Vaccines Effective Against Variants But Overseas Travel Still Not Safe: WHO

Empty vials of different vaccines by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca against Covid-19 caused by the novel coronavirus are pictured at the vaccination center in Rosenheim, southern Germany, on April 20, 2021, amid the novel coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic.
Christof STACHE / AFP



Progress against the coronavirus pandemic remains “fragile” and international travel should be avoided, the World Health Organization’s Europe director warned on Thursday but stressed that authorised vaccines do work against variants of concern.

“Right now, in the face of a continued threat and new uncertainty, we need to continue to exercise caution, and rethink or avoid international travel,” Hans Kluge said, adding that “pockets of increasing transmission” on the continent could quickly spread.

The so-called Indian variant, which may be more transmissible, has now been identified in at least 26 of the 53 countries in the WHO Europe region, Kluge said during his weekly press conference.

But he said that authorised vaccines are effective against the new strain.

“All Covid-19 virus variants that have emerged so far do respond to the available, approved vaccines,” Kluge said, adding that all Covid-19 variants can be controlled with the same public health and social measures used until now.

So far only 23 percent of people in the region have received a vaccine dose, with just 11 percent having had both doses, Kluge said, as he warned citizens to continue to exercise caution.

“Vaccines may be a light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot be blinded by that light,” he said.

Monday Update: Zamfara Schoolgirls, COVID-19 Vaccines and Dangote Refinery

Good morning.

It’s a new day, a new week, and a new month.

We are leading with the continued search for schoolgirls abducted in Zamfara State, the imminent arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, and the importance of the soon-to-be-launched Dangote Refinery to the Nigerian economy.

More than 300 students were kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State on February 26, 2021.
More than 300 students were kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State on February 26, 2021.

Search for Jangebe Girls Continues

On Saturday, the students and staff abducted from Government Science Secondary School, Kagara in Niger State regained their freedom. A heartwarming development. But over 300 schoolgirls taken in a Junior Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State are still missing,

Zamfara State Governor Bello Matawalle on Sunday said his administration is still working on the release of the girls.

Zamfara is one of the states negotiating peace treaties with bandits and despite the kidnapping, which took place on Friday, Governor Matawalle has vowed such diplomatic efforts will continue.

Ali Ndume: The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army said blanket amnesty is not the solution to ending insecurity as it could lead to new forms of criminality.

Dig deeper: From Chibok to Dapchi to Jangebe, school kidnappings have become a major feature of terrorism in Nigeria.

A carton box of a Covishield vaccine developed by Pune based Serum Institute of India (SII) is unloaded at Mumbai airport on February 24, 2021, as part of the Covax scheme, which aims to procure and distribute inoculations fairly among all nations. INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP

Nigeria Set for COVID-19 Vaccines

About 3.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines are expected to leave India today and arrive in Nigeria by Tuesday, more than a year after the country recorded its first coronavirus infection.

The Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, announced this on Saturday.

The vaccines are courtesy COVAX, a global scheme backed by the World Health Organisation to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines across the world.

But there might still be delays. This isn’t the first time government officials have declared a date on which the vaccines might arrive.

“I can assure you that the vaccines are coming and they are coming very quickly barring any change in the delivery plan that has been released to us by UNICEF,” Mustapha said.

NCDC: On Sunday, Nigeria reported 240 new cases of the virus and two deaths, according to the disease control agency.

A file photo of Africa's richest man, Aliko Dangote. His refinery is expected to be one of the largest in the world.
A file photo of Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote. His refinery is expected to be one of the largest in the world.

Dangote’s Refinery nears Completion

Despite being one of the world’s largest producers of crude, Nigeria has lacked adequate refining capacity for decades. Most of the country’s refined petroleum products are imported, drawing on scarce foreign exchange resources.

But this is about to change with the near-completion of the Dangote Oil Refinery, a 650,000 barrels per day integrated refinery project on the outskirts of Lagos.

