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Canada backs AstraZeneca; South Africa registers 1,599...



Canada backs AstraZeneca; South Africa registers 1,599 new cases

A nurse prepares to administer the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine during a Covid-19 public vaccination programme at Wilkins Hospital, Harare, Zimbabwe. (Photo: EPA-EFE / AARON UFUMELI)
By Bloomberg
14 Apr 2021 0

South Africa registered 1,599 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,561,559. A further 75 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 53,498.

Pfizer and BioNTech expect to deliver more vaccines to the European Union this quarter than currently targeted, offering good news to the bloc after deliveries of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine were paused. 

Denmark became the first EU country to drop AstraZeneca’s vaccine from its pandemic inoculation programme, reflecting the same concerns over blood clots that prompted the J&J pause. Russia said there have been no cases of clotting with its Sputnik vaccine.

South Africa said drugmakers including J&J demanded “unreasonable terms” in exchange for vaccine supplies. Germany’s rate of infections climbed further beyond a key threshold, and EU governments reached a deal on technical standards for so-called vaccine passports.

Key developments

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 137 million; deaths exceed 2.96 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 817 million shots given worldwide
  • Vaccine givers at an Atlantic City convention hall race time
  • Blood clots, anaphylaxis and other vaccine fears: QuickTake
  • What we know about the impact of Covid-19 on children
  • Which vaccine is best, and other questions answered (Video)

Vaccine hesitancy down in US

Vaccine hesitancy in the US is shrinking, though one in seven residents remain wary about getting a Covid-19 vaccine, largely because of concerns about side effects.

That segment is younger and less educated than average, according to a tracker released on Wednesday by the US Census Bureau that uses Household Pulse Survey data. Residents were surveyed before US regulators on Tuesday recommended pausing Johnson & Johnson vaccines because of concerns about rare blood clots.

Denver ends outdoor mask mandate

Denver ended its outdoor mask mandate but will continue to require masks on public transit and indoor events, Mayor Michael Hancock announced on Wednesday.

Astra shot safe, effective, Health Canada says

AstraZeneca’s vaccine may be linked to “very rare events of blood clots”, but the benefits of the shot outweigh its potential risk, Health Canada said in a statement following an assessment of scientific data.

The federal agency has updated warnings about the possible side effects in product information and is providing information about potential symptoms as well as when to seek prompt medical attention following vaccination.

J&J drops pregnant women from study

Johnson & Johnson will revise protocols on its Covid-19 vaccine study and exclude pregnant health workers from a trial in South Africa set to include 500,000 people. The move came after US regulators paused the shot’s roll-out on concerns of a rare and severe blood-clotting side effect.

While all studies are delayed, plans to run trials on children and pregnant women in South Africa have been set aside for now, said Glenda Gray, the co-lead of the South African studies, in an interview on Wednesday.

The research team would meet with South African regulators later on Wednesday, she said.

Airline middle seats cited as risk

The risk of being exposed to the Covid-19 virus on an airline flight drop by as much as half when airlines keep middle seats open, a new study published by the US government concludes, a safety practice the carriers have abandoned.

The study is the latest to roil the waters on a controversial topic: just how risky it is to travel during the pandemic. It didn’t attempt to estimate infection risks and was based on modelling done before the pandemic, so it didn’t consider rules that now require face masks on flights.

The risk of coming in contact with the virus dropped by 23% to 57% if airlines limited passenger loads on both single-aisle and widebody jets, compared with full occupancy, according to research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

US spy chiefs say virus source unknown

US spy agencies have yet to determine the source of the virus that causes Covid-19, top intelligence officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence, said analysts are still examining two theories: animal-to-human transmission, and the possibility of a laboratory accident. “The intelligence community does not know exactly where, when or how Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially,” Haines said.

CIA director William Burns, echoed Haines’ assessment, adding that, “the Chinese leadership has not been fully forthcoming or fully transparent” in working with the World Health Organization to pinpoint the origin of the coronavirus.

