Friday 26 February 2021

Mass vaccination in Europe

 Europeans reject the vaccine while mass vaccination centres open

This morning's headlines - 

The concept of vaccination certificates was rolled out as an idea that could facilitate travel between the countries of the bloc during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that the leaders of the European Union have agreed on the need to introduce a certificate of coronavirus vaccination, noting that the bloc will need three months to prepare.

"Everyone agreed that we need a digital vaccination certificate," Merkel said during the press conference after the virtual EU summit.

According to the chancellor, such certificates will at first be developed by each member country, with the European Commission later making them "compatible" so that they can be used in any European Union country.

This, along with additional information on citizens, will make travelling within the bloc possible and could also allow for nationals of other countries to arrive to the EU, Merkel noted. In Germany, the decision has already been made to issue the certificates.

Officials in Germany are defending AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine and pushing back against people who are avoiding it with the hope of getting a different jab instead.

Regulators have approved both the shot developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University and the shot developed by Pfizer and the German company BioNTech, but differing efficacy rates from clinical trials appear to have driven many to try to hold out for a Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

That shot has produced efficacy in trials as high as 95%, compared with 60% for the AstraZeneca jab in a review by European regulators.

 Germany has administered only 15% of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shots it has available, the health ministry said, as the vaccine faces public resistance after trials showed it to be less effective than alternatives.

The ministry said the vaccine would be offered to people that are in other priority groups after saying earlier this week state workers such as teachers and police would get priority access.

“Nothing must be left behind,” a spokesman for the ministry told journalists in a regular briefing on Wednesday.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman on Wednesday urged people to trust the vaccine which was developed at Britain’s Oxford University, saying it was safe and effective.

Health authorities in some European countries are facing resistance to AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine after side-effects led hospital staff and other front-line workers to call in sick, putting extra strain on already-stretched services.

Such symptoms, as reported in clinical trials for the AstraZeneca shot, can include a high temperature or headache and are a normal sign that the body is generating an immune response. They usually fade within a day or so.

The other shots approved in Europe, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, have been linked to similar temporary side-effects, including fever and fatigue.

But with the AstraZeneca shot the latest to be rolled out, health authorities in France have issued guidance to stagger giving the shot, two regions in Sweden paused vaccinations, and in Germany some essential workers are refusing it.

A spokesman for AstraZeneca said: "Currently, the reactions reported are as we would expect based on the evidence gathered from our clinical trial programme."

People receiving the vaccine are closely monitored through routine pharmacovigilance activities, the Anglo-Swedish drug maker said, adding that it was continuing to keep a close eye on the situation.

"There have been no confirmed serious adverse events," the spokesman said

Politicians in Germany are stepping out in support of the AstraZeneca vaccine as public scepticism around the University of Oxford-developed product threatens to hamper Europe’s Covid-19 immunisation programme.

The vaccine, subject of an acrimonious tug-of-war between its British-Swedish manufacturer and the European commission last month, is being described by German media as a “shelf warmer” as only about 17% of doses delivered to the country have been administered so far.

According to the German disease control agency’s monitoring, 129,021 doses of a delivered 736,800 had been administered by Thursday this week.

The health minister, Jens Spahn, on Friday issued a public display of confidence in the vaccine, describing it as a “privilege” to be offered an injection with the “safe and effective” British jab. The Berlin mayor, Michael Müller, threatened to send people to the back of the queue if they refuse it and ask for alternatives.

“I won’t allow tens of thousands of doses to lie around on our shelves while millions of people across the country are waiting to be immunised,” he told Tagesspiegel newspaper. “Those who don’t want the vaccine have missed their chance.”

German medical authorities have only authorised the vaccine for under-65s following criticism of AstraZeneca’s trial data for older people, meaning the vaccine is currently being offered to healthcare workers and younger people with pre-existing conditions.

Side-effects that can follow a shot of the Oxford-developed vaccine, which were reported in clinical trials, are also causing logistical problems in its use among medics.

Karl-Dieter Heller, the director of the Herzogin Elisabeth hospital in Braunschweig, told Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper that he had decided to vaccinate his staff only in smaller groups and on Fridays, after 40% of one group called in sick with flu-like symptoms after receiving their jab on a Thursday.

Stockholm City Hall transformed into vaccination centre

Stockholm's City Hall is known by many for hosting grand ceremonies - including the Nobel Prize award banquet each year.

However, it has taken on a whole new role - as a vaccination centre.

Charlotta Zacharias is a doctor at Vaccin Direkt, helping to organise the inoculations there.

"We were very fortunate to have this hall to vaccinate, it's very big so we can vaccinate many so we're really, really happy that we have the opportunity to be here, it's historic," she said.

Medical staff from Altencare are receiving their vaccinations at the venue - more than 800 employees in total.

One healthcare worker described how she felt to be vaccinated at the Hall.

"Being vaccinated in City Hall was very nice, with the high ceilings, airy and pleasant. I'd never been up there," Anneli Ljungqvist said.

A look inside a U.K. mass vaccination centre

The Salisbury Cathedral has been transformed into one of England's 17 mass vaccination centres. As hospitals in the U.K. become overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, places like food courts, sports centres and a racetrack are being used as vaccination centres.

Belgium's biggest vaccination centre opened this week in the north of Brussels to give COVID-19 vaccinations first to health care workers, and then to the whole Belgian population.

The Brussels Expo facilities received 4,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines and began administering them to Brussels region health workers.

The aim is to vaccinate 30,000 people in the next four weeks, and then speeding up to vaccinate more than 100,0000 people per month, according to Brussels Expo Chief Operating Officer Emin Luka.

Only a few dozen of people showed up Friday morning, as the vaccine is offered on a voluntary basis, even for health care workers.

According to the latest figures, more than 370,000 people in Belgium have received a COVID-19 jab, in a country of 11.5 million inhabitants.

Belgium has been hard hit by the crisis, with 746,302 people infected by the virus since the start of the pandemic.

21,821 coronavirus-related deaths have been reported.

Covid-19: Political pressure to vaccinate South Auckland first growing

Political pressure is mounting on the Government to prioritise vaccinating South Aucklanders against Covid-19.

The National Party is joining calls from community health providers to bump the area, which is home to the international airport and MIQ facilities, to the top of the queue.

It is currently grappling with the latest outbreak of Covid-19 and was the centre of the August cluster last year.

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