NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s top public health official says Congo wants to give back some 1.3 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses so they can be distributed to other African nations.
Africa Centers for Disease Control Director John Nkengasong told reporters Thursday there is “a lot of vaccine hesitancy” in the vast country. He said there is a five-week timeline to get the doses administered elsewhere.
Nkengasong said Congo is working with the COVAX project aimed at distributing doses to low- and middle-income nations to hand over its unused supplies. He expressed hope that the doses can reach other people quickly in what he called “an extremely critical time.”
African countries largely rely on doses from COVAX, but Nkengasong said the crisis in India means further doses for Africa could be affected for weeks or months. The Serum Institute of India makes the doses that COVAX delivers to African nations, but India has banned exports as it grapples with a devastating resurgence of infections.
Nkengasong said he’s not aware of other countries saying they’re unable to use their vaccine doses, but urged any there are not to wait until the last moment to hand them back.
He said other countries in Europe, North America and Asia “can have their luxury” of vaccine options but “we do not have choices.”
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Biden declared “America is rising anew” as he called for expanding programs to drive economy past pandemic
— India sets another record with new cases as it gears up to expand vaccinations to all adults
— As many as one-third of Mexicans may have been exposed to virus in 2020, blood tests indicate
— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ISLAMABAD — After weeks of hesitation, Pakistanis are now rushing to COVID-19 vaccination centers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus as COVID-19 deaths devastate neighboring India.
Most Pakistanis had avoided registering for free vaccines since the government started offering them in March.
Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar said Thursday that more than 100,000 shots were administered for a second consecutive day. He said it was encouraging that residents were showing interest in getting inoculated against the virus.
According to Umar, people over age will be eligible for vaccines starting Monday.
Pakistan on Thursday reported 151 virus-related deaths in 24 hours, one of the country’s highest daily death tolls of the pandemic.
Since last year, Pakistan has reported 17,680 deaths from COVID-19 among 815,711 cases
NAIROBI, Kenya — Africa’s top public health official says the continent is “watching with total disbelief” what is happening in India as it struggles with a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong warned that the African continent, which has roughly the same population as India and fragile health care systems, “must be very, very prepared” because it could see the same scenario now unfolding in the South Asian country.
“We need to regroup urgently,” Nkengasong told reporters Thursday.
“We do not have enough health care workers. We do not have enough oxygen,” he said.
Africa’s vaccine situation is also closely linked to India, the source of the AstraZeneca vaccines distributed by the global COVAX project to get doses to low- and middle-income countries.
The vaccine export ban India adopted while coping with devastating domestic outbreaks “has severely impacted the predictability of the rollout of vaccination programs and will continue to do so for the coming weeks and perhaps months,” Nkengasong said.
Just 17 million vaccine doses have been administered across the African continent, he said, for a population of some 1.3 billion.
MADRID - More than 40 nongovernmental organizations are urging Spanish authorities to ensure that homeless people and migrants without authorization to be in Spain aren’t left out of the country’s COVID-19 vaccination plans.
The groups, which include Amnesty International, said they sent a letter to Health Minister Carolina Dias on Thursday asking for the urgent adoption of promised legislation that would plug gaps in Spain's mass vaccination program.
They say people without the social security cards needed to register for vaccine shots risk being left out, though the organizations acknowledged that some regional governments have taken local steps to address the problem.
Ensuring the equitable, non-discriminatory distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has been an issue in many parts of the world during the pandemic.
LISBON, Portugal -- The head of the World Health Organization says more than 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally but 82% of them were given in high- and upper-middle-income countries.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says just 0.3% of all vaccines administered so far were given to people in low-income countries.
“That’s the reality,” Tedros told an online health conference hosted by Portugal on Thursday.
He said access to vaccines “is one of the defining challenges of the pandemic” and that public health is “the foundation of social, economic and political stability.”
BERLIN — German pharmaceutical company BioNTech says it expects to receive the results of trials of its coronavirus vaccine in younger children by September.
BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved COVID-19 shot with U.S. partner Pfizer, has already submitted data from trials in children ages 12-15 to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and plans to do so for the European Medicines Agency, which regulates drugs for use in the 27-nation European Union. .
The company said it expects results from trials in children ages 5-12 “as early as July” and in those younger than 5 in September.
BioNTech said requests for regulatory approval would depend on the results of the trials.
The company is one of the main suppliers of coronavirus vaccines in Europe and North America.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has begun administering fast-track COVID-19 vaccines to athletes, coaches and others expected to attend the Tokyo Olympics.
The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee says about 100 people received the first doses at a state-run Seoul hospital on Thursday, the first day of the country’s prioritized vaccination program for its Olympic delegation.
The committee says a total of 930 players, coaches, officials and other support staff will be given either Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines ahead of the Tokyo Games set to begin in July.
Athletes can receive the vaccines if they have already secured berths at the Olympics or may do so in qualification tournaments. This means some may get vaccinated who don’t go to the Games.
South Korea aims to send about 800-900 people to the Olympics, 350 of them athletes and coaches in 27 events. Committee officials expect to finalize the Olympic delegation in late June when all qualifying tournaments are finished.
The Sports Ministry says about 150 athletes and coaches hoping to attend the Tokyo Paralympics will separately get virus shots on Friday and May 4. Those also include athletes who are still under qualifying events.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Offices were closed, markets were shuttered and vehicles were forced off the streets in Nepal’s capital on Thursday as authorities imposed a 15-day lockdown because of spiking cases of COVID-19.
The lockdown was imposed in most of the Himalayan nation’s major cities and towns. In Kathmandu and surrounding districts, police set up checkpoints and were stopping drivers and pedestrians. Several vehicles were impounded for defying the lockdown.
Residents rushed to neighborhood grocery stores for supplies in the morning when authorities allowed them to open for a few hours. Tens of thousands of people had rushed out of Kathmandu in the past two days to avoid the shutdown.
Both international and domestic flights were operating on schedule. The government has closed the land borders to foreigners, but citizens of neighboring India can enter with a negative coronavirus test and proof of a hotel booking for a 10-day quarantine.
Nepal’s health ministry has recorded 312,699 infections while 3,211 people have died from COVID-19.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Moderna announced Thursday it is beefing up global manufacturing of its COVID-19 vaccine in an effort to produce up to 3 billion doses in 2022.
The company predicts supplying between 800 million and 1 billion doses worldwide this year. But it’s looking ahead as much of the world still will need a first round of COVID-19 vaccinations next year — and to be ready if and when people may need a booster shot.
Moderna’s vaccine is authorized for use by adults in the U.S., European Union and multiple other countries. The company expects data soon from a U.S. study of the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds, and has begun testing the shots in younger children. Also underway are studies of doses tweaked to better match a worrisome mutated version of the coronavirus.
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is extending an already monthlong lockdown by two weeks as the country’s worst coronavirus infection spike starts to ease but remains alarming.
President Rodrigo Duterte said in televised remarks Thursday night that the second-most restrictive lockdown level will now run through May 14 in metropolitan Manila and four nearby provinces, a region of more than 25 million people. Mayors, however, cut a nine-hour night curfew in metropolitan Manila to six hours to help battered businesses.
Duterte is warning mayors and village chiefs that they face jail if they don’t prevent gatherings and other events that violate the pandemic restrictions.
Confirmed coronavirus infections in the Philippines soared past 1 million Monday, with deaths now at more than 17,000, the second highest in Southeast Asia.