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AstraZeneca Vaccine Less Effective Versus South African Variant

AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at the Wellcome Center in Ilford, east London, Feb. 5, 2021.
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at the Wellcome Center in Ilford, east London, Feb. 5, 2021.

With the world in a race between the spread of coronavirus variants and vaccinating millions, AstraZeneca announced Saturday that early data shows its vaccine provides limited protection against mild disease caused by the South African variant of the virus.

The test group was small, about 2,000 people, and young, with a median age of 31. But none of the study’s participants were hospitalized or died, according to The Financial Times of London, the first to report the results.

“We do believe our vaccine could protect against severe disease,” an AstraZeneca spokesperson said. He added that the company has not been able "to properly ascertain its effect against severe disease and hospitalization given that subjects were predominantly young healthy adults."

The pharmaceutical company will publish its study results Monday.

AstraZeneca has begun adapting its vaccine against the South African variant, the spokesperson said.

China approves second vaccine

China has conditionally approved the use by the general public of a second COVID-19 vaccine.

The National Medical Products Administration said in a statement Saturday that regulators approved the use Friday of CoronaVac, developed by Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

It’s the second vaccine approved for public use in the southeast Asian country. The first, a vaccine developed by a Chinese institute affiliated with the state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), was approved two months ago.

The Sinovac vaccine, which is being administered in at least five other countries, was given emergency approval last July for high-risk people, such as health care workers and employees of state-owned companies.

Conditional approval of the vaccine allows its use for the general public, while research continues. The company must submit current data and reports of any adverse effects after the vaccine is sold on the market.

A third candidate vaccine from Sinopharm has been administered to high-risk groups in China, while a fourth candidate from CanSino Biologics is being administered to military personnel.

Developing countries buy vaccine

Some poorer countries, alarmed at watching rich countries receiving millions of COVID-19 vaccines, are deciding not to wait for vaccines from the World Health Organization and other groups, and have, instead, started striking their own vaccine deals.

Juan Carlos Sikaffy, president of the Honduran Private Business Council, told the Associated Press that Honduras “cannot wait on bureaucratic processes or misguided decisions” to give citizens “the peace of mind” offered by the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Honduran Private Business Council participated in a vaccine-buying deal for the Central American country by providing a bank guarantee.

Serbia has also gone to the vaccine market even though it has paid 4 million euros to WHO’s COVAX program, created to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines fairly.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he could not wait for COVAX after watching rich countries buy up so many of the precious shots.

“It’s as if they intend to vaccinate all their cats and dogs,” he said.

The head of the World Health Organization called Friday for pharmaceutical companies to share manufacturing facilities to increase the production of COVID-19 vaccines.

Speaking at an online news briefing from Geneva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said what is needed is “a massive scale-up in production.”

He noted that France’s pharmaceutical company Sanofi announced it would make its manufacturing infrastructure available to support production of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and called on other companies to do the same.

He also repeated his call for rich nations to share doses with poorer countries once they have vaccinated health workers and older people.

Curfews and lockdowns

Greece has announced stricter lockdown restrictions in the capital, Athens, as well as other parts of the country to stop the spread of the pandemic. The restrictions include a curfew that will start at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Also Saturday, South Korea begins easing its restrictions on businesses outside of the capital, allowing them to stay open an additional hour to 10 p.m. Small-business owners and self-employed people have been calling for an easing of restrictions imposed as the country seeks to control the coronavirus outbreak. However, businesses in Seoul, the capital, will still close at 9 p.m.

Cuba imposed a strict nightly curfew Friday in the capital of Havana, as the country struggles to contain a resurgence of the spread of the coronavirus. The Havana Province Defense Council said people and vehicles would be restricted from moving about between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Cuba reopened its airports three months ago and eased lockdown measures after apparently bringing the outbreak under control. But the relaxed measures triggered a dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases last month.

There are more than 105 million global COVID-19 cases and 2.3 million deaths from the coronavirus, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The United States remains at the top of the list as the location with the most infections, with nearly 27 million cases, followed by India with 10.8 million and Brazil with 9.4 million.

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