WASHINGTON — World Trade Organization negotiations over intellectual property waivers for COVID-19 vaccines is a chance for the divided trade body to make itself relevant to the world’s needs, says United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
Earlier the administration of US President Joe Biden showed full support on waiver of international property rights “in service of ending this pandemic” as “extraordinary measures” are needed to handle the health crisis.
Speaking to the House Ways and Means Committee, Tai says she is committed to entering negotiations that take into account concerns from all sides, including drug companies, in a report by Reuters.
“The WTO has not got a record of moving quickly, or getting to ‘yes,’ across 164 members who must all agree, very often,” says Tai.
“This is the opportunity for the WTO to show its relevance for mankind.”
Two days in a row, Tai has been hearing criticism from Republican lawmakers regarding the intellectual property rights waiver, that it will give critical biopharmaceutical technology to China, Russia, and other strategic rivals while failing to increase vaccine supplies. (JSR/JuanManila)
Travelers who are vaccinated against the coronavirus or those who recovered from infection may avoid testing and quarantine altogether when entering the country, unless they come from areas where variants of concern prevail
BERLIN — A change to existing rules was just approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet. Said change involves non-vaccinated individuals may end their quarantine early if their tests show negative results.
German media report that country doctors have come under growing pressure from individuals who want to go on a summer vacation. They want to be given vaccines even when they are not yet entitled to have them.
Meanwhile, Health minister Jens Spahn says the country expects to roll out its digital immunity certificate by the end of June, to make it easier to prove a person has been fully vaccinated.
According to reports, the certificate may be stored in a mobile application that can be used instead of the yellow World Health Organization vaccine booklet. The goal is for the certificate to be compatible with a system of vaccine certification that is being developed by the European Union. (JSR/JuanManila)
President Rodrigo Duterte relaxes quarantine status but cautions the public to continue with restraints. Businesses will continue to operate at minimum capacity level as new cases reported daily are still over 5,000.
MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte declares downshift in quarantine status starting 15 May until the end of May.
The president’s approval comes amid the continued reports of new cases daily still over 5,000.
Restraints remain despite a downshift in quarantine status. Essential travel within the national capital region bubble—Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal—still prevails, as according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr, “some curbs will remain.”
Within the bubble, public transportation will continue at minimum seating capacity. In-door dining services are up to 20 percent while dining al fresco may fill up to 50 percent seat capacity.
Outdoor non-contact sports, games, scrimmages, and personal care services not requiring face mask removal are allowed at 30 percent capacity.
Tourist spots are at 30 percent capacity with strict observance of minimum public health protocols.
“Further allowed in the NCR Plus are specialized markets of the Department of Tourism (DOT) following the minimum public health standards and implementation of protocols and restrictions as set by the DOT,” says Roque.
Meanwhile, religious gatherings, including necrological services for deaths the causes of which are not COVID-19 are allowed at 10% venue capacity.
Individuals between ages 18 to 65 may leave their homes in GCQ areas with the heightened restrictions, says Roque.
Other areas under GCQ from May 15 are:
Cordillera Administrative Region
Region 2 (Cagayan Valley):
Region 4-A (CALABARZON)
Region 4-B (MIMAROPA)
Region 10 (Northern Mindanao)
Region 11 (Davao)
Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
Lanao del Sur
Duterte says Santiago City in Isabela, Quirino, Ifugao, and Zamboanga City will be under MECQ, while rest of the Philippines will be under modified GCQ.
The country has suffers the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Southeast Asia. Overall, the Philippines has tallied 1,124,724 cases, along with 18,821 deaths as of press time. (JSM/JuanManila)
Europe drug regulators need more clinical and real-world data to see how well and how long coronavirus vaccines are protective before any decisions on ordering or offering third or booster doses
GENEVA — Marco Cavaleri, European Medicines Agency’s head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, cautions against making “premature” moves to deploy booster COVID-19 shots.
“We need to look into real-world evidence… to give us the data we need to know when would be the right time to give a third dose,” he says.
“We need to have data that show in the field, either real-world evidence or clinical trials, that show what is the level of protection that is retained by the vaccines that we currently have.”
The European Union (EU), however, has already started ordering COVID-19 booster vaccines while Britain and the United States have started making plans in offering third doses before the winter.
