WHO Grants Emergency Approval For India’s Covaxin Jab

File photo of WHO signage.

 

The World Health Organization said Wednesday it had issued an emergency use listing for Covaxin, a vaccine against Covid-19 produced by India’s Bharat Biotech.

Found to have 78 percent efficacy after two doses spread over four weeks, the vaccine “is extremely suitable for low- and middle-income countries due to easy storage requirements,” the UN body said in a statement.

Covaxin is the first vaccine completely developed and manufactured in India to receive WHO approval.

READ ALSO: COP26: US Pledges To ‘Sharply’ Reduce Methane Emissions

Based on inactivated coronavirus antigens, it becomes the eighth vaccine against Covid-19 on the WHO’s list, including others from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinopharm, and Sinovac.

WHO emergency approval, which includes an assessment of clinical trial data, can speed up international recognition of vaccines.

It also allows their use by fellow UN agencies and the global Covax initiative, set up to immunise people in the world’s least-well-off countries.

Johnson & Johnson Announces Positive COVID-19 Booster Data

(FILE) Bottles of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccine await transfer into syringes for administering on April 23, 2021. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

The Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine is more effective when given as a two-dose regime, according to new data released by the company on Tuesday.

A second shot is given 56 days after the first provided 75 per cent protection against symptomatic Covid in a global clinical trial, with that level rising to 94 per cent in the United States.

The reason behind this difference was not clear from the company’s press release, but it could be linked to fewer variants in the US when the data accrued.

It was 94 percent effective in preventing severe or critical Covid at least 14 days post final vaccination in America — but there were relatively few cases to judge from.

When a second shot was given two months after the first, antibody levels rose to four to six times higher than observed after the single dose.

Overall, the data is positive news for the almost 15 million Americans who received one dose of the J&J vaccine but have been left in the dark about if and when they might need a booster.

President Joe Biden’s administration in August announced plans for Americans vaccinated with mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) to get third shots.

An expert panel convened by the Food and Drug Administration last week greenlighted Pfizer boosters for the elderly, high-risk, and those in high-risk occupations, and decisions on Moderna are expected to follow.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said it expects a second dose of the J&J vaccine will be required, but that it needs more data before making a firm recommendation.

J&J’s new announcement might help inform that strategy. The company said it had provided data to the FDA and other regulatory agencies.

It also said that when a booster was given six months after the first shot, “antibody levels increased nine-fold one week after the booster and continued to climb to 12-fold higher four weeks after the booster,” irrespective of age.

In a separate study of 390,000 US people who received the J&J vaccine from March to July 2021, the efficacy of a single J&J shot was 79 per cent against infection and 81 per cent against hospitalisation.

The estimates for efficacy against hospitalization were higher than those found in two recent studies by the CDC, one of which estimated 68 per cent while the other estimated it was 60 per cent.

AFP

South Africa Begins Second Phase Of COVID-19 Vaccination

PHOTO USED TO ILLUSTRATE THE STORY: Residents of Snake Park in Soweto, a town in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa PHOTO: MARCO LONGARI / AFP

 

South Africa on Monday launched its second phase of COVID-19 vaccinations targeting people who are aged 60 years and above.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said late Sunday that the target would be achieved if the anticipated orders of vaccines were delivered on time.

“We will begin to vaccinate citizens 60 years and older, who are the most vulnerable for becoming ill or dying of Covid-19,” the minister said during a webinar.

The immunisation of health workers started in February when it became the first country worldwide to administer inoculations by US pharma group Johnson & Johnson.

“By the end of June we expect to have received 4.5 million doses of Pfizer and two million doses from Johnson & Johnson,” Mkhize said.

READ ALSO: US Authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine For 12-15-Year-Olds

South Africa earlier this year purchased AstraZeneca vaccines and then sold them to other African countries following fears that they would be less effective.

Then, after it started innoculating health workers, using the Johnson & Johnson jabs, it had to pause for two weeks mid-April to vet risks over blood clots that had been reported in the US.

