The head of the World Trade Organization says it’s paramount to diversify vaccine manufacturing and develop production in Africa and Latin America to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
On the eve of a global health summit in Rome, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told European Union legislators on Thursday that normal market forces for exports and imports can’t apply when it comes to the life-or-death issue of COVID-19 vaccines. Many of the world’s wealthiest nations were hoarding the shots for their own population.
She says the world has the capacity to manufacture 5 billion vaccine doses overall but as the virus has spread “we require twice and three times that. So the capacity was not there.”
A main challenges is diversifying vaccine production, which is now 80% concentrated in 10 European, North American and South Asian nations. She says “Africa, with 1.3 billion people, has 0.17 % of the manufacturing capacity of the world,” and Latin America has about 2% of global production capacity. “This has to change.”
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— European Union signs Pfizer vaccine contract for 1.8B doses
— China says it’s providing vaccines to almost 40 African nations, where vaccinations have lagged
— When to wear a mask depends mostly on whether or not vaccinated
— Teen baker sweetens lives making desserts for those in need
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BANGKOK — Chinese citizens living in Thailand have begun being vaccinated as part of China’s global campaign to inoculate its nationals living and working abroad.
China recently donated 500,000 vaccine doses, and Thailand agreed in turn to inoculate Chinese nationals as it slowly rolls out shots for its own citizens to contain a coronavirus surge that has sickened tens of thousands in the past two months.
It was unclear how many of the 150,000 Chinese citizens living in Thailand will be inoculated under Beijing’s “Spring Sprout” program in this round of inoculations. The Thai government has said it will vaccinate Thais before inoculating most other foreigners, regardless of risk factors or age.
BANGUI, Central African Republic — Central African Republic, one of the last countries in the world to receive COVID-19 vaccines, launched its immunization campaign Thursday.
The government received 80,000 doses of AstraZeneca from COVAX and started vaccinating health workers, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Alexandre Von Xylander, the country’s WHO representative, says a second shipment of vaccines will follow to the nation of nearly 6 million people.
While health officials welcomed the launch, some residents had lingering doubts about receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“In South Africa, people have rejected this vaccine and now they are going to vaccinate us with it,” said Mariette Kossi Bangue, a sociology student at the University of Bangui.
The Health Ministry has registered 7,090 confirmed cases and 96 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Coronavirus infections in Malaysia surpassed 6,000 for a second straight day, pushing its total tally close to half a million.
The government will hold a meeting Friday to decide whether to tighten a lockdown already in place by halting all economic activities. The health ministry reported a record 6,806 cases Friday, pushing the country’s tally to 492,302. A record 59 deaths were reported, bringing total deaths to 2,099. This marked more than a four-fold jump from January in both total cases and deaths.
Daily cases have surged past 4,000 in recent weeks, prompting Malaysia to impose a one-month near lockdown until June 7, with economic activities allowed to operate. Law Minister Takiyuddin Hassan told local media that Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin will chair a National Security Council meeting on Friday to decide whether to implement a “total lockdown” with the spike in cases.
RIO DE JANEIRO — A former Brazilian health minister has denied receiving any direct orders from President Jair Bolsonaro during his 10 months in the post, providing Senate testimony analysts consider an attempt to shield the country’s leader from blame regarding the government’s pandemic response.
Eduardo Pazuello provided testimony on Wednesday to the Senate committee investigating the Bolsonaro administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. He was Brazil’s top health official from May 2020 to March 2021.
He told the senators that “the actions were all mine.” He added the president never “issued an order to do anything other than what I was doing.”
That appeared to contradict comments Pazuello made during a Oct. 22 live Facebook broadcast when, sitting beside Bolsonaro, the former army general said their relationship was simple. “One orders,” he said, pointing to Bolsonaro. “The other obeys,” he said, pointing to himself.
He was Brazil’s top health official from May 2020 to March 2021. Pazuello proved more compliant as minister than his two predecessors who left amid disagreements with Bolsonaro, particularly over prescription of chloroquine to treat COVID-19. Pazuello’s ministry backed the use and distribution of the unproven malaria pill.
Brazil, which is posting 2,000 daily deaths, has registered nearly 440,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus, second highest in the world.
