WHO Laments Europe’s ‘Unacceptably Slow’ COVID-19 Vaccination Rates

The World Health Organization says Europe’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts are  “unacceptably slow” in the face of a new surge of the virus and new, more contagious variants.  Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s European director, issued a statement Thursday urging the continent’s leaders to “speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now.”The number of new infections across Europe had fallen below 1 million just five weeks ago, but the global health agency says those numbers have since surged to 1.6 million new cases, with nearly 24,000 deaths. Dr. Kluge said barely 10% of people across Europe have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with just 4% fully vaccinated.EU Tightens Vaccine Exports to Ensure Supply for EuropeOfficials say more doses needed as pandemic worsens in EUEurope’s vaccination efforts have been hobbled by the troubled rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with France, Germany and Spain recently announcing they were limiting use of the two-dose regimen due to concerns it may be causing blood clots, although Emer Cooke, the executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said Wednesday the organization has found no scientific evidence to support such restrictions.  Dr. Dorit Nitzan, WHO’s regional emergency director for Europe, added that the new B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first detected in Britain “poses a greater public health impact” because it is easily transmissible, meaning that “additional actions are required to control it.”The WHO’s concern over Europe was issued a day after French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the country into its third national lockdown in an effort to slow a third wave of COVID-19 infecting his country.Among the lockdown measures, Macron closed all schools for three weeks beginning Monday.Macron had hoped to avoid a lockdown and the effect it would have on the economy. However, the country’s death toll is nearing 100,000 and it has struggled with a vaccine rollout that has been slower than hoped for. A rise in cases is crippling intensive care units in areas hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.”We will lose control if we do not move now,” he said in a televised address to the nation.He also announced travel restrictions, beginning Saturday, for the whole country for at least a month.Across the Atlantic, Brazilian health officials say a new variant of COVID-19 recently detected in the South American country is similar to the one first discovered in South Africa.   Race to Produce COVID Vaccine May Cause Measles Jabs ShortageMeasles surged worldwide in 2019, reaching the highest number since 1996Wednesday’s announcement about the discovery of the new variant coincided with Brazil posting a new single-day record of 3,869 coronavirus deaths.  In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States last year, and it boosted the overall U.S. death toll by nearly 16% from the previous year. During the White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters the pandemic trailed only heart disease and cancer last year, accounting for about 378,000 fatalities, or 11% of all deaths in the country last year.  Also Wednesday, Pfizer said it had produced 120 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for the U.S.  The drugmaker is on track to deliver to the U.S. 200 million doses by the end of May and 300 million doses by the end of July, as they had vowed earlier this year.On Monday, Moderna said it had shipped 100 million doses of its vaccine to the United States, while Johnson & Johnson said it had delivered about 20 million shots to the U.S. in March.However, Johnson & Johnson reported Wednesday that 15 million doses of its one-shot vaccine were contaminated when workers at a manufacturing plant in Baltimore, Maryland accidentally mixed the ingredients from that vaccine with those from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which hasn’t been approved for use in the United States. Meanwhile, Hong Kong says it will resume use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine next week following a brief suspension.  The city halted distribution of the vaccine last month after receiving word from German-based BioNTech about problems it discovered with the seal on a batch of individual vials.Officials in the Asian financial hub said Thursday it was reversing its decision after being informed by BioNTech there were no safety or quality problems with the batch of vaccines. 


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