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New EU vaccine probe deepens Europe’s Covid woes




Europe’s stuttering vaccine rollout faced multiple shocks today as EU regulators said they were reviewing side effects of the Johnson & Johnson shot and France further limited its use of the AstraZeneca jab.


Much of the world is still in the clutches of the pandemic that has killed 2.9 million people — from Brazil, where the virus is killing more than 4,000 people a day — to Japan where the government has tightened restrictions once again.


India is also suffering, and hotspot Maharashtra state is running out of vaccines as the health system buckles under the weight of the contagion.


And across Europe populations are facing some of the world’s toughest anti-virus measures, yet the epidemic refuses to be curbed.


All of France is subjected to restrictions of some form, and the country has so far doled out jabs to more than 10 million people.


But it has repeatedly changed the rules on AstraZeneca’s vaccine, first over doubts about its efficacy, then over fears that it could be linked to blood clots.


Today it did so again, with Health Minister Olivier Veran saying citizens under 55 who had been given a first shot with AstraZeneca would be given a different vaccine for their second shot.


But shortly after he spoke, the World Health Organization said there was “no adequate data” to support switching Covid-19 vaccines between doses.


‘One more day’


As Europe continues to reel from constant rows over AstraZeneca’s jab, the EU’s medicine regulator announced it would be probing a second jab over blood-clot concerns.


The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said four “serious cases” of unusual blood clots had been reported — one of them fatal — with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which uses similar technology to the AstraZeneca one.

Both jabs are approved for use in the European Union but the J&J vaccine has not yet been rolled out, and various EU countries have stopped or limited the use of AstraZeneca.


India, which is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of vaccines, is suffering its own problems with jabs in Maharashtra, home to more than 100 million people and the economic hub Mumbai.


“Most hospitals in Mumbai will exhaust their supplies by the end of the day,” Mangala Gomare, who oversees the city’s vaccination programme, told AFP today.


“Some might still have stock for one more day but that’s it.”


Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg has drawn attention to the world’s uneven vaccine rollout, saying today she would skip a forthcoming climate meeting in Britain because countries would not be able to participate on even terms.


“With the extremely inequitable vaccine distribution I will not attend the COP26 conference if the development continues as it is now,” Thunberg told AFP.


Illustrating her point, Britain has so far given at least one jab to more than 31 million people, almost half of its population, compared with poorer countries like Mexico, which has administered fewer than 10 million jabs to only seven per cent of its people.


‘Everyone is not equal’


Germany’s central government has tried hard to defeat the virus through restrictions on movement and commerce, but several states have torpedoed the strategy by refusing to go along with the proposals.

Now Berlin is changing the rules to gather more centralised power.


The proposed adjustments are likely to usher in night-time curfews and some school closures in especially hard-hit areas.


Japan has also tightened measures in the capital Tokyo and other areas, mostly calling for bars to close early.

“Today, we decided to take intensive measures to prevent an epidemic in Tokyo, Kyoto and Okinawa,” said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.


And in badly hit Brazil, the Senate said it will open an inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as President Jair Bolsonaro continues to resist lockdown measures even with Covid-19 deaths at new records.


But even when rules are in place, they sometimes prove too onerous — even for national leaders.

Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg was fined 20,000 Norwegian kroner (about US$2,300) today for organising a rule-busting family dinner that she ended up not attending.


“Even if the law is equal for everyone, everyone is not equal,” Commissioner Ole Saeverud told a press conference.

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