Ghana has become the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines through the Covax vaccine-sharing initiative.
A delivery of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Accra on February 24. The first recipients are due to be healthcare workers.
The Covax scheme aims to reduce the divide between rich countries and poorer nations unable to buy doses.
The program is planning to deliver about two billion vaccine doses globally by the end of the year.
Ghana, which has a population of over 30 million, was chosen as the first recipient of the free vaccines after promising quick distribution and meeting the criteria set by Covax.
Further deliveries are expected to neighboring Ivory Coast later this week, the Covax alliance says.
Vaccinations are expected to start in Ghana next week, and, as well as health workers, those over 60, people with underlying health conditions, and senior officials are due to be prioritized.
The vaccines delivered to Accra were produced by the Serum Institute of India and developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The vaccine has been approved by the WHO and its roll-out in Ghana is not part of a trial.
The doses being sent to lower-income countries such as Ghana are funded by donations. As well as procuring and delivering the vaccines, Covax partners are supporting local authorities in areas such as training people to administer the vaccine and helping provide an adequate cold-chain storage and delivery system.
Many nations in the developed world, which began their own vaccinations months ago, have faced criticism for buying or ordering more vaccines than they need.
However, many of those countries placed orders for doses with pharmaceutical companies before knowing whether the vaccine in development would be effective. They were hedging their bets – placing multiple orders in the hope that at least some of them would work out.
The Covax scheme is led by the WHO and also involves the Global Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
In a joint statement, the WHO and the United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF) said it was a momentous occasion and “critical in bringing the pandemic to an end”.
Janssen’s single dose Covid-19 vaccine is 66% effective, the Belgian company has announced.
However, nobody needed hospital treatment or died from coronavirus after the vaccine took effect in the international trial.
Crucially, the trial looked at giving just one dose of the vaccine, which makes it significantly easier to roll out than those requiring two.
Although there are also signs the vaccine is less effective against the new variant that is spreading in South Africa.
The news comes shortly after Novavax announced their vaccine was 89% effective overall in the UK and 60% in South Africa. Both new vaccines will need to be reviewed by regulators before they can be used.
Janssen, a pharmaceutical company owned by Johnson & Johnson, is also investigating whether giving two doses will give either stronger or longer-lasting protection.
The fact the vaccine works as a single dose and can be kept in a standard fridge, while others need super-cold storage, means the vaccine could have a significant role around the world.
The Trump administration’s rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine calling it “chaotic” and “very limited”, President Joe Biden’s Chief of Staff Ron Klain has said.
Ron Klain said there was no plan in the federal government for the distribution of vaccines across the United States.
President Joe Biden, who took office on January 20, has promised 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days.
The US has now reported more than 25 million Covid-19 cases.
About 417,500 deaths have been linked to the new coronavirus. In recent weeks, the daily number of Covid-linked deaths in the US has, on some days, exceeded 4,000.
President Biden signed a raft of new measures last week, including boosting vaccinations and testing. He has urged Americans to wear masks and warned that the death toll could get much worse.
His efforts follow widespread criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic and of the vaccination program.
Vaccines have been distributed to states, and states and cities are carrying out the inoculations. But some have complained they are struggling with supply.
According to the CDC, about 41 million doses had been distributed by January 23 across the country, but only 20.5 million had been administered.
Speaking to NBC News, Ron Klain said: “The process to distribute the vaccine, particularly outside of nursing homes and hospitals out into the community as a whole, did not really exist when we came into the White House.”
He said it was a “complex” process but that the Biden administration would set up federal vaccination sites to help states without enough places.
Covid- 19 infections have spiraled in recent months – with a jump in new infections after Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
Hospital numbers hit their highest levels during the pandemic earlier this month but are slowly starting to drop alongside daily cases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said on January 21 that rolling average data appeared to show infections leveling off.
Although the national picture has stabilized slightly, he warned the country remained in a “very serious situation”.
The CDC is particularly concerned that new variants could accelerate the virus spread.
The strain has been detected in 20 states, Dr. Fauci said January 21, but warned the country had “limited ability” to track its spread through the population.
President Biden has already enacted a raft of executive measures to combat the virus and he wants Congress to pass a $1.9tn package of economic relief funding.
He is hoping to get bipartisan approval for his broad stimulus agenda, but the proposal has already been met with skepticism and resistance by some Republicans.
