Ghana has received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines through the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global vaccine-sharing program.
A flight carrying 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine arrived Wednesday in the capital, Accra, according to a joint statement from WHO and UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. The vaccines were manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer.
The vaccines sent to Ghana were purchased through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or COVAX, an initiative launched by WHO in cooperation with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, an organization founded by philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates to vaccinate children in the world’s poorest countries.
The project purchases vaccines with the help of wealthier countries and distributes them equitably to all countries. U.S. President Joe Biden pledged $4 billion to the COVAX program last week.
The WHO announced in December that COVAX has secured agreements for nearly two billion doses of several “promising” vaccine candidates.
The supply of vaccines is expected to grow after the U.S. determined that a one-shot COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is apparently safe and protects against the disease.
In an analysis released Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed the vaccine was about 66% effective during global trials in preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19.
The company told Congress earlier this week it hopes to provide 20 million doses in the U.S. by the end of next month and 100 million by summer.
The WHO and European countries are also considering the vaccine from the American health care company, which plans to produce about 500 million doses worldwide by the end of the year.
Vaccine supplies could also get a boost from manufacturers that vow to increase production, the U.S.-based cable news network CNBC reported.
In written congressional testimony, Pfizer’s Chief Business Officer John Young said the company plans to double its output to 13 million doses per week by mid-March.
Moderna hopes to deliver 40 million doses per month by April.
Meanwhile, the WHO reported that coronavirus deaths worldwide dropped 20% last week from the previous week, coinciding with a global decline in coronavirus cases and in increase in vaccinations.
In its weekly update released Tuesday, the WHO reported nearly 66,000 global COVID-19 deaths last week, the sixth straight week reported deaths have declined. The organization said new global coronavirus cases also dropped last week for the sixth consecutive week.
A new variant of the coronavirus recently discovered in the western U.S. state of California is more contagious than other versions, according to two new preliminary studies.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, discovered the new variant, called B.1.427/B.1.429, as they were tracking the possible spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in Britain last year. The team found B.1.427/B.1.429 had become the predominant variant in the state after testing virus samples collected from across the state between September 2020 and January 2021.
The UCSF team says people infected with the new variant produced a viral load twice as large as that of other variants, which may make them more contagious to others. The new variant is also more likely to cause severe illness, “including increased risk of high oxygen requirement,” and is at least partially resistant to antibodies that could combat and neutralize it.
In the other study, researchers found the variant has spread rapidly throughout San Francisco’s historic Mission District neighborhood, increasing from 16% of all confirmed COVID-19 infections tracked in November to 53% of infections by January.
Dr. Charles Chiu, a virologist who led the UCSF study, said the B.1.427/B.1.429 variant should be designated “a variant of concern” that merited further investigation.
New rules for some
As more Americans are vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says new guidelines for vaccinated people will be coming “soon” from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I believe you’re going to be hearing more of the recommendations of how you can relax the stringency of some of the things, particularly when you’re dealing with something like your own personal family when people have been vaccinated,” Fauci told CNN.
Some changes for those vaccinated have already been published. For example, people who have been vaccinated do not need to quarantine if they come in contact with an infected person.