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine officials have been ordered not to disclose in advance the COVID-19 vaccine brands to be administered in immunization sites after those offering newly arrived Pfizer shots drew big crowds in what could be an indication of public preference for Western vaccines.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano says people will be informed of the vaccine brand they’re going to get at vaccination centers. If they refuse to get injected, they will have to go back to the end of the waiting line.
“The best vaccine is the one that is available,” Ano says. “In order to overcome brand preference, local government units should not announce the brand of vaccine to be used in vaccination centers.”
Big crowds showed up this week at vaccination sites in Paranaque city and the nearby capital of Manila where limited doses of Pfizer were offered.
The Philippines, a coronavirus hotspot in Southeast Asia, has received more than 8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine since February, more than 5 million of which came from the China-based Sinovac Biotech. Less than half of the total vaccines have been administered so far, officials say, adding that among the problems they have faced were public hesitancy and low numbers of people registering for shots.
A first batch of 193,050 doses of Pfizer vaccine was delivered last week.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive arm has signed a third vaccine contract with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 shots.
The European commission says the deal will allow the buying of 900 million doses of the current shots and of a serum adapted to the virus’ variants, with an option to purchase an extra 900 million shots.
To avoid delivery delays, the deal with Pfizer-BioNTech stipulates production of doses must be based in the EU and essential components are sourced from the region.
The Commission says under the new deal, EU countries will have the possibility to donate some of their allocated doses to non-EU countries or through the U.N-backed effort known as COVAX, which is providing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen by the end of this week, 260 million doses of vaccine will have been delivered in Europe. She acknowledged the slow start to vaccinations, brought on by supply issues.
LONDON — Prince William has received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as Britain’s National Health Service expands its inoculation program to younger people.
William, 38, received his shot on Tuesday at London’s Science Museum, one of the large-scale vaccination centers opened around the country. A photo of the prince receiving his shot was posted on his social media account Thursday. Britain last week opened its national vaccination program to anyone over age 34. The program has been gradually expanded to younger age groups since it began in early December.
Other members of the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, have also received their shots publicly to promote vaccine take-up.
More than 70% of Britain’s adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s government on Thursday issued an appeal, urging people to get vaccinated against coronavirus to return to a normal life.
The request from the minister for planning and development, Asad Umar, comes amid a slight but steady increase in infections and deaths from coronavirus. Although Pakistan is offering free vaccinations, many people have not responded, mainly because of a lack of awareness.
Pakistan has vaccinated about 4.7 million in the country with a population of 220 million. On Thursday, Pakistan reported 4,207 confirmed cases and 131 deaths in the past 24 hours.
On Wednesday, Pakistan eased COVID-19 related restrictions despite warnings from health experts who wanted the government to extend a lockdown lifted last week.
Since then, the country has witnessed a slight increase in confirmed cases and deaths from coronavirus.
Pakistan has reported more than 890,391 confirmed infections and 19,987 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic.
BERLIN — A top European Union official is declaring the bloc’s COVID-19 vaccination drive a success after its much-criticized slow start.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU’s executive Commission, proclaimed in comments broadcast Thursday that “we are the only region in the world that has managed both to supply our own population and to share fairly with others.” She touted the EU’s role as the world’s leading exporter of vaccines.
Von der Leyen told an event organized by Germany’s WDR public television that, by the end of this week, 260 million doses of vaccine will have been delivered in Europe. She acknowledged that countries such as the U.S. and U.K. were faster to start with, but said “that has been put into perspective over time.”
She said: “Yes, there was a lot of criticism of the European Union at the beginning. What counts in the end is that the European Union reliably delivers vaccines to its 450 million citizens day by day, and that we can say we got there together as a community. Measured by that, our European vaccination campaign is a success.”
SINGAPORE — Organizers say the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual defense summit, will be canceled, making it the second key event in Singapore to be axed this week.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies says the global COVID-19 situation has deteriorated partly due to the emergence of new variants. It said in a statement Thursday that a rise in local cases in Singapore, the introduction of new restrictions and prospect of further tightening in the city-state created uncertainties and made it unviable to hold an in-person dialogue due June 4-5.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was among top military officials and diplomats set to attend the dialogue that has been held yearly since 2002.
