Georgia Destroys 17,000 Vaccine Doses As Rollout Slows

File photo of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)


Health officials in Georgia sounded the alarm Wednesday over the slow pace of coronavirus vaccinations, after some 17,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had to be destroyed because they expired.

The Black Sea nation is in the midst of a devastating new wave of the pandemic despite vaccines being widely available.

The country of 3.7 million people saw record numbers of daily cases this week, with 6,024 new infections on Wednesday, and was the country with the fifth-highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the week to Tuesday, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

Overall Georgia has reported nearly 733,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths.

“The government has made available a wide choice of internationally approved Covid-19 vaccines, but the rollout has slowed significantly since the summer,” the deputy director of Georgia’s National Centre for Disease Control, Paata Imnadze, told AFP.

“As a result, we were forced to destroy 17,000 expired AstraZeneca vaccines.”

If the trend is not reversed, “we will soon face… a sharp increase in mortality,” Imnadze said.

This summer the ex-Soviet republic’s government set up vaccination points in shopping malls and sent medical brigades to villages to speed up the rollout.

The finance ministry in September launched a lottery in which cash prizes are awarded to both partially and fully vaccinated people.

But many health professionals have criticised the government’s efforts as insufficient.

“There was practically no information campaign to raise awareness about the vaccination’s importance and safety,” the head of the critical medicine department at the Tbilisi-based New Hospital, Vakho Kaloyan, told AFP.

Only a third of Georgia’s population has been vaccinated with at least one dose since the country began a national coronavirus vaccine drive in March.

Georgia received a donation of some 43,000 doses of AstraZeneca through the UN’s mechanism for vaccine distributions, Covax, as well as 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the United States.


NYC Orders COVID-19 Vaccines Or Weekly Tests For All Public Workers

File Photo: Carl Court / POOL / AFP


New York City will require all municipal workers to get vaccinated against coronavirus or take a weekly test, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday as the Delta variant fuels an uptick in cases in the metropolis.

The order will go into effect from September 13 and will apply to more than 300,000 city personnel, including police officers, fire fighters and teachers.

“This is about our recovery. This is about keeping people safe,” de Blasio told a press conference.

The move comes after the mayor announced last week that the city’s 30,000 public hospital workers would need to get vaccinated or face weekly testing from August 2.

The measure announced Monday is the most stringent measure taken so far in the US megacity to boost vaccination rates following a campaign based on voluntary participation and incentives.

In New York, 59 percent of the entire population has received at least one dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 but the speed of injections has slowed.

Controversy is building in the United States over what steps should be taken to increase vaccination rates against the Delta variant, which accounts for more than 89 percent of US infections, according to estimates.

READ ALSO: World Bank To Finance Extra COVID-19 Jabs For Poorer Nations

Many health officials are pushing to make vaccination mandatory, at least for certain segments of the population.

On Monday, 57 medical groups representing millions of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health workers called for mandatory vaccinations for all health staff.

“The health and safety of US workers, families, communities, and the nation depends on it,” said the statement, whose signatories included the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association.

Several Republican-led states have instead passed laws banning coercive measures, though, particularly in schools.

The September 13 date will coincide with the return of one million students to New York’s public schools for the new academic year.



Zimbabwe Orders Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination For Civil Servants

At Least 31 Dead As Cyclone Idai Hits Eastern Zimbabwe


Zimbabwean authorities on Tuesday toughened virus curbs, ordering compulsory vaccinations for civil servants and reducing the number of workers reporting for duty in a bid to stem a rise in local transmission.

“All civil servants should be vaccinated,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting.

She also said only 25 per cent of government workers were required to physically report for duty, according to tweets posted on her ministry’s account.

Courts will only open for urgent cases.

A day earlier a government circular directed all ministries to reduce the number of staff coming to work from “40 percent to 10 percent”.

The limited staff numbers exclude health workers and designated critical services.

Zimbabwe has seen a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases over the past two months, fuelled mainly by the Delta variant.

In the seven days to Tuesday, cases leaped from around 8,000 the previous week to more than 21,000.

The respiratory disease has so far claimed at least 2,697 lives and infected nearly 86,000 people.

