India has become the “fastest country in the world” to administer more than 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, amid a deadly second wave of infections.
The country achieved the feat in 85 days, whereas the US took 89 days and China 102 days, the Indian health ministry said.
However, India reported a record daily increase of over 150,000 cases – and more than 800 new deaths – on April 11.
There are reports the vast vaccination drive itself is struggling.
This week, half a dozen states reported a shortage of doses even as the federal government insisted that it had 40 million doses in stock and that the “allegations” of vaccine scarcity were “utterly baseless”.
The inoculation drive aims to cover 250 million people by July, but experts say the pace needs to pick up further to meet the target.
Everyone aged over 45 is now eligible for immunization at vaccination centers and hospitals. Most doses have so far been given to frontline workers and the over-60s.
The third phase – which began on April 1 – opened amid a sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases. India has been reporting an average of more than 90,000 cases every day since then.
On April 4, India became the second country after the US to report 100,000 new cases in a single day. More than half of those were confirmed in Maharashtra, which has India’s largest city Mumbai as its capital.
The country’s caseload had dropped sharply by the time it began vaccinating people early this year. It was adding under 15,000 infections daily. But cases began to spike again in March, largely driven by poor test-and-trace and lax safety protocols.
Experts say India’s second wave is being fuelled by people being less cautious – and mixed messaging by the government.
Since the pandemic began, India has confirmed more than 12 million cases and over 167,000 deaths. It’s the third-highest number of Covid-19 infections in the world after the US and Brazil.
India launched its vaccination program on January 16, but it was limited to healthcare workers and frontline staff – a sanitation worker became the first Indian to receive the vaccine.
From March 1, the eligibility criteria was expanded to include people over 60 and those aged between 45 and 59 with other illnesses.
The third phase included everyone above the age of 45.
India’s drugs regulator has given the green light to two vaccines – one developed by AstraZeneca with Oxford University (Covishield) and one by Indian firm Bharat Biotech (Covaxin). Several other candidates are at different stages of trials.
South Africa began administering the unapproved Johnson & Johnson vaccine to healthcare workers as part of a study earlier this month. It came after early trials suggested the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild disease from the variant dominant in large parts of the country.
So far the only other country to approve the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use is Bahrain, which gave it the green light on February 25.
Because the vaccine will require fewer doses than its two-shot Pfizer and Moderna counterparts, it will also require fewer vaccine appointments and medical staff.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a common cold virus that has been engineered to make it harmless.
It then safely carries part of the coronavirus’s genetic code into the body. This is enough for the body to recognize the threat and then learn to fight coronavirus.
This trains the body’s immune system to fight coronavirus when it encounters the virus for real.
This is similar to the approach used by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.
The Dan David Prize Twitter account wrote: “Congratulations to Dr. Anthony Fauci, global leader in research and control of infectious diseases and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases @NIAIDNews and Public Health hero, for being awarded the 2021 @DanDavidPrize in Public Health @TelAvivUni”
“As the Covid-19 pandemic unraveled, [he] leveraged his considerable communication skills to address people gripped by fear and anxiety and worked relentlessly to inform individuals in the United States and elsewhere about the public health measures essential for containing the pandemic’s spread.
“In addition, he has been widely praised for his courage in speaking truth to power in a highly charged political environment.”
Anthony Fauci has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984.
He helped to found George W. Bush’s US government AIDS initiative in Africa and now serves as explainer-in-chief to the public amid the Covid-19 outbreak of the Trump and now Biden eras.
The Dan David Prize was established in 2000 by the late international businessman Dan David. It gives $1 million awards in three categories each year for contributions addressing the past, present and future.
South Africa is considering swapping or selling the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, the health minister announces.
The African country has 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
However, plans to use it to vaccinate health workers have been put on hold after a small study suggested a “minimal” effect against the South African new variant in young people.
South Africa now intends to use a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson instead.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told at a news conference: “There are already some countries that are asking that we must sell it to them.
“Our scientists will continue with further deliberations on the AstraZeneca vaccine used in South Africa and depending on their advice, the vaccine will be swapped before the expiry date.”
Zweli Mkhize added that he was due to speak with the WHO shortly after the news conference.
South Africa has recorded almost 1.5 million cases of coronavirus, and 47,000 deaths – far more than anywhere else on the continent.
Researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and the UK’s Oxford University carried out the trial, which has not yet been published or peer-reviewed, on around 2,000 healthy, young people with an average age of 31.
They found that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild and moderate cases of the South Africa variant of coronavirus in that low-risk group.
This means that even in people who’ve been vaccinated, the virus could still spread from person to person.
However, the research did not look at the impact of the vaccine on severe disease from Covid-19 because there was no-one in the study who was in a high-risk category (over 50) or had an underlying health condition.
