COVID-19 Around the world weekly highlights: cases down, variants up, mixed success with vaccine rollout...

  • 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.



Japan started its COVID-19 vaccination drive on February 17. Hospital workers at the Tokyo Medical Center were among the first to be vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The country plans to secure enough vaccines for its 126 million strong population by mid-2021.

Hong Kong is set to ease some social-distancing measures from February 18 for the first time since it was hit by the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections 3 months ago. Secretary for Food & Health, Sophia Chan announced that some of the previously closed premises will be allowed to reopen and dine-in services at restaurants will be extended to 10pm. 

New Zealand has lifted the brief COVID-19 lockdown that was implemented in Auckland on February 15 after the UK/B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 variant was detected in a family of three.

Australia has approved the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, making it the second vaccine approved for use in the country after the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The vaccination drive in Australia is expected to begin on February 22. 

The UK's target to offer first COVID-19 vaccination doses to the 15 million people in the four highest priority groups, including health and care workers, was met ahead of the Monday deadline. A new risk algorithm called QCovid was used to add 1.7 million people to England's shielding list. The tool assesses health and personal factors, such as age, ethnicity, and BMI, as well as certain medical conditions and treatments. Oxford University launched a COVID-19 vaccine study in children aged 6-17, and the UK became the first country in the world to give ethical approval for COVID-19 human challenge trials.

In Belgium, only 3% of the population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The first cases of the Brazil/P.1 variant were detected. The country’s largest vaccination center closed 24 hours after opening, due to a technical bug.

In France, nearly 3,330,000 vaccinations had been administered by Wednesday. As part of the enhanced surveillance of COVID-19 vaccines that began on 11 February, the ANSM reported cases of severe flu-like syndromes after the first injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine and cases of hypertension with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Regarding the vaccination of people who have already had COVID-19, the French Healthcare Authorities (HAS) now recommend to wait at least 3 months (preferably 6 months) before vaccinating them against SARS-CoV-2 and specifies that a single dose of vaccine is sufficient except in cases of proven immunosuppression. The HAS also published 10 practical sheets on caring for patients with different forms of long-term COVID-19.

On Wednesday, The Spanish Minister of Health defined new vaccination groups in order of priority: people over 80 years old, people 70-79, and 60-69. These groups will receive the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Catalonia has reported two cases of the Brazil/P.1 variant, which adds to the three registered in Madrid. The incidence of new cases of COVID-19 is going down, as is the number of deaths. 

In Brazil, there was no Carnival. It was the first time that the popular party was officially canceled, having only been postponed previously. A survey carried out on Tuesday revealed that 5,505,049 Brazilians have received a first dose of vaccine (2.6% of the population) and 308,791 have received a second dose.

Due to lack of doses, immunization was suspended in major cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Salvador (the capital of Bahia). The Ministry of Health's forecast is to distribute more batches of vaccines next week. The new variant P.1, initially identified in Amazonas, has spread across the country. Experts believe that both P.1 and the UK/B.1.1.7 variant have already spread widely, but are being identified only at the sites that are testing. As of Wednesday, the country had registered 9,921,339 cases and 241,000 deaths.

In Portugal, more than 140 doctors who volunteered to help the National Health Service (SNS) denounced in an open letter to the authorities that their candidacies have been ignored by the government for several months. The lack of health professionals is one of the biggest bottlenecks in combating the pandemic in Portugal and has forced the country to resort to international aid.

Despite the difficult January, the general confinement imposed since January 22 has begun to pay off. The weekly average infections fell by more than 50% compared to the end of January. Prime Minister António Costa said that even with the decrease in new cases, the lockdown should continue until March. As of Wednesday, Portugal has registered 788,561 cases and 15,522 deaths. More than 556,331 people have been vaccinated.

Italy is showing worrying signs of a possible resumption of the pandemic, with an Rt of around 0.95 (0.86-1.06). The new government, chaired by the former president of the Central European Bank Mario Draghi, is planning to set up new rules to decrease the mobility of the population, including a possible lockdown during the weekends. The National Institute of Health conducted a survey on February 3 and 4 on 853 samples, from 16 regions, and estimated a 17.8% prevalence of the UK/B.1.1.7 variant at the national level, in line with what was found in other European countries. Experts have recently observed high numbers of infections of this variant in children. Two areas in Lombardy, where there were clusters of contagion, were declared red zones and closed. Italy is still facing a shortage of mRNA vaccines. On Wednesday, AIFA extended the emergency approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people up to 65 years old.

The average number of daily new coronavirus cases in the United States has dropped below 100,000 for the first time in months. With 55,000 new cases reported on Monday, the numbers are well below the peak of 300,000 per day in early January. Vaccination rates are increasing, with the federal government now promising to send 13.5 million doses per week to states and doubling the number of doses delivered to commercial pharmacy chains. As of Tuesday, 71.6 million vaccine doses had been delivered with 55.2 million doses administered, the CDC said. Around 39 million people have received one shot of the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines and about 15 million have received both doses.

Following the arrival of 870,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India to Mexico, vaccination for older adults began on February 15; and the arrival of more than 490,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will guarantee the application of second and first doses for healthcare workers.

Vaccination efforts continue in Peru; by Tuesday there were 116,580 people vaccinated, 82.47% of the goal of 141,367 to be vaccinated in this first phase. However, a scandal arose over the irregular administration of vaccines among government officials and collaborators, and an investigation has been launched into the matter of officials getting the vaccine before they were scheduled. This has already caused resignations of some governmental employees.

In Colombia, on Wednesday, the administration of vaccines began with front-line personnel after the arrival of 50,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the country.


- Univadis, Medscape, & Mediquality editorial teams

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