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Africa's Covid-19 envoy blasts EU, COVAX over vaccine crisis – Times of India

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NAIROBI, Kenya: The African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure Covid-19 vaccines for the continent is blasting Europe as Africa struggles amid a crushing third surge of infections, saying Thursday that “not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa.”
Strive Masiyiwa also took aim at the global effort meant to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, accusing COVAX of withholding crucial information including that key donors hadn’t met funding pledges. He didn’t name which donors.
“The situation could be very different had we known back in December that `Listen, this help is not coming, do for yourselves,'” Masiyiwa told reporters, adding that “many countries were just sitting back saying, ‘the vaccines are coming.’ … We as Africans are disappointed.”
The criticism revealed African leaders’ sheer exasperation at the world’s dramatic vaccine divide, with Masiyiwa describing vaccinated, unmasked Europeans attending football matches while just 1% of Africans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The continent has the lowest vaccine coverage in the world.
Masiyiwa stressed that Africa has purchased 400 million vaccine doses and can buy more, but he challenged donors: “Pay up your money … We will no longer measure pledges, we will measure vaccines arriving at our airports.”
The African continent of 1.3 billion people is now in the grip of a third surge of infections that is “extremely aggressive,” the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters. Health officials have described overflowing Covid-19 wards, dangerous oxygen shortages and a growing spread of the virus to extremely vulnerable and unequipped rural areas.
Masiyiwa said COVAX had promised to deliver 700 million vaccine doses to Africa by December. But at mid-year, Africa has received just 65 million doses overall. Less than 50 million doses via COVAX have arrived.
“We are very far away from our target,” Nkengasong said. “We don’t want to be seen as the continent of Covid … (In Europe) the stadiums are full of young people shouting and hugging. We can’t do that in Africa.”
Spokespeople for COVAX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The World Health Organization in a separate briefing said Covid-19 case numbers are doubling in Africa every three weeks and the highly contagious delta variant is driving the new wave of infections.
And the Lancet Covid-19 Commission African Task Force made an urgent appeal for at least 300 million vaccine doses so every African country can fully vaccinate at least 20% of its people by the end of August. It said 46% of the US population is fully vaccinated, with about 33% in the European Union and about 40% in China.
Nkengasong and Masiyiwa did announce some vaccine progress, saying the first shipments of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer doses based on US support will begin arriving next week. It was not clear how many doses would be in the shipments. Meanwhile, more African-purchased doses will arrive in August, Masiyiwa said.
The African continent has had 5.5 million confirmed Covid-19 infections and has seen a “remarkable” 23% increase in deaths over the past week, the Africa CDC director said.
He said the continent needs 1.6 billion doses in a double-dose regime, or 800 million for a single-dose regime, to meet the goal of vaccinating 60% of the population.
Masiyiwa gave a frank accounting of where global efforts to vaccinate the world against Covid-19 had sputtered. “It became pretty clear by December that the hope that we would all as a global community buy vaccines together through COVAX was not being adhered to, particularly by the rich and powerful nations,” he said.
COVAX aimed to provide 20% of Africa’s vaccine needs, with African nations stepping up for the rest, he said. But “it really doesn’t matter how much money your country has, they couldn’t buy vaccines … I never saw presidents try so hard, calling chief executives.”
The African continent has relied on vaccine manufacturing capabilities elsewhere in the world, but the Covid-19 vaccine crisis has jolted African leaders into pursuing their own production.
Step by step, Masiyiwa laid out the challenges: Vaccine suppliers require advance purchases, and the World Bank could only lend to countries once vaccines are available. African nations scrambled via the Africa Export-Import Bank, owned by member states, to come up with some $2 billion. African countries created a purchasing platform to improve their buying power.
But the vaccines have been hard to find as countries with manufacturing capabilities imposed controls on export sales in the interest of vaccinating their own citizens first. “It was the same whether we were talking to the East, to the West, whatever,” Masiyiwa said. “This has created a massive crisis.”
He took aim at Europe: “When we go to talk to their manufacturers, they tell us they’re completely maxed out meeting the needs of Europe, we’re referred to India.” But the EU now imposes public health restrictions on people vaccinated with Covishield, the Indian-produced version of the EU-accepted AstraZeneca vaccine.
“So how do we get to the situation where they give money to COVAX, who go to India to purchase vaccines, and then they tell us those vaccines are not valid?” Masiyiwa said.
Without mentioning the EU issue, COVAX in a statement on Thursday warned against turning away people “protected by a subset of WHO-approved vaccines,” saying it would “effectively create a two-tier system, further widening the global vaccine divide.”
Some countries engage in so-called vaccine diplomacy and those bilateral donations are welcome, Masiyiwa said, but they’re not enough to “move the needle.”

