Covid-19 roundup: European Commission sues AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies; South Africa resumes J&J vaccine trial
The European Commission said Monday that it’s taking legal action against AstraZeneca for failing to provide a sufficient number of vaccine doses as outlined in its contract.
Our priority is to ensure #COVID19 vaccine deliveries take place to protect the health of 🇪🇺.
Every vaccine dose counts. Every vaccine dose saves lives.
— Stella Kyriakides (@SKyriakidesEU) April 26, 2021
AstraZeneca’s contract with the EU allowed for the purchase of 300 million doses, with an option for 100 million more. But only 30 million doses were delivered in the first quarter of 2021, according to the AP, and the company says it can provide 70 million in the second quarter, rather than the 180 million it had promised.
AstraZeneca said in a statement Monday that it is about to deliver almost 50 million doses to the EU by the end of April, “in line with our forecast. AstraZeneca has fully complied with the Advance Purchase Agreement with the European Commission and will strongly defend itself in court. We believe any litigation is without merit and we welcome this opportunity to resolve this dispute as soon as possible.” — Zachary Brennan
South Africa resumes J&J vaccine trial
As the US lifts its pause on the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, South Africa is also resuming a study that had been paused over concerns of rare blood clots, according to Reuters.
“It is much better to have the vaccine than to avoid taking it for fear of getting a blood clot,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said, per the outlet.
A concerning variant emerged in South Africa months ago, which now has the highest Covid-19 case count on the continent. Earlier this month, officials halted the rollout of AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s vaccine after a study showed it didn’t protect against mild-to-moderate cases caused by the B.1.351 variant, which is now widespread in South Africa. The country has since sold its remaining doses of the jab to the African Union, Reuters reported.
Just less than two weeks ago, the US slammed the brakes on rollout of J&J’s jab over concerns about rare but sometimes fatal blood clots in women between the ages of 18 and 49. But the FDA and CDC decided on Friday that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits still outweigh the risks.
The FDA has updated the fact sheets for vaccine recipients and providers to note the risk of blood clots and low levels of platelets, known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS). The CDC said it has recorded 15 cases of TTS, among about 8 million receiving the vaccine. Among those cases are three deaths, seven people hospitalized, four of whom are in intensive care, and five people discharged.
South African authorities promised “intensified pre-vaccination assessment and post-vaccination monitoring” according to Reuters. So far, 290,000 healthcare workers have received the shot as part of the study, which seeks to enroll 500,000 people, the news agency said. — Nicole DeFeudis
Biden administration allows export of raw vaccine materials to India
In an effort to help India through what’s shaping up to be the world’s worst Covid-19 surge yet, the Biden administration said it would partially lift an embargo on raw vaccine materials and send vital supplies like test kits, therapeutics and ventilators to the struggling country.
India has long held the world’s second-highest Covid-19 case count, behind only the US. However, the country reported 2,767 deaths in the last 24 hours, as opposed to 868 in the US.
On Thursday, the country recorded 314,000 new infections — the world’s highest ever single-day jump, according to the Wall Street Journal. And cases have only gone up since.
Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement that the US has identified sources of raw material to be used for the manufacturing of Covishield, India’s version of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine. It has promised to send therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment, and fund an expansion at vaccine manufacturer BioE that would enable it to produce at least a billion doses by the end of 2022. Plus, the administration is sending a team of public health advisors from the CDC.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” Horne said in the email statement.
Until now, the Biden administration has avoided lifting an embargo on raw vaccine materials, according to the New York Times. Just last week, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the country is “first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people.”
Despite lifting the embargo, the administration has blocked requests made by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver to an intellectual property agreement that would pave the way for generic versions of vaccines and treatments, the Times reported. — Nicole DeFeudis
South Korea president to meet with Novavax about accelerated approval of vaccine — report
South Korea president Moon Jae-in is reportedly in talks with Novavax CEO Stanley Erck about expanding production of the drugmaker’s Covid-19 vaccine — and potentially approving it earlier.
The president will meet with Erck face-to-face to “exchange opinions on the expansion of the vaccine production partnership with Novavax and discuss ways to advance the adoption, including an earlier regulatory approval,” spokesperson Park Kyung-mee said, per the Korea Herald.
The vaccine subsidiary of Korea’s SK Group expanded on its original manufacturing pact with Novavax back in February, giving it a license to manufacture and commercialize NVX-CoV2373. SK concurrently struck an agreement to supply the Korean government with 40 million doses of the vaccine. — Nicole DeFeudis
*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there is a surge of Covid-19 cases in South Africa. A correction has been made to reflect that the country is not currently in a surge, but has the highest case count on the continent.
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