The Latest: Sanofi to produce 12M vaccines for rival company

PARIS — Sanofi is going to produce as many as 12 million coronavirus vaccine doses per month for rival Johnson & Johnson, the second time the French drug maker is turning over production facilities to speed up supplies of a rival company’s vaccine, while its own candidate faces delays.

Sanofi’s announcement on Monday was quickly trumpeted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who relayed the development on his Twitter account. “We must together accelerate the production of vaccines with industrial partnerships,” Macron tweeted.

Sanofi said its vaccine manufacturing plant in Marcy l’Etoile, France, will formulate and fill vials of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate, developed by its Janssen companies. Sanofi said its French plant is expected to produce about 12 million doses per month of the single-dose vaccine.

Sanofi’s CEO, Paul Hudson, said the company remains committed to its own two COVID-19 vaccine programs but is also “stepping forward to show solidarity.” Sanofi has already previously announced that it will help bottle and package 125 million vaccine doses for the rival partnership of Pfizer-BioNTech.

THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Researchers in Scotland say its COVID-19 vaccination program has caused hospitalizations to plummet

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lay out plan to ease coronavirus restrictions but pubs, gyms and hairdressers to stay closed for weeks

Russia’s vaccine rollout picks up speed but experts say the campaign is still moving slowly

Elementary schools and kindergartens reopen in over half of Germany's 16 states

— Every Democratic vote is needed on $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, but minimum wage and other issues will force choices

— Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s Health Ministry on Monday reported 35 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, 31 of them coming from community transmission. The new cases are part of a recent surge that includes 17 cases reported Sunday, 15 of them local.

Prime Minister Hun Sen posted an audio message on social media telling people to keep up their measures against infection by wearing face masks, using hand sanitizers and practicing social distancing.

“I plead with people living in the capital Phnom Penh to please not go out from their homes if there is nothing urgent to do outside,” he said.

As of Monday, a total of 568 people throughout the country have tested positive for the coronavirus, with 93 still receiving treatment. Cambodia has reported no deaths from the disease.

The Health Ministry said at least 23 locations in capital Phnom Penh and nearby provinces, including schools, night clubs, beer gardens and other entertainment sites, appear to be prime locations for the transmission of the virus. The Tourism Ministry ordered the temporary closing of all such entertainment venues, and seven schools have been shut as well.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is pleading with rich countries to check before ordering additional COVID-19 vaccine for themselves whether that undermines efforts to get vaccine to poorer nations.

Wealthy nations have snapped up several billion doses of vaccine, while some countries in the developing world have little or none. European nations have given financial support to the U.N.-backed COVAX effort to vaccine the world’s most vulnerable people, and are considering sharing some of their own doses.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that “even if you have the money, if you cannot use the money to buy vaccines … having the money doesn’t mean anything.”

Speaking after talks with Germany’s president, he said some rich countries’ approaches to manufacturers for more vaccines are “affecting the deals with COVAX, and even the amount that was allocated for COVAX was reduced because of this.” He didn’t name those countries.

Tedros added that rich countries need to “cooperate in respecting the deals that COVAX did” and make sure before they seek more vaccines that their requests don’t undermine those deals. But, he said, “I don’t think they’re asking that question.”

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PARIS — A region in southeast France is adding daytime weekend lockdowns to a 12-hour nightly curfew already in place seven days a week to slow a surge in coronavirus infections that is straining hospital resources.

The Alpes-Maritimes region that includes the towns of Nice, Cannes and other Mediterranean beauty spots is the first region to add the increased restrictions to the daily 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew that has been in force nationwide since January.

For at least the next two weekends, most people in the Alpes-Maritimes region will only be allowed to leave their homes to buy food, for medical appointments, to walk pets or for one hour of physical exercise during the day before curfew.

The measures, announced Monday by the region’s top official, apply to the Alpes-Maritimes’ coastal towns where 90% of the population lives.

Prefect Bernard Gonzalez said the region has the highest infection rates in France, with nearly 600 virus cases per 100,000 people. He said hospital wards are close to being overwhelmed and described the situation as “very worrying.”

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LONDON — Researchers in Scotland say its COVID-19 vaccination program has led to a sharp drop in hospitalizations.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland found that the Pfizer vaccine reduced hospital admissions by as much as 85% and the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot cut admissions by up to 94%.

The findings were based on a comparison of data from people who had received their first dose of vaccine and those who had not received an inoculation. The data was gathered between Dec. 8 and Feb. 15, a period during which 21% of Scotland’s population received their first shot.

“These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future,’’ said Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. “We now have national evidence — across an entire country — that vaccination provides protection against COVID-19 hospitalizations.”