The cancellation came just three days after the World Economic Forum scrapped its annual meeting set for August in Singapore.
Singapore’s Defence Ministry said the cancellation of the Shangri-La Dialogue was regrettable but a responsible move.
After successful keeping the virus at bay for months, Singapore is seeing a resurgence, with infections of untraceable origin rising to 48 cases in the past week, from 10 the previous week. The spike in cases has further delayed Singapore’s plan to launch a travel bubble with Hong Kong.
The government recently imposed stringent social distancing measures until June 13, restricting public gatherings to two people and banning dine-in service at restaurants. Schools also moved online after students in several institutions tested positive.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan’s worst outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic grew Thursday, with a worrisome 63 new cases not having a clear connection to existing cases.
The island raised its alert level this week, banning indoor gatherings of more than five people and outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people. Schools are shut for two weeks, and many people are working from home.
The majority of the cases in the latest outbreak have been discovered in the capital, Taipei, and neighboring New Taipei.
The island overall reported 286 new cases on Thursday that were transmitted domestically and more than 600,000 people are in quarantine because they were exposed to someone who was infected.
In the last week, the island has recorded more than 1,000 cases alone, accounting for more than a third of its pandemic total of 2,825.
Most cases last year were among travelers, and the island was hailed for its success in keeping out the virus, through robust public health measures like quarantines and contact tracing.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka will halt inbound passengers at all airports for 10 days starting Friday amid a COVID-19 surge.
Departures will be allowed, and passengers transiting for less than 12 hours with a confirmed ticket to an onward destination are also allowed.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka will also allow emergency diversions, freight operations and humanitarian flights from May 21-31.
The restrictions come amid a spike of infections and deaths since last month. The island nation has reported 1,015 deaths in total and 142,746 people infected as of Wednesday.
Health officials are attributing the current surge to people joining celebrations and shopping last month to mark the traditional new year.
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council is calling for accelerated availability of coronavirus vaccines for Africa, expressing concern the continent has received only about 2% of all vaccines administered globally.
A presidential statement approved by all 15 members at a council meeting Wednesday on promoting post-pandemic recovery in Africa and addressing the root causes of conflict on the continent reiterated the need for “equitable access to quality, safe, efficacious, and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccinations to all.”
It calls for “increased and accelerated donation of safe and effective vaccine doses from developed economies” and others with supplies to African countries in need, especially through the World Health Organization’s ACT-Accelerator program, which includes the COVAX facility to buy and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries.
The council acknowledged ongoing discussions on waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines aimed at providing vaccinations to Africans and all others in need.
BOSTON — Research from 280 nursing homes in 21 states across the U.S. gives a real-world look at how well COVID-19 vaccines are protecting residents who did and did not get the shots.
About 1% of residents tested positive for the virus within two weeks of receiving their second dose, and only 0.3% did more than two weeks after being fully vaccinated, researchers from Brown University and the Genesis HealthCare network reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Most of the cases did not produce any symptoms.
The shots also seemed to help protect unvaccinated residents: Cases dropped from 4.3% within two weeks of the first vaccination clinic to 0.3% more than 42 days after the event among folks who had not received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
WASHINGTON — House Democrats investigating a contractor the Trump administration hired to help make coronavirus vaccines blasted the company’s officials for not correcting serious deficiencies that resulted in millions of ruined Johnson & Johnson doses.
During Wednesday’s joint hearing by two House committees investigating Emergent BioSolutions’ failures under a no-bid, $628 million contract, Emergent Chief Executive Robert Kramer revealed that last year, multiple batches of another COVID-19 vaccine, being made at the same Baltimore factory for AstraZeneca, also were contaminated.
Emergent has received more than $271 million but hasn’t produced any doses that could be distributed.
The company was handed the contract in May 2020, despite multiple Food and Drug Administration inspections documenting poor quality controls and inadequate strategy for preventing contamination. Despite FDA warnings, Emergent didn’t correct those problems, leading to contamination of about 15 million J&J doses since discarded. More than 100 million additional J&J doses are undergoing FDA safety testing.