A version of this story appeared in the February 19 edition of Bioreports’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.
(Bioreports)At a virtual meeting today of G7 leaders — from the US, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Japan — President Joe Biden will unveil a $2 billion US contribution to COVAX, an initiative set up to help provide safe and effective vaccines for 92 low and middle-income economies.
Biden will also pledge an additional $2 billion in funding contingent on contributions from other nations and dose delivery targets being met, as fears mount that the longer it takes to achieve vaccination globally, the greater the risk that new variants may flourish.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is chairing the meeting, will call on world leaders to cut the time it takes to develop new vaccines down to 100 days. The UK, which has secured enough doses to cover its population four times over, has pledged to send the bulk of future surplus vaccines to COVAX. In contrast, US administration officials said no decision had been made on directly donating its surplus doses to other countries — a key part in speeding up efforts to get the world’s population vaccinated.
COVAX hopes to provide vaccinations to at least 20% of the population of the world’s poorest countries by the end of this year. There have been questions as to whether it could achieve that goal, due to challenges in acquiring sufficient funding and supplies. The US contribution will make up significant ground, but many say it is not enough.
The unfair reality is just 10 countries have administered 75% of the world’s available Covid-19 vaccine supply, while more than 130 nations haven’t even received their first doses, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said this week. Rich countries are on track to stockpile over 1 billion “more doses of Covid-19 vaccines than they need to fully vaccinate all their citizens … leaving billions of people with little hope of receiving a vaccine this year,” analysis by the One Campaign found.
The only thing that can fix this is multilateralism, French President Emmanuel Macron told the Financial Times as he called on richer nations to allocate 5% of their current vaccine supples to developing nations, especially in Africa. “It’s not about vaccine diplomacy, it’s not a power game — it’s a matter of public health,” he said.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED
Q: How long is it safe to wait for the second dose of the vaccine?
A: Some vaccine providers have been forced to cancel appointments due to the winter weather that has ravaged much of the US, and more than more than 2,000 vaccination sites are in areas suffering from power outages.
That can be worrisome for people who were set to receive their second dose of the two-dose Covid-19 vaccines, which are supposed to have a second inoculation administered three or four weeks after the first. If you’re one of those people, there’s good news.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the second dose of the vaccines approved so far in the US can be administered up to 42 days, or six weeks, after the initial inoculation. So if your appointment for a second dose was delayed or canceled due to winter weather, there should still be time to get fully vaccinated.
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
More evidence that one dose of Pfizer’s vaccine gives strong protection
There’s more evidence that a single dose of coronavirus vaccine might be enough to significantly reduce disease. An Israeli study found that people who got a single dose of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine were increasingly less likely to develop Covid-19 symptoms as time passed, and they were 85% less likely to get sick two to four weeks after getting their first shot. Canadian researchers also found that one dose of the vaccine provided more than 90% protection.
The findings are likely to bolster calls to delay second doses in order to give as many people as possible the protection of a first dose of the scarce vaccines. The United Kingdom has taken this approach in recent weeks.
It comes after Pfizer/BioNTech announced Thursday that the first participants of its global Covid-19 vaccine trial for pregnant women have received their first doses.
European countries caught in a vaccine no man’s land
Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are still waiting to receive their first vaccine shipments, while rollouts in Albania and Northern Macedonia have so far been limited to a few hundred people.
The Western Balkan countries are key allies and possible future members of the European Union, but they have been left out of the bloc’s immediate vaccine supply plans. And they are also not a top priority for programs like COVAX, which are designed to help the world’s poorest countries access vaccines.
Not willing to wait, the strategically placed region is scrambling to secure vaccines from China and Russia, Ivana Kottasová reports.
Taiwan blames ‘external forces’ for blocking BioNTech vaccine deal. China says it had nothing to do with it
The Chinese government has denied it obstructed Taiwan’s coronavirus vaccine purchase from BioNTech, calling it a “pure fabrication,” after the island’s health minister revealed that its deal with the German drugmaker fell through at the last minute due to possible “political pressure,” Nectar Gan reports.
A day earlier, Taiwanese health minister Chen Shih-chung said in a radio interview that Taiwan and BioNTech were about to sign a deal for 5 million vaccine doses in December, when the company suddenly backed out. “In the process of (discussing the deal) I had always worried that there would be external forces intervening,” Chen said, without naming any country. “We believe there was political pressure,” he said. “Back then we had already prepared our press release. But certain people don’t want Taiwan to be too happy.”
ON OUR RADAR
- As the WHO investigated origins of Covid-19 in China this month, Beijing pushed a baseless conspiracy that the virus emerged from a US laboratory.
- Stop disinfecting your groceries. Food and food packaging are highly unlikely to spread Covid-19, experts say.
- The level of Covid-19 cases among children reflects measures of wider community transmission, not whether schools were open, a Bioreports analysis found.
- Grocery store workers have been stocking shelves, handling customers and keeping stores tidy in challenging and sometimes dangerous pandemic conditions, but the vaccine remains elusive to them.
Explore the ocean while you shelter at home
Diving in the oceans, marine biologist Erika Woolsey has seen first-hand how coral reefs and sea life are being damaged by climate change. It has made her determined to find a way for others to share her experience — including those who can’t easily explore the ocean. Through her non-profit, The Hydrous, Woolsey is using virtual reality to “bring the ocean to everyone.”
During the pandemic, the San Francisco-based collective of scientists, filmmakers and divers is taking people on immersive virtual dives to create a sense of “universal ocean empathy,” raising awareness of reef damage and inspiring action to protect our seas. Here’s how.
“The yellow peril fear gets resurrected whenever a epidemic arises from China or Asia and we’re met with interpersonal violence and racist policies. And that’s exactly what happened during Covid-19.” — Russell Jeung, professor of Asian American studies at San Francisco State University
A disturbing spate of recent attacks on Asian Americans is the latest reminder of the bigotry this community has faced throughout the pandemic. Bioreports Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks about the history of discrimination against the Asian American Pacific Islander community, and what can be done now to address it. Listen now.