COVID-19: WHO says AstraZeneca, blood clots link 'plausible but not confirmed'
[Geneva] --- A causal link between the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and the rare occurrence of blood clots with low platelets is "considered plausible but not confirmed," the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
Image Source : AP (FILE)
Earlier in the day, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) confirmed that the cases of blood clots with low blood platelets were associated with the administration of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, but should still be listed as very rare side effects.
In an interim statement on Wednesday, the WHO's Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) said that the events under assessment are very rare, with low numbers reported among the almost 200 million individuals who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine around the world, Xinhua news agency reported.
However, specialized studies are needed to fully understand the potential link, and the GACVS said it will continue to gather and review further data.
Meanwhile, the GACVS added that rare adverse events following immunizations should be assessed against the risk of deaths from Covid-19 and the potential of the vaccines to prevent infections and reduce deaths. According to the WHO's statistics, as of Wednesday, at least 2.6 million people have died of Covid-19 worldwide.
Several European countries have already halted or suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in view of the reported risks. On Wednesday, the WHO said that the side effects, mostly mild and local in nature, are "expected" and "common" within two or three days following vaccination.
It also recommended that individuals who experience any severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, neurological symptoms such as severe and persistent headaches or blurred vision, tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of the injection, from around four to 20 days following vaccination should seek urgent medical attention.
"In extensive vaccination campaigns, it is normal for countries to identify potential adverse events following immunization," the GACVS said. "This does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to the vaccination itself, but they must be investigated to ensure that any safety concerns are addressed quickly.
"Vaccines, like all medicines, can have side effects. The administration of vaccines is based on a risk versus benefit analysis," it added.
COVID-19: Saudi Arabia issues new guidelines for Umrah pilgrims
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Monday announced new terms and conditions for visitors and Umrah pilgrims in the wake of surging coronavirus cases.
The new guidelines will come into effect from the 1st of Ramadan and are as stated below -
- Only those who have received coronavirus vaccines will be allowed to enter the holy mosques.
- Only those pilgrims who have been duly inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine will be allowed to visit the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet's Mosque) and Masjid al-Haram (The Great Mosque).
- Any person who wishes to visit the two holy mosques for the purpose of Umrah or offering prayers must have received both the shots of the vaccine, otherwise, they will not be allowed to enter the mosques.
- Even after being inoculated, all those praying in the mosques will still have to follow the Kingdom's coronavirus protocols.
- Visitors and pilgrims will be able to choose the date and time of their visit to the mosques contingent upon strict adherence to the coronavirus protocols.
Delta cancels over 100 flights, opens some middle seats
[Detroit, United States] --- Delta Air Lines cancelled about 100 flights on Sunday due to staff shortages, and it opened up middle seats a month earlier than expected in order to carry more passengers. The airline says it had over 1 million passengers during the past few days, the highest number since before the coronavirus pandemic began last year.
“We apologise to our customers for the inconvenience, and the majority have been rebooked for the same travel day,” the airline said Sunday in a statement.
Delta took steps to increase passenger capacity, including opening middle seats on Sunday and Monday, in an effort to accommodate passengers.
On Wednesday, the airline announced that it would stop blocking off middle seats starting in May. The move was made last April to keep passengers farther apart, a policy that Delta's CEO had repeatedly cited as raising trust in the airline. The seats would be reopened as air travel recovers and more people become vaccinated against COVID-19, the airline said.
Delta said the middle seats were opened just for Sunday and Monday, and its seat-blocking policy has not changed. Where needed, seats could be unblocked in order to get customers to their destinations on the same day.
“Delta teams have been working through various factors, including staffing, large numbers of employee vaccinations and pilots returning to active status," the airline said in the statement. Some employees were having adverse side effects from being vaccinated.
On Sunday, websites at three Delta hubs showed 33 cancelled arriving or departing flights. There were 19 at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, another 11 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and three more at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.
Delta said Wednesday that nearly 65% of people who flew on Delta last year expect to have at least one dose of the new vaccines by May 1. That gave Delta the assurance to end seating limits, it said.
The airline industry was divided over the utility of blocking middle seats to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 on a flight. Airlines including Delta, Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue limited seating for months, while United Airlines never did and American did so only briefly.
Social distancing is hard if not impossible on an airplane, even with middle seats empty — a point that United CEO Scott Kirby made many times to explain his airline's resistance to seat-blocking.
Air travel in the United States is recovering from pandemic lows. More than 1 million travelers have gone through U.S. airports for each of the last 20 days, although March traffic remains down nearly half from the same month in 2019.
