WHO Scientist Calls for More Vaccine Data

The World Health Organization’s top vaccine expert says the agency needs to evaluate coronavirus vaccines and their immune responses based on more than just a press release.Kate O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunization, vaccines and biologicals, said at a press briefing in Geneva on Friday that it was still not clear if vaccines against COVID-19 were able to reduce people’s ability to spread the virus.”It’s really important that we actually start to get more information about what the vaccines do, not just for preventing disease, but for actually preventing the acquisition of the virus,” O’Brien said.British drugmaker AstraZeneca said Thursday that it was cooperating with government regulators in investigating a manufacturing error in an experimental COVID-19 vaccine.A test tube labeled with the vaccine is seen in front of AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken, Sept. 9, 2020.The pharmaceutical company and Oxford University have admitted that a lower dose of the vaccine performed better than a full dose, according to a spokesman who spoke after AstraZeneca’s CEO said a further global trial was likely.The statement came as the company prepared to provide a temporary supply of the drug ahead of its plans to distribute 4 million doses of the vaccine by the year’s end.The England-based pharmaceutical company said earlier this week that its vaccine was 70% effective overall, but there were differences between two dosing regimens. One was 90% effective. The other was 62%.Vials with a sticker reading, “COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only” and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo, Oct. 31, 2020.Drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna have also announced initial results from late-stage trials showing their vaccines were nearly 95% effective.Meanwhile, in the United States, where the number of coronavirus cases neared 13 million, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the pandemic kept crowds small at stores across the country on Black Friday. Many stores were relying on online shopping and curbside pickup options for sales.The number of COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals across the United States reached 90,000 on Friday after nearly doubling in the last month, according to the Reuters news agency. The hospitalizations came after weeks of rising infection rates in the United States and have increased worries that Thanksgiving gatherings this week with family and friends would lead to even more infections and hospitalizations.  Ireland’s Prime Minister Micheal Martin speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Oct. 16, 2020.In Ireland, the government said it would allow shops, restaurants and gyms to reopen next week after the latest round of shutdowns. Prime Minister Micheal Martin said travel would be permitted between counties in the week preceding Christmas.”We now have the opportunity to enjoy a different but special Christmas,” he said in a televised address.Officials in France said the rate of new coronavirus infections slowed again Friday, as the country prepared to allow for the reopening Saturday of stores selling nonessential goods.Italy is also seeing a gradual decline in hospitalizations from the coronavirus, leading the government to announce that it would ease restrictions in five regions from Sunday, including the populous Lombardy region.The number of coronavirus infections in Germany topped 1 million on Friday. The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 22,806 cases overnight, bringing the country’s total since the start of the outbreak to more than 1 million.Iran on Friday announced that its government offices would operate only with essential staff because of a surge in coronavirus cases. Officials reported a record number of new cases on Friday — 14,051 — bringing the country’s total to more than 922,000.People queue at a supermarket after the South Australian state government announced a six-day lockdown because of a Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak in Adelaide on Nov. 18, 2020.In other developments, Australia’s second-largest state, Victoria, has recorded no new coronavirus infections or deaths in the past 28 days, health officials said Friday.The state did not have any active cases after the last COVID-19 patient was discharged from the hospital Monday. While Victoria has achieved the 28-day benchmark, widely accepted by health experts as eliminating the virus from the community, cases of coronavirus infections have been detected in other parts of the country.In Latin America, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Thursday that he would refuse a coronavirus vaccine, the most recent of his vaccine-skeptic statements.    ”I’m telling you, I’m not going to take it. It’s my right,” he said in remarks aired over several social media platforms.Brazil, with more than 6.2 million cases of COVID-19, is behind only the United States and India, and at more than 171,000 deaths, it is behind only the United States, according to Johns Hopkins.

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8 Dead After Cyclone Hits Somalia’s Puntland; Spread of Locusts Feared

A cyclone that hit parts of Somalia this week killed eight people and displaced thousands, flooded farmlands and could worsen a locust plague, an official and U.N. agencies said.The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said Thursday that Tropical Cyclone Gati made landfall in the semiautonomous Puntland region Sunday and subsided Tuesday, but moderate and light rain continued to fall.The cyclone killed eight Yemeni fishermen, Mohamed Yusuf Boli, commissioner for the coastal district of Hafun, told Reuters.”It also destroyed many boats and houses. The town is in water and in bad situation,” Boli added.In addition to the deaths, UNOCHA said the cyclone had displaced 42,000 people from their homes.”The cyclone has disrupted livelihoods by destroying fishing gear, killing livestock, and flooding agricultural land and crops,” the agency said in a report.The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said earlier this week that the cyclone could also allow immature desert locust swarms in Hargeisa and Jigjiga in Ethiopia to mature faster and lay eggs.The effect of the cyclone could also allow the swarms to move southeast to Ogaden region and lay eggs there, too, the FAO said.The insect plague hitting Somalia is part of a once-in-a-generation succession of swarms that have swept across East Africa and the Red Sea region since late 2019, driven by unusual weather patterns.