After a brief lull, infections have climbed by as much as 46 percent between the last week of April and the first week of May.

South Africa has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Africa – with more than 1.6 million infections and over 55,000 deaths.

AFP

Nigeria To Receive 29.8 Million Doses Of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

(FILE) Bottles of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccine await transfer into syringes for administering on April 23, 2021. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

 

The Nigerian government is expecting about 29.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine, Dr Faisal Shuaib said on Monday.

Shuaib, the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), disclosed this at the weekly media briefing of the COVID-19 Presidential Steering Committee in Abuja.

He added that the government signed off to receive the vaccines through the African Union (AU), while vaccine deliveries through the COVAX facility were expected by the end of May or early June.

The NPHCDA boss noted that by then, Nigeria would have completed the process of administering the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to those who got the first dose.

He revealed that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has continued discussions with manufacturers to examine their vaccines, in anticipation of emergency use listing from the World Health Organisation.

Shuaib explained that this was to mitigate the negative concerns about the delayed deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccines, thereby ensuring the sustained supply of vaccines for the smooth continuation of the exercise.

He noted that as of April 26, a total of 1,173, 869 Nigerians, representing 58.3 per cent of the eligible persons targeted in the first phase have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A file photo of Dr Faisal Shuaib.

 

The NPHCDA boss, however, decried the global scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines due to high demand, especially in countries where the vaccines were being produced.

According to him, the government anticipates a delay in vaccine supply to Nigeria which may also affect and impact the remaining phases of the vaccination exercise.

Read the text of Dr Shuaib’s speech at the briefing below:

SPEECH BY DR FAISAL SHUAIB, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL PRIMARY HEALTH CARE DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (NPHCDA) AT THE WEEKLY MEDIA BRIEFING OF THE COVID-19 PRESIDENTIAL STEERING COMMITTEE ON MONDAY 26TH APRIL 2021 IN ABUJA.

____________

PROTOCOLS

 

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press and welcome to this week’s briefing.

I am delighted to be here to interact with you once again and I appreciate the great work you are doing to support the Government in this collective fight against COVID-19.

In our sustained efforts to contain the threat of COVID-19 pandemic and protect citizens, the Federal Government through NPHCDA under the guidance of the Presidential Steering Committee and the Federal Ministry of Health has continued to implement several preventive measures in order to save lives.

The vaccination against COVID-19 is currently ongoing in all States of the Federation. Our collaboration with health officials and other stakeholders at the National, State, LGA and community levels in the vaccination exercise has yielded substantial results.

I am pleased to inform you that as at April 26th 2021, 1,173, 869 Nigerians, representing 58.3 % of the eligible persons targeted in this current phase, have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Notwithstanding the above successes, we are aware of the global scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines due to high demand, especially in countries where the vaccines are being produced. We, therefore, anticipate a delay in vaccine supply to Nigeria which may also affect and impact the remaining phases of the vaccination campaign.

However, in response to the anticipated delay, the Federal Government has rationalized the vaccination exercise by preserving 50% of available doses of the vaccine for administration of the second doses.

Each State of the Federation, including FCT, are currently administering only 50% of their allocated doses of vaccines. The remaining 50% will be administered to clients who had earlier received the first dose, and this would be scheduled between 8 – 12 weeks from the date of their first dose. Data from this exercise are being uploaded and updated by States on the Electronic Management Platform.

Furthermore, the Federal Government has signed off to receive up to 29.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine through the African Union (AU). We are also expecting deliveries of vaccines through the COVAX facility by the end of May or early June 2021.

By this time, we would have completed the process of administering the second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to those who got the first dose. In the meantime, NAFDAC is continuing discussions with manufacturers and examining their vaccines, in anticipation of Emergency Use Listing from the World Health Organisation.

We hope that these will mitigate the negative concerns about the delayed deliveries of AstraZeneca vaccines, thereby ensuring the sustained supply of vaccines for smooth continuation of our vaccination exercise.