Another one of the new president’s key promises is to oversee 100 million vaccinations in his first 100 days in office, but some have criticized this policy as not ambitious enough.
The current approved suppliers – Moderna and Pfizer – have pledged to deliver 200 million doses by March. Dr. Fauci has also suggested emergency approval of a third vaccine, a single-dose jab by Johnson & Johnson, could be just weeks away.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was appointed chief medical adviser by the new president, has expressed hope that if 70-85% of the US population is vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could “approach a degree of normality” by autumn.
Israel has the highest coronavirus vaccination rate in the world with 11.55 doses per 100 people.
It is followed by Bahrain at 3.49 and the UK at 1.47, according to a global tracking website affiliated with Oxford University.
In comparison, France had vaccinated 138 people in total by December 30.
More than 1.8 million people have now died of Covid-19 around the world.
The comparative figures on vaccination are put together by Our World in Data, which is a collaboration between Oxford University and an educational charity.
They measure the number of people who have received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Most of the vaccines approved for use so far rely on two doses, given more than a week apart.
The US fell far short of its target of vaccinating 20 million people by the end of 2020, with just 2.78 million having received a jab by December 30.
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci has said he does not agree with UK plans to give as many people as possible a first vaccine dose, while delaying second doses.
He said the US would not be adopting a similar strategy.
India has meanwhile approved two vaccines for emergency use – the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the Covaxin vaccine, developed locally by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.
Two further vaccines are awaiting approval. India aims to vaccinate 300 million people by the middle of the year and has been staging drills to prepare for mass distribution.
India is holding a national drill for its vaccination program, which is aiming to reach 300 million people by the middle of the year.
It will rely on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has now been recommended by a government panel. The Oxford vaccine does not require the same storage at extremely low temperatures as the Pfizer vaccine, making it suitable for distribution to areas without sophisticated health care facilities.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is known as Covishield in India, where it is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Another vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech, has been approved for emergency use.
Covid-19 has already claimed nearly 150,000 lives in India, with about 10 million people infected – second only to the number infected in the US.
Israel began vaccinations on December 19 and is delivering the shot to about 150,000 people a day, with priority given to the over-60s, health workers and people who are clinically vulnerable.
It secured supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine following negotiations early on in the pandemic. It is contacting people with priority access to the vaccine through its health care system – by law all Israelis must register with a recognized health care provider.
Israel has safely subdivided shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at -70C, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told YNet TV news. This means smaller batches of the vaccine can be sent out to remote communities.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who is campaigning for re-election, has predicted Israel could emerge from the pandemic as early as February. It is currently in its third national lockdown.
In the first three days of the EU vaccination campaign, which launched on December 27, France inoculated fewer than 100 people. In comparison, Germany had given more than 190,000 vaccines by January 2.
Part of the difficulty in France stems from the widespread scepticism about the vaccination. In a 15-country poll carried out by Ipsos Global Advisor, just 40% of French respondents said they would be willing to have the vaccine.
This compares to 80% in China, 77% in the UK, and 69% in the US.
Earlier this week, the French health minister defended the slow pace of vaccinations, saying authorities had chosen to give the vaccine in care homes to elderly residents, rather than making them travel.
A vaccine – alongside better treatments – is seen as the best way of getting out of the restrictions that have been imposed on all our lives.
The data shows that two doses, three weeks apart, are needed. The trials – in US, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey – show 90% protection is achieved seven days after the second dose.
However, the data presented is not the final analysis as it is based on only the first 94 volunteers to develop Covid-19 so the precise effectiveness of the vaccine may change when the full results are analyzed.
Pfizer chairman Dr. Albert Bourla said: “We are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.”
Prof. Ugur Sahin, one of the founders of BioNTech, described the results as a “milestone”.
A limited number of people may get the vaccine this year.
The two companies say they will have enough safety data by the third week of November to take their vaccine to regulators.
Until it has been approved it will not be possible for countries to begin their vaccination campaigns.
Pfizer and BioNTech say they will be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of this year and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. Each person needs two doses.
Not everyone will get the vaccine straight away and countries are each deciding who should be prioritized.
Hospital staff and care home workers will be near the top of every list because of the vulnerable people they work with, as will the elderly who are most at risk of severe disease.
People under 50 and with no medical problems are likely to be last in the queue.
There are still many unanswered questions as this is only interim data.
