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Coronavirus digest: AstraZeneca shot 'still safe'

March 27, 2021

A senior WHO official says the vaccine is still recommended for use, as studies probe a possible link to blood clots. Meanwhile, Brazil has announced the development of its own shot.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a doctor's office in Maintal,Germany
Researchers have said the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine 'outweigh the risks'Image: Kai Pfaffenbach/REUTERS

The AstraZeneca vaccine is still safe and recommended for use, while studies continue to probe a potential link to its "very rare" side effects, including blood clots, said WHO assistant director-general, Mariangela Simao.

"The position stands that the benefits outweigh the risks," Simao told a news conference on Friday. "A potential link to a very rare side-event...which would happen [to] one in a million, is still being investigated by WHO and also by the European Medicines Agency and other regulatory agencies."

Last week, German researchers looked into how the vaccine could cause rare thrombosis in the brain in a small number of patients and found that targeted treatment can be offered to those who suffer similar clotting, using a common medication. Several countries including Germany briefly suspended the use of the vaccine over clotting concerns.


The number of confirmed cases in Germany has increased by 20,472, bringing the total to 2,755,225, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday. Meanwhile, the reported death toll rose by 157 to 75,780.

German health officials warned on Friday that the third wave of infections is likely going to be "harder to curb" than the previous two, in large part because of the more virulent and more easily transmitted B117 variant.

RKI chief Lothar Wieler called on Germans to reduce their social contacts over the Easter holiday.

Germany's association of intensive care doctors (DIVI) warned that the only way to avoid overwhelming hospitals is to enter a two-week hard lockdown.

The warning came just days after public furor led to strict Easter curbs being abandoned by Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

Meanwhile, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said he thinks a lockdown lasting 10 to 14 days is necessary to get the country's ballooning coronavirus outbreak under control.

"If we take the figures, including the developments today, we actually need at least another 10 or 14 days in which we really shut down our contacts, our mobility," he said.

Spahn also said that Germany would likely begin administering the single-shot coronavirus vaccine developed by US manufacturer Johnson & Johnson starting in mid-April, giving Germany's so-far slow vaccine roll-out a boost.

Spain is to require people arriving by land from France to present a negative COVID-19 test, the Health Ministry said on Saturday, amid rising numbers of French visitors escaping their own lockdown.

Anyone arriving by land from risk areas will have to present a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test that was taken within 72 hours prior to their arrival.

The new requirement will not apply to truck drivers and cross-border workers.

In the Spanish city of Barcelona, 5,000 music lovers attended a rock concert on Saturday after undergoing a COVID test on the same day.

The show by Spanish rock group Love of Lesbian received special permission from Spanish health authorities.

While the rest of the country was limited to gatherings of no more than four people in closed spaces, the concertgoers were able to mix freely, although face masks were mandatory.

Organizers said it was the first commercial event with an audience that big held in Europe during the pandemic.

Madrid's openness pulls tourists

Serbia has been inundated with thousands of vaccine-seekers from neighboring countries after officials offered free shots for foreigners if they showed up over the weekend.

Long lines of Bosnians, Montenegrins and North Macedonians — often entire families — formed in front of the main vaccination center in the capital, Belgrade, with police keeping watch. 

Britain has so far administered at least a first dose of COVID vaccine to more than 29 million adults, and the government plans to complete the phase by the end of July.

But it remains on guard against more infectious coronavirus variants, such as ones that emerged in Brazil and South Africa.

Vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, told The Telegraph newspaper that the government could start delivering new booster doses in September for priority groups, including those aged over 70 and health workers.

He said ministers were expecting up to eight vaccines to be available by the autumn — up from two currently on offer in the UK — including one that could protect against three different COVID variants in a single jab.

Middle East

Turkey has recorded 30,021 new coronavirus cases in the space of 24 hours, the highest number this year, Health Ministry data showed on Saturday.

Measures to curb the pandemic in Turkey were eased this month.

The total number of cases stood at 3,179,115 and the latest daily death toll was 151, bringing the cumulative toll to 30,923.

Turkey's COVID-19 case number debate

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned Saturday that the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients was rising across war-wracked Yemen, urging assistance from donor countries and specialized groups.

"Medecins Sans Frontieres is seeing a dramatic influx of critically ill COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in Aden, Yemen, and many other parts of the country," MSF said.


The Philippines has ordered more than 24 million people in and around Manila into a coronavirus lockdown, as hospitals in the capital struggle to cope with a surge in infections.

"The virus is the enemy, not the government," presidential spokesman Harry Roque said, announcing the week-long measure which begins on Monday.

India has proceeded with several state elections,  even as the country recorded over 62,000 new COVID-19 cases in its biggest single-day spike in more than five months.

More than 180 million voters are eligible to cast their ballots in the polls till April 29 across the populous states of West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu, as well as the federally administered territory of Puducherry.


The United States has administered nearly 137,000,000 doses of the COVID vaccine and distributed over 177,000,000 doses so far, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention has said.

Meanwhile, former CDC director Robert Redfield said he believes that the virus likely escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. The theory has been rejected by many global epidemiologists and has contributed to tensions between China and the US.

Constructing a vaccination campaign

Brazil has marked a new daily record with 3,650 deaths in 24 hours, the Health Ministry in Brasilia said on Friday. The country's full death toll now stands at 307,112, with more than 12.4 million confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic.

The milestone comes as Sao Paolo's Butantan Institute announced the development of a "100% Brazilian" vaccine. The institute said it expects to start using the jab in July.

Butantan is the largest vaccine producer in Brazil and makes the CoronaVac shot produced by Chinese firm Sinovac.

In Venezuela, Facebook has frozen President Nicolas Maduro's page for violating policies against spreading misinformation about the virus by promoting a remedy he claims, without evidence, can cure the disease, a company spokesman said.

Maduro in January described Carvativir, an oral solution derived from thyme, as a "miracle" medication that neutralizes coronavirus with no side effects. Doctors have said his claim is not backed by science.

lc/mm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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