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EU's marathon COVID vaccination drive off to uneven start – Reuters

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BRUSSELS/FRANKFURT (Reuters) – The EU’s campaign to vaccinate Europeans against COVID-19 has got off to an uneven start in what will be a marathon effort to administer shots to enough of the bloc’s 450 million people to defeat the viral pandemic.

Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine are prepared at the Rene-Muret hospital in Sevran, on the outskirts of Paris, France, December 27, 2020. Thomas Samson/Pool via REUTERS

In one mishap, eight workers at a care home in Stralsund on the north German coast were injected with five times the recommended dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Four were hospitalised.

“I deeply regret the incident. This individual case is due to individual errors. I hope that all those affected do not experience any serious side effects,” district chief Stefan Kerth said on Monday.

In southern Germany, officials had to send back about 1,000 doses after finding they had been transported in cool boxes typically used for picnics or camping trips that failed to keep the vaccine cold enough.

The EU vaccination drive kicked off at the weekend, with health workers and residents of care homes across the bloc among the first to get the shots from Pfizer, which must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

In Italy, meanwhile, some politicians complained that Germany – the EU’s largest member state and home to BioNTech – may be getting more than its fair share of shots.

The EU is due to receive its first 12.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by New Year’s Day, with distribution of 200 million doses across its 27 member countries to be completed by next September. The vaccine course requires two doses.

A spokesman for Pfizer declined to comment on specific schedules or whether the timeline indicated by the Commission represented a delay. “Our timelines are aspirational and can shift based on capacity and manufacturing timelines,” he said.

Talks are under way to agree on the delivery of an optional further 100 million doses under the contract sealed with the two companies, the EU said.

KEEPING COOL

The initial glitches highlight the challenge in rolling out the vaccine while regulators consider approving other vaccines, including from Moderna and AstraZeneca, which are easier to transport and store.

The rollout of the Pfizer shot in the United States has been slow, putting the government’s target of 20 million vaccinations this month in doubt, as hospitals navigate preparing the previously frozen shots for use, finding staff to run clinics and ensuring proper social distancing.

As well as being the first COVID-19 vaccine to be delivered across the EU, the Pfizer shot is particularly tricky to handle. For long-term storage it needs to be deep frozen at about minus 70 Celsius (minus 94 Fahrenheit).

It can be defrosted for a few days before being used, but even then must be kept chilled at between 2C and 8C.

In southern Germany, officials said they would not use some shots after temperature trackers in cool boxes showed they may not have been kept cold enough.

“There were doubts as to whether the cold chain was maintained at all times,” said Christian Meissner, district administrator in the Bavarian town of Lichtenfels.

“BioNTech said that the vaccine was probably okay, but ‘probably okay’ is not enough,” he told Reuters TV.

The lapse happened after the doses were handed over to the local authorities. BioNTech declined to comment.

In Spain, delivery of a new batch from Pfizer was held up by a day to Tuesday due to a temperature issue that has now been resolved, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.

Maria Asuncion Ojeda, a resident at Madrid’s Ballesol Parque Almansa nursing home, was still delighted to be an early recipient of the Pfizer vaccine.

“I wanted to do it because it’s the only way we can solve this problem,” the 87-year-old said on Monday, a day after Spain began vaccinating care-home residents and their staff.

FAIR SHARES

The EU is distributing jointly procured vaccines on a pro-rata basis to the 27 member states based on their populations, while some European countries have also made their own deals to buy extra doses separately.

In Italy, some politicians said Germany appeared to be getting more than its fair share, at least during the highly symbolic initial rollout.

“The accounts don’t add up,” Italian virologist Roberto Burioni said on Twitter, pointing to reports in Germany that first-day deliveries had totalled more than 150,000 doses while other EU countries got just 10,000.

An official familiar with vaccine distribution in Germany said that each of the 16 German federal states had received 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine ahead of the weekend start of the inoculation drive.

