The Latest: Moderna, Japan partner recall 1.6 million doses
TOKYO — Moderna Inc. and its Japanese partner are recalling more than 1 million doses of the U.S. drug maker’s coronavirus vaccine after confirming that contamination reported last week was tiny particles of stainless steel.
Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. is in charge of sale and distribution in Japan of the Moderna vaccine. The two companies said an investigation at a Spanish factory that produced the vials in question concluded the contamination occurred in the process of putting stops on the vials.
The companies on Aug. 26 announced suspension of 1.63 million doses produced at the line after reports of contamination. Japanese officials said about a half million people had received shots from the Moderna vials before the problem surfaced.
The trouble comes at a time Japan is pushing to accelerate vaccinations amid rising infections that are straining the Japanese health care system.
Pharmaceutical and health ministry officials say they do not believe the high-grade stainless steel poses health risks.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— WHO launches hub in Berlin to help prevent future pandemics
— Vaccinations in rural India increase amide supply concerns
— Sound bite ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ captures part of story
— France starts COVID-19 booster shot campaign for elderly
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Taiwan has received its first Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine after a prolonged purchasing process that gave rise to a political blame game with China.
Taiwan had been unable to buy the vaccine itself directly from BioNTech, the German company that partnered with U.S.-based Pfizer to develop the vaccine.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen accused China of blocking the deal while China denied any interference.
Two private companies and a Buddhist organization stepped in to buy the vaccine doses and donate them to Taiwan. The doses that arrived Thursday will be given to 12- to 17-year-olds.
Taiwan has been using AstraZeneca, Moderna and the domestically made Medigen vaccine to give 43% of its population at least one dose.
TORONTO — Ontario is the fourth Canadian province to announce residents will have to show proof of vaccination against the coronavirus to enter restaurants, theaters, gyms and other indoor public venues.
Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday that the vaccination certificate program will take effect Sept. 22.
Initially, residents will show a PDF or printout of the vaccination receipt they received when they got the irshots, along with a government-issued piece of ID such as a photo health card or driver’s license.
The province is expected to launch a system in late October that will send everyone a QR code to accompany their vaccination receipt. It will also launch an app that will allow service providers to scan the QR codes as proof of vaccination.
British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba have also implemented some form of vaccine certificate program.
OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma judge on Wednesday said she will temporarily block a state law banning public school mask mandates, but students or their parents can opt-out of the requirement if they choose.
Judge Natalie Mai said she will issue a temporary injunction that will go into effect next week when she issues a written order detailing her ruling.
Mai said she is blocking the law because it applies only to public, not private, schools and that schools adopting a mask mandate must provide an option for parents or students to opt out of the requirement.
The ruling drew praise from Gov. Kevin Stitt, who signed the law and opposes mask mandates without exemptions, and Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, which joined the lawsuit brought by four parents who oppose the law.
BERLIN — The head of the World Health Organization says he opposes “widespread use of boosters” for healthy people for now, underscoring the need to get doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to poorer countries.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke in Berlin on Wednesday. He says the U.N. health agency last week witnessed the first decline in new global cases in more than two months.
He says that “this is obviously very welcome but it doesn’t mean much,” since many countries are still seeing steep increases and “shocking inequities” in access to vaccines.
Tedros says he is calling for a moratorium on booster shots at least until the end of September “to allow those countries that are furthest behind to catch up.”
He says “third doses may be necessary for the most at-risk populations, where there is evidence of waning immunity against severe disease and death.”
LONDON — Britain is offering a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine to up to half a million people who have severely weakened immune systems to give them additional protection.
The government’s vaccine advisers says people over 12 years old with conditions such as leukemia, advanced HIV and recent organ transplants will be offered a third jab.
Professor Wei Shen Lim of the official Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunization says the move aims to reduce the risks of hospitalization and death for the severely immuno-suppressed, a population estimated at 400,000 to 500,000 people, or less than 1% of the total population.
The offer is separate to decisions on a wider vaccine booster program, details of which haven’t been confirmed. Health Secretary Sajid Javid says that booster program, which prioritizes older age groups, is still planned to start this month.
More than 78% of Britain’s population over age 16 have received both doses of the vaccine. The government’s vaccine advisory committee hasn’t decided whether to include all healthy teens age 12 to 15.
MADRID — Spain has reached its initial goal of fully vaccinating 70% of its population for the coronavirus, according to the health ministry.
Despite a slow rollout of vaccines at the start of the year, Spain’s public health care system has fully vaccinated more than 33 million people. Over 92% of those over 40 years old are fully covered.
Health Minister Carolina Darias says vaccinations will continue because of the coronavirus, which is forcing certain health restriction to remain in place.
Also, Spain’s board of vaccine experts has recommended a third shot of vaccine be administered to those people with weak immune systems, such as transplant recipients. Its national and regional health authorities will take up the issue on Sept. 8 when they hold their weekly meeting on the pandemic.
