EU weighs dumping Astra jab
The EU's internal markets commissioner Thierry Breton hinted on Sunday, local time, that the bloc might decide not to order AstraZeneca's coronavirus jab again following delays in delivering the first batches of the vaccine.
"We're pragmatic. My priority, as far as the vaccines are concerned, is to ensure that the firms we have contracts with deliver them punctually," Mr Breton told BFMTV television.
Brussels had originally ordered 120 million doses of the Anglo-Swedish group's jab for the 27 member states in the first quarter and 180 million in the second quarter.
But the drug maker "only delivered 30 million, thus creating the problems that everyone has seen," Mr Breton said.
And only another 70 million will be delivered in the second quarter, he continued, but added: "Nothing is decided. Talks are still ongoing".
The EU commissioner insisted that any such decision would "not be for epidemiological or medical reasons".
"When looking at the data, the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the disease," he said.
French industry minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher had suggested on Friday that the EU might not renew its contract with AstraZeneca in 2022 after Denmark became the first European country to stop using the jab altogether over suspected rare but serious side effects.
While other countries also suspended its use, at least temporarily, most have subsequently resumed after the European Medicines Agency (EMA), emphasised the benefits of the vaccine, judging it "safe and effective".
Pannier-Runacher said that the EU had "not started discussions with Johnson & Johnson and with AstraZeneca for a new contract, whereas we have already started discussions with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna", the makers of two other vaccines on the market in Europe.
EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen also said this week that German biotech firm BioNTech and US pharma giant Pfizer had shown themselves to be "reliable partners, who have honoured their commitments and have reacted quickly with regard to our needs".
In France, 23 cases and eight deaths have been reported of rare blood clots after taking the AstraZeneca jab, out of more than 2.7 million doses administered so far.
Nevertheless, Alain Fischer, an immunologist who heads the government's vaccination advisory board, told French radio on Sunday the benefits of the jab for people aged 55 and over "very much outweighed the risks" of possible complications.
ISRAELIS GO MASKLESS IN VIRUS VICTORY
Israelis stepped into the streets without masks on Sunday for the first time in a year, a key milestone as the country vaccinates its way out of a coronavirus nightmare.
"It's very strange but it's very nice," said Eliana Gamulka, 26, after getting off a bus near the busy Jerusalem shopping boulevard of Jaffa Street and removing her face covering.
"You can't pretend that you don't know anyone any more," she smiled. With over half the population fully vaccinated in one of the world's fastest anti-COVID 19 inoculation campaigns, the health ministry announced on Thursday that masks would no longer be required in public outdoor spaces.
For Gamulka, a project manager, the good news came at the perfect time: just two weeks before her wedding.
It will be "very nice to celebrate with everyone, now without masks," she said. "The pictures will be great! I'm very relieved. We can start living again."
The vaccination of close to five million people has sent Israel's coronavirus caseload tumbling from some 10,000 new infections per day as recently as mid-January, to around 200 cases a day.
That has allowed the reopening of schools, bars, restaurants and other indoor gatherings - although masks are still required in indoor public spaces.
And even before Health Minister Yuli Edelstein's announcement came into effect, punters in the popular bars of Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market were mask-free and smiling on Thursday evening.
INDIA VIRUS CRISIS DEEPENS
More government hospital beds will be freed for COVID-19 patients, India's health ministry said Sunday, as the vast nation grappled with a worsening virus crisis and states appealed for additional supplies of oxygen and treatment drugs.
The country of 1.3 billion people added a record-high of 261,500 new cases on Sunday, with one-in-six people who underwent tests returning positive coronavirus results, the ministry said.
India is the world's second most-infected nation with almost 14.8 million cases. Hospitals usually reserved for employees of ministries or public sector companies should convert some of their wards into COVID-19 facilities equipped with ICU and oxygen-supported beds, ventilators, laboratories and healthcare staff, the government said.
"This will go a long way to address the shortage of beds being reported from some states," the ministry added.
The railway ministry said special trains would transport oxygen tankers to needy states.
In the capital New Delhi - the worst-hit city in India - 25,500 infections were reported in the past 24 hours.
"The cases are rising very fast," Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a video statement."Only 100 beds left. Even oxygen is in short supply."
His government added that millions of pilgrims who attended an ongoing religious festival - the Kumbh Mela - had to quarantine for two weeks if they returned to Delhi.
Nearly 3,700 people have tested positive in the past week in the city of Haridwar, which lies along the Ganges river where the Kumbh Mela is being observed, the Uttarakhand state government said.
India has administered more than 122 million jabs so far, but some states have complained of low stocks and experts have said that the rollout needs to be sped up.