An Italian reporter asked about the supplies at a German government news conference. An official from the German health ministry replied that Berlin had signed a separate deal for 30 million extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Additional reporting by Michael Nienaber, Silvio Castellanos, Guillermo Martinez, Inti Landauro, John Miller, Maayan Lubell, Emilio Parodi, Giselda Vagnoni and Benoit Van Overstraeten; Writing by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Peter Graff and David Clarke

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What is the Delta variant of coronavirus with K417N mutation?

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 India said on Wednesday it has found around 40 cases of the Delta coronavirus variant carrying a mutation that appears to make it more transmissible, and advised states to increase testing.

Below is what we know about the variant.

WHAT IS DELTA PLUS?

The variant, called “Delta Plus” in India, was first reported in a Public Health England bulletin on June 11.

It is a sub-lineage of the Delta variant first detected in India and has acquired the spike protein mutation called K417N which is also found in the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

Some scientists worry that the mutation, coupled with other existing features of the Delta variant, could make it more transmissible.

“The mutation K417N has been of interest as it is present in the Beta variant (B.1.351 lineage), which was reported to have immune evasion property,” India’s health ministry said in a statement.

Shahid Jameel, a top Indian virologist, said the K417N was known to reduce the effectiveness of a cocktail of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies.

WHERE ALL IT HAS BEEN FOUND?

As of June 16 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/994839/Variants_of_Concern_VOC_Technical_Briefing_16.pdf, at least 197 cases has been found from 11 countries – Britain (36), Canada (1), India (8), Japan (15), Nepal (3), Poland (9), Portugal (22), Russia (1), Switzerland (18), Turkey (1), the United States (83).

India said on Wednesday around 40 cases of the variant have been observed in the states of Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh, with “no significant increase in prevalence”. The earliest case in India is from a sample taken on April 5.

Britain said its first 5 cases were sequenced on April 26 and they were contacts of individuals who had travelled from, or transited through, Nepal and Turkey.

No deaths were reported among the UK and Indian cases.

WHAT ARE THE WORRIES?

Studies are ongoing in India and globally to test the effectiveness of vaccines against this mutation.

“WHO is tracking this variant as part of the Delta variant, as we are doing for other Variants of Concern with additional mutations,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement sent to Reuters.

“For the moment, this variant does not seem to be common, currently accounting for only a small fraction of the Delta sequences … Delta and other circulating Variants of Concern remain a higher public health risk as they have demonstrated increases in transmission,” it said.

But India’s health ministry warned that regions where it has been found “may need to enhance their public health response by focusing on surveillance, enhanced testing, quick contact-tracing and priority vaccination.”

There are worries Delta Plus would inflict another wave of infections on India after it emerged from the world’s worst surge in cases only recently.

“The mutation itself may not lead to a third wave in India – that also depends on COVID-appropriate behaviour, but it could be one of the reasons,” said Tarun Bhatnagar, a scientist with the state-run Indian Council for Medical Research.

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Pune, Bhargav Acharya and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru and Alistair Smout in London; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Giles Elgood)

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Colon Cancer Rates Have Increased: How Can You Improve Your Gut Health?

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The majority of colon cancer cases are more common among older citizens. However, research has found that colorectal cancer rates have been rising in healthy people under 50. The rate has increased over the ten years. Medical professionals recommend screening from age 45. A colorectal screening test is done to ensure that the individual does not have any signs of cancer.

A study found that there has been a surge in colorectal cancer in younger generations and could become the dominant cause of cancer-related deaths by 2030. Since the risk is alarming, everyone needs to take their gut health seriously. Here are some things that people can do to improve their well-being.

Consider Hydrotherapy

Hydrotherapy is a type of colon cleanse that treats digestive issues such as constipation and bloating. Chronic constipation can lead to colon cancer, so it is vital to deal with the issue before it worsens. Colon hydrotherapy is offered at a few places, including a wellness colonic clinic in Toronto where the staff is committed to providing solutions for their clients’ digestive health.

Cleansing your colon can help improve digestion, relieve constipation, reduce gas, rejuvenate skin, and increase energy. The process involves flushing the colon with a large volume of water. It can be beneficial to speak to the professionals at the clinic and discuss your concerns with them. They will educate you about the process and answer any concerns you may have. The treatment can seem overwhelming but can also be helpful for your gut health.

