The United States hailed progress in turning around its troubled Covid-19 vaccine rollout, as the European Union said it was on track to meet jab targets and Asia's inoculation drive gained pace yesterday.
Brazil hit 250,000 fatalities -- the second-highest national death toll after the United States -- while the worldwide vaccine campaign received the endorsement of Queen Elizabeth II, 94, who urged people not to be wary of the shot.
India said yesterday it will let people choose their coronavirus vaccination centres when the campaign expands next week, effectively letting beneficiaries pick either a home-grown shot or the AstraZeneca one, unlike now.
The country will halt vaccinations this weekend to upgrade software used to coordinate its campaign, as it prepares to widen coverage beyond the 11.5 million health and front-line workers immunised since January 16.
But the inoculation campaign has progressed slower than expected due to a reluctance of health and front-line workers to take the home-grown COVAXIN shot that was approved without late-stage efficacy data. Only 11% of vaccinated people have opted for the product developed by Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.
The decision to give people a choice of vaccines could now speed up the roll-out, Indian officials believe.
President Joe Biden declared the US rollout is now "weeks ahead of schedule" as he celebrated 50 million doses administered since he took office on January 20, but he warned Americans to keep masking up.
"We're moving in the right direction despite the mess we inherited," Biden said, referring to the program under his predecessor Donald Trump.
The United States is the world's hardest-hit country, with coronavirus deaths crossing the 500,000 mark earlier this week.
Rollouts in Asia also gathered momentum as Hong Kong and South Korea began their mass vaccination programs yesterday.
Both places were among the first to experience outbreaks after the coronavirus spread from central China early last year, but have kept infections comparatively low.
South Korea plans to inoculate 70 percent of its population within seven months while Hong Kong aims to vaccinate all adults by the end of the year.
And after months of supply problems and friction, the EU said Thursday it was confident in meeting its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by the end of the summer.
A Dutch court yesterday upheld an appeal by the government against a lower court's order to scrap a controversial coronavirus curfew, saying the cabinet had not overstepped its brief, reports AFP.
Japan will end a coronavirus state of emergency early in some regions as the pace of infection slows, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, less than five months before the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics are due to begin.
'THINK ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE'
The coronavirus has killed more than 2.5 million people worldwide, with over 113 million known infections, and vaccine rollouts have been patchy.
Most of the 217 million doses administered globally have gone to wealthier countries, and among those struggling with shortages is Brazil.
The South American nation crossed a quarter-million death toll on Thursday as it battles a devastating second wave of infections.
The coronavirus has hit especially hard in Brazil's impoverished "favelas," among indigenous communities and in the Amazon rainforest city of Manaus, where there have been haunting scenes of mass graves and patients suffocating to death with no oxygen.
There was also worrying news yesterday out of impoverished Papua New Guinea, which reported its largest daily jump in cases since the pandemic began, with infections spreading to remote regions with poor health infrastructure.
But efforts to ensure wider availability of vaccines were given a boost when the US Food and Drug Administration said frozen vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be stored at temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers -- instead of specialized ultracold ones -- for up to two weeks.
And Britain's Queen Elizabeth II helped counter vaccine hesitancy -- another worry for public health experts and planners -- by saying in a video message that her shot "didn't hurt at all," and encouraged those reluctant about inoculation to "think about other people."
Police and teachers will not jump to the head of the queue in the second phase of Britain's vaccination rollout, with people instead prioritised by age, officials advising the government said yesterday, describing this as the best way to keep up the pace of immunisations.