Just over 1.1 million of Zimbabwe’s 14.8 million people have received a first dose, while just over 640,000 have had their second jab.

Zimbabwe has imposed a raft of measures to curb the spread of the pandemic including delaying opening of schools, reducing shopping hours, capping attendance at gatherings including funerals and banning intercity travel

EU Predicts Big Economic Turnaround As Vaccinations Ramp Up

A logo for the European Union


The EU on Wednesday sharply revised its growth forecasts for this year and next, saying an accelerated vaccination drive and the bloc’s landmark recovery plan would lift Europe out of recession.

“Recovery is no longer a mirage. It is under way,” EU economic affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told a media conference.

The pickup in growth confirms forecasts by the IMF and other data that showed an increase in manufacturing and greatly improved confidence by consumers who see a happy end to the long winter of Covid-related restrictions.

Europe also hopes to quiet criticism that it has fallen short in jumpstarting its economy compared to the US where the economic activity has already roared ahead on the back of major stimulus plans.

According to the European Commission, growth in the 19 countries that use the euro currency will hit 4.3 percent in 2021 and 4.4 percent in 2022, compared with 3.8 percent for these years in its previous estimate given in February.

For the full 27 members of the EU, the commission said the economy will expand by 4.2 percent in 2021 and by 4.4 percent in 2022.

“The shadow of Covid-19 is beginning to lift from Europe’s economy,” Gentiloni said, though he cautioned that “the risks of a scarring effect remains real”.

If the growth is confirmed, the European economy will have sped out of a second recession in less than year, after a slow rollout of Covid vaccines stymied a first economic recovery in the winter of 2020-21.

It would still be trailing the other two biggest economies in the world, however. The United States is forecast to reach growth of seven percent this year — its fastest pace since the 1980s — and China is looking similarly buoyant.

– Public debt –

The EU said public debt in the eurozone will be at historic levels, with a debt pile stuck at above 100 percent of annual GDP over the next two years.

This public debt is particularly high in Greece, at 208.8 percent in 2021, and Italy at 159.8 percent of GDP.

But despite the historic budget-busting, Gentiloni insisted that major public spending “has been –- and remains -– essential in helping Europe’s workers and companies to weather the storm”.

That includes the EU’s landmark 750-billion-euro ($910-billion) recovery plan, which was decided almost a year ago but is expected to only start paying out later this summer.

Gentiloni said that, largely thanks to that recovery package, “the EU is now projected to recover to its pre-crisis level in the fourth quarter of ’21” and the eurozone would reach that point in the first quarter of 2022.

Out of the major eurozone economies, Spain and France, which were particularly hard hit in 2020, will have the highest growth rates in 2021, both nearing six percent, according to the Commission’s estimates.

Growth will be more moderate in Germany, at 3.4 percent, and the Netherlands, at 2.3 percent, as they were slightly less affected last year.


Hamas Launches COVID-19 Vaccinations In Gaza

A Palestinian health worker administers a dose of the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to a man, in Gaza City on February 22, 2021. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)


A coronavirus vaccination campaign was launched in Gaza Monday using doses provided by the Palestinian Authority and the United Arab Emirates, with health workers set to be inoculated first.

The first jab in the Israeli-blockaded territory controlled by Hamas Islamists since 2007 was symbolically given to former Palestinian health minister Riyad Zaanoun at a clinic in Gaza City.

“Priority is being given to medical staff working on the front line in the pandemic, then to sick elderly people,” Medhat Muheisen, a Hamas health ministry official, told reporters.

On Sunday, around 20,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine arrived in Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, meaning they did not pass through Israel.

READ ALSO: WHO Slams Rich Countries For Hogging COVID-19 Vaccines

That delivery was organised by Mohammed Dahlan, a former senior Palestinian Authority figure who broke with president Mahmud Abbas and now lives in exile in Abu Dhabi.

The delivery orchestrated by Dahlan, currently a security adviser to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, was seen as a political move ahead of Palestinian legislative polls in May and presidential elections in July.

Analysts say Dahlan might seek to work against the pro-Abbas camp in the vote, the first Palestinian polls since 2006.

