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Published: 09:54, October 13, 2021 | Updated: 00:01, October 14, 2021
WHO urges vaccine sharing to make mass coverage 'reality'
By Agencies
Published:09:54, October 13, 2021 Updated:00:01, October 14, 2021 By Agencies

A man reacts as he receives a jab of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine from a healthcare worker inside the Transvaco COVID-19 vaccine train stationed at the Springs Train Station outside of Johannesburg, on Aug 25 2021. (PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP)

GENEVA / TBILISI / KRANJ, Slovenia / MEXICO CITY / MOSCOW / HAVANA / PANAMA CITY / KYIV / ROME - World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday urged countries and companies controlling the supply of COVID-19 vaccines to prioritize supply to the vaccine sharing programme COVAX in order to meet vaccination targets.

"We're working with leaders to support the prioritization and planning that's needed to make 40 percent coverage a reality with aggressive and ambitious action," he said at a media briefing.

Russia

Russia's one-shot Sputnik Light vaccine shows 70 percent effectiveness against the Delta variant of coronavirus three months after injection, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said on Wednesday, citing the vaccine's developer.

The data was submitted by the developer, the Gamaleya Institute, to medical website medRxiv ahead of a peer review and based on 28,000 participants who received a dose of Sputnik Light, compared with a control group of 5.6 million individuals who were not vaccinated, it said.

The data comes as Russia battles soaring infections and hesitancy about vaccines at home, while struggling to compete with more established vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca which are each making hundreds of millions of doses.

Countries around the world are deploying or considering administering third doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or booster shots to some of their population, particularly those with weakened immune systems and the elderly, although there is no consensus among scientists about how broadly they should be used.

Sputnik Light as a booster for other vaccines will be almost as effective against the Delta variant as Russia's flagship two-shot Sputnik V vaccine, RDIF, which markets Sputnik V internationally, said in a statement.

RDIF said Sputnik Light would be over 83% effective against infection and over 94 percent effective against hospitalization.

Kirill Dmitriev, head of the RDIF, told Reuters he expected Sputnik Light to eventually become the main Russian vaccine against COVID-19.

"Eventually, we believe that Sputnik Light could be the main vaccine one year from now when many people will just need to get revaccinated or will have had COVID and won't need Sputnik V," said Dmitriev.

Russia will also test a nasal spray form of its Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 among adult volunteers, according to a state document published on Tuesday, as the country struggles to rein in rising numbers of infections and deaths.

The nasal spray is to be applied in two doses in a clinic in St Petersburg, according to the document published on the state register of medicines, which did not provide the planned timing of the clinical tests.

Meanwhile, Russia and the EU will discuss terms for the mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccine certificates for their respective shots at talks, the Interfax news agency cited Russia's health ministry as saying on Wednesday.

The EU's ambassador to Moscow last week said Russia has repeatedly delayed inspections by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) necessary for the certification of its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in the European Union.

Russia reported a record daily rise in coronavirus-related deaths for the second day running on Wednesday, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths that has led the Kremlin to demand that authorities speed up the pace of vaccinations.

Russia's coronavirus task force reported 984 coronavirus-related deaths, the highest single-day toll since the start of the pandemic, as well as 28,717 new infections in the last 24 hours.

A girl gets a dose of the Cuban made Soberana-02 vaccine for COVID-19 in Havana, Cuba, Aug 24, 2021. (RAMON ESPINOSA / AP)

Cuba

Cuba will start administering booster shots with its homegrown COVID-19 vaccines in November, Cuban Health Minister Jose Angel Portal said Tuesday at a press conference.

"In the very beginning, we will administer coronavirus booster shots to vulnerable groups and frontline workers, including doctors, nurses, scientists, and people with the highest likelihood of exposure to the virus," he told Xinhua.

The Caribbean nation also plans to expand vaccine studies to children under two, after more than 90 percent of kids aged 2-18 have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Portal said.

Cuba on Tuesday registered 2,638 cases and 37 related deaths, bringing the national counts to 923,966 and 7,928 respectively.

European Union

The European Union's (EU) Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) will start operating at the beginning of the next year, the EU's Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Tuesday.

HERA is to strengthen the European Health Union and better prepare the EU to respond to serious cross-border health threats by enabling rapid availability, access and distribution of needed countermeasures thus enabling a faster EU response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kyriakides also told a news conference after an informal meeting of the EU health ministers in Slovenia that over 75 percent of adults in the EU have been vaccinated against COVID-19 so far. 

Still, she urged the member states to continue vaccinating in order to end the pandemic.

This undated image provided by Merck & Co shows their new antiviral medication. Pharmaceutical company Merck & Co said on Oct 1, 2021 that its experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus and that it would soon ask health officials in the US and around the world to authorize its use. (MERCK & CO VIA AP)

Separately, the bloc may consider signing a supply deal with US drugmaker Merck for its experimental COVID-19 pill, but only after the company starts the process of seeking approval for the drug in the bloc, a senior EU official said on Tuesday.

