COVID-19 Around the world weekly highlights: Biden administration brings change in US, UK vaccinations pass cases...

  • Ben Gallarda
  • Univadis Medical News
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Due to the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at Medscape would like to share with you the most impactful and clinically relevant articles across our network from the past week.

This is a snapshot of emerging best-practices during a rapidly evolving pandemic. Any and all information currently available related to COVID-19 is subject to change as more details become available. Some of the information below may also be contradicted by local or global health authorities.



A total of 285,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered to hospitals in Belgium so far. Of this number, 98% came from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer/BioNTech, 2% came from Moderna. According to figures from the national health authorities, 112,293 people have received the first dose of the vaccine so far (1% of the population). Tuesday night, the federal authorities were informed that Pfizer would not be able to guarantee a secure supply of its vaccines in the coming weeks . The vaccination planning therefore needs a complete review. 

In the UK, COVID-19 deaths passed the 90,000 milestone this week but more people have now been vaccinated (4.6m as of Wednesday) than have ever tested positive (3.5m). Although new cases appear to be levelling off, hospital admissions and deaths continue to rise.
Oxford's RECOVERY trial closed recruitment to its randomised study of convalescent plasma treatment for patients hospitalised with COVID-19 after finding no evidence it helped.

Brazil started vaccinating against COVID-19 on Monday. Six million doses of CoronaVac (Sinovac /Butantan Institute) imported from China were distributed to the 27 units of the federation. So far, they are the only doses available in the country, which has 212 million inhabitants. Another 4.8 million doses filled by the Butantan Institute are awaiting approval for emergency use.
The Brazilian regulatory agency rejected the request for emergency use of the Sputnik V vaccine and is awaiting further documents to reevaluate the request. As of Monday, the country had registered 210,328 deaths and 8,512,238 confirmed diagnoses of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Manaus, capital of Amazonas, lived days of despair for the death of patients of COVID-19 due to lack of oxygen cylinders. Some patients were transferred to other states. The Minister of Health had early knowledge of the tragedy, but measures were not taken.

Portugal is experiencing the most serious moment of the pandemic. A new lockdown started on January 15 and is expected to last at least a month, with a reassessment in two weeks. Remote work is mandatory, stores and non-essential services must close, and cafes and restaurants can only deliver at home. Schools remain open. As of January 18, the country had recorded 556,503 confirmed diagnoses and 9,028 deaths from COVID-19. To date, 106,000 people have been vaccinated. The country has 10.3 million inhabitants.

The Spanish Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, has declined applying new lockdown measures after the weekly meeting on Thursday 20 with the regional authorities. It is still unknown when Spain will reach the peak of the third wave, as the number of cases are still rising with an incidence at 14 days of 700 cases per 100,000. More than one million people have already received the vaccine. 

In France, the number of COVID-19 cases is rising slowly, but surely (26,784 new cases, 316 deaths in hospital on January 20) and the government is considering additional "preventive" lockdown measures in the coming weeks. 
On Wednesday, thanks to the expansion of priority targets, 692,777 people have received their first dose. An acceleration considered insufficient by many actors in the field who complain about a lack of doses and too limited indications.
A first pharmacovigilance bulletin from ANSM reports 139 adverse effects, including 5 deaths possibly linked to vaccination. 71 deaths are believed to have occurred post-vaccination in frail elderly people in Europe. In an interview, Prof. Belmin, geriatrician, calls not to jump to conclusions as vaccines are saving many more lives.

German perinatal doctors and gynecologists recommend COVID vaccination for high-risk patients, even if they are breastfeeding. With over a million people in Germany having received their first vaccine dose, the German Society for Immunology announced a statement pointing out that in order to vaccinate as many people as possible, administration of the second dose can wait up to 60 days. 

Italy is worried about a shortage of vaccines. Pfizer/BionTech is slowing down its delivery arguing that they need to upgrade its plant in Belgium. The chief of the governmental task force on COVID-19 Domenico Arcuri had many meetings with the drug company to express the concerns of the country. The Ministry of Health decided to stop the delivery of the first shot to the health workers in order to have enough doses for the second shot. The vaccination campaign is also slowed by the ongoing governmental crisis. Meanwhile the National State of Emergency. That gives special powers to the Government, was prolonged until the end of April 2021.
The report issued by the National Transplant Center raises the alarm: the pandemic interferes with the donations and Italy performed 10% less transplants in 2020 compared with 2019 (400 less transplants in absolute numbers).

As President Joe Biden takes office, the United States death toll from COVID-19 climbed past 400,000 . With vaccinations lagging, especially in hard-hit states , Biden announced a 5-point plan aimed at speeding vaccine distribution and uptake. He said he envisions using military clinicians, Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel, and staff from the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to help expand the number of vaccinators. Biden kicked off his new administration with an immediate focus on attempts to stop the spread of COVID-19, including closer coordination with other nations. Meanwhile, though, states reported that 16,000 vaccine doses were compromised during transport this week because of too hot and too cold shipping containers.

In Latin America, Argentina has more than 200,000 health professionals with the first dose applied and this Saturday 16 a new shipment arrival with 300,000 doses will help the boost.  Argentina is positioned as the spearhead in the region of the Sputnik V vaccine, which is also already approved for emergency use in Venezuela, Paraguay and Bolivia, while Brazil and Mexico are evaluating following these steps. 

China says it is witnessing the worst outbreak of COVID-19 since March 2020 , with over 100 new COVID-19 cases recorded for the seventh consecutive day on January 19. Majority of the cases are from Jilin and the Hebei province. In response to the surge in COVID-19 infections, China has built a 1,500-room hospital within 5 days in Nangong city, south of Beijing.

India successfully kicked-off its ambitious COVID-19 vaccination program on January 16, with over 190,000 healthcare professionals and front line workers receiving their first shots on day one. The country plans to vaccinate 300 million of its 1.3 billion population by July 2021.


- Univadis, Medscape, & Mediquality editorial teams


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