Vaccine drive expands as corona probe criticises global response

20 January, 2021 12:00 AM printer

MOSCOW: Countries around the world stepped up their coronavirus vaccine campaigns Monday, with Russia offering jabs to all citizens, while an independent probe found fault with the early response to the pandemic, reports AFP.

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Beijing could have acted faster when Covid-19 first surfaced in China a year ago, the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response concluded in a report.

It added that countries where the virus was likely to spread should have put containment measures in place immediately.

With the global death toll now past two million, many governments are betting on mass vaccination to throttle the pandemic, while tightening lockdown measures at the same time.

Nationwide rollouts from Brazil to Azerbaijan were getting underway Monday, while Britain and France were widening inoculations to all elderly people. In Russia, the government invited all citizens to sign up for the homegrown Sputnik V jab—but while it was widely available in Moscow, many regions reported receiving only between 5,000 and 15,000 doses in the country of 146 million.

India’s campaign was also facing teething problems as it emerged that almost a third of the 300,000 people invited for a shot on the opening day didn’t turn up.

“These are initial days and we understand people are waiting to see how the procedure pans out,” said Suneela Garg, a member of the coronavirus task force for New Delhi.

“These numbers will go up as confidence is strengthened. And for that, we have to tackle misinformation.”

Authorities worldwide have been mounting public information campaigns to address concerns over vaccine safety, and in the face of powerful online anti-vax movements.

After 33 elderly people who had received a first dose died in Norway, authorities there stressed there was no proven link between the jabs and the deaths. They recommended, however, that doctors consider patients’ frailty before immunising them.

For Syrian refugee Fatima Ali, receiving her vaccination was cause for tears of joy. “It’s a gift from God,” the 70-year-old said as she was vaccinated outside a clinic in Mafraq, Jordan.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned rich countries against hogging doses while the poorest suffer, blasting vaccine manufacturers for chasing regulatory approvals there rather than seeking global approval.

“I need to be blunt. The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure,” Tedros said. “And the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.”

Israel, praised for one of the world’s fastest rollouts, has secured a significant stock of vaccines partly by pledging to quickly share data on its impact with Pfizer, according to an agreement with the drug company seen by AFP. Despite the mass immunisation campaigns now under way, spiralling infection rates have left governments reliant on continuing curbs on people’s daily lives.

In the US, where nearly 400,000 people have died, President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden wrangled over travel bans as the country endures a rocky transition of power.