Jabs for UK, French PMs; India cases rise

·4-min read

A number of EU countries are rolling out the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine once again, lifting their suspensions after receiving new safety assurances from the European Union's medicines regulator, while infections have surged in India.

The vaccinations resumed in several states in Germany while in neighbouring France Prime Minister Jean Castex was injected with the AstraZeneca formulation in front of TV cameras.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also received his first dose of the AstraZeneca jab on Friday and urged the public to do the same, saying "he did not feel a thing".

The UK was not among the countries to halt the use of the vaccine.

Governments are trying to bolster damaged public confidence in the vaccine after its use was halted starting late last week in several Nordic countries over cases of blood clots in a handful of recipients.

Then other countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain ordered their own pauses to the AstraZeneca jab pending a new assessment by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The regulator said on Thursday evening that the vaccine was "safe and effective" after an extensive review of possible blood clot risks.

The EMA concluded that the vaccine was not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots, although it could not definitively rule out a link between cases of rare, very serious clotting disorders, mostly in younger women.

With that asterisk still hanging over the jab, France and Germany were among the countries to issue advice on who should get it.

France's top health authority on Friday recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine only for people over the age of 55 due to the possible increased risk of a certain type of brain clot in younger people.

In Germany, authorities have issued a warning for women under the age of 55 that it may be associated with a risk of cerebral blood clots.

Italy, Latvia and Bulgaria were also to start administering the vaccine again on Friday, although other EU countries such as Spain, Denmark and Sweden said they would need a few more days to study the EMA's findings.

Finland, meanwhile, said on Friday that, as a precaution, it would temporarily suspend it after two cerebral venous thrombosis cases were reported within four to 10 days after inoculation.

Both patients have medical risk factors associated with vascular thrombosis and analysis was ongoing, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare said.

Unlike neighbouring Norway and Sweden, Finland had not previously halted use of the vaccine.

Meanwhile, India's financial capital Mumbai is facing a second wave of COVID-19 infections that could overwhelm its health facilities, doctors said on Friday, after a record daily increase in cases in its home state Maharashtra.

New infections in India rose on the day by the highest in more than three months, heralding a return of school closures, shopping restrictions and other virus-fighting measures in parts of the world's worst affected country after the United States and Brazil.

Many Indians have also started questioning the government's highly publicised vaccine exports campaign when only a fraction of the country's 1.35 billion people have been inoculated.

India has gifted or exported almost 60 million doses, compared with 39 million doses given at home since the middle of January.

The world's biggest vaccine-making country wants to inoculate 300 million people by August, a little over a fifth of its population.

"I don't spite our COVID19 vaccine diplomacy; but where is my vaccine?!" Happymon Jacob, who teaches diplomacy at New Delhi's elite Jawaharlal Nehru University, said on Twitter. "Why can't the world's pharmacy provide vaccines to its own citizens?"

Maharashtra authorities were meeting to draw up stricter guidelines to contain crowding, officials said, as a wholesale reopening of businesses last month brought back millions of people to the world's busiest urban rail network in Mumbai and to cinemas and malls.

India's overall tally of infections stands at 11.51 million, swelled by 39,726 new coronavirus cases on Friday, its highest since November 30.

Deaths rose by 154 to 159,370, data from the health ministry showed.

Maharashtra, India's economic mainstay, reported a record 25,833 cases, accounting for 65 per cent of the country's new infections in the past 24 hours.

India's cases peaked at nearly 100,000 a day in September, falling continuously after that but rising again since late last month.