The PA, led by Abbas’s Fatah movement, earlier this month delivered 2,000 doses Sputnik V doses to Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing that connects Israel to the strip.

Israel had earlier blocked a PA vaccine shipment from entering Gaza.

Israel’s military branch responsible for civil affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories said a “political” decision was required before a vaccine delivery could be allowed into the enclave where Israel has fought three wars against Hamas since 2008.

Israel’s obstruction was condemned as an international crime by the PA and Hamas, while the UN has called on the Jewish state, currently the world leader in vaccinations per capita, to ensure Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are inoculated.

Japan To Start COVID-19 Vaccines Despite Syringe Shortage

File photo: A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, on December 8, 2020. Frank Augstein / POOL / AFP


Japan will start coronavirus vaccinations next week, its prime minister said Wednesday, but it is scrambling to secure suitable syringes so doses won’t go to waste.

The country has reached deals with three major drug firms to buy enough vaccine doses for its population of 126 million.

But it has not yet announced a detailed roll-out plan for the jabs, less than six months before the pandemic-postponed Olympics begin.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is likely to become the first jab approved for use in Japan in the coming days, following domestic clinical trials required by the country’s health authorities.

“When we have confirmed the vaccine’s efficacy and safety, we will start vaccination by the middle of next week,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.

Japan is trying to secure enough special syringes that can extract the full six doses from each vial of Pfizer vaccine.

More commonly used syringes can only draw five doses — meaning the last one needs to be discarded.

The syringe problem could force the country to forgo enough Pfizer vaccine doses for up to 12 million people, local media estimated.

“At first, we will use the syringes that can draw six doses, but as we vaccinate many people, these will become scarce,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: Prince Charles Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

“We are working hard to secure the syringes. We are asking medical equipment manufacturers to increase their production,” he told parliament.

Around 10,000 medical workers will be the first people vaccinated in Japan, with officials hoping to expand the rollout to the elderly from April.

Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, said that a lack of information about the vaccine campaign is causing confusion among medical workers.

But he said at a Wednesday press conference that medics are committed to the vaccination programme, which he called “the most enormous undertaking, at a scale we have never experienced before”.

The jabs “will let us be on the offensive, rather than just on defence”, he added.

Hundreds Vaccinated After Measles Emergency In New York

FILE PHOTO: A child taking vaccination against measles


A New York county which declared a state of emergency over a measles outbreak is on the “right path” after administering hundreds of vaccinations in two days, the chief of the US district said on Friday.

Under the emergency, Rockland County banned non-vaccinated minors from public places in a bid to prevent the once-eliminated disease from spreading.

Planned for 30 days from midnight Wednesday, the emergency comes during a US surge in measles cases, linked to an anti-vaccination movement.

“We have already seen over 500 (new vaccinations) in the last couple of days,” Rockland County Executive Ed Day said on CNBC TV.

“People simply understand now that we are serious about this,” added Day, whose district is 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of downtown New York.

“We believe we are on a right path now to get at least a 93 percent immunization rate with the first shot,” close to the level considered necessary to end the outbreak.

Although measles was declared officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, outbreaks have occurred in five states this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought the illness back from other countries, and the majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated, the CDC said.

The World Health Organization has warned that the growing anti-vaccine movement in richer nations constitutes a top-10 global health threat.

The phenomenon has adherents in several Western nations, including Britain and France, but is particularly high profile in the US.

Between January 1 and March 21, there were 314 cases of measles in the United States, the CDC said.

Rockland County, with a population of more than 300,000, had registered 157 cases as of Friday.

Despite major vaccination campaigns since the outbreak began in October, around 27 percent of minors aged one to 18 in the county remained unvaccinated, Day said earlier in the week.

The worst affected neighborhoods are those with a high ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, where many oppose vaccines on religious grounds.

Many vaccines are theoretically mandatory for children to attend school in the United States. But 47 out of 50 states allow exemptions on religious, moral, or personal grounds.

Washington state, in the country’s northwest, in January declared a state of emergency over an outbreak of measles, an airborne infection causing fever, coughing and rashes that can be deadly in rare cases.

Day on Friday called for a tightening of the school vaccination legislation and said a draft law to that effect was being discussed at the state level.