To further strengthen vaccine security and accountability, we are deepening our collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Our partnership in this regard is also aimed at further curbing cases of vaccine mismanagement and other anticipated sharp practices at the vaccination sites.

The Agency has taken delivery of 2,250 tablets as donation from CACOVID, to help health facilities with the registration process and making it less cumbersome for data capture in our electronic data register.

We, therefore, encourage all eligible residents of Nigeria to continue to register for vaccination through the NPHCDA website, and we guarantee that every registered person will be scheduled and vaccinated in the coming phases of the exercise accordingly.

Let me state from available scientific records and investigations by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine, among others, is safe and efficacious. Our national regulatory body, NAFDAC has also certified that the vaccine is safe and strongly recommends its continued use for all eligible age groups.

May I, also, reiterate that we shall continue to collaborate with the NAFDAC Pharmacovigilance team to monitor the administration of the vaccine and document any adverse reactions following the vaccination with the COVID-19 vaccine. We believe this would further assure Nigerians that the government has made a safe choice of vaccine for protecting our people against COVID-19.

Having provided the above information, so far, we have documentation of Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI). There have been 8,711 cases of mild AEFIs, while there have been 52 instances of moderate to severe AEFIs. Kaduna, Cross River, Yobe, Kebbi and Lagos continue to lead other states in terms of the numbers of cases.

In furtherance of our sensitization and mobilisation efforts for successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign, NPHCDA in collaboration with the PSC, NOA, Development partners and other stakeholders; we are conducting Town Hall meetings in all the six (6) geo-political zones to address public concerns and hesitancy on the COVID-19 vaccine and vaccination.

We have so far successfully staged the North Central Zonal Town Hall meeting in Lafia which was hosted by the Nasarawa State government. The event is scheduled to be replicated in the remaining zones in the weeks ahead.

During the recent town Hall meeting, health experts took turns to further educate and sensitize Nigerians on the benefits of vaccination, as a means of protecting themselves, their families and their communities, and that this will ultimately facilitate the return of our communities to social and economic normalcy.

Gentlemen of the press, I would therefore enjoin you to prioritise the sensitization and education of the general public on the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine through your media for attainment of success in the COVID-19 vaccination campaign and other public health interventions.

It is evident that our collective efforts to protect Nigerians against COVID-19 is so far yielding positive results and we must sustain the momentum in order to achieve our desired goal of a healthy citizenry.

Thank you immensely once again for your time and attention!

Dr. Faisal Shuaib

ED/CEO NPHCDA

EU Agency Reviewing Blood Clots With Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021. Phill Magakoe / AFP
Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021.
Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

 

The EU’s drug regulator said Friday it had launched a review of possible links between the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine and blood clots after reports of four cases, one of them fatal.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its safety committee “has started a review of a safety signal to assess reports of thromboembolic events” with people who had received the shot.

“Four serious cases of unusual blood clots with low blood platelets have been reported post-vaccination with Covid-19 Vaccine Janssen,” the EMA said, referring to US pharma giant J&J’s European subsidiary.

“One case occurred in a clinical trial and three cases occurred during the vaccine rollout in the USA. One of them was fatal.”

The watchdog has approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for use but its rollout across the 27-nation EU is not due to start until later this month.

The probe comes days after the Amsterdam-based watchdog said it was listing the same type of blood clots as a very rare side effect of the rival AstraZeneca vaccine.

Both jabs use similar adenovirus vector technology.

J&J To Deliver Up To 400 Million COVID-19 Vaccines To Africa

Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021. Phill Magakoe / AFP
Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021.
Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

Up to 400 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine will be made available to African countries, the US pharmaceutical giant said Monday.

The availability of the single-shot vaccine will be subject to national regulatory approvals in the African Union’s 55 member states, with the first shipments expected to arrive in the third quarter of 2021.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe, and we have been committed to equitable, global access to new Covid-19 vaccines,” J&J’s CEO Alex Gorsky said in a statement.

