Mexico has become the latest nation to approve the COVID-19 vaccine jointly developed by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
Foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard announced the “very good news” that the government had granted emergency approval for the vaccine Monday on Twitter, adding that “production will start very soon in Mexico.” The AstraZeneca vaccine joins the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as the only ones so far approved by Mexico City.
Late-stage clinical trials of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine revealed it to be 70% effective against COVID-19. The vaccine had a 62% efficacy rate for participants given a full two doses, but separate tests revealed it to be 90% effective when given a half-dose followed by a full dose weeks later.
Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be stored in super-cold refrigerators at temperatures below 70 degrees Celsius, the newly approved vaccine can be stored at normal temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, making it easier to transport and administer to people in poorer and remote nations.
An 82-year-old man at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital was the first person to be inoculated with the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. British officials say half a million doses of the vaccine are ready for use. The vaccine has also been granted emergency use authorization in India and Argentina.
The Pfizer-BioNTech shot has already been administered to many health care professionals in Britain and the United States. But the worldwide rollout of these new vaccines have gone slower than expected in many nations, plagued by bureaucratic and logistic obstacles, the slow pace of regulatory approvals and a shortage of qualified health care workers to administer the doses.
The first inoculation of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine occurred on the same day as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a fresh round of nationwide lockdowns, including the closing of schools and nonessential shops.
Prime Minister Johnson said people must stay at home until at least mid-February, noting that British hospitals are under more strain now than they have been at any point during the pandemic.
The announcement comes days after British health officials confirmed a variant of the coronavirus that doctors say is far more contagious than the original.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that a case of the same variant had been confirmed in an older New York state resident who had not traveled recently.
The B117 variant of the coronavirus had already been detected in California, Colorado and Florida, along with more than 30 other countries.
The increasing surge of new coronavirus infections, coupled with the new, more contagious variant, has prompted other nations such as Germany, Italy and Japan to either impose a new round of lockdowns or extend their current mandatory quarantines.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that the country’s current lockdown was extended by three weeks until January 31, as new infections and deaths remain at high levels, and officials fret over whether the Christmas and New Year’s holidays have exacerbated the pandemic.
Merkel said social contact measures first imposed in March have also been tightened, and new restrictions were imposed on the movement of people living in areas with particularly high infection rates.
Germany imposed a partial nationwide shutdown on November 2, closing restaurants and other leisure businesses, followed by a December 16 decision to close nonessential stores and schools and further tighten social contact measures for three weeks. The initiatives failed to reduce infections, leading to new lockdown measures.
The coronavirus has killed more than 1.8 million people globally since emerging in China in December 2019, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which is tracking the global pandemic. The United States leads the world with 20.8 million total COVID-19 cases, and surpassed the grim threshold of 350,000 deaths on Monday.
Experts fear the worst is yet to come, predicting a sharp rise in cases and deaths after weeks of holiday gatherings.