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B.C. kicks off COVID campaign to boost vaccination – Powell River Peak

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia has kicked off a new COVID-19 vaccination campaign to encourage as many people as possible over the next two weeks to get immunized at places that are convenient, like beaches and summer camps.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new strategy, called Vax for BC, gives residents who aren’t vaccinated, and those who’ve waited at least seven weeks since their first shot a chance to visit walk-in clinics.

A campaign on Aug. 4 dubbed Walk-in Wednesday will make 20,000 doses available at clinics before a push later in the month and in September to target young people returning to school.

“People in B.C. will be able to get vaccinated on your way to work, during your lunch break, or even when cooling off at the lake,” Henry said Tuesday.

The campaign aims to increase immunization by switching the focus from mass clinics to mobile clinics where advance booking is not required but is encouraged.

“These next two weeks are crucial to our immunization campaign and most importantly, protecting our province and putting the pandemic in our rear-view mirror,” she said, adding two doses of a vaccine provide the best protection against infection.

British Columbia’s seven-day average of COVID-19 cases dipped to 36 in early July, but recently climbed to 86 cases.

The province reported 150 new cases on Tuesday, with more than 60 per cent of them in the Interior Health region. There were 783 active infections in B.C., up from 695 on Monday, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Recent statistics show that most new cases of COVID-19 have been among unvaccinated people in the province, where 62.3 per cent of eligible residents are fully immunized and 80.7 per cent have received at least one dose.

Data from the BC Centre of Disease Control show that less than five per cent of COVID-19 cases from June 15 to July 15 were among fully vaccinated people. During the same time period, 78 per cent of people hospitalized in B.C. with COVID-19 were unvaccinated.

Henry said infections are spreading among clusters of people in communities where vaccination rates are lower so they will be a focus of the immunization plan, including in regions covered by Northern and Interior Health.

Between one and two per cent of people in B.C. are against being immunized, but that number could be as high as five per cent for COVID-19 vaccines among organized groups that are particularly vocal, especially on social media, she said.

People who are unvaccinated could be barred from establishments, Henry said, adding she supports that move by any business because outbreaks could sicken staff and shut down operations.

“We absolutely can say ‘To come in here you have to be immunized.’ And that gives people a level of comfort that they’re in a safer environment,” she said, adding outbreaks have occurred at crowded indoor events like weddings and funerals as well as at nightclubs where unvaccinated people introduced the virus.

While immunization is not mandatory, it’s particularly important for health-care workers, Henry said, noting unvaccinated staff at long-term care homes must wear masks and be regularly tested at work.

“I have very little patience for people who aren’t immunized in health care. We’ve had a vaccination policy for influenza. We will have a very similar policy that if people choose not to be immunized and you work in health care, then you will not be able to work in certain settings without taking additional measures. There will be consequences for that decision.”

The highest number of unvaccinated residents, at 32.5 per cent, are in the North Health region, while that percentage is at 18.1 per cent in Vancouver Coastal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2021.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

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The science didn't change, the virus did, Fauci says as U.S. CDC updates mask guidance – CTV News

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The change in CDC guidance recommending all Americans wear a mask indoors in areas with high COVID-19 transmission is a sign of the change the Delta variant has carved into the pandemic landscape, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN.

“We’re not changing the science,” the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “The virus changed, and the science evolved with the changing virus.”

Before Tuesday, the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention advised only unvaccinated people to wear masks indoors. But with the spread of the Delta variant — believed to be at least twice as transmissible as the Alpha variant, which was dominate in the U.S. in the spring — and vaccination rates remaining low while infection rates on the rise, the CDC updated its guidance to advise that everyone in high transmission areas wear a mask when indoors.