The Reuters asked Cavaleri of any evidence on COVID-19 vaccine performance against coronavirus mutant variant B.1.617 that emerged in India, he says EMA is “very closely” monitoring the situation. He adds, the data is “rather reassuring” for vaccines in use in the EU. (JSR/JuanManila)
Major changes called to prevent another pandemic from happening again
GENEVA — An independent high-level panel censures global leaders, calling for major changes to bring the novel coronavirus pandemic to an end and ensure it does not happen again, after it finds the Covid pandemic was a preventable disaster that could have saved millions of lives had the world reacted quick enough.
The report of the panel shows “weak links at every point in the chain.” Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark chairs the panel and she works with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a former president of Liberia.
The panel finds that in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the preparation was inconsistent and underfunded.
The WHO’s alert system was too slow and too meek while the WHO itself is underpowered.
Because of the inconsistencies, the panel concludes that the response had exacerbated inequalities. “Global political leadership was absent.”
“A month of lost opportunity to avert a pandemic,” is how Clark describes February 2020, and continues, “as so many countries chose to wait and see.”
“For some, it wasn’t until hospital ICU (intensive care unit) beds began to fill that more action was taken,” she says.
“And by then it was too late to avert the pandemic impact. What followed then was a winner takes all scramble for PPE and therapeutics. Globally, health workers were tested to their limits and the rates of infection, illness and death soared and continue to soar.”
“The situation we find ourselves in today could have been prevented,” says Sirleaf.
“An outbreak of a new pathogen, SARS CoV-2, became a catastrophic pandemic that has now killed more than 3.25 million people, and continues to threaten lives and livelihoods all over the world. It is due to a myriad of failures, gaps and delays in preparedness and response. This was partly due to failure to learn from the past.”
Urgent action must be taken
“There are many reviews of previous health crises that include sensible recommendations. Yet, they sit gathering dust in UN basements and on government shelves … Our report shows that most countries of the world were simply not prepared for a pandemic.”
The WHO director-general, upon the initiation of member states that called for an impartial review of what happened and what could be learned from the pandemic, through the World Health Assembly in May 2020, commissioned the report.
Loaded with the findings, the panel calls for radical changes that will bring heads of state together to oversee pandemic preparations, to make sure that what the world needs—finance and tools—are in place. The panel says it wants a faster-moving and better-resourced WHO. This call resonates the needed commitment from leaders of affluent countries to supply vaccines for the rest of the world.
The report says the Chinese gave warnings that should have been heeded when they have detected and promptly identified the emergence of the new virus at the end of 2019.
“When we look back to that period in late December, 2019, clinicians in Wuhan acted quickly when they recognised individuals in a cluster of pneumonia cases that were not normal,” says Sirleaf.
An alert was sent out in Wuhan about a potentially new virus, which was “picked up quickly by neighboring areas, countries, the media—on an online disease reporting site—and by the WHO,” she says.
“This shows the benefit and speed of open-source reporting, but then the systems that were meant to validate and respond to this alert were too slow. The alert system does not operate with sufficient speed when faced with a fast-moving respiratory pathogen.”
Clark says, the WHO “was hindered and not helped by the international health regulations and procedures.”
The prevailing regulations for the WHO to declare a public health emergency of international concern were adopted in 2007. These bind WHO to confidentiality and verification, preventing rapid action, and prohibit countries from unnecessarily closing their borders against trade.
Every day in the early days of 2020 counts, the panel says, which believes the emergency could have been declared by 22 January, instead of 30 January, as what happened.
Countries should have been preparing during “the lost month” of February. Some did and have suffered far less than those that did not. “Countries with the ambition to aggressively contain and stop the spread whenever and wherever it occurs have shown that this is possible,” says the report.
Some countries “devalued and debunked” the science, denying the severity of the disease. “This has had deadly consequences,” says Clark. “This has been compounded by a lack of global leadership and coordination of geopolitical tensions and nationalism weakening the multilateral system, which should act to keep the world safe.”
The report recommends the creation of a Global Health Threats Council to be led by heads of state that will attend and oversee threats of pandemics between emergencies and ensure collective action.
The panel also calls for a special session of the UN general assembly some time this year to agree over a political declaration. The WHO should have more power and more funding, while its regional directors and the director-general should serve just a single term of seven years.
The increasing number of new cases of infections, high rates of virus transmission, and the emergence of new variants are both deeply concerning and alarming says the panel. Necessary measures to curb the spread are expected of every country, says the report. High-income countries with enough vaccines ordered for their own needs must commit to providing at least one billion doses by 01 September to Covax, the UN-backed initiative to get vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income countries, and more than two billion doses by mid-2022.
