Italy blocks AstraZeneca vaccines as fears grow over vaccine nationalism

Italy blocks AstraZeneca vaccines as fears grow over vaccine nationalism

Italy blocked the export of 250,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to Australia yesterday, in a dramatic escalation of the dispute between the European Union (EU) and drug giant AstraZeneca. Today, France’s health minister said it could also block vaccine shipments in the future but believes in a shared European approach.

These are the latest salvos in the quarrel between the EU and the British-Swedish drugmaker after AstraZeneca slashed the number of Covid-19 vaccine doses it said it could deliver to the bloc in early 2021. The European Commission later adopted measures giving member states the ability to restrict the export of doses outside the EU, in certain situations, powers that Italy invoked on Thursday

Amid the disagreement, French President Emmanuel Macron questioned the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for over-65-year-olds, to the consternation of health experts. Some European countries also set an upper limit on the age of recipients of the shot, citing a lack of clinical study information about its effects on older people.

Sweden, Germany and Belgium have since eliminated the upper age limits after UK data, released Monday, suggested a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is highly effective against severe infection and hospitalization among elderly populations.

The slow pace of vaccination in the EU has turned into a roiling political issue, and a number of member states have turned to nations outside the bloc to boost a faltering rollout, Zamira Rahim reports. Only 5.5% of the EU’s population of 447 million has received a first vaccine dose, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) as of Wednesday.

On Thursday, the leaders of Austria and Denmark announced plans to launch a joint research and development fund with Israel towards the possible future production of coronavirus vaccines.

Other EU nations have turned to Russia and China to plug the gaps in vaccine supply with unilateral procurements. On Monday, Slovakia granted emergency authorization for Moscow’s Sputnik V vaccine, following a delay in supply of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots.

Slovakia is the second EU country to independently grant Sputnik V authorization after Hungary, which began rolling out the vaccine in February. Hungary is also the first EU country to have rolled out China’s Sinopharm shot, which has not been approved by the bloc’s vaccine regulator, the European Medicines Agency.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED

Q: Is testing for Covid-19 still important?

A: Covid-19 testing numbers are dropping in the US. And that’s bad news. Without testing, there’s no way to keep track of where the pandemic is headed and whether vaccines are working. And there’s no way to make use of one of the most important tools for fighting infectious diseases: contact tracing.

“While the public may view vaccination as a priority right now — and it is a priority — widespread testing still is essential for infection control,” Romney Humphries, medical director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said on Thursday. “This will help us track the real impact. Are we truly seeing a reduction in cases?” she said.

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY

US shouldn’t lift restrictions until daily new infections fall below 10,000, says Fauci

The US shouldn’t ease its pandemic restrictions before the number of new coronavirus cases falls below 10,000 daily and a substantial proportion of Americans are vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN yesterday.

The last time the US saw fewer than 10,000 new daily cases was almost a year ago, on March 22, 2020. The number hasn’t fallen below 50,000 daily cases since mid-October, and the seven-day average on Wednesday was more than 64,000, Madeline Holcombe, Theresa Waldrop and Lauren Mascarenhas report.

This comes as more states move to vaccinate people under the retirement age. In Arizona’s Gila County, anyone above the age of 18 can get vaccinated. But even with the US vaccine rollout picking up speed, concerns remain over Covid-19 variants, some of which appear to be more transmissible.

The countries making dubious claims over Covid-19 — and what that means for the world

For the past year, countries around the world have shared data on Covid-19 cases and deaths with WHO — information that is crucial in informing the global fight against the disease. However, three countries — Tanzania, Turkmenistan and North Korea — are being either less than transparent or in denial about the scale of the problem by not updating or reporting any Covid-19 data, Laura Smith-Spark reports.

Dr. Peter Drobac, a global health expert at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, told CNN that the pandemic had made it clear “how critical leadership is and how dangerous it is to have leaders who aren’t willing to admit the problem and pull people together to respond.” Mixed messaging or denialism around basic interventions such as mask-wearing helped fuel the rapid spread of the virus in the US and Brazil, leading to many avoidable deaths, he said.

China approves sale of traditional medicine products to treat Covid-19

China has approved three traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) products for sale to help treat Covid-19, the country’s National Medical Products Administration announced on Wednesday. The herbal products come in granular form and trace their origins to “ancient Chinese prescriptions,” it said in a statement. They were developed from TCM remedies that had been used early in the pandemic, and that were “screened by many academics and experts on the front line.”

The safety and effectiveness of TCM is still debated in China, where it has both adherents and skeptics. In recent years, ancient remedies have been repeatedly hailed as a source of national pride by Chinese President Xi Jinping, himself a well-known TCM advocate, Nectar Gan and Jessie Yeung report.

ON OUR RADAR

TOP TIP

Children between the ages of 9 and 11 in the US who have more screen time are more likely to develop a binge-eating disorder one year later, the study found — and social media is the main culprit.

Each hour spent on social media was linked to a 62% higher risk of a binge-eating disorder one year later, while each hour spent watching television or movies was linked with a 39% higher risk, the study found.

The pandemic has encouraged prolonged screen-based behaviors, and often necessitated it via online schooling. Here are some strategies parents can pursue to lower risks.

TODAY’S PODCAST

“These are portraits of people who are just taking a break being between patients at work or taking a breather. And I wanted to capture that moment and that emotion in their eyes.” — Jayashree Krishnan, a Seattle-based artist.

Krishnan has painted more than 150 portraits of first responders from around the world since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, she shares her experiences capturing the fatigue, fear and hope in the faces of those frontline workers. Listen now.