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COVID-19: Europe resumes AstraZeneca jabs

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Several European countries were resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations Friday after an all-clear from EU regulators.

Days of commotion around AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, over fears it may cause blood clots, saw countries from Venezuela to Indonesia pause its use in a major setback for the drive to vaccinate populations against a virus that has killed nearly 2.7 million people.

France, Germany, and Italy — all countries attempting to fight off a third wave of the coronavirus — announced they were using the jab again as of Friday after the European Medicines Agency said it was “safe and effective”.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex is due to get the AstraZeneca jab Friday in a bid to reassure citizens that it is safe as his country fights an infection surge.

Millions across France were preparing to enter a new month-long, limited lockdown from Saturday after the country recorded its highest new caseload in nearly four months.

Non-essential businesses will close in Paris and other areas hit by the new restrictions, mainly in northern France, although schools will stay open.

Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Spain are also ending their suspension of the vaccine.

In Germany, the AstraZeneca jabs were resuming just as health authorities warned that Europe’s top economy is again suffering an exponential rise in infections.

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Lars Schaade, vice president of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, told reporters there were grim signs of a return to a situation of “many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed”.

In Asia, Indonesia aimed to follow suit as its food and drugs agency said the benefits of the vaccine “still outweigh the risks”.

– ‘Time for optimism’ –

There was brighter news in the United States, however, as it prepared Friday to administer its 100 millionth vaccine dose.

With infection rates falling, there is hope that the country with the highest Covid-19 death toll is headed for a powerful rebound.

“It is a time for optimism,” Biden said in a White House speech. But he also cautioned: “It’s not a time for relaxation.”

Unlike France and other European countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are holding out on resuming AstraZenica inoculations, pending further review.

The World Health Organization is due to publish the conclusions of its own assessment of the safety of the jab on Friday, after repeatedly encouraging countries to continue using it.

AstraZeneca’s shot, among the cheapest available and easier to store and transport than some of its rivals, has been billed as the vaccine of choice for poorer nations.

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It is a vital part of Covax, a global drive to ensure that poor countries do not miss out in the race to vaccinate their populations.

Papua New Guinea is among the countries in desperate need of vaccines as it battles a “rapidly escalating” Covid-19 crisis, with authorities approving the use of mass graves and nearly 50 percent of tests coming back positive in some areas.

Some 8,000 AstraZeneca vaccines are being delivered from Australia, but Medecins Sans Frontieres Australia director Jennifer Tierney warned it might be too little, too late.

“What’s needed is a bigger response, now, before the situation gets out of control,” she said. “Papua New Guinea needed these vaccines yesterday.”

– International boost for Sputnik V –
The developer of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine said Friday its shot had been approved for emergency use in the Philippines, making it the 52nd country to give the green light to the Russian jab.

While some Western countries have been wary of Sputnik V over concerns the Kremlin could use it to advance its interests, its developers have been ramping up international agreements to boost its production, including in some European countries.

Indian drugmaker Stelis Biopharma is the latest to sign on, with a deal announced Friday to produce 200 million doses of Sputnik V.

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On the warm sands of Florida’s Miami Beach, meanwhile, the 2021 season is off to a banging start, fuelled by “Roaring Twenties” anticipation of post-pandemic life.

The shore is once again packed with revellers — a sight that Americans view either as a proof of long-awaited progress against COVID-19 or of a recklessness that could set back the nation’s recovery.

For James Mitchell, 45, newly-arrived from freezing Chicago, the haters need to lighten up.

“We just got to start back living, man,” he told AFP. “For real.”

 

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Health

Nigeria: Six days with no new COVID-19 deaths

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Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria has recorded no fewer than 110 new cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)  but no new deaths for the sixth consecutive day.

The country’s health agency, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) disclosed on Wednesday.

The last time the NCDC recorded a death, according to the report was on April 1 when the toll increased by one to 2,058.

Wednesday’s new cases were reported from 11 states, including Lagos (24), Yobe (24), FCT (16), Bayelsa (10), Rivers (10), Kaduna (10),Nasarawa (5), Akwa Ibom (4), Bauchi (3), Edo (3), and Plateau(1).