It also recommends the G7 countries to provide 60% of $19bn (£13.45bn) needed for vaccines, therapeutics, tests and strengthening health systems, with the rest from the G20 and other high-income nations. The WHO and the World Trade Organization must bring together vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers to help scale up production around the world—and if nothing happens, then the patent waiver that middle-income countries have called for and the US has backed should come into force. (JSR/JuanManila)
Virus continues to spread into India’s poor rural villages while corpses suspected to be victims of Covid wash up on shores of water sources for villagers and their cattle
NEW DELHI — Corpses of suspected COVID-19 victims washed up in rivers as the virus continues to spread into poor and rural areas. The latest count of bodies washed on shores is around 120 to 135.
Around 70 corpses were seen floating in the Ganges River in Buxar, Bihar while dozens more were found upstream in the districts of Ballia and Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh.
More were also found floating in the Runj River in Panna, Madhya Pradesh. The rivers is the water source for villagers and their animals.
Earlier this week, around 30 bodies, believed to be more than five days old, were recovered from the Ganges. They were heavily decomposed officials said it was difficult to confirm the cause of death.
Many believe bodies are being dumped to Rivers because of the rising cost of cremating bodies with crematoriums already overwhelmed and firewood for pyres are in short supply. There were images of ambulance drivers throwing bodies over a bridge into a river on the border of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Body-dumping is raising alarms
There is now a growing concern among local villagers who use rivers as their source for drinking and washing and finding bodies dumped into them. The Ganges, considered the most sacred river to Hindus is also in peril if the trend of body dumping continues.
According to a former village chief in Mubarakpur, body-dumping has been taking place for a week already.
Meanwhile, neighbors Uttar and Bihar have been blaming each other for the corpses. “The bodies have floated into Bihar from Uttar Pradesh,” says Bihar minister Sanjay Kumar Jha, adding that a net had been placed in the Ganges along the state border to prevent any more bodies floating downstream. Uttar Pradesh authorities deny the accusation.
Officials say DNA samples will be taken before the washed-up cadavers will be buried in a mass grave.
Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, a central government minister, calls the incident ‘unexpected.’ “The Modi government is committed to the cleanliness of ‘mother Ganga,’” he says.
The Buxar administration says it had told local officials “to be alert about such incidents in future and have also asked them to make locals aware about not throwing bodies into the river”.
The rural shift
The shift of the novel coronavirus is a concern for officials/. India’s rural areas have poor health infrastructure, a lack of doctors, ventilators, medical oxygens, treatment facilities, and Covid testing capacity.
Uttar Pradesh authorities say they have oxygen concentrators that draw oxygen from the air and ventilators installed in all districts. Testing facilities are being set up in 97,000 villages.
The World Health Organization recently classified a Covid variant that has emerged in India, B.1.617, as a “variant of concern.” Evidence show it is more transmissible. B.1.617 makes it the fourth Covid variant, after those first discovered in Brazil, South Africa and the UK, to be given this designation.
Cases soared following religious gatherings and political rallies that the government permitted. Ravaged by the B.1.617 COVID-19 variant, deaths are believed to be underreported, especially now that infections have spread into the rural villages with fewer hospitals, care, or treatment centers.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, will no longer attend the G7 summit in the UK in June as the ongoing Covid situation continues. (JSR/JuanManila)
Featured image: Indian police haul corpses from the Ganges River to send them to mass graves.
Norway will not resume use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine because of harmful side-effects; J&J is kept on hold as reports on similar blood-clotting incidence are reported by US CDC
OSLO — Norway will not resume its use of the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca because of a risk of rare but harmful side-effects.
The announcement is to be made by Norway prime minister Erna Solberg in a press conference addressing the AstraZeneca vaccine. The meeting will also tackle items on the decision on the Johnson & Johnson jab.
A public panel on 10 May composed of medical, legal, and other experts rejected the use of the said two vaccines, and should not be offered in the country’s vaccination program, although volunteers should be allowed to take them.
On 11 March, it may be recalled, authorities have decided to suspend the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a small number of younger people who were inoculated were hospitalized for a combination of blood clots, bleeding, and low platelet counts where some were reported to have died.
Further, studies in Denmark and Norway show slightly increased rates of blood clots among people who received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The studies also show clots in the brain, compared with expected rates in the general population.