 

Consume Sensibly

Your food intake plays a significant role in your gut health. If you have gut problems, it may be worthwhile to speak to a doctor and change your diet. You should also consider finding out if you have any food intolerance. There may be trigger foods such as oil or dairy that could be causing discomfort.

Even if you do not have any problems with your food consumption, it is never wrong to watch what you eat. Foods with probiotics or high fibre content can be good for you. Eating the right foods can improve your overall health too.

Stay Hydrated

Water almost seems like a magical drink sometimes. From skin problems to digestive issues, it can improve many situations. Consuming a good amount of water every day can balance good bacteria in the gut and promote your health. Hydration can also help your organs function properly and improve cognitive function.

Say Goodbye to Extreme Stress

It can be challenging to bid farewell to stress forever. However, chronic high levels of stress can impact your abdomen and your overall health. There is a connection between the brain and gut, and stress can cause your stomach to become anxious.

Long-term stress can trigger several gut problems such as indigestion, constipation, or diarrhea. Look for ways to reduce stress levels so that your gut can remain healthy.

Some health problems are inevitable with age, but you can do your best to stay healthy and deal with any issues you face. Prepare yourself to fight any disease beforehand, and your body will thank you.

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Biden’s vaccine pledge ups pressure on rich countries to give more

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The United States on Thursday raised the pressure on other Group of Seven leaders to share their vaccine hoards to bring an end to the pandemic by pledging to donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to the world’s poorest countries.

The largest ever vaccine donation by a single country will cost the United States $3.5 billion but Washington expects no quid pro quo or favours for the gift, a senior Biden administration official told reporters.

U.S. President Joe Biden‘s move, on the eve of a summit of the world’s richest democracies, is likely to prompt other leaders to stump up more vaccines, though even vast numbers of vaccines would still not be enough to inoculate all of the world’s poor.

G7 leaders want to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022 to try to halt the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 3.9 million people and devastated the global economy.

A senior Biden administration official described the gesture as a “major step forward that will supercharge the global effort” with the aim of “bringing hope to every corner of the world.” “We really want to underscore that this is fundamentally about a singular objective of saving lives,” the official said, adding that Washington was not seeking favours in exchange for the doses.

Vaccination efforts so far are heavily correlated with wealth: the United States, Europe, Israel and Bahrain are far ahead of other countries. A total of 2.2 billion people have been vaccinated so far out of a world population of nearly 8 billion, based on Johns Hopkins University data.

U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have agreed to supply the U.S. with the vaccines, delivering 200 million doses in 2021 and 300 million doses in the first half of 2022.

The shots, which will be produced at Pfizer’s U.S. sites, will be supplied at a not-for-profit price.

“Our partnership with the U.S. government will help bring hundreds of millions of doses of our vaccine to the poorest countries around the world as quickly as possible,” said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

Anti-poverty campaign group Oxfam called for more to be done to increase global production of vaccines.

“Surely, these 500 million vaccine doses are welcome as they will help more than 250 million people, but that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the need across the world,” said Niko Lusiani, Oxfam America’s vaccine lead.

“We need a transformation toward more distributed vaccine manufacturing so that qualified producers worldwide can produce billions more low-cost doses on their own terms, without intellectual property constraints,” he said in a statement.

Another issue, especially in some poor countries, is the infrastructure for transporting the vaccines which often have to be stored at very cold temperatures.

Biden has also backed calls for a waiver of some vaccine intellectual property rights but there is no international consensus yet on how to proceed.

The new vaccine donations come on top of 80 million doses Washington has already pledged to donate by the end of June. There is also $2 billion in funding earmarked for the COVAX programme led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the White House said.

GAVI and the WHO welcomed the initiative.

Washington is also taking steps to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines in other countries, including through its Quad initiative with Japan, India and Australia.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in St. Ives, England, Andrea Shalal in Washington and Caroline Copley in Berlin; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Keith Weir;Editing by Leslie Adler, David Evans, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Giles Elgood and Jane Merriman)

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