The spy chiefs’ assessments add to a growing number of top politicians and public health experts who argue that the theory of a lab leak warrants further investigation. In late March, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a mission to study the origins of the virus was too quick to dismiss the theory of a lab leak.

Russia says no clotting cases from Sputnik

The developers of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine said it hasn’t produced any instances of the dangerous blood-clotting that forced US officials to urge a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

Sputnik’s first dose uses the same human adenovirus as the Johnson & Johnson inoculation, but they have “significant differences in their structure” and it isn’t appropriate to extrapolate safety data from one to the other, the state-run Gamaleya Center said in a statement.

Switzerland allows theatres to open

Switzerland will allow theatres, cinemas and outdoor dining at restaurants to open starting on Monday, pursuing once again a more liberal course than many of its European neighbours.

While facilities will be subject to capacity limitations, the move stands in contrast to France, where officials have responded to an increase in Covid-19 infections by doubling down on restrictions.

Outdoor events will be limited to 100 people, while indoors at cinemas or concerts the maximum is 50.

EU sees J&J recommendation next week

The European Union’s drug regulator is accelerating its review of blood-clot reports with J&J’s vaccine and said it expects to issue a recommendation next week.

EU member states should store doses as they await guidance, and the European Medicines Agency said it will decide shortly whether “regulatory action is necessary.”

Astra shot induces strong T-cell response

The Astra vaccine generated a stronger cellular immune response than the Pfizer and BioNTech shot in people over 80 years old, a study by UK researchers shows.

Responses in T cells – a type of white blood cell that helps fight viruses – were seen in 31% of participants receiving the Astra vaccine and 12% of the Pfizer-BioNTech group, according to the University of Birmingham and UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium. Elderly people receiving a single dose of either vaccine showed equivalent antibody responses after five weeks.

It’s unclear if the different levels of T-cell responses observed will have any impact on clinical effectiveness, the researchers said.

New York City reschedules 4,000 vaccine appointments

New York City had to reschedule 4,000 shots on Tuesday due to the Johnson & Johnson pause, according to Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi. The “vast majority” of New Yorkers will keep the same appointments but receive the Pfizer or Moderna shots instead.

The city’s homebound senior vaccine programme, which depended on the J&J shot, will be suspended through Sunday, but the city is working to reschedule appointments and arrange transports by taxi or ambulance, Chokshi said.

Denmark is first in EU to drop Astra shot

Denmark has become the first country in the European Union to drop AstraZeneca’s vaccine from its inoculation programme amid concerns over blood clots.

Denmark was one of the first countries to suspend the vaccine, on March 11. At the time, the Danish Health Authority called the decision a precautionary move and reiterated its view that Astra’s vaccine was “effective and safe.”

Pfizer to speed EU deliveries

Pfizer and BioNTech will raise Covid-19 vaccine deliveries to the European Union by 50 million this quarter, offering good news to the bloc after Johnson & Johnson’s shot was paused.

The drugmakers will bring forward deliveries scheduled for the fourth quarter, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday. The additional supplies will add to the 200 million doses the EU was already expecting from Pfizer through June. The company provided about 66 million in the first three months of the year.

EU vaccine passports draw closer

European Union governments reached a deal on technical standards for so-called vaccine passports, advancing the effort to boost travel to and within the bloc in time for the summer season.

Envoys meeting in Brussels unanimously supported a draft legal text setting out specifics for “digital green certificates”, according to a diplomat familiar with the private meeting. The documents will provide proof their holders have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, tested negative or have recently recovered from the disease and are considered immune. DM

— With assistance by Marthe Fourcade, Diederik Baazil, Ruth Pollard, Mariajose Vera, Phil Serafino, Naomi Kresge, Fergal O’Brien, Siddharth Vikram Philip, Morten Buttler, Jake Rudnitsky, Peter Martin, and Vincent Del Giudice.


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