Meanwhile, reports from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified 28 cases of serious blood clotting among the more 8.7 million people who had received the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine. It says in its presentation that the highest rates of thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome—blood clotting combined with a low platelet count—were among women aged 30 to 49. Only six of the clotting events identified were in men. (JSR/JuanManila)
The move expands the vaccination rollout to include children from ages 12 and up
WASHINGTON — The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday authorized Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid vaccine for use in children as young as 12, under an emergency use authorization (EUA), expanding the country’s vaccine rollout program even as vaccination rates have slowed significantly.
The vaccine was originally available to individuals as young as 16.
The vaccine has been available under an emergency use authorization (EUA) to people as young as 16 in the United States. Today’s decision means the FDA is amending the EUA to include children aged 12 to 15. The vaccine makers said they had started the process for full approval for those ages last week.
Pfizer’s vaccine is being used in multiple countries for teens as young as 16. Canada is the first to expand use to include 12 and up.
The action “allows for a younger population to be protected from Covid-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic,” says Janet Woodcock, the acting FDA commissioner.
“Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our Covid-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations,” Woodcock adds.
The FDA reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded about 1.5 million cases of individuals 11 to 17 years of age between March 2020 and April this year. The age group represents about 14 percent of coronavirus cases in the US where 296 have died after contracting the virus and more than 15,000 have been hospitalized, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The agency says “the known and potential benefits of this vaccine in individuals 12 years of age and older outweigh the known and potential risks, supporting the vaccine’s use in this population.”
The AAP welcomes FDA’s decision.
“Our youngest generations have shouldered heavy burdens over the past year, and the vaccine is a hopeful sign that they will be able to begin to experience all the activities that are so important for their health and development,” says Dr Lee Savio Beers, the AAP president, in a statement.
“With science guiding our evaluation and decision-making process, the FDA can assure the public and medical community that the available data meet our rigorous standards to support the emergency use of this vaccine in the adolescent population 12 years of age and older,” says Peter Marks, the director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.
Meanwhile, unvaccinated people—including children—should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households says the CDC.
The inclusion of the age range is welcome for many families struggling to decide what activities are safe to resume when only the youngest family members remain unvaccinated.
Moderna also shows progress in its preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds with strong protection and no serious side effects.
Novavax, another US company, has a Covid-19 vaccine in late-stage development and just began a study in 12- to 17-year-olds as well.
Next hurdle: Children below 12
For the vaccine manufacturers, there is not stopping until everyone is covered and protected that they are on to find out if the vaccine works for even younger children.
Both Pfizer and Moderna have started studies in children aged 6 months to 11 years, focusing on dosages for babies, preschoolers, and elementary-age.
Meanwhile, outside the US, AstraZeneca is testing its vaccine among children from ages six to 17 in Britain. Also, in China, Sinovac has recently announced it has submitted preliminary data to country regulators showing vaccine safety in children as young as three.
Outside of the US, AstraZeneca is studying its vaccine among six- to 17-year-olds in Britain. And in China, Sinovac recently announced it has submitted preliminary data to Chinese regulators showing its vaccine is safe in children as young as three. (JSR/JuanManila)
TOKYO — The key to beating the virus is to have faith that you will. That was what Ayako Ito, 100-year old said when she recovered from COVID-19 after being hospitalized for a month earlier this year.
“During treatment, it is important to trust doctors and conquer yourself. Even if you contract the virus, you must believe you will get better,” Ito tells reporters in an interview in her home city of Otsu, western Japan.
Born in June 1920, Ito says she never thought she would contract the virus. She is so healthy she could still do V-leg raises from a sitting position even after turning 100. Contracting the novel coronavirus marked the longest time she had ever been hospitalized.
Ito tested positive for coronavirus on 10 January and was admitted to a medical center in Shiga Prefecture the next day.
She says she had only a mild cough at first, then she developed a fever from around the third day which rose to around 38 °C, which required oxygen administration.
Ito says the treatment was so painless, she at times forgot she was hooked up to oxygen. After around two weeks of oxygen therapy, and completing a rehabilitation program which involved composing short Japanese poems, she was discharged from the hospital on 5 February.
“I was able to recover thanks to a wonderful doctor. The most important thing is to trust your doctor,” says Ito. She remembers how the physician in charge had enjoyed her poems.
Ito, whose passport will expire when she turns 102, is hopeful of taking a voyage overseas once the pandemic is contained as “there are many things I want to see, including World Heritage sites.” (JSR/JuanManila)