The Latest: Nations give varying advice on AstraZeneca shot
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A patchwork of advice is emerging from governments across Europe and farther afield, a day after the European Union’s drug regulator said there was a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare clotting disorder.
Regulators in Britain and the EU both stressed that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people. But some countries are limiting its use among certain age groups.
Experts are concerned the confusing messages about the vaccine could dampen enthusiasm for it at a time when Europe and many other parts of the world are facing surging cases.
Dr. Sabine Straus, chair of the EU regulator’s Safety Committee, said the best data was from Germany, where there was one report of the clots for every 100,000 doses given. That’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Governments give varying advice on AstraZeneca vaccine
— COVID-19 patient receives lung transplant from living donors
— In Peru, authorities allowed secret burials of virus victims
— Pandemic-weary chefs, cooks enjoy serving from home
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatia reported a surge of 3,217 coronavirus cases on Thursday, nearly double the previous day.
There have also been 36 confirmed deaths on Thursday and Wednesday.
Health authorities announced “massive” vaccination in the capital Zagreb on Wednesday, but of 1,500 people invited for the AstraZeneca shot, only about half showed up.
Croatian officials on Thursday tried to alleviate concerns, saying the vaccine is safe and they’ll continue to administer it without age restrictions.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic says the European Medicines Agency “was clear, benefits of the vaccine are higher than the risks of aftereffects.”
IQUITOS, Peru — Almost a year ago, dozens of people who died of COVID-19 were secretly buried in a field in Iquitos, a city in Loreto state in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.
Local authorities approved the burials but never told the families, who believed their loved ones were in a local cemetery -- and only months later discovered the truth.
In Peru, and in Latin America, it is the first known case of authorities concealing the fate of dozens of COVID-19 victims, and there’s been no explain for the clandestine burials. The local government didn’t reply to several requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Family members told AP that at least 403 people were buried in the field.
The pandemic hit Peru and Iquitos hard, starting in April 2020. In the early days, the only two hospitals in the area lacked sufficient space to attend to COVID-19 patients.
Peru has reported more than 52,000 confirmed deaths, including 3,200 in Iquitos, a city of 550,000 people.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romanian authorities announced the country will continue administering the AstraZeneca vaccine without age restrictions.
“Thrombotic events are possible but very rare and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks,” said Valeriu Gheorghita, the chief of Romania’s national vaccination committee. “Giving up vaccinations can bring us in the face of severe forms of illness and can affect the achievement of herd immunity,” he said.
Romania has so far administered around 400,000 doses of the UK-made vaccine, out of a total of more than 3.4 million vaccine doses administered to its population of more than 19 million.
Since the pandemic began, Romania has recorded more than 993,000 COVID-19 infections and 24,733 have died.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s drug regulator says it hasn’t received enough information about the Russian Sputnik V vaccine from its producer to assess its benefits and risks.
Slovakia’s Prime Minister Igor Matovic orchestrated a secret deal to buy 2 million Sputnik V vaccines despite disagreements from his coalition partners.
Matovic, who is Finance Minister in the new government, was in Moscow on Thursday to discuss the deliveries of Sputnik V to Slovakia. So far, 200,000 shots have arrived. Slovakia’s Health Ministry is expected to decide on the use of Sputnik V, possibly next week.
The Slovak State Institute for Drug Control says about 80% of the requested data hasn’t been delivered. It says the vaccine delivered to Slovakia is different from the vaccine that is considered 91% effective.
Sputnik V hasn’t yet been approved for use in the EU. The body’s regulator, the European Medicines Agency, has started a review of the vaccine.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has hit a new coronavirus infection record for the third straight day, reporting 22,586 new cases.
The country is grappling with a spike following the Persian New Year holiday. Iran, is in the midst of a major surge after millions defied government guidance to gather and travel during Nowruz, the nation’s biggest holiday.
The new case count Thursday pushes Iran’s total during the pandemic over 2 million. The additional 185 reported deaths increased the confirmed total to 63,884 deaths in the country of 83 million.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has become the latest country to restrict use of the AstraZeneca vaccine by recommending that it not be given to people under age 50.
The announcement came after drug regulators held a series of urgent meetings earlier in the day. That followed advice from the European Medicines Agency that it had found a possible link between the shot and rare blood clots.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison received a series of recommendations from an advisory group on Thursday. Chief among them is that the Pfizer vaccine should now be adopted as the preferred vaccine for people aged under 50.
