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Home >Science >Health >EU regulator backs AstraZeneca jab as worries grow over coronavirus strains

EU regulator backs AstraZeneca jab as worries grow over coronavirus strains

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The announcement from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) paves the way for a third vaccine to be approved for use in the EU

  • The announcement from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) paves the way for a third vaccine to be approved for use in the EU, following the jabs made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna

The European Union's drug regulator on Friday recommended the bloc approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for use on all adults, as concerns grow around the world over the effectiveness of different jabs against new strains of Covid-19.

The European Union's drug regulator on Friday recommended the bloc approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for use on all adults, as concerns grow around the world over the effectiveness of different jabs against new strains of Covid-19.

The announcement from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) paves the way for a third vaccine to be approved for use in the EU, following the jabs made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

The announcement from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) paves the way for a third vaccine to be approved for use in the EU, following the jabs made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

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But it adds another twist to the increasingly bitter row between Brussels and British-Swedish drug company AstraZeneca, which has admitted it will only be able to deliver a fraction of the doses promised to the EU in the short-term due to production problems.

That has come as a huge blow to Europe's already struggling rollout, while setting the EU on a collision course with former member Britain as they jostle for AstraZeneca's limited supplies.

In a sign of the growing tensions, the EU on Friday released a redacted version of its contract with AstraZeneca, while announcing a mechanism that could allow it to reject the export of vaccines made on European soil.

There is also controversy over the jab within the EU itself, with the EMA saying it was suitable for adults of all ages, but Germany's medicines regulator advising it should not be used on over-65s due to insufficient evidence that it works.

And beyond Europe, scientists are concerned that the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa may elude some vaccines, considered crucial to ending a pandemic that has killed close to 2.2 million people worldwide.

Cases have soared past 101 million worldwide, and despite the rollout of vaccines, the fight has been further complicated by the emergence of more contagious variants first detected in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.

American biotech firm Novavax said Thursday that its vaccine showed an overall efficacy of 89.3 percent in a major British clinical trial, and was highly effective against the variant first detected there.

But other results showed it offered significantly less protection against the South African strain.

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi has warned that warned hospitals across southern Africa are "rapidly reaching the limit of their capacities", in part down to the new variant.

Pfizer and Moderna have said their vaccines are effective against the variants.

Also released Friday, data from a mass trial of Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine showed it was 66 percent effective overall, with a better rate in the US and lower in South Africa.

The company is quickly expected to apply for a US emergency authorisation.

And in the EU, Hungary became the first member state to approve the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, a week after it also broke ranks with Brussels by issuing a provisional permit for Russia's Sputnik V jab.

The Chinese "know the most" about Covid-19, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, adding: "When I choose I will want the Chinese vaccine".

- 'Burn down their houses' -

Until governments achieve widespread immunity through vaccinations, restrictions such as lockdowns remain among the few options available -- but they are deeply unpopular among many.

In Lebanon, crowds gathered outside the homes of top politicians on Thursday, torching rubbish and smashing surveillance cameras.

"We want to burn down all their houses the way they burned our hearts," said Omar Qarhani, an unemployed father of six in Tripoli, during the city's fourth day of clashes.

In Italy, however, several regions are expected to ease coronavirus restrictions.

The move would come as other countries in Europe are mulling hardening restrictions, with the European branch of the World Health Organization (WHO) warning it was "too early to ease up".

The damage dealt by virus curbs to the global economy was also becoming increasingly clear Friday, with Spain reporting that its economy shrank 11 percent in 2020 and Mexico's by 8.5 percent.

But Taiwan posted growth of almost three percent, reflecting success in controlling cases and high demand in its powerful electronics and semiconductors industries.

- 'Robust and clear' -

In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has shrugged off growing doubts over the fate of the Tokyo Olympics -- scheduled to start on July 23 -- insisting they will go ahead as "proof of mankind's victory over the virus and as a symbol of global unity".

The origins of the virus in China are meanwhile under renewed scrutiny just over a year after the initial outbreak, with WHO experts beginning a highly politicised mission to the ground-zero city of Wuhan with a hospital visit on Friday.

The probe has been beset by delays with China refusing access until mid-January, while Washington has demanded a "robust and clear" investigation.

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