Germany's health minister, Jens Spahn, called Friday for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for anyone who was fully vaccinated at least six months ago, as the nation faces a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
Speaking to reporters following a two-day summit in Bavaria with health ministers from the 16 German states, Spahn said Germany's COVID-19 situation is entering a very difficult period, as the country's Robert Koch Institute reported a record 37,120 new daily cases Friday.
Spahn said the "fourth wave" is not only here, but it has "been here for a long time," and is gaining strength "and has clearly accelerated."
The minister said some German state leaders have warned the country may need a new lockdown if urgent action is not taken.
The surge in Germany is part of a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths in Europe that have made the region the new epicenter of the pandemic, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Europe regional director, said Thursday.
At a regular COVID-19 briefing at the agency headquarters in Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and other experts discussed the surge in Europe, where cases have risen 55% in the past four weeks, despite an ample supply of vaccines.
"Let me be very clear: This should not be happening. We have all the tools to prevent COVID-19 transmission and save lives, and we continue to call on all countries to use those tools," Tedros said.
The WHO chief also decried the fact that the world's low-income nations have received only 0.4% of the world's vaccines. He said those nations rely almost exclusively on vaccines distributed through the Gavi, WHO and CEPI co-led global vaccine cooperative, COVAX.”
Tedros said no more vaccines should go to nations that have vaccinated more than 40% of their populations and no more boosters should be administered, except to patients who are immunocompromised, until COVAX gets the vaccines it needs to inoculate low-income nations to the 40% level.
Separately, in the United States, the Biden administration says it has severed ties with a U.S. company that was awarded a $628 million deal by the Trump administration to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
Earlier this year, Emergent BioSolutions was found to have contaminated 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with ingredients designated for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration later threw out at least 60 million more Johnson & Johnson shots produced at the Baltimore plant.
Americans who work for companies with at least 100 employees must be fully vaccinated by January 4 or undergo weekly testing for COVID-19, the Biden administration said Thursday. The new rule affects about 84 million workers, but it is not immediately clear how many of those workers are unvaccinated.
WHO has issued an alert about fake AstraZeneca vaccines in Iran. WHO said the "difficult to detect products" are "illicitly refilled vials of used and discarded genuine COVID-19 VACCINE AstraZeneca" and pose a risk for being "illicitly or accidentally inserted into the regulated supply chain or authorized immunization program."
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center said early Friday that it has recorded 248.7 million global COVID-19 cases and more than 5 million deaths. The center said 7.1 billion vaccine doses have been administered.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence-France Presse.