Poorest countries can expect vaccines within weeks – WHO

Published January 9, 2021, 7:41 AM

by Agence-France-Presse

GENEVA, Switzerland – The world’s poorest countries can expect to start receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine doses between the end of January and mid-February, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Vaccination is already under way in some of the world’s wealthiest nations, including the United States, Britain, European Union countries and Canada.

Vaccination is already under way in some of the world’s wealthiest nations, including the United States, Britain, European Union countries and Canada (Jacob King POOL/AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Covax, the globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort, has struck agreements to secure two billion doses — and the first of those will start rolling out within weeks, said the WHO’s head of vaccines, Kate O’Brien.

Covax aims to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the population in each participating country by the end of the year, with funding covered for the 92 lower- and lower middle income economies involved in the scheme.

It is co-led by the WHO, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Asked how quickly lower-income African nations would get vaccines, O’Brien told a WHO live social media event: ”The facility has access to over two billion doses of vaccine. ”We will start to deliver those vaccines probably by the end of January, and, if not, certainly by early February and mid-February.

”That’s how countries in Africa and South Asia, and other countries around the world of these 92 that are less able to afford vaccines, are actually going to get vaccines.”

Vaccines pipeline

The WHO granted emergency validation to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on December 31, paving the way for countries worldwide to give swift approval to its import and distribution.

According to the WHO’s overview of candidate vaccines, 63 have been tested on humans, 21 of which reached final-stage mass testing. A further 172 candidate vaccines are being developed in laboratories with a view to eventual human trials.

”There is a really big pipeline of vaccines that are coming through,” said O’Brien.

”We are in active review of the data on other vaccines and we do expect to be emergency-use listing additional vaccines in the coming weeks and the next months.

”We have 15 manufacturers that have contacted us believing that they have the data that are required to meet these highest standards.”

As for the new mutations of the virus detected in Britain and South Africa, WHO experts have said that while they seem more transmissible, there is no indication that the current vaccines would not work against those variants — and the vaccines are easily adaptable in any case.

”The evaluation about whether the existing vaccines will be impacted at all is under way,” said O’Brien.

However, ”the kinds of changes being seen in these variants are not felt to be likely to change the impact”, she added.

COVID surges

Countries in Asia stepped up their fight against the coronavirus on Thursday to suppress a contagion they had previously tamed, as warnings grew in Europe over a new fast spreading variant.

Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo as the capital region clocked a 24-hour record of almost 2,500 infections, while China imposed emergency measures to tackle an outbreak in the northern city of Shijiazhuang.

The restrictions follow a slew of new lockdowns and other restrictions announced in Europe this week and Canada ordering its first curfew of the pandemic.

The numbers continued to pile up at an alarming rate in the United States, the country with the world’s highest death toll, at more than 360,000.

The US registered a record 3,998 deaths over the past 24 hours, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Trailers as temporary morgues

California has distributed at least 166 refrigerated trailers to be used as temporary morgues by overwhelmed hospitals facing record COVID-related deaths, officials said Thursday.

The state is reeling from coronavirus, with almost 2,500 deaths last week — far more than any other US state — and many hospital morgues now full.

Cases began spiking even before Thanksgiving gatherings spread the virus faster, and California is bracing for a “surge on top of a surge” driven in part by Christmas and New Year festivities.

Mark Ghilarducci, the state’s emergency services director, said the “mass fatality management plan” would mean backed-up dead bodies can be “dealt with respect and dignity.”

The plan was announced after studies of hospitalization data predicted “the severity of a surge in COVID-19 -related fatalities that will only add to the existing normal rate of non-COVID deaths,” a statement said.

Since many of the refrigerated trailers are not designed as morgues, shelving is being installed to increase their holding capacity by at least double.

National Guard members were dispatched this week to assist the coroner’s office in Los Angeles, where one person is dying every 15 minutes from the virus alone.

Alarming situation Brazil, the country with the second-highest toll, meanwhile reported its second-highest number of daily deaths – 1,524 – on its way to passing the mark of 200,000 people killed by the virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday that European nations needed to ramp up efforts to deal with a new variant of the virus that had emerged in England and was spreading more quickly than other strains.

”This is an alarming situation,” said WHO Europe chief Hans Kluge, calling on everyone to follow rules on social distancing, mask wearing and staying at home.

The global outbreak shows no signs of abating, with more than 1.8 million people known to have died worldwide from 86 million confirmed cases.

The pandemic crushed economic growth last year and France’s finance minister warned on Thursday that the worst was still to come.

”There will be more bankruptcies in 2021 than in 2020,” said Bruno Le Maire, warning of further job losses ”that will be difficult to absorb”.