Monthly Archives: May 2021

COVID vaccination success in wealthy countries contrasts with shortages elsewhere

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It’s a tale of two pandemics as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka run low on vaccines while U.S. has fully inoculated 38% of population.

Cases and deaths hit records in India and flow over to its neighbors, as AFP reported. India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, has said it will not export any more doses until year-end as it struggles to contain a deepening crisis. That has left Asian countries scrambling to secure supplies and some are looking to China and Russia. India is also looking for supplies on international markets and has started to import Russia’s Sputnik V to make up for domestic shortages.

The European Union pledged to donate 100 million vaccine doses to poorer countries at the start of a global G-20 summit Friday, at which world leaders are expected to stress the need to scale up vaccine efforts all around the world.

Pfizer and BioNTech told the summit they would provide 2 billion doses of their vaccine to middle- and low-income countries in the next 18 months.

That comes after agencies, including the World Health Organization, the United Nations, UNICEF and the Red Cross, have made appeals for greater vaccine equity. Experts have emphasized that leaving poorer countries out of the vaccine push will allow variants to emerge that have the potential to become resistant to the current vaccines.


Gaza War deepens a long-running humanitarian crisis

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The Palestinian enclave was already in a dire state. This latest war with Israel has made it worse, damaging the health and sewage systems, closing schools and displacing tens of thousands.

The nine-day battle between the Israeli military and Hamas militants has resulted in 17 hospitals and clinics damaged in Gaza, wrecked its only coronavirus test laboratory, sent fetid wastewater into its streets and broke water pipes serving at least 800,000 people, setting off a humanitarian crisis that is touching nearly every civilian in the crowded enclave of about two million people.

Sewage systems inside Gaza have been destroyed. A desalination plant that helped provide fresh water to 250,000 people in the territory is offline. Dozens of schools have been damaged or closed, forcing some 600,000 students to miss classes. Some 72,000 Gazans have been forced to flee their homes. And at least 213 Palestinians have been killed, including dozens of children, with more than 1,000 Gazans wounded.

At least 12 Israeli residents have been killed in the conflict. Damages to Israeli infrastructure include a gas pipeline, the pausing of operations at a gas rig and at two major Israeli airports. But the damage was incomparable to that in Gaza.

The level of destruction and loss of life in Gaza has underlined the humanitarian challenge in the enclave, already suffering under the weight of an indefinite blockade by Israel and Egypt even before the latest conflict.

[The New York Times]

WHO approves Chinese vaccine in potential boost to COVAX pipeline

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The World Health Organization (WHO) approved for emergency use a COVID-19 vaccine from China’s state-owned drug-maker Sinopharm, bolstering Beijing’s push for a bigger role in inoculating the world.

The vaccine, one of two main Chinese coronavirus vaccines that have been given to hundreds of millions of people in China and elsewhere, is the first developed by a non-Western country to win WHO backing. It is also the first time the WHO has given emergency use approval to a Chinese vaccine for any infectious disease. Its easy storage requirements make it highly suitable for low-resource settings,” a WHO statement said.

This allows it to be included in COVAX, a global programme to provide vaccines mainly for poor countries, which has hit supply problems. read more  

“This expands the list of COVID-19 vaccines that COVAX can buy, and gives countries confidence to expedite their own regulatory approval, and to import and administer a vaccine,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing.

The WHO had already given emergency approval to COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and, last week, Moderna.


Will Patents on Vaccines be suspended?

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The Biden administration came out on Wednesday in support of waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines, siding with international efforts to bolster production amid concerns about vaccine access in developing nations. President Biden had come under increasing pressure to throw his support behind the proposal, drafted by India and South Africa and backed by many congressional Democrats.

The United States had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization over a proposal to suspend some of the world economic body’s intellectual property protections, which could allow drug-makers across the globe access to the closely guarded trade secrets of how the viable vaccines have been made. 

Support from the White House is not a guarantee that a waiver will be adopted. The European Union has also been standing in the way, and changes to international intellectual property rules require unanimous agreement. 

The United States would participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organization over the matter, but a US spokesman said that they would “take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”

Standing against this will be the pharmaceutical industry, which responded angrily to the extraordinary decision. Stephen J. Ubl, the president and chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, called the announcement “an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety.”

[The New York Times]