The oral antiviral treatment molnupiravir has been developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. If approved by regulators, it would be the first COVID-19 drug administered orally and also the first treatment for mildly ailing patients, whereas existing drugs are mostly used to treat the critically ill.

The EU would consider a joint procurement of molnupiravir, "if Merck engages with EMA", the EU official told Reuters, referring to the European Medicines Agency.

The EU is now signing advance deals only when drugs have at least begun a so-called rolling review with EMA, the official said.

Under this procedure, the EU regulator assesses data as soon as they become available, instead of waiting for a formal application when all required information has been gathered.

ALSO READ: Rush for Merck's virus pill risks leaving poor countries behind

France

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said the country doesn’t need to fear a new COVID-19 wave for now, even though the virus hasn’t been completely overcome yet. 

He said there’s been a slight increases in cases recently as the weather turned colder. 

Georgia

Georgia on Tuesday reported 4,775 new COVID-19 cases, taking its total to 640,358, according to the country's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

Data from the NCDC showed that 37 people died in the last 24 hours, making the death toll to 9,306.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 238.66 million while the global death toll topped 4.86 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Italy


COVID-19 health passes will be mandatory for all workers in Italy from Friday, a measure that some politicians, unions and businesses fear will cause shortages and disruptions rather than boost inoculations and output as the government hopes.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet approved the rule - one of the world's strictest anti-COVID measures - in mid-September, making it obligatory from Oct. 15 for all workers either to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection. 

The government hoped the move would convince unvaccinated Italians to change their minds, but with over 80 percent of residents over the age of 12 already fully inoculated and infection rates low, that surge has not materialized. 

The rightist League and Brothers of Italy parties and some unions say that, to address the risk of staff shortages, the validity of COVID tests should be extended from 48 to 72 hours, and they should be free for unvaccinated workers.

"We will not be able to grant a swab every 48 hours to all the unvaccinated. The business people I am in contact with are extremely worried," said the League's Luca Zaia, governor of the wealthy north-eastern region of Veneto.

Some 15 percent of private and 8 percent of public sector workers have no Green Pass, an internal government document seen by Reuters estimates.

Under the new rules, effective until year-end, they will be suspended without pay and face a fine of up to 1,500 euros ($1,730) if they try to work on regardless.

The Green Pass policy has the backing of a majority of Italians, polls show, but it has also triggered angry demonstrations, and workers who have declined to get vaccinated have threatened to block the major port of Trieste if it is not rescinded.

Draghi has support from industrial lobby Confindustria, whose vice-president denied businesses risked being disruption and said it would favour of making the vaccine mandatory.

Public Administration Minister Renato Brunetta said the certificate would help to end remote working for civil servants by allowing fuller offices, a boost for small businesses in city centers.

But unions say the pass is not enough to ensure workplace safety from COVID and have criticized the decision to suspend the salaries of "no-vax" workers.

"This is a very restrictive measure that could have a serious impact on social stability and exacerbate an already complicated situation," the UIL union said in a statement.

Students are seen at the Universidad de Guadalajara as in-person learning returns after being halted amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Guadalajara state, Mexico, on Oct 4, 2021. (ULISES RUIZ / AFP)

Mexico

Mexico's ongoing third wave of COVID-19 has shown signs of abating over the past 10 weeks, Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo Lopez-Gatell said Tuesday.

According to the health official, indicators began this week with a 30 percent decline, representing the "most sustained" drop registered since the onset of the pandemic here in late February 2020.

"This decline, each week, has held steady by significant amounts," the official said at a press conference.

For example, compared to the first week of January 2021, during the peak of the second wave, the current level of hospital occupancy is 78 percent lower, Lopez-Gatell said.

Only a quarter of intensive care unit hospital beds reserved for COVID-19 cases are occupied, he added.

Moderna

Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa could be potential locations for Moderna's planned vaccine factory in Africa, the US drugmaker's co-founder and chairman said as it steps up its search for a site on the continent.

Moderna said last week it would build a plant in Africa to produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines a year, including its COVID-19 shot, as pressure grows on pharmaceutical companies to manufacture drugs in lower-income countries. read more

Noubar Afeyan, a biochemical engineer of Armenian origin who co-founded Moderna in 2010, said in an interview with Reuters late on Monday that the selection process would likely intensify now it has announced its Africa plans.

Health experts have said Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa could be candidates because they either have existing vaccine expertise and production, or have expressed an interest in developing such an industry.

Asked by Reuters whether those three countries were on Moderna's list of potential candidates, Afeyan said: "I can confirm that, yes."

Meanwhile, Moderna Inc said that Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has agreed to purchase an additional 176.5 million doses of its vaccine for the Covax facility, a program backed by the World Health Organization that aims to get shots to low-income nations. 

All of the doses, which will be delivered in the first half of next year, will be offered at the company’s lowest-tiered price, Moderna said.  