We do not know if the vaccine stops you spreading the virus or just from developing symptoms. Or if it works equally well in high-risk elderly people.
The biggest question – how long does immunity last – will take months or potentially years to answer.
There are also massive manufacturing and logistical challenges in immunizing huge numbers of people, as the vaccine has to be kept in ultra-cold storage at below minus 80C.
The vaccine appears safe from the large trials so far but nothing, including paracetamol, is 100% safe.
There are around a dozen vaccines in the final stages of testing – known as a phase 3 trial – but this is the first to show any results.
It uses a completely experimental approach – that involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code – in order to train the immune system.
Previous trials have shown the vaccine trains the body to make both antibodies – and another part of the immune system called T-cells to fight the coronavirus.
President Donald Trump has denied downplaying the severity of the new coronavirus, despite admitting in a recorded interview to having done that.
At the Q&A meeting with undecided voters, President Trump said he had “up-played” it.
The claim contradicts comments the president made to journalist Bob Woodward earlier this year, when he said he minimized the virus’s severity to avoid panic.
President Trump also repeated on September 15 that a vaccine could be ready “within weeks” despite skepticism from health experts.
No vaccine has yet completed clinical trials, leading some scientists to fear politics rather than health and safety is driving the push for a vaccine before the November 3 presidential elections.
More than 195,000 people have died with Covid-19 in the US since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, the magazine Scientific American on September 15 endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time in its 175-year history, backing Democrat Joe Biden for the White House.
The magazine said President Trump “rejects evidence and science” and described his response to the coronavirus pandemic as “dishonest and inept”.
At the town hall meeting held by ABC News in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, President Trump was asked why he would “downplay a pandemic that is known to disproportionately harm low-income families and minority communities”.
The president responded: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action.”
“My action was very strong,” Donald Trump said, citing a ban imposed on people travelling from China and Europe earlier this year.
“We would have lost thousands of more people had I not put the ban on. We saved a lot of lives when we did that,” he added.
In its statement on September 15, Scientific American said despite warnings in January and February, President Trump “did not develop a national strategy to provide protective equipment, coronavirus testing or clear health guidelines.”
Bob Woodward, who broke the Watergate scandal in 1972 and is one of the US’s most respected journalists, interviewed President Trump 18 times from December 2019 to July 2020.
In February, President Trump indicated in an interview with Bob Woodward that he knew more about the severity of the illness than he had said publicly.
According to a recording of the call, President Trump said coronavirus was deadlier than the flu.
Later that month, he said that the virus was “very much under control”, and that the case count would soon be close to zero. He also publicly implied the flu was more dangerous than Covid-19.
Speaking on Capitol Hill on March 10, President Trump said: “Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Nine days later, after the White House declared the pandemic a national emergency, the president told Bob Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election, repeated his earlier claim that the virus would disappear on its own because people would “develop… herd mentality”, likely referring to “herd immunity” when enough people have developed resistance to a disease to stop its transmission.
The president also again cast doubt on the scientific advice of his own administration on mask-wearing.
He said: “The concept of a mask is good, but… you’re constantly touching it. You’re touching your face. You’re touching plates. There are people that don’t think masks are good.”
The CDC strongly urges the use of face masks.
President Trump has made contradictory comments on face masks, on the one hand disparaging them as unsanitary, and on the other calling on Americans to “show patriotism” by wearing them.
The Q&A meeting with undecided voters on September 15 came as the presidential election battle entered its final stretches.
Joe Biden is expected to sit for a similar program in Pennsylvania that will air on September 17.
Pennsylvania is seen as a key battleground state in the race to the White House.
Trials of Astra Zeneca’s and Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine will resume after being paused due to a reported side effect in a patient in the UK.
On September 8, AstraZeneca said the studies were being paused while it investigated whether the adverse reaction was linked with the vaccine.
However, on September 12, Oxford University said it had been deemed safe to continue.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock welcomed the news that the trials would resume.
He said: “This pause shows we will always put safety first. We will back our scientists to deliver an effective vaccine as soon as safely possible.”
Oxford University said in a statement that it was “expected” that “some participants will become unwell” in large trials such as this one.
The university added that the studies could now resume following the recommendations of an independent safety review committee and the UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
It would not disclose information about the patient’s illness for confidentiality reasons.