Currently, only 49.2% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Some experts point to unvaccinated Americans as an important factor in the mask guidance change, saying the measure had to be implemented to get them to mask up.

“Eighty million American adults have made a choice. They made a choice not to get the vaccine, and those same people are not masking and that is the force that is propagating this virus around this country,” CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner told CNN.

But others, including the CDC, said the decision had more to do with new data showing that, unlike with other strains, vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant can still get high viral loads, making it more likely they could spread the virus.

“Unlike the Alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn’t believe that if you were vaccinated you could transmit further, this is different now with a Delta variant,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, citing information investigators found when looking at outbreak clusters.

With nearly all 50 states undergoing a surge of new cases averaging at least 10% more than the week before, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the U.S. is seeing just how dangerous the variant is in real time.

“This is actually what you want to happen with science. You want science to be dynamic, you want recommendations to reflect the latest science, and that’s what you see in the recommendations that were issued today,” Murthy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday.

But one thing hasn’t changed, Murthy added, saying data is still showing current vaccines are highly protective against infection, severe illness and death from the Delta variant.

Vaccinations are still the ‘bedrock’ of ending the pandemic

While masking up will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., getting vaccinated is still “the bedrock” to ending the pandemic, Murthy said.

“Vaccines still work. They still save lives. They still prevent hospitalizations at a remarkably high rate,” he added.

Vaccination rates are still not where they need to be to get enough of the U.S. inoculated against the virus to slow or stop its spread, experts have said. Many experts have advocated for vaccine requirements as one way to increase vaccination rates in the U.S.

Los Angeles officials announced Tuesday that the city will require all of its employees to show proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing.

“The fourth wave is here, and the choice for Angelenos couldn’t be clearer — get vaccinated or get COVID-19,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement. “We’re committed to pursuing a full vaccine mandate. I urge employers across Los Angeles to follow this example,” he added.

The move comes after the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Los Angeles County nearly doubled in the past two weeks. There are currently 745 people hospitalized with the virus, compared to 372 people two weeks ago, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Such requirements by local entities are “very reasonable,” Murthy said Tuesday.

Some U.S. hospitals and federal agencies are mandating that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing. Murthy noted that many private institutions are considering following suit.

“Those are decisions the federal government is not going to make,” Murthy told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “It’s going to be institutions that make them, but I do think that they are very reasonable, because this is a time when we’ve got to take all steps possible to protect not just ourselves, but the people around us, from COVID-19.”

Officials call for more vaccinations as hospitals are overwhelmed

The impact of the Delta variant and increasing cases can be seen in the data and in the strain on hospitals.

After decreases over the past couple of months, cases of COVID-19 among children and teens are on the rise again, with more than 38,600 infected last week, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported Tuesday.

More than 4.13 million kids have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Kids represent more than 14% of the weekly reported cases.

In Springfield-Greene County in Missouri, the CoxHealth hospital system is having to expand its morgue capacity due to an increase in COVID-19 related deaths, President and CEO Steve Edwards said Tuesday.

“Last year we did expand it and we are expanding it further. We’ve actually brought in a portable piece of technology that allows bodies to be cooled and placed outside the morgue. We have had to expand that because the mortality has gone up so much lately,” Edwards said during an update in the county on behalf of CoxHealth.

In explaining what he called the “severity of the disease”, Edwards said, “We’ve had over 4,000 admissions for COVID. And with 549 deaths that means thirteen and a half percent of our admissions have died. And when we look in our ICUs, about 40% of patients that are in the ICU don’t make it out of the ICU.”

In New Orleans, as cases have gone up, hospitals have become strapped for resources and started turning people away, Communications Director for the City of New Orleans Beau Tidwell said Tuesday.

“For God’s sake, get your vaccine,” he added.

The CDC called on doctors and public health officials to act urgently to get more Americans vaccinated.

“COVID-19 cases have increased over 300% nationally from June 19 to July 23, 2021, along with parallel increases in hospitalizations and deaths driven by the highly transmissible B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant,” the CDC said in Tuesday’s health alert.

Without more vaccinations, the U.S. could see increased morbidity and mortality related to COVID-19, which could continue to overwhelm healthcare facilities, the CDC said.