The numbers are rising heading into the crucial summer vacation season. Last summer was a catastrophe for the airlines, contributing to Delta's full-year loss of more than USD 12 billion. The airlines are eager to boost revenue as quickly as possible, and that means selling more seats.
Europe Covid Vaccine Rollout "Unacceptably Slow": WHO
[Copenhagen, Denmark] --- The World Health Organization on Thursday slammed Europe's "unacceptably slow" vaccine rollout and said the region's surge in coronavirus infections was "worrying".
"Vaccines present our best way out of this pandemic... However, the rollout of these vaccines is unacceptably slow" and is "prolonging the pandemic", WHO director for Europe Hans Kluge said in a statement.
"We must speed up the process by ramping up manufacturing, reducing barriers to administering vaccines, and using every single vial we have in stock, now," he added.
The organisation said that Europe's virus situation was "more worrying than we have seen in several months."
Five weeks ago, the weekly number of new cases in Europe had dipped to under one million, but "last week saw increasing transmission of Covid-19 in the majority of countries in the WHO European region, with 1.6 million new cases," it said.
The total number of deaths in Europe "is fast approaching one million and the total number of cases about to surpass 45 million," it said.
The WHO's European region comprises 53 countries and territories and includes Russia and several Central Asian nations.
The organisation warned that the rapid spread of the virus could increase the risk of new variants of concern developing.
"The likelihood of new variants of concern occurring increases with the rate at which the virus is replicating and spreading, so curbing transmission through basic disease control actions is crucial," Dorit Nitzan, WHO Europe's regional emergency director, said in the statement.
Largest purple-pink diamond ever to go on sale at Christie's Hong Kong auction
A 15.81 carat Sakura diamond, the largest of its kind to ever appear for sale, will go under the hammer at Christie's upcoming Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels Live Auction on May 23, the auction house announced on Tuesday.
Estimated at 25 million USD to 38 million USD, the "fancy vivid purple pink internally flawless" diamond will be the star highlight of the sale.
It is the diamond's exceptional rarity, extraordinary optical transparency, brilliant colour, and enormous size that make it an immensely important, and eternal masterpiece of nature.
"As fewer than 10 per cent of pink diamonds weigh more than one-fifth of a carat, this fancy vivid purple-pink diamond is of an unprecedented size of 15.81 carats, which is the largest of its kind (Fancy Vivid Purple-Pink) to be offered at any auction," a Christie's statement noted.
It added that the lot fell in the exclusive group of the four per cent of pink diamonds that possess a colour deep enough to qualify as "fancy vivid".
"This magnificent gem is graded 'fancy vivid'' for its perfect display of strong saturation and remarkable pink hue with a secondary colour of puwrple, resembling the fascinating colour of cherry blossoms - appropriately coinciding with spring," the auction house said.
Christie's has previously offered on auction several of the largest and the rarest pink diamonds, including the Winston Pink Legacy sold in Geneva in 2018 that still holds the auction record per carat for any pink diamond.
"This season we are very honoured to continue this fine tradition by presenting 'The Sakura Diamond'' in Hong Kong.
"This exceptionally rare and magnificent wonder of nature represents a unique expression of identity and mesmerising beauty through its enthralling purple pink hue, that will undoubtedly capture the hearts of discerning connoisseurs and collectors worldwide," said Vickie Sek, Chairman, Department of Jewellery, Christie's Asia Pacific.
Vaccines may need regular updates as coronavirus evolves, say scientists
[Berlin] --- Scientists have assessed the course of evolution of the novel coronavirus and predicted that COVID-19 vaccines currently in use across the world may need regular updates to counter new variants of the virus which are capable of escaping the body's protective antibodies. The study, published in the journal Virus Evolution, assessed whether, over the long term, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is likely to demonstrate an immune evasion capability on par with that of influenza viruses.
In the research, virologists from Charite -- Universitatsmedizin Berlin in Germany studied the genetic evolution of the four currently known 'common cold' coronaviruses, particularly the two longest-known viruses, 229E and OC43.
They traced changes in the spike protein of these coronaviruses, which enable them to enter host cells, approximately 40 years into the past.
Based on the analysis, the scientists found one feature which was common to both the coronaviruses and the influenza virus -- all three had a pronounced ladder-like shape in their evolutionary paths.
"An asymmetrical tree of this kind likely results from the repeated replacement of one circulating virus variant by another which carried a fitness advantage," explained the study's first author, Wendy K. Jo.
According to Jo, this is evidence of 'antigenic drift', a continuous process involving changes to surface structures which enable viruses to evade the human immune response.
