The German vaccination commission on Thursday advised against the AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 65 years of age, raising concern at the outbreak of epidemic in Europe and at a time when first cases of the South African variant of coronavirus have been detected in the United States.
A quarantine team from the World Health Organization (WHO) also started highly sensitive investigations into the origins of the pandemic in China, where it had declared itself more than a year ago.
The United States has called for a “clear and thorough” investigation. The Chinese regime, which does not want to be called into question, has responded by rejecting any “political interference”.
The pandemic continues to worsen: on Wednesday, a new daily record was broken, with 18,000 deaths recorded worldwide.
In total, Covid-19 has killed at least 2.17 million and contaminated more than 100.8 million people, according to a record established by AFP on Thursday. And according to WHO, the new variants of the coronavirus continue to spread: the one that appeared in Britain has spread to 70 countries, including the United States, and the South African variant to 31 countries.
Hopes are based on vaccines, the question of effectiveness of which arises in the face of variants. As with the English variant, scientists suspect the South African and Brazilian variants of being more contagious.
The Pfizer and BionTech laboratories assured Thursday that their vaccine retains most of its effectiveness against English and South African variants.
Moderna reported that its vaccine remains effective against the British variant, but was less effective against the South African variant.
Clinical trials of the vaccine in two doses of Novavax showed an effectiveness of 89.3%, said on Thursday the American biotechnology company. But the news was offset by the joint announcement that the vaccine is much less effective in the face of the variant identified in South Africa.
As for AstraZenecas remedy, the recommendation of the German experts comes as the European Medicines Agency (EMA), based in Amsterdam, is expected to vote on Friday on its authorisation in the European Union. A virtual press conference is scheduled at 14:00 GMT.
In the absence of evidence of effectiveness for older people, “AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is currently recommended only for people aged 18 to 64,” says the German Immunization Commission (STIKO). According to her, “the data currently available are insufficient to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine beyond 65 years of age”.
AstraZeneca strongly replied, assuring that “the latest analyses (…) confirm the effectiveness of the vaccine in the group over 65 years.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine is eagerly awaited in the EU where it is expected to accelerate vaccination campaigns, adding millions of additional doses to those of the Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna laboratories, the first two authorised products on the continent.
If access was to be reserved only for under 65 years of age, it would force most European governments to reconsider their strategy for priority immunization of older people.
European countries complain about the slow production of vaccines, developed in record time.
However, 70% of the doses currently administered are administered in rich countries (Europe, USA and Gulf countries).
King Mohammed VI of Morocco was vaccinated on Thursday, kicking off a national vaccination campaign. Neighbouring Algeria will follow him on Saturday with the Russian vaccine Sputnik V.
Some 20,000 doses of the Russian vaccine also arrived in Bolivia on Thursday, the first batch of a total order of 5.2 million doses.
Do not “lower the guard”
In the United States, the most affected country in the world (more than 429,202 deaths for 25,598,359 cases), two first cases of the South African variant have been detected, in South Carolina. The authorities did not establish a link between the two patients or identified a recent trip that could have caused these infections.
In Europe, WHO urged Thursday not to “lower guard” over restrictions.
Some countries are planning to reinforce the constraints, such as Germany, which intends to impose a drastic reduction in air traffic with the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and Portugal, which it considers to be the most affected by the new variants.
Portugal, where the virus causes “gigantic” pressure on hospitals, recorded a new death record on Thursday, with 303 deathsextra time in 24 hours. Non-essential travel abroad is now prohibited.
In the United Kingdom, the first European country to have exceeded 100,000 deaths, pressure on the hospital system remains strong.
The British authorities will close their borders on Friday at 13.00 GMT to people arriving from the United Arab Emirates, in order to avoid the importation of new variants.
In France, Parliament is expected to decide next week on new restrictions which could be unveiled by President Macron this weekend or Monday.
The British laboratory AstraZeneca has been suffering for several days from the leaders of the European Union, due to delays in deliveries.
AstraZeneca had argued last week of a “drop in yield” at a European manufacturing site, explaining that it could only deliver “a quarter” of the doses initially promised to the EU in the first quarter.
Brussels, which pre-ordered up to 400 million doses of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, is not convinced by these justifications, judging them “unsatisfactory”, and has requested an inspection of a Belgian laboratory plant.
The inspection took place and “some documents and data” seized are “under examination”, a spokesperson for the Belgian Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AFMPS) told AFP Thursday evening.
By CCEiT (AFP)