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Vaccinated should wear masks indoors in US COVID hotspots: CDC – Al Jazeera English

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People in parts of the United States where COVID-19 infections are surging should wear masks indoors even if they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the country’s public health agency has advised.

Citing new information about the ability of the Delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

“In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public, indoor settings to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant and help protect others,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters during an afternoon news briefing.

The US is averaging more than 57,000 coronavirus cases a day and 24,000 hospitalisations, and public health officials for weeks have warned that COVID-19 infections are increasing, especially in parts of the country with low vaccination rates.

Walensky said while vaccinated Americans represent “a very small amount of transmission” – and stressed that the vast majority of new infections, hospitalisations and deaths is occurring among unvaccinated individuals – vaccinated people still have the ability to pass the virus on to others.

“With the Delta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever,” she added.

Rising infections

The recent rise in cases comes after mask-wearing and other public health restrictions were loosened, and restaurants, bars and other venues reopened in many parts of the country amid a sharp increase in national vaccination rates.

The new CDC recommendations are not binding and many Americans, especially in Republican-leaning states, may choose not to follow them.

“This is not a decision that we … have made lightly,” Walensky said about the new guidelines, acknowledging that many people are frustrated by the ongoing pandemic. “This new data weighs heavily on me, this new guidance weighs heavily on me.”

US President Joe Biden welcomed the agency’s recommendations on Tuesday as “another step on our journey to defeating this virus”.

“I hope all Americans who live in the areas covered by the CDC guidance will follow it,” Biden said in a statement, adding that masking students in schools “is inconvenient … but will allow them to learn and be with their classmates with the best available protection”.

“Most importantly, today’s announcement also makes clear that the most important protection we have against the Delta variant is to get vaccinated. Although most U.S. adults are vaccinated, too many are not. While we have seen an increase in vaccinations in recent days, we still need to do better,” Biden said.

The CDC had advised people to wear masks for much of the pandemic in settings where they could not maintain six feet (1.8 metres) of distance between themselves and others.

In April, as vaccination rates rose sharply, the agency eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying that fully vaccinated Americans no longer needed to cover their faces unless they were in a big crowd of strangers. In May, the guidance was eased further for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

The guidance still called for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it cleared the way for reopening workplaces and other venues.

Subsequent CDC guidance said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks at summer camps or at schools, either.

Some municipalities and states have re-imposed mask mandates amid the recent increase in cases. [File: Brendan McDermid/Reuters]

Coronavirus vaccines are widely available across the US, and 60 percent of adults are fully vaccinated while 69 percent have received at least one dose, according to CDC data. But millions of people remain unvaccinated – and the recent increase in cases is especially pronounced in US states with low vaccination rates, such as Florida.

‘Wrong direction’

Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, warned during the weekend that the US was moving “in the wrong direction” on the coronavirus – and he urged people to get jabs.

“If you look at the inflection of the curve of new infections,” Fauci said in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union programme on Sunday, stressing that most infections are among Americans who have not been vaccinated.

“It is among the unvaccinated and since we have 50 percent of the country is not fully vaccinated, that’s a problem – particularly when you have a variant like Delta which has this extraordinary characteristic of being able to spread very efficiently and very easily from person to person,” he said.

Some municipalities and states have re-imposed mask mandates amid the increase in cases.

In St Louis, Missouri, a county-wide mask mandate took effect on Monday, requiring most people, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear a mask indoors and on public transportation.

Sixty percent of US adults are fully vaccinated while 69 percent have received at least one dose, according to data from the CDC [File: Karen Pulfer Focht/Reuters]

Los Angeles, California also recently reinstated its mask requirement, while the top public health official in King County, Washington, which includes the city of Seattle, last week asked everyone to wear masks in indoor public spaces – even if they are vaccinated.

Calls have also grown to require health workers, among others, to be vaccinated.

“Due to the recent COVID-19 surge and the availability of safe and effective vaccines, our health care organizations and societies advocate that all health care and long-term care employers require their workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” a group of more than 50 healthcare organisations, including the American Medical Association, said on Monday.

That same day, the US Department of Veterans Affairs said it would require its doctors and other medical staff to get COVID-19 vaccines, becoming the first federal agency to impose such a mandate.

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