GLOBAL DEATH TOLL PASSES THREE MILLION
The global COVID-19 death toll passed three million on Saturday as the pandemic continues to speed up despite vaccination campaigns, leading countries like India to impose new lockdowns to fight spiralling infection numbers.
It is the latest grim milestone after coronavirus surfaced in central China in December 2019 and has infected more than 139 million people, leaving billions more under crippling lockdowns and ravaging the global economy.
An average of more than 12,000 deaths were recorded globally every day in the past week, shooting the overall toll past three million on Saturday, according to an AFP tally.
And the pandemic is showing no sign of slowing down: the 829,596 new infections reported worldwide on Friday is the highest number yet, according to AFP's tally.
The daily average of 731,000 cases registered over the last week is also close to being a record.
India's capital New Delhi went into a weekend lockdown Saturday as the world's second-most populous nation recorded 234,000 new cases and 1,341 deaths.
India now has three times the daily cases of the United States, the world's worst-hit nation, and families are clamouring for drugs and hospital beds.
Hopes that South Asian countries might have seen the worst of the pandemic have been dashed, with India recording over two million new cases this month alone and Bangladesh and Pakistan imposing new shutdowns.
Udaya Regmi of the international Red Cross said the "truly frightening" South Asian surge was a "wake-up call to the world".
"Vaccines must be available to everyone, everywhere, rich and poor to overcome this terrible pandemic," Regmi added.
Richer countries that have waged mass inoculation efforts have seen their virus numbers plummet. Britain, which has given 60 per cent of the population at least one vaccination dose, now records around 30 deaths a day - down from 1,200 in late January.
In Brazil, the country with the third-highest death toll in the world where more than 365,000 people have died from COVID-19, night shifts have been added to several cemeteries as Diggers work around the clock to bury the dead.
"We try not to get upset in our work, but it is sad, it is a lot of people," one of the gravediggers there said after a long shift.
Despite the high infection rate, the government of Brazil's most populous state Sao Paulo announced it will allow businesses and places of worship to reopen from Sunday.
The "Brazil variant," a more-contagious mutation of the coronavirus that emerged in the Amazon late last year, is fuelling fears the pandemic could flare anew, leading several countries to suspend flights from Brazil.
REGULATORS TO RULE ON J & J JAB
A decision on whether to end a US pause in vaccinations with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot is likely by Friday, top US pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci said on Sunday.
A government-convened expert panel has been assessing the vaccine's possible links to a clotting disorder seen in a half-dozen relatively young women, none with previously known clotting disorders.
Meantime, the European Medicines Agency said it expected to rule on the safety of the Johnson & Johnson's shot on Tuesday after evaluating data on blood clotting.
Dr Fauci said that by Friday "we should have an answer as to where we're going with it. I would think that we're not going to go beyond Friday in the extension of this pause."
Dr Fauci noted that the clotting disorder was "an extraordinarily rare event."
"I believe we'll get back with it," he said, though possibly with some restrictions or warnings on its use.
US health authorities have reported six cases of women developing brain clots along with low blood platelet counts, including one death, within two weeks of getting the one-dose vaccine. All the women were between 18 and 49.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky has said that the symptoms in the women suffering clotting disorders were consistent with rare side effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine seen in Europe.
The clotting problem has not been linked to the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
It comes as a 21-yera-old university student died a day after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. John Foley, 21, died unexpectedly last Sunday - a day after he was administered the one-dose jab, Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Kode Sammarco told Fox 19.
The cause of Foley's death is under investigation by the Ohio Department of Health and the coroner's office.
HALF OF US ADULTS HAVE RECEIVED JAB
More than half of US adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, government data showed on Sunday, as the White House bids to beat a worrying surge in new cases.
Roughly 130 million Americans aged 18 and over have received a shot, representing 50.4 percent of the adult population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Around 84 million adults are fully vaccinated, or 32.5 percent of the adult population.
The United States is a world leader in vaccinations, but a recent surge in new daily infections prompted top pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci to warn on Sunday that the country remains in a "precarious position."
White House efforts to speed up vaccinations hit a snag when health authorities reported six cases of young women developing a clotting disorder after taking the Johnson & Johnson shot.
A government-convened expert panel has been assessing the issue and a decision on whether to end a pause on J&J vaccinations is likely by Friday, Dr Fauci told ABC's This Week.
"I believe we'll get back with it," he said, though he added that there may be some restrictions or warnings on its use.
The CDC says 109 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine have been administered, along with 92 million doses from Moderna and 7.9 million doses of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine
Originally published as EU weighs dumping Astra jab