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.

Lebanon Receives First COVID-19 Vaccines

Members of staff unload boxes of the first shipment of the COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine upon arrival to the Rafic Hariri University Hospital in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on February 13, 2021. – Lebanon received its first vaccines against the coronavirus, a day before an inoculation drive kicks off in the crisis-hit Mediterranean country. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

 

 

Lebanon on Saturday received its first vaccines against the coronavirus, a day before an inoculation drive kicks off in the crisis-hit Mediterranean country.

A plane landed at the Beirut airport, an AFP correspondent reported, with authorities saying it was carrying 28,500 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech flown in from Belgium.

The shipment was the first after the World Bank allocated $34 million to inoculate two million of Lebanon’s six million inhabitants.

Caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan was on the tarmac to welcome the plane and expressed great “relief”.

“It’s a dream being realised today thanks to the support of our UN and international partners,” he told reporters,

“The vaccine will reach all Lebanese citizens across the country,” as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees and other residents, he promised.

Lebanon has been under strict lockdown since mid-January, after an unprecedented spike in cases blamed on holiday gatherings that forced overwhelmed hospitals to turn away patients.

Vaccination rollout is set to start on Sunday.

Health workers will receive their first dose at the Rafik Hariri Hospital, the country’s main public hospital tackling the Covid-19 outbreak, the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, and Saint George Orthodox Hospital.

“The best gift one can ask for on Valentine’s Day,” wrote the director of the Rafik Hariri Hospital, Firas Abiad, on Twitter.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab, 61, is also to be vaccinated, his office said.

Under Lebanon’s vaccination plan, medical staff and those over the age of 75 are to receive the jab first.

In total Lebanon hopes to receive around six million vaccine doses, including two million from Pfizer/BioNTech and another 2.7 million via the international Covax distribution programme.

Half a million people in Lebanon have signed up to receive a vaccine, a health ministry official said, although many are hesitant to get the jab.

Of 500 people surveyed by private think-tank Information International, 31 percent said they would get vaccinated, 38 percent said they would rather not, and another 31 percent were undecided.

Lebanon was already in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades when Covid-19 hit, and the situation has been exacerbated after a massive blast at Beirut’s port in August killed more than 200 people and destroyed large parts of the capital.

The World Bank and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are to monitor the rollout, they said in a statement Friday.

They aim to “ensure fair, broad, and fast access to Covid-19 vaccines to help save lives and support economic recovery”, World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha said.

Lebanon says 334,086 people have caught coronavirus since February 2020, of whom 3,915 have died.

Nigeria To Receive 100,000 Vaccines By End Of January

 

Nigeria is expected to take delivery of approximately 100,000 doses of Pfizer/Biontech vaccines by the end of January.

This was disclosed on Tuesday at the Presidential Task Force Briefing on COVID-19.

Also speaking about the government’s efforts to curb the spread of the virus, the Executive Director, National Primary Health Development Agency, Faisal Shaibu, noted that a total of 42 million doses of the vaccines will be secured during the course of the year.

Read Also: 731 Corps Members Test Positive For COVID-19 – PTF

“Nigeria is expected to secure free delivery of 42 million doses of vaccines which will be a combination of all available and approved vaccines in the market,” Shaibu said.

“This is expected to cover 20 per cent of the population. 40% will be vaccinated in 2021, while 30% will be covered next year.”

Also at the same PTF meeting, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force On COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, disclosed that 737 corps members from the Batch B have tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Tuesday, Nigeria recorded 1,354 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 92,705.

This is the highest single-day record of infections in the country.

Saudi Arabia Reopens Borders Closed Due To COVID-19

A handout picture released by the Iraqi Border Crossing Commission on November 18, 2020 shows the Arar border crossing between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. (Photo by – / Iraq Border Authority / AFP)

 

Saudi Arabia on Sunday announced the reopening of borders and the resumption of international flights after a two-week suspension aimed to stem the spread of a new Covid-19 strain.

The government ordered the lifting of “precautionary measures related to the spread of a new variant of coronavirus”, the Ministry of the Interior said, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia has recorded more than 363,000 cases, including over 6,200 deaths –- the highest among the Gulf Arab states — but has also reported a high recovery rate.

READ ALSO: [COVID-19] Zimbabwe Reintroduces National Lockdown

Riyadh suspended international flights and access through land crossings and ports on December 21.

Other Gulf countries, Oman and Kuwait, who had taken similar measures, have also lifted them in recent days.

But travellers returning from Britain, South Africa or “any country where the new variant of the coronavirus is spreading” are subject to more restrictions, the statement added.

Foreigners coming from those countries must spend 14 days in another country before entering Saudi Arabia, and show a negative test.

Saudi nationals returning from those countries will be able to enter directly — but must then spend two weeks in quarantine on arrival, and be subject to tests.

Last month Saudi Arabia was one of the first Gulf countries to launch a massive vaccination campaign using the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

AFP

Mexico To Start COVID-19 Vaccinations On Thursday

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

 

Mexico will begin Covid-19 immunizations on Thursday, a day after the country receives its first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, Undersecretary of Health Hugo Lopez-Gatell said.

“Tomorrow (Wednesday) the first consignment of the Pfizer vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 arrives,” he said Tuesday on Twitter.

“There will be a press opportunity and then the vaccine will be safeguarded until its use on Thursday, December 24, the day vaccinations start,” Lopez-Gatell said.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said 1.4 million doses will arrive from Belgium of the 34.4 million that the company has agreed to deliver.

The first vaccines will be destined for frontline medical personnel, and administered in Mexico City and the northern state of Coahuila due to the logistics related to the frigid temperatures required for the shots.

Mexico also has preliminary purchase agreements with the Chinese-Canadian project CanSinoBio for 35 million doses and with Britain’s AstraZeneca for 77.4 million doses.

READ ALSO: Buhari Extends PTF Mandate Till March 2021

It is also part of the international COVAX mechanism aimed at ensuring equitable access for all countries, which allows it to buy 51.6 million additional vaccines.

Mexico has registered 119,495 deaths linked to the virus and 1.33 million infections, according to official figures.

It has the fourth most deaths after the United States, Brazil and India, and is the 15th highest in deaths per 100,000 residents.

AFP