Europe resumes AZ jabs, US nears 100m doses

Europe resumes AZ jabs, US nears 100m doses

Indian drugmaker to produce 200m doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine

A health worker collects a sample from a man in Amritsar, India to test for coronavirus. The Indian drugmaker Stelis Biopharma now has a deal to produce 200 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. (AFP Photo)
A health worker collects a sample from a man in Amritsar, India to test for coronavirus. The Indian drugmaker Stelis Biopharma now has a deal to produce 200 million doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. (AFP Photo)

PARIS: Several European countries were resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations Friday after an all-clear from EU regulators, as US President Joe Biden was set to meet his goal of having 100 million Americans inoculated weeks ahead of schedule.

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 was 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 daly 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 AstraZenca jabs were resuming just as health authorities warned that Europe's top economy is again suffering an exponential rise in infections.

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 on 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 AstraZeneca inoculations, pending further review.

The World Health Organization is due to publish the conclusions of its own assessment of the safety of the jab later 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.

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% 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 on 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.

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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