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International update: Covid booster shot study to commence in Africa

By Paul Dennis

20 May

Global: The global Covid death toll is still rising with a figure of 3,417,982 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections near 165 million world wide.

ImmunityBio Inc.’s hAd5 T-cell Covid-19 vaccine candidate is being considered as a booster shot in a study of almost 500,000 South African health workers who have received Johnson & Johnson’s inoculation. The health workers, the first people outside of much smaller studies to be vaccinated in South Africa, will need a booster, according to Glenda Gray, the co-lead of the South African studies. “It could be the universal boost that we are looking for,” she said. “Hopefully we will start in a couple of weeks.”

Dogs are able to detect Covid-19 in humans, a new study showed, paving the way for the broader use of sniffing canines in a global effort to contain the pandemic. The dogs’ detection reached 97% sensitivity in the French study, meaning that’s how well the canines could identify positive samples. The sensitivity rating beats that of many 15-minute antigen tests, which tend to be better at ruling out infection than at finding it.

US: US Covid -19 infections exceed 33 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 587,874 according to Johns Hopkins University data. Covid-19 infections have dropped significantly across the Americas, with the most dramatic improvement in the US due to mass vaccination.

Amazon.com Inc.’s fully vaccinated staff in frontline jobs in the US. won’t have to wear masks starting on Monday next week, unless mandated by state or local regulations. Workers who are fully vaccinated and have a copy of their vaccine card won’t have to wear face coverings in the company’s warehouses and other logistics depots, Amazon said in a message to employees on Wednesday. Amazon, which employs about 1.3 million people, is the second-largest private sector employer in the US. behind Walmart Inc. The online retailer instituted its mask requirement in April 2020.

Iceland: Iceland’s Eurovision entry, Dadi og Gagnamagnid, has pulled out of the live event this weekend after a group member tested positive for Covid-19.

Tanzania: A year after the late Tanzanian president John Magufuli denied the existence of coronavirus in the country, the government will start reporting the disease’s prevalence.

Singapore: Singapore’s Ministry of Health issued an order to Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and SPH Magazines requiring corrections to be made over what it says are online falsehoods that imply a new coronavirus variant had originated in the country. “There is no new ‘Singapore’ variant of Covid-19,” the ministry said in a statement. “Neither is there evidence of any Covid-19 variant that is ‘extremely dangerous for kids’. The strain that is prevalent in many of the Covid-19 cases detected in Singapore in recent weeks is the B.1.617.2 variant, which originated from India.”

Vaccine news

Global: Data indicate mRNA vaccines are better at stopping people from becoming contagious, helping reduce onward transmission. Other vaccines, while effective in preventing acute illness or death from Covid, appear not to have this extra perk to the same degree.

US: The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized storage of thawed, undiluted Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in the refrigerator for as long as one month, according to a statement from the regulators. When initially authorized late last year, the shot had to be kept at ultracold temperatures, which limited its use in some areas that didn’t have access to the required storage technology. Previously, the shot could only be kept in a refrigerator for as long as five days. Regulators in Canada have issued a similar clearance.

The United States will donate a significant number of vaccines through the World Health Organisation COVAX scheme to distribute doses to poorer countries.

A probe by the US Congress into Emergent BioSolutions Inc. found that the contract manufacturer failed to address deficiencies in vaccine production at its facilities despite warnings following a series of inspections in 2020. Emergent, which was tasked with manufacturing the underlying drug substance used in the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Plc Covid-19 vaccines, has faced production setbacks after conflating the active ingredient used in the two vaccines. The error at its Baltimore plant in late February led it to discard 15 million doses worth of an ingredient used in the J&J shot, and has delayed the vaccine maker’s ability to supply the US and world.

Africa: Burundi, Tanzania and Eritrea have so far rejected the World Health Organization’s advice to register for Covax, an initiative to distribute vaccines to poorer countries, with some officials downplaying the impact of Covid-19 and effectiveness of jabs that have allowed several countries to begin opening up.

Japan: A Japanese health ministry panel is expected to approve the use of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid vaccine at a meeting scheduled Thursday after trials held in the nation confirmed effectiveness, public broadcaster NHK reported, citing an unidentified person. The broadcaster reported Tuesday that the ministry also plans to approve the use of Moderna Inc.’s Covid vaccine.

UK: The UK has launched a study exploring whether a third dose or “booster” shot of the coronavirus vaccine would be a safe and effective way of extending immune protection against Covid-19.

More than 70% of UK adults have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine, the Department of Health and Social Care said, and about 40% of people are fully vaccinated. The country’s health services have administered 57.8 million vaccines as of 18 May 18an effort that began in December, according to a statement. The UK remains on track to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July, the agency said.

Thailand: Thailand has begun vaccinating Buddhist monks against the coronavirus this week in hopes to build up their protection to allow them to perform their spiritual duties safely. Thailand aims to administer one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to 70% of its population by September. Meanwhile, Thailand is adding workers to the front of the vaccination queue in an effort to buttress the economy as a raging Covid outbreak threatens to delay plans to reopen borders for foreign tourists. Millions of employees under the social security program in Bangkok, the nation’s capital and financial hub, and nine provinces with large economies will get their shots along with other priority groups, including senior citizens and individuals with underlying conditions, according to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha.

Malawi: Malawi destroyed nearly 17,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that had expired in mid-April, as the health minister blamed ‘propaganda’ for the reluctance of residents to receive the jab.

Philippines: The Philippine Interior Department ordered local governments not to announce available vaccine brands at vaccination centers, saying there’s a “need to educate the people in order to overcome brand preference.” Vaccine recipients will only be informed of the brand on-site, and can refuse to inoculated. The order is also to prevent crowding, after long queues formed at the Pfizer vaccine rollout in the capital earlier this week.

Serbia: Some 440,000 vaccines made by China’s Sinopharm were flown to Serbia, of which 240,000 were paid for and 200,000 were donated by China’s national defense ministry for inoculation of Serbia’s military.

Switzerland: Switzerland has earmarked an additional 50 million francs ($55 million) for Covid-19 treatments and vaccines. The government has already decided to order vaccines for 2022, and intends to extend business with developers Moderna Inc. and the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE partnership beyond that date to guard against emerging variants of the virus.

Argentina: The workers union representing cemetery, crematorium and funeral workers has threatened a national strike in Argentina if it does not reach a deal with the government on vaccines.

Ireland: Pfizer to begin vaccine production in Ireland after investing $40m in a vaccine centre that will create 75 jobs, the US drugmaker said in a statement.

Lockdown updates

EU: EU ambassadors have backed plans to allow vaccinated holidaymakers to visit the bloc this summer.

Germany:    Berlin joins the growing number of regions in Germany, slowly emerging from the restrictions put in place to break a third wave of the pandemic in March.

Egypt: Egypt will extend coronavirus safety measures to contain the spread of Covid-19, including early closing hours for shops, until the end of May.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has launched an online portal for airlines operating in the kingdom to register immunisation data for all foreigners travelling to the Gulf Arab state.

Vietnam: Vietnam may cut the quarantine for vaccinated travelers arriving at the country’s airports to seven from 21 days. Vietnam increased mandatory quarantines for travelers arriving in the country to 21 days from 14 days earlier this month following a flareup in domestic infections.

Pakistan: Pakistan will reopen the tourism sector and outdoor restaurants to full capacity starting on 24 May, according to a statement. Educational institutions in districts with less than 5% Covid-19 positivity rates, as well as outdoor marriage ceremonies with a maximum of 150 people will reopen on 1 June.

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