Australia approves AstraZeneca vaccine after months of delay

World round-up: Japan fears millions of doses could be wasted over syringe shortage

More than 109.1 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 2.4 million deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

The following is a summary of the latest developments on the virus around the world:


Australia’s regulator has approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, ending months of delay to give full approval while other countries begin vaccinations with emergency approvals. The head of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), John Skerritt, told reporters in Canberra it had placed no upper age limit on use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because it had “no reason to suspect” it won’t be fully effective in older age groups. The health minister, Greg Hunt, declared the AstraZeneca vaccine was “cleared for liftoff”, just a day after the first batch of 142,000 Pfizer vaccines arrived in Australia for a vaccination programme to launch on Monday. The TGA approval advises a second dose to follow 12 weeks after the first AstraZeneca jab, which Mr Skerritt said raises its effectiveness to 82 per cent protection against contracting Covid-19. Mr Skerritt rejected suggestions the AstraZeneca vaccine materially lagged earlier promises of 90 per cent effectiveness. He said such comparisons were “not particularly relevant” because there was “no difference in the real world” in the degree of protection between 82 per cent and 90 per cent . The Pfizer vaccine prevents up to 95 per cent of people contracting coronavirus. The AstraZeneca vaccine displayed “100 per cent efficacy against severe disease, illness and death”, he said. “What is important is to get vaccines into people’s arms. “AstraZeneca gives us a vaccine that can be used in major facilities, in primary care through GPs potentially through pharmacy practices.” The AstraZeneca vaccine will be central to Australia’s rollout both because it does not need to be stored at -70 degrees and it will be domestically produced, ramping up to 1 million doses per week by late March. Meanwhile, Australia’s Victoria state is well placed to begin easing out of a snap five-day lockdown on Wednesday, premier Daniel Andrews said.

South Africa

South Africa has asked the Serum Institute of India to take back the one million Covid-19 vaccine doses the company had sent in early February, The Economic Times reported on Tuesday, a week after the country said it will put on hold use of AstraZeneca’s shot in its vaccination programme. Serum Institute of India, which is producing AstraZeneca’s shot, has emerged as a key vaccine supplier. One million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine landed in South Africa last week and another 500,000 were due to arrive in the next few weeks. The company did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. South Africa’s health minister has said the government may sell doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, after the country paused its rollout following a small clinical trial that showed it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant dominant in the country.



Another coronavirus variant with a potentially worrying set of mutations has been detected in 10 countries, including the UK. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh said the variant, known as B1525, has been detected through genome sequencing in countries including Denmark, the United States and Australia. Some 32 cases have been identified in the UK so far.
Meanwhile, the UK will look at making excess doses of coronavirus vaccinations available to other nations after it has vaccinated its adult population, vaccine deployment minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Monday. "My priority is to make sure I vaccinate the UK adult population as quickly as we can and then if there are any excess doses, we will look at how we make those excess doses available to other countries," Mr Zahawi told LBC radio.

World powers should clinch a global treaty on pandemics to ensure proper transparency after the novel coronavirus outbreak that originated in China, British prime minister Boris Johnson said on Monday. Asked by Reuters about any action he wanted to improve transparency, Mr Johnson said: “I think what the world needs to see is a general agreement on how we track data surrounding zoonotic pandemics ... and we want a joint agreement on transparency.” As part of Britain’s presidency of the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations, Mr Johnson wants to lead efforts on a global approach to pandemics, including an early warning system.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said he is “hopeful” coronavirus restrictions can be cautiously eased in the coming weeks, with vaccines providing “grounds for confidence”. Mr Johnson said he wanted the current national lockdown to be the last - and for the unlocking to be “irreversible” — ahead of the publication of his road map next week.


The US recorded 65,336 new infections on Sunday, the lowest daily number since October 25th, before a holiday surge sent case numbers soaring, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Meanwhile, elementary schools in Los Angeles County could reopen as soon as this week, after the department of public health said that the case threshold had dropped enough as of Tuesday. The state permits schools to open their doors again if the adjusted case dips to 25 per 100,000. Reopening schools in America’s second-largest city has turned into a battle pitting teachers and administrators against politicians, doctors and even some health officials. Most of the 1.5 million children in the Los Angeles area have been out of classrooms for almost a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a local paediatricians group. Schools seeking to reopen will have to submit plans to the county’s health department and the California department of public health certifying that they have adopted safety measures to permit a safe reopening.


Fears are growing in Japan, where an inoculation drive against Covid-19 will begin on Wednesday, that millions of doses of Pfizer vaccine could be wasted due to a shortage of special syringes that maximise the number of shots used from each vial. The government has made urgent requests, but manufacturers are struggling to ramp up production fast enough, creating the latest headache for prime minister Yoshihide Suga, who suffers from weak public support.

South Korea

South Korea has arranged to buy coronavirus vaccines for 23 million more people, its prime minister said on Tuesday, a day after authorities decided to scale back initial vaccination plans, citing delays and efficacy concerns. Preparing for an inoculation drive that is set to begin on February 26th, South Korea had already secured supply agreements for enough doses for 56 million people for its 52 million strong population. But the vaccination programme is set to get off to a slower start, as some of the vaccines acquired have not yet proven sufficiently effective against new strains of Covid-19, while some manufacturers may not be able to deliver on time due to production problems.


Hundreds of Peruvians abused positions of authority to get vaccinated in secret with the Sinopharm vaccine, president Francisco Sagasti said. A total of 487 people took courtesy doses of China’s Covid-19 vaccine months before it became available to the public, Mr Sagasti said in a national address. These included former head of state Martin Vizcarra, who apologised in a video posted on his Facebook page, and health minister Mazzetti, who quit over the weekend.


Mexico began the task of vaccinating millions of senior citizens, with dozens of Mexicans aged over 60 years waiting in line for hours because of delays in administering shots.


Colombia will begin vaccinations on Wednesday following the arrival of its first vaccines, from Pfizer.

New Zealand

New Zealand reported no new community transmission cases of the Covid-19 virus, less than a week after prime minister Jacinda Ardern placed the country’s largest city Auckland into a three-day lockdown and reimposed social distancing requirements for the rest of the country. It’s “too soon to speculate” whether Auckland lockdown will end tomorrow night but no new community cases is “encouraging,” Covid response minister Chris Hipkins said in a news conference. Some 109 close contacts of three positive cases now identified, and more than 2000 casual contacts, authorities said. Genomic sequencing showed them to be the more virulent UK strain of the virus, the ministry of health said earlier this week.


The Palestinian Authority accused Israel of holding up the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines into Gaza, where Palestinians have yet to receive any doses.


The Philippines said it has secured enough orders of coronavirus vaccines in the pipeline to reach its goal of inoculating most of its population this year. The Southeast Asian nation is negotiating for as many as 170 million vaccine doses, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a televised briefing on Tuesday.


Malaysia will get its first batch of vaccines, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, on February 21st, and kick off its inoculation drive five days after that.

Other developments

The euro zone is likely to decide between March and May when and how governments would start tapering support to their economies as vaccination campaigns allow the lifting of pandemic lockdowns and economic activity picks up, top euro zone officials said.

Most G7 economies such as Japan, Britain, the United States and France agree that now is not the time to withdraw fiscal support for their coronavirus-hit economies, Japanese finance minister Taro Aso said.

The European Union will this week kick off a new programme to study mutations in the Covid -19 virus, the European Commission’s president told Les Echos.

Britain’s drug regulator is auditing manufacturing processes at Serum Institute of India which could pave the way for AstraZeneca’s vaccine to be shipped from there to Britain and other countries, sources said. – Reuters, Guardian, PA, Bloomberg