AstraZeneca vaccine under EU microscope amid renewed epidemic

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) decides on Friday on the authorization in the European Union of the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca as the 27 criticize its delivery delays and the German vaccination commission has advised against it for more than 65 years.

Based in Amsterdam, the EMA has scheduled a virtual press conference at 2:00 p.m. GMT.

This verdict comes against a backdrop of renewed epidemics and concerns in Europe after the German vaccination commission on Thursday advised against the AstraZeneca vaccine for those over 65.

A team from the World Health Organization (WHO) has for its part initiated ultra-sensitive investigations into the origins of the pandemic in China, where it was declared more than a year ago.

The United States, where the first cases of the South African variant of Covid-19 have been detected, demanded a “clear and thorough” investigation. Beijing, which does not want to be questioned, replied by rejecting any “political interference”.

The British laboratory AstraZeneca officially requested on January 12 the authorization of its vaccine in the 27 member countries of the EU as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

“AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is currently recommended only for people aged 18 to 64,” the German Vaccination Commission (STIKO) wrote on Thursday in a document consulted by AFP. Its opinion specifies that “the data currently available are insufficient to evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine beyond 65 years”.

AstraZeneca immediately reacted ensuring that “the latest analyzes (…) confirm the effectiveness of the vaccine in the group over 65 years”.

If approved, this vaccine will be the third to get the green light from the EMA after those from Pfizer-BioNTech on December 21 and Moderna on January 6.

– Blurs between the 27 and AstraZeneca –

The Swedish-British pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca has suffered the wrath of European Union leaders for several days, due to delays in deliveries.

AstraZeneca had argued last week of a “drop in yield” at a European manufacturing site, explaining that it could deliver only “a quarter” of the doses initially promised to the EU in the first quarter.

Brussels, which has pre-ordered up to 400 million doses of the AstraZeneca / Oxford vaccine, is not convinced by these justifications, deeming them “unsatisfactory”, and has requested an inspection of a Belgian laboratory factory.

The inspection took place and “certain documents and data” seized are “under examination”, a spokesperson for the Belgian federal agency for drugs and health products told AFP on Thursday evening (FAMHP ).

If access to the AstraZeneca vaccine were to be restricted only to those under 65, this would force most European governments to reconsider their strategy focused on priority vaccination of older people.

Already, European countries are complaining about the slowness of vaccine manufacturing.

At present, 70% of the doses administered are in rich countries (Europe, USA and Gulf countries).

– New American vaccine –

Worldwide, the Covid-19 has killed at least 2.17 million people and infected more than 100.8 million people, according to a report established by AFP on Thursday. Its variant appeared in Britain has spread to 70 countries and the South African variant to 31 countries, according to the WHO.

In the United States, the most affected country (more than 432,603 ​​deaths for more than 25.7 million cases), the first two cases of the South African variant were detected, in South Carolina.

From the United States, the American biotechnology company Novavax said Thursday that its two-dose vaccine has shown an efficacy of 89.3% against Covid-19, according to the results of phase 3 trials.

But the positive news was clouded by the joint announcement that the vaccine is much less effective against the South African variant, which scientists consider to be more contagious.

The company said it was immediately embarking on the development of a new vaccine targeting this variant.

– To remain vigilant –

In Europe, the WHO urged Thursday not to “lower our guard” on the restrictions which will also be tightened in some countries.

Thus, Germany intends to impose a drastic reduction in air traffic with the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and Portugal, considered to be the most affected by the new variants. Ditto in Colombia where a suspension of all air links with Brazil comes into force on Friday.

Portugal, where the virus is causing “gigantic” pressure on hospitals, on Thursday recorded a new death record, with 303 additional deaths in 24 hours. Non-essential travel abroad is now prohibited there.

In the United Kingdom, the first European country to have exceeded 100,000 dead, the authorities will close their borders on Friday at 1:00 p.m. GMT to people arriving from the United Arab Emirates, including Dubai, which is very popular with tourists, as well as from Burundi and Rwanda, in order to ‘avoid importing new variants.

And in Norway, the border closure to non-residents goes into effect on Friday.

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