The company said Janssen Pharmaceutica, a J&J subsidiary, had entered into an agreement with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to initially make available up to 220 million doses of its vaccine.

AVAT can order an additional 180 million doses, for a combined total of up to 400 million doses through 2022.

READ ALSO: Pandemic Blamed For Lack Of VAR In World Cup Qualifiers After Ronaldo Fury

J&J says its vaccine candidate protects against Covid-19 in broad geographical regions — including those with new variants of the disease.

In a global trial of almost 40,000 people, the J&J vaccine’s efficacy against severe disease was 85.4 percent, but it fell to 66.1 percent when including moderate forms of the disease.

But the vaccine has won praise for its single dosage and because it does not need to be frozen — unlike the shots from Moderna and Pfizer — making distribution much simpler.

AFP

 

WHO Approves Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine For Emergency Use

Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021. Phill Magakoe / AFP
Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021.
Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

The World Health Organization on Friday approved Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, after already authorising the jabs made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca.

“Every new, safe and effective tool against Covid-19 is another step closer to controlling the pandemic,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

The news comes after the single-dose jab won approval from the European Union on Thursday.

It has also received the green light from regulators in the United States, Canada and South Africa.

The World Health Organization said the J&J jab had been granted an “emergency use listing” which assesses the suitability of new health products during public health emergencies, and is quicker than the regular licensing system.

WHO authorisation paves the way for the jabs to be used as part of the Covax initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to vaccines in poorer countries.

Some 500 million doses of the J&J jabs have been promised to the facility and the WHO hopes it can be rolled out through the scheme from July, if not earlier.

“We hope this new vaccine will help to narrow vaccine inequalities, and not deepen them,” Tedros told a briefing.

Clinical trials have found that the J&J shot was 67 percent effective at preventing people from getting Covid-19.

But that result considered all forms of Covid-19. The jab proved 85.4 percent effective at preventing severe disease.

And since this is a single-dose jab, WHO said it expected it to facilitate vaccination logistics in all countries.

“The sample data from large clinical trials shared by the company also shows that the vaccine is effective in older populations,” it said.

 

AFP

EU Approves Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021. Phill Magakoe / AFP
Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021.
Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

The European Union approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine on Thursday — the fourth jab to get the green light for the 27-nation bloc.

The decision offers a boost for the EU’s sluggish vaccination programme even if reports say the first J&J shipments may not arrive in European countries until April.

The European Commission formally gave the green light for the jab after the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended approval.

“More safe and effective vaccines are coming to the market,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet.

“We have just authorised the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in the EU…. With the number of doses we ordered, we could vaccinate up to 200 million people in the EU” with the J&J jab this year, she said.

The EU has signed a firm order for 200 million and an option for 200 million more.

As well as being the first that requires a single injection as opposed to two, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is easier to store.

The EU has so far approved three vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford. Three other vaccines are under “rolling review” by the Amsterdam-based EMA — Novavax, CureVac and Russia’s Sputnik.

READ ALSO: Rwanda’s Kagame First East African Leader To Take COVID-19 Jab

The EMA gave the green light after saying clinical trials involving volunteers in the United States, South Africa and South American countries found the J&J jab was 67 percent effective at preventing people from getting Covid.

Side effects were “usually mild or moderate”, including pain at the injection site, headache, tiredness, muscle pain and nausea, and usually cleared within a couple of days, it said.

– ‘Bumpy’ strategy –

“With this latest positive opinion, authorities across the European Union will have another option to combat the pandemic and protect the lives and health of their citizens,” European Medicines Agency (EMA) chief Emer Cooke said in a statement.

“This is the first vaccine which can be used as a single dose.”

The J&J shot however appears less protective than Pfizer and Moderna’s regimes, which both have an efficacy of around 95 percent against all forms of Covid-19 from the classic coronavirus strain.

The EU has been struggling with a disappointing vaccination rollout that started in January and faltered because of a shortage of doses produced by the three suppliers so far.