Oxford University researchers say promising results from other trials using similar vaccines in South Africa suggest their shot should be effective at preventing severe cases – the main aim of all Covid vaccines.
South Africa now plans to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to a group of 100,000 older nurses and healthcare workers.
That’s to see if it is effective against the new variant and in preventing severe illness in an older age group.
The South Africa variant carries a mutation that appears to make it more contagious or easy to spread.
However, there is no evidence that the variant causes more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected.
As with the original strain, the risk is highest for people who are elderly or have significant underlying health conditions.
Scientists say the variant accounts for 90% of new Covid-19 cases in South Africa.
At least 20 other countries, including the UK, Austria, Japan, Kenya and Norway have found cases of the variant.
The health minister for neighboring Eswatini, previously known as Swaziland, said on February 9 that it would no longer use the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The health authorities in Malawi have said they still plan to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Negotiations are still going on over the amount and the price South Africa will pay for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is made by Belgian pharmaceutical firm Janssen.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been approved for use in South Africa.
The first of the nine million doses it has ordered are due to arrive next week.
The South African health minister said these would be provided to some 500,000 health workers as “an implementation study”, possibly starting as early as next week, but this was still to be confirmed.
He also promised to explain next week just how much of the vaccine will be coming to South Africa.
Zweli Mkhize said that South Africa had already secured vaccine doses from Pfizer which it has agreed to bring in earlier than originally agreed.
South Africa is also in discussions with other manufactures, including the makers of Sputnik V, Sinovac and Moderna vaccines, he added.
Some side effects to a vaccine are expected but these are usually mild, including a sore arm, tiredness and a bit of a temperature.
There were no deaths or serious illness in the vaccinated group linked to the Russian vaccine.
As well as Russia, Sputnik V is being used in a number of other places, including: Argentina, Venezuela, Hungary, UAE, Iran, Palestinian territories.
The authors of the Lancet paper pointed out the analysis only included symptomatic cases of Covid, and more work would need to be done to understand whether it stops even asymptomatic cases, and prevents the virus from being passed on by vaccinated people.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also backed the EU’s approach in a TV interview.
France’s health regulator said there was still not enough data about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine for patients over 65 years of age.
“These data will arrive in the coming weeks. In the meantime we recommend its use for people under 65 years old,” it said.
It recommended the vaccine for health workers and vulnerable people between the ages of 50 and 65.
More than 1.5 million people have received a Covid vaccine so far in France.
Last week Germany’s vaccine commission said it could not recommend the use of the vaccine in people aged over 65.
On February 2, health authorities in Sweden and Poland made similar announcements and Belgium’s health minister said the vaccine, for the moment, would only be given to people below the age of 55. Italy’s medicines agency on Saturday also approved the jab for all adults under 55.
In a study yet to be formally published, scientists at Oxford University have said the vaccine could lead to a “substantial” fall in the spread of the virus.
Individual EU countries are free to decide who vaccines should be given to once they have been approved at EU level.
In her TV interview on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “every vaccine is welcome in the European Union”, adding that good data had emerged for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
In her interview with Le Monde, Ursula von der Leyen admitted that the EU had made missteps.
She said: “When you make urgent decisions – and in this year of crisis we’ve taken around 900 – there’s always the chance of missing something.”
However, Ursula von der Leyen said 18 million vaccine doses had been delivered across the EU so far and many more would follow over the next two months.
No-one who received the Oxford vaccine in trials was hospitalized or became seriously ill due to Covid-19.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is given via two injections to the arm, the second between 4 and 12 weeks after the first.
When it approved it last week, the EMA noted that most participants in test studies were under 55 years of age.
The agency said that while there were not yet enough results to show how well the vaccine will work in older people, “protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines”.
AstraZeneca has said a US study will shortly provide additional data on the vaccine’s efficacy in older adults.
The EU has said AstraZeneca must honor its commitments and deliver the doses it ordered by diverting doses manufactured in the UK. However, the company said its contract for UK supplies prevents this.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told German radio on January 29 that the EU contract signed in August contained “binding orders”, and called for an explanation.
The commission later said it had agreed a plan to introduce export controls on coronavirus vaccines. It means individual member states will decide whether to allow the export of vaccines produced in their territory. It will be in place until the end of March.
A European Commissioner said it was being introduced to enhance transparency and to ensure that all EU citizens had access to vaccines.
Germany’s vaccine commission said this week that it could not recommend the use of AstraZeneca vaccine in people aged over 65, citing a lack of data on how it affected this age group.
The UK has been using the AstraZeneca vaccine in its mass immunization program for weeks now, and public health officials say it is safe and provides “high levels of protection”.
