Britain rolls out Oxford vaccine
Britain yesterday began rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, a possible game-changer in fighting the disease worldwide, while China raced to inoculate millions with a domestically made jab.
Britain started the new drive with 530,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as it struggled to control a severe wave of infections that has threatened to overwhelm the public health system and prompted the government to warn tougher curbs can be expected.
The vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, is seen as advantageous by many experts because it does not require very cold temperatures for storage like the ones from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
That could mean greater access to the vaccine for less wealthy parts of the world in the fight against the coronavirus, which has infected more than 85 million people with more than 1.84 million known deaths.
"I'm very pleased that I got the Oxford vaccine," said Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old retired maintenance manager who Britain's NHS said was the first to receive the AstraZenica jab.
"The vaccine means everything to me. To my mind it's the only way of getting back to a bit of normal life," Pinker said at Oxford's Churchill Hospital.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC that Britain's fight against a resurgent virus has been "significantly accelerated" with the introduction of the AstraZenica vaccine. The virus has claimed 75,000 lives in Britain.
Britain has already vaccinated around one million people after approving the Pfizer vaccine in early December and hopes to give shots to tens of millions in the next three months, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a BBC interview.
Vaccinations were also under way in European countries like France, Germany and Greece.
But the French government yesterday faced growing pressure to accelerate its vaccination drive, with President Emmanuel Macron reportedly also furious over the slow pace of progress.
Just a few hundred people have received the jab so far in France, compared with over 200,000 in Germany and around one million in Britain.
In Beijing, thousands lined up to receive shots as Chinese authorities raced to inoculate millions ahead of the Lunar New Year mass travel season in February.
Beijing has already administered around 4.5 million doses of largely unproven emergency vaccines this year -- mostly to health workers and other state employees destined for overseas jobs, according to authorities.
South Korea is reviewing AstraZeneca's request for approval of its vaccine, as it expands a ban on private gatherings of more than four people to the whole country with daily cases topping more than 1,000 in four days.
South Korea's drug safety ministry said it will aim to approve the British shot for emergency use in 40 days. The approval would mark the first for the country, which has been grappling with a prolonged surge in infections during the latest wave that has led to a sharp increase in deaths.
Vietnam has agreed to buy 30 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca Plc , the government said yesterday, adding that authorities are also seeking to purchase vaccines from other sources, including Pfizer Inc, reports Reuters.
The Southeast Asian country has previously agreed to get a Russian vaccine though also said it would not rush to secure vaccine deals, citing the potential for high financial costs and after managing to contain its coronavirus outbreaks to only 1,494 cases, with 35 deaths.
STUMBLING US ROLLOUT
Elsewhere, American officials on Sunday rejected claims by outgoing President Donald Trump that the country's death toll of more than 350,000 was exaggerated, as they defended the stumbling rollout of vaccines in the world's worst-hit nation.
The United States has a known caseload of more than 20 million, and the Trump administration has faced intense criticism for its handling of the pandemic, which has hammered the US economy.
It has started giving people the Pfizer and Moderna shots, but the 4.2 million people vaccinated so far are far below the official predictions of 20 million by the new year.
More than 13 million vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, but efforts to inoculate health workers and vulnerable people have been hampered by logistical problems and overstretched hospitals and clinics, reports AFP.
"There have been a couple of glitches, that's understandable," top US expert Anthony Fauci said, adding it was a challenge "trying to get a massive vaccine program started and getting off on the right foot."
Troubling reports have emerged of vaccines going bad due to poor organisation, lack of healthcare professionals to administer them or, in one isolated case, sabotage.
Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor to the US government's military-led vaccine effort, said another alternative was being explored for the Moderna vaccine: administering half doses twice.
"We know it induces identical immune response," Slaoui said, adding that officials are in discussions with Moderna and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the proposal.