class home once one COVID-19 infection is detected among its pupils, instead of three previously, in regions under tighter coronavirus restrictions, the education minister said on Friday.

Jean-Michel Blanquer said the new measure would come into force from next week in 19 departments with high coronavirus risks.

Since France began to impose new lockdowns in local regions last week to contain the spread of more contagious variants, the government has stuck with its stance to keep school closure as the last resort.

For the second day in a row, France's health authorities on Friday reported a daily increase of over 40,000 coronavirus cases and the deaths of 897 people, including 594 in retirement homes.

In the past 24 hours, 41,869 new infections were confirmed, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 4,465,956, second only to the United Kingdom in Europe.

People sit in front of the residence in the city of Munich, southern Germany, on March 26, 2021, amid the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. (CHRISTOF STACHE / AFP)


Germany warned its citizens on Friday not to make unnecessary trips to neighbouring France, Austria, Denmark and the Czech Republic because of rising COVID-19 infection rates.

The move also means people coming into Germany from those countries will have to provide a negative test not older than 48 hours at the border, the Robert Koch Institute for disease control said.

They will then have to go into a ten-day quarantine which can be shortened after a second negative test after five days, it added.

France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said cross-border workers living in eastern France and travelling into Germany every day would be required to take two COVID-19 tests per week.


Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday received the COVID-19 vaccine injection alongside First Lady Margaret Kenyatta in Nairobi.

The first family and senior government officials including Cabinet secretaries received vaccination shortly after Kenyatta addressed the nation and introduced a new raft of measures to contain the spread of the deadly virus.

Kenyatta who received the jab in public reiterated that it is one of the ways to safeguard oneself against the virus.


Mexico reported 5,303 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 651 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,219,845 infections and 200,862 deaths, according to health ministry data.

The real numbers of infected people and deaths are likely significantly higher than the official count, the government has said.


Morocco announced on Friday 514 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally of confirmed cases in the North African country to 493,867.

The total number of recoveries from COVID-19 in Morocco increased to 481,597 after 523 more were added.

The death toll rose to 8,793 with five new fatalities reported during the last 24 hours, while 426 people are in intensive care units.

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


Russia has registered 8,885 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 4,510,744, the country's COVID-19 response center said Saturday.

Meanwhile, as Russia reported 387 more deaths and 10,337 new recoveries, the respective total stood at 97,404 and 4,130,498, the center said.


A batch of China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines, donated by the Chinese government to Sudan, arrived here on Friday.

The batch was received at the Khartoum International Airport by Chinese Ambassador to Sudan Ma Xinmin, Chairman of Sudan's Higher Committee for Health Emergencies Siddiq Tawer, and Sudan's Health Minister Omer Al-Najeeb.


Another 6,187 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,325,315, according to official figures released Friday.

The country also reported another 70 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 126,515. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

More than 29.3 million people in Britain have been given the first jab of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the latest official figures.

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

Miami Beach Police escort people off Ocean Drive as curfew is in effect in Miami Beach, Florida, on March 26, 2021. (CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP)


The US government will distribute 11 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine next week in its continued effort to get 200 million shots in people’s arms in the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s term, the White House said on Friday.

The United States is still on track to deliver on its goal of making shots available to all adults by the end of May, Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, told reporters.

Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc expect to hit their target of supplying 220 million shots between them in the first quarter of 2021, he added.

More young adults in the United States reported feeling anxious or depressed during the past six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fewer people reported getting the help they needed, according to a US government study released on Friday.

The percentage of adults under age 30 with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder rose significantly about five months after the US imposed COVID-19 related lockdowns, and reported rising deaths from the fast-spreading virus.

Between August 2020 and February 2021, this number went up to 41.5 percent from 36.4 percent, as did the percentage of such people reporting that they needed, but did not receive, mental health counseling.

The study suggests that the rise in anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms reported correspond with the weekly number of reported COVID-19 cases.

The findings are based on a Household Pulse Survey conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Census Bureau to monitor changes in mental health status and access to care during the pandemic.