Panama

Panama has approved a booster dose of Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine for high-risk people, including healthcare workers, bedridden patients, nursing home residents and people over 55, health officials said on Tuesday.

The Central American country has reported 469,440 COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic and 7,275 deaths. More than 5.5 million vaccine doses have been administered since January, covering most of the eligible population.

"We have decided to begin the process of applying a booster shot to the population with the Pfizer vaccine, starting tomorrow in public and private hospitals," Health Minister Luis Sucre said.

The booster shot will be offered to people who received their second dose at least six months before and will target those at high risk of developing complications from the virus, he added.

Poland

Poland’s Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told TVN24 that the peak of the country’s fourth wave of COVID-19 will most likely come around the end of November and the beginning of December. 

Expectations for the peak of daily infections vary between 10,000 and 80,000 cases. 

ALSO READ: CureVac abandons virus shot after disappointing trial results

Ukraine

Ukraine registered 471 coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours, approaching the record daily toll of 481, which was reported on April 7, health ministry data showed on Wednesday.

The number of new daily coronavirus infections in Ukraine, which has a population of 41 million, has also increased over the past several weeks.

Ukraine registered 16,309 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours. It reported a total of 2.59 million COVID-19 cases and 59,523 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

This file photo taken on June 4, 2021 shows a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Paris, France. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

United States

Scientists at the US Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday that Moderna Inc had not met all of the agency's criteria to support use of booster doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, possibly because the efficacy of the shot's first two doses has remained strong.

FDA staff said in documents that data for Moderna's vaccine showed that a booster does increase protective antibodies, but the difference in antibody levels before and after the shot was not wide enough, particularly in those whose levels had remained high.

The documents were released ahead of a meeting later this week of the FDA's outside expert advisers to discuss booster doses of the vaccine.

The FDA typically follows the advice of its experts, but is not bound to do so. A panel of advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet next week to discuss specific recommendations on who can receive the boosters, if the FDA authorizes them.

Moderna is seeking authorization for a 50-microgram booster dose, half the strength of the original vaccine given in two shots about four weeks apart.

Data on the need for boosters has largely come from Israel, which rolled out the additional shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to large swaths of its population, and has provided details on the effectiveness of that effort to US advisers.

No similar real-world study populations exist for the Moderna vaccines.

Cars waits to enter Canadian customs at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, New York  on Aug 9, 2021. (DEREK GEE / THE BUFFALO NEWS VIA AP)

In another development, the United States will relax coronavirus restrictions at its land borders with Canada and Mexico for vaccinated travelers next month, allowing for the resumption of non-essential travel like tourism.

The changes, announced by members of New York’s congressional delegation, come after the White House previously announced its intention to begin allowing airline passengers from a broad swath of countries – including Canada, Mexico, and Europe – to enter the country with proof of vaccination and a coronavirus test in early November.

The changes are expected to invigorate international travel before the holiday season, and Tuesday’s announcement addresses complaints by those living in border communities that the US was imposing different rules for those traveling by air than for those driving to see friends and family.

“This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families, and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.

The new policy will end restrictions on non-essential travel that were first implemented in March 2020, though Americans were not restricted from returning home. The new standard will also apply to cross-border ferry travel.

In addition to not yet setting a firm date in November for non-essential travel to resume, officials have not yet decided how they will handle instances of travelers from Mexico and Canada who have vaccine doses from two different manufacturers. 

And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to come to a final determination on how to handle travelers who received the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, which is not yet approved in the US but was distributed in both Mexico and Canada.

The US expects to announce those decisions soon, the officials said. But those crossing the border by land won’t be required to produce a negative coronavirus test as air travelers must. 

Venezuela

Former Venezuelan Defense Minister and retired general Raul Baduel, considered a political prisoner by the opposition, has died after contracting coronavirus, the attorney general said on Tuesday.

Baduel was arrested in 2009 on corruption charges after falling out with the Socialist Party, eventually placed on house arrest and then re-jailed in 2017 for allegedly conspiring against Maduro.

"We regret the death of Raul Isaias Baduel from cardiac-respiratory failure, the product of COVID-19, though he was receiving the corresponding medical care and had gotten the first dose of the vaccine," attorney general Tarek Saab said in a Twitter post.

Saab did not specify whether Baduel was hospitalized or in prison when he died. He had been held at a Sebin intelligence police site.

WHO

The World Health Organization is awaiting full clinical data on the antiviral pill made by Merck & Co Inc to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients, a WHO spokesperson said on Tuesday, a day after the company said it had applied for US emergency use authorization.

WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier, asked at a UN briefing in Geneva about the drug, said: "Indeed, this is an interesting development. We would have to see the full data about it. If it holds true, then it is another weapon in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic."

The treatment, molnupiravir, cut the rate of hospitalization and death by 50 percent in a trial of mild-to-moderately ill patients who had at least one risk factor for the disease, according to data released this month.

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