WHO grants emergency approval to second Chinese Covid vaccine

In this Friday, May 28, 2021 file photo, a healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination session for medical staff who work at private clinics in Caracas, Venezuela.

GENEVA—The World Health Organization has issued an emergency use listing for the Covid-19 vaccine made by Sinovac for adults 18 and over, the second such authorization it has granted to a Chinese company.

In a statement Tuesday, the UN health agency said data submitted to its experts showed that two doses of the vaccine prevented people from getting symptoms of Covid-19 in about half of those who got the vaccine. WHO said there were few older adults enrolled in the research, so it could not estimate how effective the vaccine was in people over 60.

“Nevertheless, WHO is not recommending an upper age limit for the vaccine,” the agency said, adding that data collected from Sinovac’s use in other countries “suggest the vaccine is likely to have a protective effect in older persons.”

In April, a study published by a team of scientists in Brazil confirmed a previously reported efficacy rate of over 50 percent for Sinovac. A real-world study in Chile in April found an efficacy rate of 67 percent.

Last month, WHO gave the green light to the Covid-19 vaccine made by Sinopharm. It has also licensed vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

WHO’s authorization means the vaccine can be bought by donors and other UN agencies for use in poorer countries, including in the UN-backed initiative to distribute Covid-19 vaccines globally known as COVAX. The effort has been slowed considerably after its biggest supplier in India said it would not be able to provide any more vaccines until the end of the year due to the latest surge of new infections now ravaging India.

To date, there is no confirmed deal for Sinovac doses with COVAX.

In May, Europe’s drug regulator began an expedited review process for the Sinovac vaccine, but it’s unclear when a decision might be made about its possible authorization for the 27-nation bloc.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese vaccines   have already been delivered to dozens of countries around the world through bilateral deals, as many nations scrambled to secure supplies after rich countries reserved the vast majority of supplies from Western pharmaceutical makers.

While China has five vaccine shots in use, the majority of its exports abroad come from two companies: Sinopharm and Sinovac. The Chinese vaccines are “inactivated” vaccines, made with killed coronavirus.

Most other Covid-19 vaccines being used around the world, particularly in the West, are made with newer technologies that instead target the “spike” protein that coats the surface of the coronavirus.

Key developments:

Melbourne pandemic lockdown extended

MELBOURNE, Australia—A pandemic lockdown in Australia’s second largest city will be extended for a second week due to concerns over a growing cluster of coronavirus infections.

Victoria state acting Premier James Merlino on Wednesday confirmed that Melbourne will remain in lockdown for seven more days from Friday, but pandemic restrictions will be eased elsewhere in the state.

Merlino says that “if we let this thing run its course, it will explode.”

Victoria officials said Wednesday that the state recorded six new locally acquired coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the latest outbreak to 60 active infections. The lockdown is the fourth for Melbourne, which has 5 million residents.

Mexico reviews Covid deaths

MEXICO CITY—Mexico says a clinical review of past deaths has led officials to raise the country’s confirmed Covid-19 death toll by 4,272, to a total of 227,840.

The adjustment announced Tuesday is largely one of record keeping, because even government officials acknowledge the true death toll is far higher.

Because the country of 126 million people does so little testing, many Mexicans have died at home or never got a test. So the government searches death certificates for mentions of symptoms related to Covid-19.

Those analyses of excess deaths related to Covid-19 now stand at over 348,750, which gives Mexico one of the highest per capita rates in the world.

Alaska offers jabs at airports

JUNEAU, Alaska—Alaska has begun offering coronavirus vaccinations at airports in a move that had been expected for the start of the summer travel season.

The state health department said that as of Tuesday, vaccine eligibility has been expanded to include anyone in Alaska who is at least 12 years old, including visitors from other states or countries. Prior eligibility was for those who live or work in Alaska.

Vaccines will be offered outside the areas secured by the federal Transportation Security Administration at airports in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

The health department says plans call for the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to have available all three vaccines authorized for emergency use in the US, including the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Canada approves mix and match of different vaccines

TORONTO—Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization says people who got the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the first dose can be offered either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for the second.

The advice affects more than two million Canadians who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine before provinces stopped using it for first doses last month. The vaccine is potentially linked to a rare but serious blood-clotting syndrome. In Canada, 41 confirmed or suspected cases of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia have been diagnosed and five people have died.

Several European countries are giving Pfizer or Moderna as second doses to AstraZeneca recipients, including Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Spain.

NACI’s published report says AstraZeneca recipients can be offered the same vaccine if they want it, or can be given either Pfizer or Moderna. They say they are basing their advice on the risk of VITT, and emerging evidence that mixing and matching different types of vaccines is not only safe but may produce a better immune response.

The guidance is not binding but most provincial governments have indicated they were waiting for the information before setting their policies for second doses.

London welcomes passengers from high-risk countries

LONDON—London’s Heathrow Airport has reopened a terminal that was mothballed during the coronavirus pandemic to handle passengers now arriving from high-risk countries. Critics say the action should have been taken sooner.

Britain has barred travelers from a “red list” of 43 coronavirus hotspots including India, Brazil and Turkey. UK nationals and residents returning from those countries face a mandatory 10-day quarantine in a hotel. Other travelers coming from “amber list” countries like the United States can do their mandatory 10-day quarantine at home in the UK. AP

Critics have complained that red list passengers have been using the same massive airport arrivals hall as travelers from other destinations, though in separate lines, since the hotel quarantines were introduced in February.

Starting Tuesday, red list arrivals will pass through the airport’s Terminal 3, which was closed in April 2020 as international air travel plummeted. (AP)

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