Confirming it had approved the vaccine, the EMA said that most participants in the test studies were between 18 and 55 years old. It said that while there were not yet enough results to show how the vaccine will work in older people, “protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines.”
Individual EU countries can still decide who vaccines should be given to, once they have been approved.
Israel has expanded its Covid-19 vaccination campaign to teens aged 16 -18, in an effort to enable them to sit exams.
More than 25% of Israel’s population of 9 million have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine since December 19, the health ministry says.
Israel started with the elderly and others at high risk, but people aged 40 and over can also now get the vaccine.
It hopes to start reopening its economy in February.
The inclusion of 16 to 18-year-olds – with parental permission – is meant “to enable their return (to school) and the orderly holding of exams”, an education ministry spokeswoman said.
The matriculation exams that Israeli students sit at the end of high school play an important role in deciding where they will go to university. Their results can also affect their placement in the military, where many young Israelis do compulsory service.
However, the education ministry has said it is too early to say whether schools will reopen next month.
Israel started its rapid vaccination drive – the fastest in the world – in on December 19, reaching 10% of its population by the end of 2020.
The country has recorded more than 596,000 cases and 4,392 deaths with Covid-19, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
On January 24, the government said it would ban passenger flights in and out of the country from January 25 for the rest of the month, in an effort to halt the spread of new virus variants.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Other than rare exceptions, we are closing the sky hermetically to prevent the entry of the virus variants and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign.”
Foreigners have largely been blocked from entering Israel during the pandemic.
If you were offered a COVID-19 vaccine, would you take it? Research paints a mixed picture. In one poll mentioned by The Drum, 28% of 18- to 34-year-old respondents in the UK said they would reject a vaccine if offered one. However, marketers can play a major part in encouraging vaccine uptake.
Ultimately, the success of vaccines in helping to bring the COVID-19 pandemic to a close will depend on how many people take them. Here is how pharmaceutical companies, medical providers and healthcare agencies could persuade members of the general public to do exactly that.
Vaccine hesitancy: a challenge predating the COVID-19 pandemic
You don’t have to look far beyond the COVID-19 picture to see examples of skepticism about vaccines in general. Such reticence has, in some instances, led an array of vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, to re-emerge.
In 2019, long before the current pandemic erupted, the World Health Organization ranked vaccine hesitancy among the ten leading threats to global health.
It’s unsurprising, then, that Glen Halliwell, business unit director at Publicis healthcare agency Langland, believes that government and health services must engage in “broad education” about the COVID-19 vaccine – including “what it is for, what it will protect you against, how to get it and how many injections are required to be protected.”
He added: “Critical here is ensuring we reach the members of the community where English is not their first language, or where cultural or religious concerns regarding vaccine ingredients may lead to some hesitation.”
What threshold do we need to reach to achieve herd immunity?
Lee Fraser, who has served as Digitas Health’s chief medical officer since 2014, insists: “In order for vaccines to be successful in ending the pandemic, we will need to get vaccination rates into the mid-70% range at a minimum.”
However, he warned: “In a climate where we have seen a decline in the public’s belief in science and erosion of fact in favor of social and public opinion, studies suggest only 60% of people are currently willing to get a vaccine.”
Which marketing strategies could help – and which probably wouldn’t?
While some individual vaccines have been given their own branding by marketers, WPP Health Practice’s international chief executive officer Claire Gillis says: “I actually think that the important brand is the corporate brand. Go to the doctor and ask for the ‘Pfizer vaccine’.”
Meanwhile, though the UK government’s reported attempt to apply patriotic livery to each AstraZeneca vaccine kit would unlikely have been of much use, the UK’s National Health Service has, more encouragingly, decided to partner with influencers to promote vaccine adoption.
Los Angeles County has a high level of infection of the disease, with nearly 13,000 new cases reported on December 29, and 227 deaths – bringing the number of those who have died with the disease to 9,782 to date.
The county’s vaccine chief Claire Jarashow told Bloomberg that officials were keen to make sure people came back for their second vaccine dose – as the paper document given to recipients is easily lost.
She said: “We just don’t have the capacity to be doing hundreds of medical record requests to find people’s first doses and when they need to get their second.”
Healthvana has a track record of handling sensitive patient data, having delivered millions of HIV test results to US patients in recent years.
However, there has been some resistance to the idea of a “vaccine passport”, which some fear could be used to deny entry to venues if people are unwilling to share personal medical information.
There are also some potential problems – such as not having the digital vaccine record on all phones, including Android users.
And there is no way to prove that the person holding the phone is the same person who received the vaccine, without some other identifier.
Those people might see this idea as a “hostile approach”, designed to withhold access to getting on board a flight, or attending an event.
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