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COVID-19 vaccine drive for world’s poorest pushes manufacturers for delivery slowdown

Leaders of the global scheme aiming to get COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest are pushing manufacturers including Pfizer and Moderna to cut or slow deliveries of about half a billion shots so doses are not wasted.
COVAX, the World Health Organization-led scheme, wants between 400 and 600 million fewer vaccines doses than initially contracted from six pharmaceutical companies, according to internal documents seen by Reuters.

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While at first the initiative struggled for shots as wealthy nations snapped up limited supply, donations from those same countries later in 2021, as well as improved output from manufacturers – alongside delivery challenges and vaccine hesitancy in a number of countries – has led to a glut of vaccine in 2022.
“COVAX has called for manufacturers to acknowledge the global oversupply situation, and support collective efforts to meet the timing of countries’ needs and avoid unnecessary wastage,” said a spokesperson for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which runs the initiative alongside WHO.
Gavi wants manufacturers to either reduce the size of the initial orders or at least “re-phase” them, meaning they are delivered at a later date that is more aligned with when countries need them.
Future negotiations might also include getting the variant-specific vaccines currently being tested by manufacturers including Moderna and Pfizer.
While Gavi is close to an agreement with some manufacturers, contract negotiations with other companies are not as advanced, according to sources close to the talks. No deals have yet been agreed.
The biggest orders are with Moderna and Pfizer, alongside the Serum Institute of India, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Clover Biopharmaceuticals.
“Being cognizant of local needs, we are seeking to provide pragmatic solutions to requests whenever possible”" Pfizer said in an emailed statement, while Novavax said the status of its COVAX deliveries was currently “unclear.” Moderna said it had nothing to add at this time.
COVAX follows in the steps of other vaccine buyers in trying to cut deliveries agreed at the height of the pandemic, including European Union governments. Pfizer and Moderna have agreed to delay some shipments.
In total, COVAX has delivered more than 1.5 billion doses in the last 18 months.
However, its initial aims of contributing towards the goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population of every country in the world by this month have now effectively taken a back seat to protecting 100 percent of the most vulnerable – namely, health workers and the elderly.
While 66.3 percent of the world’s population has now had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, the proportion falls to 17.8 percent in low-income countries, according to Our World In Data.
“What is critical for the global pandemic response now is not a high volume of doses, but tailored supply and support to lower-income countries,” said Gavi.
Documents ahead of the organization’s board meeting this week, reviewed by Reuters, also show COVAX is considering extending its work to “leverage dose donations” from high-income countries to provide COVID-19 vaccines for children, as well as adults, in some of the countries the scheme supports.

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UAE reports 1,796 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths

The UAE announced 1,796 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the official Emirates News Agency reported.

This brings the current total active cases in the UAE to 17,551 and the total number of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic to 949,384, according to data from the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA).

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The cases were determined out of 232,943 tests in the last 24 hours.

No deaths from the virus were recorded on Saturday, maintaining the total deaths caused by COVID-19 to 2,317 in the UAE.

At least 1,727 patients recovered in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total COVID-19 recoveries to 929,516.

On June 13, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) announced it would strictly enforce its mask rules – with penalties for those flouting the protocol – and announced it would tighten its rules on the Al Hosn green pass system amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.

NCEMA said that it has recently “monitored some behaviors that have become a danger to society and public health,” referring to people not adhering to COVID-19 precautionary and preventative measures and how it has “negatively” impacted recovery efforts.

“Negligence and recklessness in following precautionary measures, and failure in the societal role in maintaining public health and acquired immunity, has resulted in a rise in the number of infections and new waves of the virus,” the authority spokesman said in the briefing.

The authority reaffirmed the need to wear masks in closed public spaces, reiterating that it was mandatory and that not adhering to this rule would result in a fine of up to $816 (AED 3,000).

According to the World Health Organization, more than 4.1 million cases were reported globally in the last week.

It added, however, that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500, noting that COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

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Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines could increase protection as boosters: EMA

Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday.
Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants.
While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalization and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
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As such, an omicron-specific or bivalent booster – meaning a vaccine that includes both the new strain and the original coronavirus strain – could “increase and extend” protection, a statement from the EMA said.
The statement refers specifically to the mRNA vaccines. Both Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been testing retooled versions of their vaccines to include the omicron variant.
Vaccines which include other variants, for example the beta variant, might also be considered for use as boosters if clinical trial data demonstrate an adequate level of neutralization against omicron and other variants of concern, the statement said.
It follows guidance from the World Health Organization that omicron-specific boosters could restore protection against emerging strains of the coronavirus.
But it stops short of the position of the regulator in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which said on Thursday that it would seek the inclusion specifically of the newer BA.4 and BA.5 strains of omicron, currently driving a surge in new infections globally, in any new shots for use domestically.
On Tuesday, the head of a WHO advisory committee that has considered the modified shots said the group preferred BA.1-based boosters, arguing that the variant is more distinct and could generate a broader response than the more recently circulating subvariants.
Top US FDA official Peter Marks said in an interview that regulators from other countries were seriously considering using new boosters based on the BA.1 omicron variant that caused the massive surge in cases last winter, because those shots can be available sooner than the BA.4/5 based booster the United States plans to use.
The EMA said it would provide more details in coming days.
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Russia scraps remaining COVID-19 restrictions

Russia said on Friday it was ending all restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, including the requirement to wear masks, citing a steady decline in deaths from the virus.
However, it did not rule out re-introducing restrictive measures if the situation deteriorates.
Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said it was “suspending previously introduced restrictions, including the mask regime, a ban on public catering at night, and a number of other measures.”
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It said the dynamics of the virus were consistent with global trends and 93 percent of confirmed cases were mild or asymptomatic.
Since the start of the pandemic in Russia in April 2020, over 800,000 people have died from coronavirus or causes related to COVID-19, Reuters calculations show, with the country recording over 18 million infections.
Russia was quick to develop and launch its Sputnik V vaccine when the pandemic struck but take-up was slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products. About 52 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
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