To date, the country has recorded 163,440 cases of the virus out of which 153,788 have recovered.

On Tuesday, the Federal Government took delivery of 100,000 more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Indian government as vaccination efforts continue across the country.

 

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COVID-19: Seven have died in UK after receiving AstraZeneca vaccine, says regulator

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The UK medical regulator said Saturday that out of 30 people who suffered rare blood clots after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, seven have died.

The British acknowledgement of deaths comes as several European countries have paused the use of the AstraZeneca jab over a potential link to blood clots.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said in a statement that “Out of the 30 reports up to and including 24 March, sadly 7 have died.”

The reports of thrombosis, submitted by medics or members of the public via a government website, came after 18.1 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in the country.

Most of the cases (22) were a rare clotting condition called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis. Eight cases saw people suffer other types of thrombosis combined with low levels of blood platelets, which help blood clot.

There were no reports of blood clots from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the UK regulator said, adding that “our thorough review into these reports is ongoing”.

But MHRA chief executive Dr June Raine stressed that the benefits far outweighed any risks. “The public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so,” she said.

Europe update expected

Both the MHRA and European Medicines Agency (EMA) say no causal link has yet been established between the blood clotting case and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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But growing concerns have prompted a number of countries to pause rollout of the vaccine or limit it to older people due to the relatively young age of those who suffered blood clots.

Netherlands on Friday halted vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab for people under the age of 60 after five new cases among younger women, one of whom died.

Germany has suspended the use of the vaccine for those under 60 after 31 cases of blood clots, most of them among younger and middle-aged women.

A number of other countries including France have imposed a similar age restrictions, while Denmark and Norway have suspended all use of the vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which like the World Health Organization previously declared the AstraZeneca vaccine safe, is expected to announce updated advice on the issue on April 7.

It said Wednesday that there had been 62 cases worldwide of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, 44 of them in the European Economic Area, which includes the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

This figure did not include all Germany’s cases, however.

More than 9.2 million AstraZeneca jabs have been administered in the region.

The EMA said it believes the vaccine is safe and that experts have found no specific risk factors such as age, gender or medical history.

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‘Weight of evidence’

Paul Hunter, a medical microbiologist at Britain’s University of East Anglia, told AFP that he had initially thought the link between vaccination and blood clots was likely to be a “random association”.

As evidence mounts of clusters in separate countries, “the weight of evidence is now looking towards Oxford-AstraZeneca actually being the cause of these adverse events”, he said.

Nevertheless, the risk for the unvaccinated of dying from Covid is “substantially greater,” he said.

A spokeswoman for AstraZeneca told AFP that patient safety is its “highest priority”.

UK, EU and World Health Organization regulatory bodies have concluded that the benefits “significantly outweigh the risks across all adult age groups”, she said.

AstraZeneca said last month following US efficiency trials that its vaccine is 76 percent effective at preventing the disease. It also said data for the EU and the UK showed no increased risk of blood clots.

The UK has administered more than 31 million first vaccine doses, using both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs. People cannot choose which one they get.

The UK in June 2020 ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and supported its development. It also ordered 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the same year.

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AFP

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FG to spend N396bn on COVID-19 vaccination

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The federal government of Nigeria is proposing to spend the sum of N396 billion for the COVID-19 vaccination in 2021 and 2022 according to the country’s Minister of Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed.

The Minister made this known on Wednesday after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, which was presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

She noted that the figure may significantly reduce as the Federal Government receives more donations of the vaccines from the private sector.

She further explained that the Ministry of Health is working on details of the gap that the Federal Government will be required to fill in the vaccination exercise.

According to her, the size of the proposed supplementary budget agreed by the executive and legislative arm is yet to be resolved, because the Ministry of Defence and Health, are yet to provide details of the military hardware requirement.

Ahmed had earlier in February said a supplementary budget will be needed to cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccinations, for which no provision was made in the 2021 finance bill adopted in December.

The Federal Government has said it plans to inoculate 40% of Nigeria’s population this year and another 30% in 2022.

“There will be a supplementary budget, the first one will be in March relating to the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said.

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