The Latest: China approves 5th vaccine for emergency use

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China has approved another COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, adding a fifth shot to its arsenal.

The announcement came from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microbiology. The vaccine was approved for use in Uzbekistan on March 1. The last phase of clinical trials is ongoing. No peer-reviewed data is publicly available about the vaccine’s safety or efficacy.

It’s a three-dose shot, with one month each between shots, a company spokesperson sayx. Like other vaccines China has developed, it can be stored at normal refrigeration temperatures.

China has been slow in vaccinating its population of 1.4 billion people, despite having four vaccines approved for general use. The latest numbers, according to government officials at a press briefing Monday in Beijing, is 64.9 million doses of vaccines have been administered. They’ve mostly been given to health care workers, those working at the border or customs, and specific industries.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Moderna begins study of COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 12

— Why countries are halting the AstraZeneca vaccine, though there is no evidence the shot is responsible for reported blood clots

— Thailand’s PM receives AstraZeneca vaccine as much of Asia shrugs off reported blood clots in Europe

— China adds 5th vaccine to its arsenal, with final round testing underway in Pakistan, Indonesia and Uzbekistan

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Moderna announced Tuesday it is beginning a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 12 — one that will include babies as young as 6 months.

The announcement comes exactly a year after the first adult received a test dose of the shot, created at the National Institutes of Health. It’s now being used across the U.S. and in multiple other countries.

Moderna also has tested the vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds but hasn’t yet released the findings. The study in younger children will be more complex, because researcher need to determine whether to us smaller doses than in adults and adolescents.

The study aims to eventually enroll about 6,750 children in the U.S. and Canada. That’s after a phase-in portion to determine the best dose to test in children age 2 and older and the right dose in those younger than 2.

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BRUSSELS — The European Commission says it has sealed a deal with Pfizer to speed up the dispatching of 10 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine over the next three months.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said speeding up the pace of deliveries across the 27-nation bloc would bring the total number of Pfizer doses in the second quarter to over 200 million.

“This is very good news,” Von der Leyen said. “It gives member states room to maneuver and possibly fill gaps in deliveries.”

The announcement of the new deal comes amid a shortage of vaccine supplies in Europe and as a growing number of European countries — including now Sweden, Germany, France, Italy and Spain — have suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after some recipients had blood clots. That comes even though the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame for the blood clots.

The EU’s executive arm’s proposal still needs to be approved by member states.

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STOCKHOLM — Sweden is pausing the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as a precautionary measure amid concerns about reports of blood clots in some recipients in Europe.

“The decision is a precautionary measure,” Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said in a statement.

The move by the Swedish Public Health Agency was to remain in effect until an investigation by the European Medicines Agency into suspected side effects is complete.

A growing number of European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — have suspended use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, though the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame for the blood clots.

Sweden has stood out for its comparatively mild response to the pandemic. The country avoided lockdowns and relied instead on citizens’ sense of civic duty to control cases. As of Tuesday, more than 13,140 people had died from the coronavirus. It’s far more per capita than Sweden’s neighbors but fewer than other European countries that implemented strict lockdowns or curfews.

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UNITED NATIONS — China’s U.N. ambassador says China is donating 300,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to U.N. peacekeepers, with priority given to those serving in Africa.

Ambassador Zhang Jun sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres informing him of the donation, China’s U.N. Mission said Monday. It follows the announcement by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi of Beijing’s intention to donate vaccines at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Feb. 17.

The mission said “China attaches great importance to the safety and security of peacekeepers” and the donation “is a further step to make China’s vaccines a global public good, and also a demonstration of China’s firm and continuous support to the U.N. and multilateralism.”

Last month, the U.N. thanked India for offering 200,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses for U.N. peacekeepers.

The U.N. currently has a dozen peacekeeping operations, half in Africa with a total of about 100,000 peacekeepers.

There was no immediate word on what the U.N. plans to do with the two offers.

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OSAKA, Japan — Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. is the latest drugmaker to offer help with production of a rival’s COVID-19 vaccine as their industry works to churn out billions of vaccine doses.

Takeda, one of Japan’s top vaccine makers, said Monday it’s reached a deal to have a German contract drug manufacturer temporarily use capacity at its factories that had been reserved for Takeda to instead produce Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 shot.

Germany’s IDT Biologika Gmbh previously had saved capacity to make Takeda’s experimental dengue vaccine, now in final testing before regulatory reviews, ahead of the planned launch of the dengue shot.

Under the three-company deal, starting this month IDT will manufacture the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for three months, then resume manufacture of the dengue vaccine candidate.

Takeda previously said it will manufacture more than 250 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax that’s likely to be approved in a few months, with that supply meant for Japan.

Meanwhile, Takeda has been testing its existing products to see if they are effective against the coronavirus. Takeda also plans to distribute 50 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine in Japan and has multiple partnerships with other companies to try to develop other treatments and vaccines to fight the pandemic.

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ATLANTA — Georgia threw open the doors for COVID-19 vaccination to a majority of adults, as the state seeks to improve its worst-in-the-nation share of the population that has been inoculated against the respiratory illness.

Monday was the first day that people aged 55 to 64 could get shots, as well as people with serious health conditions and those who are overweight and obese.

Officials with Gov. Brian Kemp’s office say that, overall, another 3.3 million people are eligible, meaning more than 5 million Georgians overall can now seek vaccination.

The state will open five new mass vaccination sites on Wednesday and the federal government will take over a site in Atlanta.

Georgia has only given 20.8% of its adult population at least one dose, the worst in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The same data show Georgia has administered the second-lowest share of doses delivered among states, with more than one-third of doses still awaiting injection.

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LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is following other European Union countries and temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine while experts review its safety.

The General Director for Health, Graça Freitas, told a Monday evening news conference that Portugal has so far seen none of the cases of dangerous blood clots in some recipients recorded elsewhere in Europe.

Officials said they hoped a scientific review of the jab can be completed by the end of the week.

Freitas urged people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine to remain calm.

Portugal is postponing the mass vaccination of educational workers scheduled for next weekend because of the AstraZeneca suspension.

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NEW YORK — Two new studies add evidence that a virus variant first detected in Britain is more deadly than the previous dominant form.

Other research had already demonstrated the strain is more transmissible, but a new paper published Monday in the journal Nature suggests the U.K. variant may also be associated with an increased risk of death.

Comparing cases in more than 1 million people infected in England, researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated the risk of death was about 55% higher for those with the new variant versus the previous one.

For men in their 50s or 60s, that meant the risk of death went from 0.06% to 0.09% with the new strain.

In a University of Exeter study published in the British journal BMJ last week, researchers followed about 100,000 positive COVID-19 cases, matching pairs of participants on age, sex and other factors. They also found those with the U.K. variant were at higher risk of death during the study.

The variant has been found in all but a few states in the U.S. and is expected to become the dominant strain later this spring.

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