BERLIN — The World Health Organization has inaugurated a new “hub” in Berlin meant to better prepare the globe for future pandemics.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday launched the new WHO Hub for Pandemic and Epidemic Intelligence.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn says it’s part of an effort to build “a world safer from upcoming pandemics in the future.” The German government is investing $100 million in the facility.
It aims to promote better information-sharing and analysis, leading to better coordinated decision-making after the patchy global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief, says “the faster we identify new infectious disease risks, the faster we can respond.”
NEW DEHLI — More students in India can return to a classroom for the first time in nearly 18 months.
Authorities have given approval to partially reopen more schools despite apprehension from some parents and signs that infections are rising.
Schools and colleges in at least six more states will reopen in a gradual manner with health measures in place throughout September. Activities have been slowly returning in India after the trauma of a ferocious coronavirus surge this year brought daily life in the country to a halt, sickened tens of millions and left hundreds of thousands dead.
A number of states returned last month to in-person learning for some age groups.
Daily new infections have fallen sharply since their peak of more than 400,000 in May. On Saturday, India recorded 46,000 new cases, the highest in nearly two months.
Meanwhile, India has dramatically increased vaccination rates in its vast rural areas, where around 65% of its nearly 1.4 billion people live in villages served by fragile health care systems. Even though demand for vaccines has been increasing in villages, supply constraints continue for the world’s largest maker of vaccines. Experts say it’s unlikely the country will reach its objective of vaccinating all adults by the end of 2021.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s health minister says rising coronavirus cases mean citizens should remain vigilant.
Adan Niedzielski commenting Wednesday on latest figures that show 366 new infections, compared to 234 a week ago, and five deaths from COVID-19.
“It’s a 50% increase, and maybe it’s good because it’s a sign that will remind us about the need for discipline because the pandemic is still with us,” Niedzielski said on radio RMF FM.
He says almost half of the 38-million nation has been fully vaccinated and should reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths.
“Vaccinations are a gift for us from the science and we should use it as a precaution,” Niedzielski said.
Poland has registered nearly 2.9 million infections and 75,300 confirmed deaths.
PARIS — France has started administering coronavirus booster shots to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions.
The move is meant to shore up their vaccine protection against the highly contagious delta variant. People can get the shot on the condition a minimum six-month period has passed since they got fully vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
The Health Ministry says about 18 million people are eligible for the booster shot.
France has been facing increased cases since July, with a slight decrease in recent weeks — from 23,000 per day around mid-August to the current 17,000. Health officials are concerned about a reversal of the trend as children return to school on Thursday.
Almost 44 million people, or 65% of the French population, are fully vaccinated.
TIRANA, Albania — Albanian health authorities started compulsory vaccination for the medical staff, teachers, professors, and students on Wednesday.
They are obliged to hand over the vaccination passport until the end of the month or show results from periodical coronavirus tests. Those who decline will be fined ($29-$48).
The month of September is open for anyone 18 and older to get a shot. With the end of the tourist season comes the return of those entering the country to show a vaccination passport or negative virus test in the last 72 hours.
Albania has seen a significant surge of the daily virus cases in August. About one-fourth of the 2.8 million population has been fully vaccinated.
ATHENS, Greece — Staff at public hospitals have held protests around Greece on the deadline to comply with a vaccination mandate for health care workers or face suspension without pay.
The government says the measure is needed to safeguard hospitals amid a third major surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. But health care unions say it is unnecessary, noting that an estimated 95% of doctors and 90% of other staff at the country’s largest hospitals are fully vaccinated.
Infection levels spiked in August to the highest level recorded in the country, and pressure on hospitals has been building in recent weeks.
Nearly 64% of Greece’s adult population is fully vaccinated, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, while the European Union average reached 70% Tuesday.
Health care unions in Greece say they support the government’s vaccination campaign but oppose mandates. A three-hour work stoppage at public hospitals is planned Thursday.
ISTANBUL — A Turkish family that lost eight members to COVID-19 over a five-month period is calling on scientists to examine their genetic make-up to determine if they are more prone to the virus.
Burak Genc, 24, was the first in the family to die, in early November last year, followed by his father Muhammet six days later. Within six weeks they were followed by four other relatives, who are believed to have contracted the virus at the funerals or during visits to pay their condolences.
Two more members of the family died in February and April. After alerting the authorities, the remaining 25 members of the family were vaccinated and they have not suffered a loss since.
According to Turkish Health Ministry data, 60% of over-18s have received two doses of vaccine. However, the country has experienced rising case numbers since restrictions were relaxed in July, and daily infections hover around 20,000. Some 21,900 cases were recorded on Tuesday and there were 252 confirmed deaths.