However, the New York Times reported that a volunteer in the UK trial had been diagnosed with transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome that affects the spinal cord and can be caused by viral infections.
The WHO says nearly 180 vaccine candidates are being tested around the world but none has yet completed clinical trials.
Hopes have been high that the vaccine might be one of the first to come on the market, following successful Phase 1 and 2 testing.
The move to Phase 3 testing in recent weeks has involved some 30,000 participants in the US as well as in the UK, South Africa and Brazil. Phase 3 trials in vaccines often involve thousands of participants and can last several years.
According to official figures released on September 12, a further 3,497 people have tested positive with the virus in the UK. It is the second day in a row that number of daily reported cases has exceeded 3,000.
It brings the overall number of confirmed cases so far to 365,174. Meanwhile, the government figures revealed that a further nine people have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, bring the UK death toll to 41,623.
The first report on the Russian coronavirus vaccine, named Sputnik-V, says early tests showed signs of an immune response.
The report published by medical journal The Lancet said every participant developed antibodies to fight the virus and had no serious side effects.
Russia licensed the vaccine for local use in August, the first country to do so and before data had been published.
However, experts say the trials were too small to prove effectiveness and safety.
But Moscow has hailed the results as an answer to critics. Some Western experts have raised concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners.
Last month, President Vladimir Putin said the vaccine had passed all the required checks and that one of his own daughters had been given it.
Two trials were conducted between June and July, The Lancet paper said. Each involved 38 healthy volunteers who were given a dose of the vaccine and then a booster vaccine three weeks later.
The participants – aged between 18 and 60 – were monitored for 42 days and all of them developed antibodies within three weeks. Among the most common side effects were headaches and joint pain.
The trials were open label and not randomized, meaning there was no placebo and the volunteers were aware they were receiving the vaccine.
According to the report: “Large, long-term trials including a placebo comparison, and further monitoring are needed to establish the long-term safety and effectiveness of the vaccine for preventing Covid-19 infection.”
A third phase of trials will involve 40,000 volunteers from “different age and risk groups,” according to the paper.
Russia’s vaccine uses adapted strains of the adenovirus, a virus that usually causes the common cold, to trigger an immune response.
Kirill Dmitriev, head of a Russian investment fund behind the vaccine, said during a news conference that the report was “a powerful response to the skeptics who unreasonably criticized the Russian vaccine”.
He said that 3,000 people had already been recruited for the next phase of trials.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said Russia would start vaccinations from November or December, with a focus on high-risk groups.
However, experts warned that there was still a long way to go until a vaccine could enter the market.
According to the WHO, there are 176 potential vaccines currently being developed worldwide. Of those, 34 are currently being tested on people. Among those, eight are at stage three, the most advanced.
The Department of Justice has accused China of sponsoring hackers who are targeting labs developing Covid-19 vaccines.
US officials have charged two Chinese men who allegedly spied on American companies doing coronavirus research and got help from state agents for other thefts.
The indictment comes amid a US crackdown on Chinese cyber espionage.
The US, UK and Canada last week accused Russia of seeking to steal research related to Covid-19.
The accusations against former electrical engineering students Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi released on July 21 include charges of trade secret theft and wire fraud conspiracy.
Prosecutors said the two men spied on a Massachusetts biotech company in January which was known to be researching possible cures for Covid-19. They also hacked a Maryland company less than a week after it said it was researching Covid-19.
Officials called the Chinese men private hackers who occasionally received support from Chinese intelligence agents, including an officer from the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS).
Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi previously stole “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of trade secrets, intellectual property, and other valuable business information” beginning in 2009, prosecutors alleged.
The indictment unsealed in Washington state said Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi – who reside in China – recently “researched vulnerabilities in the networks of biotech and other firms publicly known for work on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, and testing technology”.
Countries where companies were targeted include Australia, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
According to the indictment, the hackers were able to infiltrate a British artificial intelligence firm, a Spanish defense contractor, and a Australian solar energy company.
Prosecutors said the men at times acted in their own self-interest – including one occasion when they demanded a ransom from a company in exchange for not releasing its private information – but at other times “were stealing information of obvious interest” to the Chinese government.
According to the indictment, the hackers “worked with, were assisted by, and operated with the acquiescence of” the MSS.
Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi allegedly stole military data and provided the Chinese government with the passwords of a democracy activist in Hong Kong and a former Tiananmen Square protester.
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