"It means that these endemic coronaviruses also evade the immune system, just like the influenza virus. However, one also has to look at the speed with which this evolutionary adaptation happens," she added.
The scientists said the novel coronavirus genome is currently estimated to change at a rate of approximately 10 mutations per 10,000 base molecules per year, meaning the speed at which it evolves is substantially higher than that of the endemic coronaviruses.
"This rapid genetic change in SARS-CoV-2 is reflected in the emergence of numerous virus variants across the globe," explained study co-author Jan Felix Drexler.
"This, however, is likely due to the high rates of infection seen during the pandemic. When infection numbers are so high, a virus is able to evolve more rapidly," Drexler added.
Based on the rates of evolution seen in the endemic common cold coronaviruses, the scientists believe SARS-CoV-2 will start to change more slowly once infections start to die down.
"Once a large proportion of the global population has developed immunity either as a result of infection or through vaccination. We expect therefore that COVID-19 vaccines will need to be monitored regularly throughout the pandemic and updated where necessary," Drexler explained.
According to the virologists, vaccines are likely to remain effective for longer once the pandemic reaches this stable situation.
By end of 2022 we should be basically completely back to normal: Bill Gates on pandemic
Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has predicted that the world should be back to normal by 2022 end, thanks to the availability of vaccines, Reuters reported. Gates was speaking in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper and TVN24.
Terming coronavirus an incredible tragedy, Bill Gates said access to the vaccines was the only good news.
Speaking in the interview Gates said, "By the end of 2022 we should be basically completely back to normal."
Earlier in January, hailing India's leadership in scientific innovation, Bill Gates said it's great to see the country's leadership in scientific innovation. The co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also praised India for its vaccine-manufacturing capabilities to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
Taking to Twitter, Bill Gates said, “It’s great to see India’s leadership in scientific innovation and vaccine manufacturing capability as the world works to end the COVID-19 pandemic."
This is not the first time Gates has hailed India, but, even in the past, the Microsoft founder has praised India for the government’s proactive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
WHO asking rich countries to donate 10 million vaccines
[Geneva] --- The head of the World Health Organization is asking rich countries to donate at least 10 million coronavirus vaccines so the UN health agency can reach its goal of vaccination in all countries within the first 100 days of 2021.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says supply problems faced by the UN-backed effort COVAX, which aims to provide vaccines to all countries, means that about 20 countries are still awaiting their first doses of vaccines from the program.
Tedros says he's also asking manufacturers to scale up their production so extra vaccines could be donated to poorer countries.
He slammed the numerous private deals countries have struck with pharmaceuticals that have meant fewer vaccines for developing countries and warned COVAX would need many more hundreds of millions of vaccines in the coming months.
On Thursday, WHO's COVAX partner Gavi, announced supply problems meant it would have to delay the delivery of about 90 million vaccines until about May.
WHO warns of counterfeit Covid vaccines
[Geneva] --- The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday said it was concerned about the potential criminal exploitation of the huge unmet global demand for Covid-19 vaccines, warned against counterfeit vaccines, and urged people to stick to government-run vaccination programs.
According to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, several ministries of health, national regulatory authorities and public procurement organizations across the world had received suspicious offers to supply Covid-19 vaccines, Xinhua news agency reported.
The WHO is "aware of vaccines being diverted and reintroduced into the supply chain, with no guarantee that cold chain has been maintained," he said, adding that counterfeit vaccines have been sold on the internet, primarily on the dark web. There have also been reports of "criminal groups" reusing empty vaccine vials.
Also on Friday, the WHO issued an alert for a counterfeit Covid-19 vaccine identified as BNT162b2, which was detected in Mexico in February.
The product was supplied and administered to patients outside authorized vaccination programs, may still be in circulation in the region and continue to be offered to patients outside authorized vaccination programs, the WHO said.
The genuine BNT162b2 Covid-19 vaccine is indicated for active immunization to prevent Covid-19 in individuals older than 16.
"Falsified Covid-19 vaccines pose a serious risk to global public health and place an additional burden on vulnerable populations and health systems. It is important to identify and remove these from circulation," the WHO warned in a statement.
Tedros urged the public not to buy vaccines outside government-run vaccination programmes, and to report any suspicious sale of vaccines to the national authorities, who will report it to the WHO.
AstraZeneca finds no evidence of increased blood clot risk from vaccine
AstraZeneca Plc said on Sunday a review of safety data of people vaccinated with its COVID-19 vaccine has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.
Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020. (Reuters)
AstraZeneca’s review, which covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the United Kingdom and European Union, comes after health authorities in some countries suspended the use of its vaccine over clotting issues.
“A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and UK with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country,” the company said.
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