The head of the EU’s vaccine supply task force, Thierry Breton, said on Tuesday the EU’s “bumpy” vaccine strategy should be augmented by the addition of the Johnson & Johnson jab.

Reported production shortfalls in the United States by Johnson & Johnson would not impact the EU because Brussels had made contingency plans for all vaccines, he said.

“Do not believe that because one company has a problem that overall it will jeopardise the whole programme,” said Breton, the EU’s industry commissioner.

Europe’s vaccination strategy faced fresh problems on Wednesday as Denmark, Norway and Iceland said they were temporarily suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after some patients developed blood clots.

Norway and Iceland are not in the EU but are covered by the EMA.

The EMA said the vaccine was still safe for use, pending an investigation.

AFP

Canada Approves Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine

Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021. Phill Magakoe / AFP
Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021.
Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

 

Canada on Friday authorized a fourth COVID-19 vaccine, adding Johnson & Johnson to its approved list alongside AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna shots.

It is the first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized in the country and has been cleared for use by people over 18 years of age.

Ottawa has ordered up to 38 million doses, which can be stored at refrigerated temperatures from two to eight degrees Celsius (35-46 Fahrenheit), making distribution easier than some others.

“We concluded that there was strong evidence that showed that the benefits of this vaccine outweigh the potential risk,” Health Canada chief medical officer Supriya Sharma told a news conference, adding that its evaluation will continue as it is rolled out.

All of the vaccines approved for use in Canada so far “are effective against severe cases and hospitalization,” she added.

In total, Ottawa has ordered or reserved more than 400 million doses of vaccine from seven suppliers for a population of 38 million.

Health officials are expected to announce in the coming weeks a decision on Novovax’s vaccine candidate — the only other one to have submitted an application for approval to date.

As of Friday, Canada has reported more than 878,000 cases of the coronavirus and over 22,000 fatalities.

Johnson & Johnson’s Single Shot COVID-19 Vaccine Highly Effective, Says US Regulator

Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021. Phill Magakoe / AFP
Johnson & Johnson vaccine vials against the COVID-19 coronavirus are seen at the Klerksdorp Hospital as South Africa proceeds with its inoculation campaign on February 18, 2021. Phill Magakoe / AFP

 

The single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is highly effective in preventing severe Covid-19, including newer variants, according to documents released by the US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday.

The news came as the regulator was set to convene an independent panel Friday that will likely vote to authorize the vaccine, making it the third available in the country hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

In large clinical trials, the J&J vaccine’s efficacy against severe disease was 85.9 percent in the United States, 81.7 percent in South Africa, and 87.6 percent in Brazil.

Overall, among 39,321 participants across all regions, the efficacy against severe Covid-19 was 85.4 percent, but it fell to 66.1 percent when including moderate forms of the disease.

Crucially, analyses of different demographic groups revealed no marked differences across age, race, or people with underlying conditions.

The vaccine was generally well-tolerated, with no reports of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis), which have been seen in rare cases for the Pfizer and Moderna shots.

Mild to moderate reactions, like injection-site pain, headache, fatigue and muscle pains were more likely to occur in younger participants than older.

There were no reported deaths in the vaccine group, but five in the placebo group.

“The analysis supported a favorable safety profile with no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an EUA (emergency use authorization),” the FDA wrote.

White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters that if authorized, the federal government would seek to distribute three to four million doses next week.

“Johnson and Johnson has announced it aims to deliver a total of 20 million doses by the end of March,” he continued, adding the government was trying to speed up the delivery of the contracted 100 million doses, which the company has promised by the end of June.

One dose, fridge storage

A third vaccine is seen as a vital means to ramp up the immunization rate in the United States, where more than 500,000 people have lost their lives to the coronavirus.

Some 65 million people in America have so far received at least one shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines — but unlike those, the J&J vaccine requires just one dose, and is stored at fridge temperatures.

The trade-off is slightly less protection against mild or moderate forms of Covid-19.

