World Roundup: WHO beset by issues on new COVID-19 variants

A World Health Organization chief appealed Friday for European nations and Big Pharma to unite in the struggle to accelerate coronavirus inoculations, expressing concern about the effectiveness of vaccines on virus variants.

“We need to join up to speed up vaccinations,” WHO Europe director Hans Kluge told AFP in an interview. “Otherwise competing pharmaceutical companies (must) join efforts to drastically increase production capacity… that’s what we need.”

Asked whether the vaccines available since December would be effective against new virus variants, Kluge replied: “That’s the big question. I’m concerned.”

“We have to be prepared” for new problematic mutations of the virus, he warned, calling on countries to expand their genomic sequencing capacity. “It’s a cruel reminder that the virus still has the upper hand on the human being.”

J&J seeks authorization for single-shot vaccine

Pharma giant Johnson & Johnson asked US regulators for emergency authorization of its vaccine, which offers logistical advantages compared to the already approved Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots because it does not require two doses or super-cold storage. 

J&J has said it is on track to supply 100 million doses to the United States if authorized, a major vaccine supply boost to the hardest-hit nation in the world.

But trials have shown the J&J vaccine does not protect as well against a highly transmissible variant first identified in South Africa that is rapidly spreading around the world.

Australia keeps 2-week quarantine

Australia on Friday said it would keep a mandatory two-week quarantine for all overseas visitors, even as vaccinations are rolled out across the country and the world.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said there is still not enough evidence about vaccines’ ability to limit transmission to allow the dismantling of border controls that have virtually closed the country off from the world for almost a year.

Most non-citizens are barred from entering Australia; there are strict caps on how many residents can return each day and anyone who does so must undergo two weeks of self-paid hotel quarantine.

Asked if quarantine would remain until further notice, Kelly said “yes”. “At the moment, that two-week quarantine in hotels – as has been so successful up till now – remains regardless of vaccination.” 

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