The competition to distribute vaccines worldwide further escalated Saturday when China announced it would streamline the entry process for foreigners who want to visit mainland China from Hong Kong if they have received Chinese-manufactured coronavirus vaccines.
By requiring fewer paperwork obligations, China hopes to enhance the global appeal of its vaccines, which most Western countries have not yet approved. In addition, China has yet to approve the manufacture or distribution foreign-made vaccines within the country.
In Italy, meanwhile, the special commissioner for the coronavirus said Saturday that the country planned vaccinate at least 80% of its population by September. Francesco Paolo Figliuolo disclosed a plan to put 500,000 shots in arms daily, according to a statement from the office of the cabinet.
Nearly 2 million Italians, or about 4% of the population, have gotten two shots of vaccine, but just under 51 million Italians are eligible for inoculation. Italy is one of the countries hit hard by the coronavirus, with 3.2 million cases and more than 101,000 deaths so far, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.
With increasing vaccine deliveries, from 15.7 million doses in the first quarter to 52.5 million doses from April to June, Italy plans to broadly expand the places where shots will be available, including military barracks, stores, gyms, schools and Catholic Church facilities.
In the meantime, most Italians face new restrictions beginning Monday as the government tries to stop a rise in cases. The restrictions include the closure of schools and nonessential shops in more than half of the country, including Rome and Milan.
There is good news in Corvo, the smallest island in the Azores off the Portuguese coast: 322 of its 400 residents have received a COVID-19 shot and herd immunity will likely be reached by the end of March.
“There’s an atmosphere of celebration in Corvo,” Dr. Antonio Salgado told the Lusa news agency. “From now on, we will feel safe.”
Herd immunity is reached when enough people, usually 50% to 70% of a population, are immune to an infection. Corvo will have nearly 85% of its residents 16 and older vaccinated this month.
The World Health Organization on Friday approved Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. It’s the first COVID vaccine to be administered in a single injection instead of two. The WHO also previously backed the vaccine by Pfizer-BioNTech.
Also Friday, the WHO firmly endorsed AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as some countries continued to suspend its use. WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris described AstraZeneca’s vaccine at a virtual briefing hosted in Geneva as “excellent” and said that “we should continue” to use the vaccine.
The WHO endorsement came as Thailand followed an increasing number of European countries in suspending AstraZeneca’s use because of periodic blood clots among recipients. Bulgaria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Friday also suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. However, AstraZeneca said in response to the claims that there was “no evidence of an increased risk.”
The European Medicines Agency, a European Union body that supervises medical products, said in a statement that the AstraZeneca vaccine’s “benefits continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine can continue to be administered while investigation of cases of thromboembolic events is ongoing.” Thromboembolic events occur when a blood clot breaks loose and travels through the body, causing harm.
The EMA said Saturday it was investigating three cases in Norway in which health care workers who received the AstraZeneca shots needed to be hospitalized and treated for bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts.
“We do not know if the cases are linked to the vaccine,” Sigurd Hortemo, a senior doctor at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, told a news conference held jointly with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
Norway halted use of the vaccine Thursday.
Elsewhere, the United States, Australia, India and Japan agreed Friday to a partnership to make 1 billion vaccines available across Asia by the end of 2022, India’s foreign secretary said at a news conference in New Dehli after a virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and the leaders of the other countries.
The initiative is designed to attack the global vaccine shortage and counter China’s growing diplomatic campaign to distribute vaccines in Southeast Asia and globally.
Greek officials said they would further extend COVID-19 restrictions in Athens to March 22, rather than March 16 as previously planned. Schools and nonessential shops have been closed in the city along with other “red zone” areas since last month.
Johns Hopkins on Saturday reported 119.5 million global COVID-19 cases. The United States, with 29.4 million infections, had more cases than anywhere else in the world. Brazil was next, with 11.4 million, and India was third, with 11.3 million.