“The vaccine was effective in preventing COVID-19 using a less restrictive definition of the disease and for more severe disease, including COVID-19 requiring medical intervention, considering all cases starting 14 days after vaccination,” the FDA wrote in its briefing document.

“Although a lower efficacy overall was observed in South Africa, where there was a predominance of B.1.3.5 lineage during the time period of this study, vaccine efficacy against severe/critical COVID-19 was similarly high across the United States, South Africa, and Brazil,” it added.

There was a hint, based on preliminary data, that the vaccine might be effective against asymptomatic infection.

But “this finding needs to be further investigated with additional data,” wrote the company in a separate document made available by the FDA.

The J&J vaccine uses a common-cold causing adenovirus, which has been modified so that it can’t replicate, to carry the DNA for a key protein of the coronavirus into human cells.

This makes those cells produce that protein, which in turn trains the human immune system should it encounter the real virus.

Other adenovirus vector vaccines against Covid-19 include those made by AstraZeneca-Oxford and Russia’s Sputnik V.

 

AFP

Italy To Offer Free COVID-19 Vaccines, Starting With Doctors

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 23, 2020 is pictured a bottle reading “Vaccine Covid-19” next to US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech logos on November 23, 2020. JOEL SAGET / AFP.

 

Italy will give all its citizens free vaccinations against coronavirus starting with doctors and care home residents once the jabs are approved, its health minister said Wednesday.

The immunisation drive is expected to begin in the spring. Italy will get its vaccines via an EU procurement programme and is waiting for the European Medicines Agency’s green light, Roberto Speranza said.

Britain on Wednesday became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, announcing the rollout of a vaccine developed by Germany’s BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer from next week.

Meanwhile, Europe’s medicines regulator has said it will decide by December 29 whether to grant emergency approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s jab, ahead of a rival treatment from Moderna.

The latest timeline suggests Europeans would be lucky to receive the first jabs before the year is over.

Nonetheless, Speranza said: “We can finally see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“The vaccine will be distributed to all Italians for free. It will not be obligatory at first. The government will be monitoring how the campaign progresses,” he added.

Italy, the first European country to be hit hard by the pandemic early this year, has been battling a new surge in infections in recent months that has taken the total death toll past 56,000.

Shops, restaurants and bars in the worst-affected regions have been shut and a nationwide curfew was imposed, measures that Speranza said had brought infection rates down.

But he said Italians should prepare for restrictions to continue over the Christmas holidays.

“I warn you now: do not mistake the first ray of sunlight for an escape from danger,” he said, adding: “If we let down our guard now, the third wave is just around the corner.”

Speranza did not give concrete details of new measures that are due to come into force when the previous restrictions expire this week.

– ‘Discouraged’ –

But he said international travel over the festive season “should be discouraged” and travel between regions would likely be banned — a blow to those hoping to join their relatives in other parts of the country.

All movement between towns is expected to be forbidden on Christmas Day and December 26.

The Italian government is also joining Germany’s push for a ban on ski holidays across Europe over Christmas, amid fears resorts could become a major source of coronavirus infections. But it faces opposition from regional leaders, while Austria has said it would be economically disastrous.

“It will be necessary to avoid potential gatherings in places of tourist attraction linked in particular to skiing activities,” Speranza said.

The health minister said Italy has signed contracts for vaccines from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, Pfizer, CureVac and Moderna.

Once approval comes, doctors and health care workers will get the first doses — some 1.4 million people — followed by residents in care homes — just over 570,000 people.

Those aged over 80 will be next in line, followed by those aged between 60 and 79 years old and those suffering from at least one chronic disease.

Vaccines will then be distributed to key workers — teachers, police, prison wardens — before being offered to the general population at walk-in centres.

Speranza urged all lawmakers in Italy, where campaigners against vaccination are very vocal, to get behind the immunisation push.

“There’s no government majority or opposition on this, there are simply Italians,” he said.

AFP