Such restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns. It is a pillar of the U.N.-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.
LONDON — Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination program is beginning to break the link between infection and serious illness or death, according to the latest results from an ongoing study of the pandemic in England.
Researchers at Imperial College London found that COVID-19 infections dropped about 60% in March as national lockdown measures slowed the spread of the virus. People 65 and older were least likely to be infected as they benefited most from the vaccination program, which initially focused on older people.
The study also found that the relationship between infections and deaths is diverging, “suggesting that infections may have resulted in fewer hospitalizations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination.”
But researchers also urged caution, saying that infection rates leveled off at the end of the study period as the government began to ease the national lockdown and children returned to school.
The next step in lifting England’s third national lockdown is scheduled for April 12, when nonessential shops will be allowed to reopen, along with hair salons, gyms and outdoor service at pubs and restaurants.
The Imperial College study conducts swab tests on a random sample of people across England each month. The latest round tested more than 140,000 people from March 11-30.
BERLIN — Germany’s health minister says the European Union won’t order Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and his country will hold bilateral talks with Russia on whether an order makes sense.
Health Minister Jens Spahn told WDR public radio that the EU’s executive Commission said Wednesday it won’t place orders for Sputnik V on member countries’ behalf, as it did with other manufacturers.
Spahn said Thursday he told his fellow EU health ministers that Germany “will talk bilaterally to Russia, first of all about when what quantities could come.” He said “to really make a difference in our current situation, the deliveries would have to come in the next two to four or five months already.”
Otherwise, he said, Germany would have “more than enough vaccine” already.
Spahn reiterated that, as far as Germany is concerned, Sputnik V must be cleared for use by the European Medicines Agency, and “for that, Russia must deliver data.”
On Wednesday, Bavaria’s governor said his administration was signing a preliminary contract to get 2.5 million doses of Sputnik V, probably in July, if the shot is cleared by the EMA.
KAMPALA, Uganda — The head of the Africa CDC says his group is opposed to the issuance of COVID-19 vaccine passports until there is equitable access to shots across the world.
John Nkengasong told a briefing Thursday the idea is “inappropriate” while Africa lags behind in vaccine acquisition.
“Our position is very simple. That any imposition of a vaccination passport will create huge inequities and will further exacerbate them,” he said. “We are already in a situation where we don’t have vaccines, and it will be extremely unfortunate that countries impose travel requirement of immunization certificates whereas the rest of the world has not had the chance to have access to vaccines.”
Vaccine passports are documentation showing travelers have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus. Technology companies and travel-related trade groups in some wealthy countries are developing and testing out such passports to encourage travel.
But only 2% of all vaccine doses administered globally have been in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
The Africa CDC warned last week that the continent of 1.3 billion people is unlikely to meet its vaccination targets amid supply delays from a key manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain has announced that starting next month, residents who can prove that they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be able to attend gyms, indoor restaurants, mass sporting events, conferences, spas and cinemas.
Bahrain’s national COVID-19 medical team says those holding digital proof that two weeks have passed since their second vaccine dose or that they’ve recovered from the coronavirus will enjoy unfettered access to newly reopened indoor venues. Those under 18 are also allowed if accompanied by a vaccinated parent or guardian.
The new rules take effect at the start of Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins this year on May 12. The COVID vaccinated and recovered present their status on a government health app.
The non-vaccinated will be banned from indoor spots but may go to outdoor, socially-distanced dining and recreational places.
Bahrain has seen a major surge in coronavirus infections in recent weeks despite its successful mass vaccination campaign.
ISLAMABAD — Thousands of young Pakistanis who are not eligible for free vaccinations are trying to get inoculated at private medical facilities, days after the first round of commercial sales of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine began in this impoverished Islamic nation.
The development comes after a Pakistani pharmaceutical firm imported more than 50,000 doses of the Russian vaccine.
Since February, Pakistan has been using Chinese vaccines to protect health workers and people over 50.
The latest development comes a day after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Islamabad will buy 5 million doses of Russia's COVID-19 Sputnik V vaccine and expressed a desire to eventually manufacture it in Pakistan.
Pakistan has reported 15,124 deaths due to the pandemic and is in the middle of a third surge of infections, which has forced authorities to impose a partial lockdown.
MANILA, Philippines — Philippine health officials have decided to temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people below 60 following reports of rare blood clots.