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SYDNEY — Australia started its COVID-19 inoculation program on Monday, days after its neighbor New Zealand, with both governments deciding their pandemic experiences did not require the fast tracking of vaccine rollouts that occurred in many parts of the world.

Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region that have dealt relatively well with the pandemic either only recently started vaccinating or are about to, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.

Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Australia’s Deakin University, said countries that do not face a virus crisis benefit from taking their time and learning from countries that have taken emergency vaccination measures such as the United States.

“We’ve now got data on pregnant women who are vaccinated. Natural accidents, like incorrect dosing, happen in a real world rollout,” Bennett said. “All of those things are really valuable insights.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday in a show of confidence in the product. Australia is prioritizing building public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines ahead of speed of delivery.

Health and border control workers, as well as nursing home residents and workers, started getting the Pfizer vaccine on Monday at hubs across the country.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is laying out a road map for lifting lockdown -- but millions of people in the U.K. longing for a haircut or a meal in a restaurant still face a long wait.

Johnson is set to announce a plan Monday to ease restrictions incrementally, starting by reopening schools in England on March 8. People will be allowed to meet one friend or relative for a chat or picnic outdoors from the same day.

Three weeks later, people will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to six. But restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are likely to remain closed until at least April.

The government says progress will depend on vaccines proving effective, infection rates remaining low and no new virus variants emerging that throw the plans into disarray.

Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 120,000 deaths.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government’s plan for easing restrictions was “steady as she goes.”

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BRUSSELS — Belgium’s data protection authority is warning that possible government misuse of data collected from citizens to help halt the spread of the coronavirus could undermine people’s trust in the country’s vaccination program.

APD joint Director Alexandra Jaspar says that in tackling the disease the Belgian “state is collecting a tremendous amount of data, is stocking it in databases, and does not at all rule out the future use and re-use of this data.”

Belgium’s anti-virus measures and restrictions are announced by ministerial decree based on the advice of health experts. Parliamentarians are not consulted about the measures many of which, including the compulsory wearing of masks, have been in place since November.

Jaspar told public broadcaster RTBF Monday that “we find ourselves with these big databases with health information ... and we’re not being told in enough detail who, or which state authority, can use them.”

She says that under the decree system, it’s the minister who “determines what they will do with this data, why and for how long. That’s not good enough.”

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LISBON, Portugal -- Portugal is the latest European Union country to detect a COVID-19 variant first identified in Manaus, Brazil.

Portuguese health authorities said late Sunday they had detected seven cases of the variant, warning that it is highly contagious and may be able to infect people who previously have had COVID-19.

More than 150,000 Brazilians live in Portugal. The two countries have close cultural and economic ties.

Portugal was for several weeks last month the world’s worst-affected country in the pandemic, with the highest number of new daily cases and deaths, but a lockdown since Jan. 15 has eased the pressure on the public health service.

The European Centre for Disease Control says Portugal’s 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 people is 590. That makes it the fourth highest in the 30 countries monitored by the EU agency.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths fell from 2.35 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 7 to 0.90 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 21, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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SOFIA, Bulgaria - Trying to speed up the vaccination rollout and overcome widespread hesitance among Bulgarians towar getting vaccinated, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has ordered health authorities to kick off a mass vaccination program.

Nearly two months after the first vaccines were delivered to the European Union nation,, relatively few Bulgarians have been vaccinated compared to other EU nations.

Only 120,000 doses have been given in the Balkan country of 7 million. Besides the limited supply of the three EU-approved vaccines and the slow pace of deliveries, health authorities blame a widespread public resistance to the shot.

Recent polls suggest that while one-third of the population accept the vaccines, some 50% plan to refuse vaccination and the rest are hesitant.

Borissov said he hoped Bulgaria's daily inoculation average could climb to 20,000 shots per day and wants mobile vaccination teams to be set up to reach people in remote areas.

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BERLIN — Elementary schools and kindergartens in more than half of Germany’s 16 states reopened Monday after two months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The move comes despite growing signs that the decline in case numbers in Germany is flattening out again and even rising in some areas.

Germany’s education minister, Anja Karliczek, has defended the decision to reopen schools, saying younger children in particular benefit from learning together in groups.

Karliczek told German news agency dpa that schools should use “all available means to prevent virus transmission” and expressed confidence that state education officials — who are in charge of school matters in Germany — would consider infection numbers when deciding where to reopen.

Germany’s disease control agency say there were 4,369 newly confirmed cases and 62 deaths in the past day, though Monday’s numbers are often low due to reporting delays over the weekend.

Education unions have called for teachers and kindergarten workers to be moved into a higher priority group for vaccinations, an idea that government officials have said they will consider.

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