Program launched against COVID-19 variants
The European Union is pouring resources into a program to combat rapidly spreading COVID-19 variants, as it lags behind much of the developed world in terms of vaccine coverage.
The new European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority Incubator, or HERA Incubator for short, involves 215 million euros ($260 million) of initial funding as well as a commitment to more quickly approve vaccines adapted to tackle mutated strains.
The HERA Incubator will aim to address previous shortcomings and ensure Europe will not be caught out if and when novel coronavirus variants develop resistance to current vaccines.
The funding would go toward developing specialized tests for new variants as well as genomic sequencing and other research and data exchange regarding mutated strains.
Separately, the latest survey in the United Kingdom brought some encouraging results that the coronavirus is spreading far less quickly in the country than it was a mere three weeks ago.
The large-scale and highly respected React-1 study, led by researchers at Imperial College London, said on Thursday positive tests each day now number less than onethird of those counted last month.
But the fall was not more pronounced among people aged 65 and older, which is the demographic that has, so-far, been given a vaccine, suggesting factors other than the vaccine were responsible for the drop in infections.
“These encouraging results show that lockdown measures are effectively bringing infections down. It’s reassuring that the reduction in numbers of infections occurred in all ages and in most regions across the country,” said Paul Elliott, the professor leading the React-1 project.
Elsewhere in the world, Senegal announced on Thursday the start of its COVID-19 vaccination campaign next Tuesday, as the African country received the first doses of a vaccine acquired from China’s pharmaceutical group Sinopharm.
The large-scale vaccination operation will be launched following the establishment of a monitoring committee, said Minister of Health and Social Action Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr.
The Zimbabwean government on Thursday started to roll out its COVID-19 inoculation program following the arrival of the first consignment of 200,000 Sinopharm doses donated by the Chinese government.
Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who doubles as health minister, became the first citizen to receive a Sinopharm jab, kicking off the vaccination drive that aims to inoculate at least 10 million of the country’s 16 million citizens to achieve herd immunity.
Chiwenga urged Zimbabweans to have confidence in the vaccines, and said the ministry has “conducted all scientific processes to ascertain the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine which was confirmed to be 79 percent”.
The country also purchased 600,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, which are expected to arrive in the country in March.
In Asia, Nepal granted approval to the COVID-19 vaccine developed by an affiliate of China’s Sinopharm for the emergency use, the country’s drug regulator said. This approval paved the way for Nepal to receive the COVID-19 vaccines that China had promised to deliver to Nepal.
“After the regulatory approval, we can now prepare a plan on the use of Chinese vaccines. We are also awaiting the confirmation of when the Chinese vaccines would be available to Nepal,” said Shyam Raj Upreti, coordinator of the COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee under the health ministry.