The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday reported a possible link but did not recommend any age restrictions on using the drug in adults.
The Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration said experts were reviewing information related to AstraZeneca’s side effects to come up with a recommendation on the vaccine’s use. AstraZeneca and the vaccine developed by China-based Sinovac Biotech have been the only COVID-19 vaccines received so far by the Philippines.
“We continue to underscore that the benefits of vaccination continue to outweigh the risks and we urge everyone to get vaccinated when it’s their turn,” FDA Director General Eric Domingo said.
More than 460,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered in the country so far and millions of doses more have been ordered by the government and private companies, Philippine officials said.
The country's vaccination campaign has faced supply problems, delivery delays and public hesitancy amid an alarming surge in coronavirus infections.
NEW DELHI — New coronavirus cases in India hit a record Thursday at 126,789, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi got his second shot and urged others to follow suit, saying “vaccination is among the few ways we have to defeat the virus.”
India started its vaccination drive in January. So far, more than 90 million health workers and those over 45 have received at least one shot. Only 11 million have received both doses as India tries to build immunity to protect its nearly 1.4 billion people.
Dozens of cities and towns are imposing night curfews to try to contain the surge but the federal government has refused to impose a second nationwide lockdown for fear of hurting the economy.
Deaths rose 685 in the past 24 hours, the highest since November. The western state of Maharashtra, the worst hit in the country, accounted for nearly 47% of new infections. Overall, India has recorded nearly 167,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A security guard at a New Zealand quarantine hotel has tested positive for the coronavirus, although there is no evidence the outbreak has spread further.
New Zealand has managed to stamp out the spread of the virus, so whenever someone who is not in quarantine tests positive it represents a significant concern. Health authorities say the person lives alone and carpools to work with a colleague, and that both workers are in isolation.
Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield says the 24-year-old guard had not been vaccinated, and they’re doing an urgent repeat test on the worker to get a better understanding of the nature of the infection.
New Zealand has been prioritizing border workers for vaccinations. The nation of 5 million people has reported 2,500 cases and 26 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
BEIJING — Chinese officials say 11 more people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in a southwestern city bordering Myanmar that is the scene of China’s current sole active outbreak.
Cases in the Yunnan province city of Ruili have topped 100, including those not showing symptoms.
However, large-scale transmission appears to have been curbed by a campaign to vaccinate all 300,000 residents of the city. People there have been told to stay home and 45 residential compounds are under complete lockdown.
China has virtually stamped out new local cases across the country through aggressive lockdowns, mask wearing, electronic monitoring and other measures. With most economic and social activity resuming, those measures are being gradually reduced, although mask wearing indoors and on public transport remains almost universal.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 700 more cases of the coronavirus as the speed of viral spread approaches levels seen during the worst of the country’s outbreak in winter.
The numbers released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday brought the national caseload to 107,598 and 1,758 confirmed deaths.
The daily jump was the highest since Jan. 5 when 714 cases were reported.
Around 500 of the new cases are in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has emerged as the center of the country’s epidemic.
Health authorities, who are also wrestling with a slow vaccine rollout, are expected to announce measures to strengthen social distancing following a meeting Friday.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s governor says officials will start vaccinating all those 16 years and older beginning Monday, prompting celebrations across a U.S. territory facing a spike in coronavirus cases.
Currently, only people 50 years and older as well as anyone 35 to 49 with chronic health conditions are authorized to receive a vaccine.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi also announced Wednesday that he is implementing more stringent measures to fight a recent spike in coronavirus infections. A 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will go into effect Friday, and businesses will be forced to close by 9 p.m. That is two hours earlier than has been allowed.
Puerto Rico has recorded more than 199,000 coronavirus cases and more than 2,000 deaths.
DETROIT — Michigan’s state health director says the government is focusing on getting more people vaccinated rather than imposing new restrictions on the economy amid a wave of new coronavirus cases and the crowding of hospitals with COVID-19 patients.
Elizabeth Hertel said Wednesday: “Our focus right now continues on making sure we’re getting as many people vaccinated as possible. We still do have a number of restrictions in place that limit gathering sizes.”
Her comments came as federal statistics showed Michigan leads the U.S. in new coronavirus cases. The state recorded more than 46,000 cases, or 469 per 100,000 people, in the last seven days. That is far ahead of No. 2 New Jersey, at 321.
The state health department reported 8,000 new coronavirus cases Wednesday.