Covid Vaccine: Pfizer offers 40m doses to poorer countries | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 24, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:36 AM, January 24, 2021

Covid Vaccine: Pfizer offers 40m doses to poorer countries

Biden warns US death toll can hit 600,000; Wuhan marks a year since lockdown

Pfizer announced Friday that it will provide up to 40 million of its Covid-19 vaccine doses to poorer countries on a non-profit basis, through the globally-pooled Covax facility. 

Around the world, more than 2.1 million people have died of Covid-19 since it emerged in China's Wuhan in December 2019, with over 98 million infected.

Wuhan yesterday marked one year since the start of its traumatic 76-day coronavirus lockdown, while the pandemic raged elsewhere and governments scrambled to put in place new measures.

Europe faced a worsening struggle with production woes hitting supply of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine as well as the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.

In the world's worst-hit country, US President Joe Biden warned America's death toll could pass 600,000, the highest estimate yet that would mark a devastating rise on the 400,000 fatalities so far.

"The virus is surging," Biden told a news conference. "We're at 400,000 dead, expected to reach well over 600,000."

While dozens of the world's richer countries have begun their vaccination campaigns in a bid to curb the pandemic, coronavirus jabs have been few and far between in the world's poorer nations.

Covax -- the globally-pooled coronavirus vaccine procurement and equitable distribution effort, aimed at ensuring that lower-income countries get hold of doses too -- is hoping to ship its first deliveries in February.

Covax is co-led by the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one so far to have received emergency use approval from the WHO.

Developing countries should have "the same access to vaccines as the rest of the world", Pfizer chairman Albert Bourla told a virtual press conference.

"We will provide the vaccine to Covax for these countries at a not-for-profit basis.

"We are proud to have this opportunity to provide doses that will support Covax's efforts towards vaccinating health care workers at high risk of exposure in developing countries, and other vulnerable populations."

Set up last year, Covax initially aimed to secure enough Covid-19 vaccines this year for the most vulnerable 20 percent in participating countries.

Covax still needs to finalise a supply agreement for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said vaccines were offering the hope of ending the pandemic and repairing the global economy.

However, "to do that, we need every member state, every partner, and every vaccine producer on board," he added.

There were new signs of the depth of damage dealt to the global economy, with the closely watched Purchasing Managers' Index showing that Europe was heading for a new recession, while Latin America suffered its steepest drop in foreign trade since the global financial crisis.

In Wuhan, a team of World Health Organization experts was still in hotel quarantine ahead of a mission to investigate the source of the virus, and the body said it was too early to conclude whether the pandemic actually started there.

"All hypotheses are on the table," WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference in Geneva. "And it is definitely too early to come to a conclusion of exactly where this virus started, either within or without China."

Countries across the world were bringing in new measures yesterday, including the Netherlands, which was set to introduce its first curfew since World War II.

Until February 19, residents will have to stay home from 9 pm until 4:30 am, on pain of a 95-euro ($115) fine.

And in the Colombian capital of Bogota, residents were under their third weekend quarantine in a row, meaning the closure of all non-essential shops in the city of eight million from Friday at 8:00 pm until Monday at 4:00 am. 

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