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In Senegal, Entrepreneurial Cancer Survivor Looks to 3-D Printing to Aid Amputees

When a Senegalese woman lost her arm to cancer, she viewed her new reality not as a disability but a problem that needed fixing. Allison Lékogo Fernandes reports from the capital in this reported narrated by Carol Guensberg.
Camera: Allison Lékogo Fernandes              Producer: Allison Lékogo Fernandes

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Brazil President: ‘I’m Not Going to Take’ Coronavirus Vaccine

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Thursday he would refuse a coronavirus vaccine, the most recent of his vaccine-skeptic statements.”I’m telling you, I’m not going to take it. It’s my right,” he said in remarks aired over several social media platforms.Brazil, with more than 6 million cases of COVID-19, is behind only the United States and India, and at more than 170,000 deaths, it is behind only the U.S., according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center.Just as Bolsonaro played down the seriousness of the pandemic, he has also expressed skepticism of mask wearing. In addition, on Thursday he said it was not likely that Congress would make a coronavirus vaccine mandatory.The United States added more than 181,000 cases Thursday and registered nearly 2,300 deaths from the coronavirus. Nearly 90,500 people were hospitalized Thursday, amid worries that Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends will lead to even more infections and hospitalizations.Officials in many states have put restrictions in place to slow the spread of the virus. However, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary order blocking New York state from enforcing attendance limits at houses of worship in areas that have infection spikes.In a 5-4 vote, the court sided with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and two Orthodox Jewish congregations that challenged the system put in place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.The majority opinion pointed to limits of 10 or 25 people in houses of worship, while under the same designation grocery stores and other essential businesses can operate without capacity restrictions.Chief Justice John Roberts, the only conservative justice who did not join the majority, said in his dissent that “it is a significant matter to override determinations made by public health officials concerning what is necessary for public safety in the midst of a deadly pandemic.”Russia on Thursday reported its record one-day increase of 25,487 COVID-19 infections, pushing its total to nearly 2.2 million. Its 524 deaths during a 24-hour span were also a record for the country.In Germany, nearly 400 new deaths pushed that country’s toll to more than 15,000 since the pandemic began.The German government decided in early November to close restaurants, bars and sports facilities to combat a record rise in infections. Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s states agreed late Wednesday to extend the restrictions through Dec. 20.There have been more than 60.8 million reported cases worldwide, with 1.4 million deaths.The United States has been hit the hardest, with more than 263,000 deaths, followed by Brazil with 170,000 dead, India with 135,000 dead, and Mexico at 103,000 dead, according to Johns Hopkins.

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Bank of Canada: Vaccine Could Trigger Swift Economic Rebound

Canada’s economy could rebound faster than expected if consumer spending jumps in the wake of a successful coronavirus vaccination effort, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem said Thursday.On the other hand, if the economy weakens amid a second wave of infections, Macklem indicated the central bank could, if necessary, cut already record-low interest rates.In late October, the bank said it assumed a vaccine would not be widely available until mid-2022. Since then, several manufacturers have announced potential vaccines that could be distributed starting early next year.”It is possible, especially when there is a vaccine, that households will decide to spend more than we have forecast, and if that happens the economy will rebound more quickly,” Macklem said in response to questions from the House of Commons finance committee. He described the news about vaccines as promising.In late October, the bank forecast the economy would not fully recover until sometime in 2023, a forecast Macklem repeated in his opening remarks.The path to recovery still faces risks, he said. Earlier this year, the bank slashed its key interest rate to 0.25%.”We could potentially lower the effective lower bound, even without going negative. It’s at 25 basis points. It could be a little bit lower,” Macklem said, repeating that negative interest rates would not be helpful.The U.S. Federal Reserve has a target for its key rate of 0 to 0.25%. The Reserve Bank of Australia this month cut its policy rate to 0.1%.Some other central banks also have benchmark rates that are less than 0.25%, such as the European Central Bank and the Bank of England.”We want to be very clear – Canadians can be confident that borrowing costs are going to remain very low for a long time,” Macklem said.

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Stigma, Discrimination Seen Driving HIV/AIDS, COVID-19 

The U.N. Program on HIV and AIDS warns that stigma and discrimination against marginalized populations are driving both the AIDS crisis and COVID-19 and must be tackled and eliminated to end what officials call the dual, colliding pandemics. In a report released in advance of World AIDS Day on December 1, the U.N. agency called on governments to put the most vulnerable at the center of their pandemic responses.HIV/AIDS emerged nearly 40 years ago. While progress in the treatment of the disease has been made, AIDS remains a public health menace. Last year, UNAIDS reported 1.7 million people were infected with HIV and 690,000 died.Health officials said the global response to ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 was off track even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The rapid spread of coronavirus, they said, is creating additional setbacks.Part of UNAIDS’ new strategy for tackling AIDS is to direct money to the people most at risk. Yet, Sigrid Kaag, minister for foreign trade and development cooperation in the Netherlands,  said that is not happening.She noted a study commissioned by the Netherlands found only 2 percent of AIDS funding worldwide targets those who are most at risk.“Sixty-two percent of new HIV infections are among gay men, sex workers, drug users and transgender people,” Kaag said. “How can we end the HIV pandemic, or any pandemic for that matter, if we ignore those most at risk? Stigma and criminalization impede access to medical services, and this is exactly how pandemics continue to spread.”FILE – Sibongile Zulu is seen in her home in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 28, 2020. Zulu is HIV-positive and has had trouble getting medication. Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the supply of antiretroviral drugs.Eastern and southern Africa is the region most heavily affected by HIV. The region is home to nearly 21 million out of the 38 million people living with HIV worldwide. The study said 12 million were not receiving treatment for their illness.Yet even under these circumstances, countries such as Eswatini and Botswana in sub-Saharan Africa and Cambodia and Thailand in Asia have made remarkable progress in tackling the deadly disease by implementing people-centered policies.UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said governments must focus on helping the most vulnerable, marginalized people. She said they must target preventive measures and reproductive and other health services toward them and not just implement policies that are politically palatable.“We are going to have to be more focused, focusing on the hot spots, not choosing what we want to address because that is what we are comfortable with,” Byanyima said. Efforts must be “evidence based, targeting closely where the risk is, not where we do not want to see.”Byanyima said governments also must focus on reducing the inequalities that are the drivers of HIV and COVID-19. She said more investment must be made in strengthening health systems and providing treatment and care to all in need. She said respecting the human rights of people most at risk is crucial in beating back the twin pandemics.

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