Chaperoned by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, the refinery is expected to be Africa’s biggest oil refinery and the world’s biggest single-train facility. Its pipeline infrastructure is the largest in the world and it is sustained by a 400MW power plant.

But the main allure for Governor of the Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele, who joined other high-powered executives to inspect the facility recently, is how the facility will help to conserve foreign exchange and strengthen the local economy

What else is happening?

Femi Falana: The senior lawyer has criticized the arrest of a former aide to Kano State Governor, Salisu Tanko Yakassai.

Wole Soyinka: The Nobel laureate suggested that States should consider shutting down their activities in protest when the next school abduction takes place.

Kaduna State: At least seven people were killed in separate bandit attacks across two local governments of the state.

Femi Fani-Kayode: The former aviation minister has warned that the current state of insecurity could lead to a civil war if not properly addressed.

Niger State: The government said it not sure when the boarding schools that were shut down over insecurity will reopen.

Chadwick Boseman: Six months after his death at the age of 43, the Black Panther actor won the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama for his poignant role in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Donald Trump: The ousted President said he is considering running for another term in 2024.

And that’s it for this morning. See you tomorrow for more updates.


EU Chief Seeks ‘Amicable’ Solution As AstraZeneca Admits New Delays

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement following a phone call meeting with Britain's Prime Minister, at the European Commission in Brussels on December 13, 2020. Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gives a press statement following a phone call meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister, at the European Commission in Brussels on December 13, 2020. Olivier HOSLET / POOL / AFP


European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen insisted Wednesday that new problems dogging the supply of AstraZeneca’s vaccines can be resolved, after the group admitted it could deliver only half the expected amount to the bloc in the second quarter.

“The vaccine manufacturers are our partners in this pandemic and they have also never faced such a challenge,” she told the German regional daily Augsburger Allgemeine.

“New questions are always arising that we can generally resolve amicably,” she said on the eve of a virtual EU summit on the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Von der Leyen added that she advocated “working together with the companies to ensure global production is improved”.

AstraZeneca said Tuesday its EU supply chains would only be able to deliver half of an expected supply of Covid-19 vaccines to the bloc in the second quarter — but that it would look to make up the shortfall from elsewhere.

READ ALSO: Italy Seeks UN Probe Into DRC Envoy’s Killing

A spokesman for the British-Swedish drugs group told AFP AstraZeneca was “working to increase productivity in its EU supply chain” and would use its “global capability in order to achieve delivery of 180 million doses to the EU in the second quarter”.

“Approximately half of the expected volume is due to come from the EU supply chain” while the remainder would come from its international supply network, he added.

The announcement follows controversy over deliveries of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University jab to the European Union in the first quarter, which has caused tension between the bloc and the pharmaceutical company.

– Diplomatic tensions –

Ahead of the EU’s approval of the vaccine at the end of January, the company sparked fury among European leaders by announcing that it would miss its target of supplying the EU with 400 million doses, due to a shortfall at the firm’s European plants.

The disagreement also caused diplomatic tensions with Britain, which definitively left the EU after 40 years of membership following a transmission period at the end of 2020 — with Brussels implicitly accusing AstraZeneca of giving preferential treatment to Britain at the expense of the EU.

The UK government has vaccinated millions of Britons with the AstraZeneca jab since late last year.

But the company only began shipping it to the EU in early February, after the bloc’s drug regulator took its time over recommending its use.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has suffered a number of other setbacks — it was temporarily excluded from South Africa’s immunisation campaign because of concern it was less effective towards new virus variants there; and Germany’s vaccine commission recommended it only for people aged 18 to 64 years old.

But more recently, World Health Organization experts recommended it for use on people aged over 65 and in settings where new strains of the virus are circulating.

The shot forms the bulk of doses being rolled out around the world — especially in poorer countries — under the Covax programme.

It has attracted praise for its low cost relative to rivals and its ease of storage — a regular refrigerator can be used.

AstraZeneca said on February 11 its profits doubled in 2020.