A “World War Two” style collaboration will give the United States enough Covid-19 vaccines for its entire adult population by the end of May, according to President Joe Biden.
Vaccine developer Johnson & Johnson and rival Merck are set to join together to deliver 100 million vaccine doses two months earlier than expected.
The president hailed the deal as “the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War Two”.
“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said the US leader – who previously targeted late July to amass sufficient doses to inoculate all Americans.
“That’s progress. Important progress. But it is not enough to have the vaccine supply,” Mr Biden said, stressing that a huge effort still lay ahead to administer the vaccines once acquired.
Despite the companies’ fiercely competitive past, Merkle agreed to produce Johnson & Johnson’s inoculation, ultimately doubling the US’s ability to produce vaccines.
Mr Biden said he hoped that the United States would be “back to normal” at this time next year, and potentially earlier thanks to the step up in production.
“It depends upon if people continue, continue to be smart and understand that we still can have significant losses,” he said.
Follow the latest updates below.
Kenya receives first vaccine batch of one million doses
Kenya welcomed the arrival of over a million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday in its first batch under a global plan to ensure equitable distribution.
“We have received… machine guns, bazookas, and tanks to fight this war against Covid-19,” Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe exulted as the doses arrived at Nairobi’s main airport.
With fewer resources and tougher logistics than other regions, African nations are racing to secure the hundreds of million of doses needed to inoculate their populations against the disease and allow the safe reopening of economies.
Kenya, which has so far recorded 106,470 infections and 1,863 deaths from the virus, has seen a jump in the number of daily cases in the last two weeks.
The doses which arrived on Wednesday came from the Serum Institute of India and were the first batch of an initial allocation to Kenya of 3.56 million doses by the COVAX facility, the ministry of health said.
Who is next on the priority list for Covid-19 vaccines?
The Health Secretary has invited people aged over 60 to be vaccinated, after 20 million vaccinations were rolled-out across the UK.
The Government hopes that the 32 million people in the top nine priority groups will be vaccinated by April 15, and will aim for every person aged over 18 will have been offered a coronavirus vaccination by the end of July.
“When the call comes, get the jab,” Matt Hancock said.
People aged between 40-49 will be the first group to be invited to receive a vaccine once the over-50s and the most vulnerable have been vaccinated, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has announced.
An estimated 20.3 per cent of people aged 16 to 69 had already received their first jab as of February 21, which equates to one in five adults in England aged under 70, new data suggests.
As of March 2, 20,478,619 first doses have been administered in the UK, and 844,098 people have received a second dose so far.
Read more here to find out when you could receive your first dose.
Explosive goes off near Covid-19 test centre in Netherlands
An explosion occurred Wednesday near a Covid-19 test centre in the Netherlands, shattering windows but causing no apparent injuries, police said.
“Near the local health service’s testing centre in Bovenkarspel, an explosive went off at 6.55 am. Police are investigating. The perimeter has been sealed off,” the police said in a statement.
A bomb squad was sent to determine whether any explosive material remained at the scene, public television network NOS reported.
In January a Covid testing centre was set on fire in the Dutch village of Urk as protests broke out over the start of an overnight curfew in the Netherlands introduced as part of measures intended to rein in the virus.
The Netherlands suffered several nights of rioting, the most violent the country has seen in decades.
Updates to follow.
Dolly Parton sings ‘vaccine, vaccine’ Jolene rewrite as she gets jab
Dolly Parton’s hit ‘Jolene’ has been given a rewrite as the country star received her Covid-19 vaccination and urged others to get theirs.
Ms Parton, 75, sang “vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine… I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate… ‘cos once you’re dead, that’s a bit too late”.
Shortly after performing her remix, she was herself injected with the Moderna vaccine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee on Tuesday.
Vaccine certificates needed for haj in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry has ruled that only people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 will be allowed to attend haj this year, Saudi newspaper Okaz reported.
“The Covid-19 vaccine is mandatory for those willing to come to the haj and will be one of the main conditions (for receiving a permit to come),” the report said, citing a circular signed by the health minister.
Ministers in India opt for Indian-made jab without late-stage efficacy data
Government ministers and officials in India were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made Covid-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the Oxford jab.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticised Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with Covaxin.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take Covaxin before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy”. It is seeking to sell Covaxin to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12% of the 12 million people immunised so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data
Merkel poised to agree to easing of restrictions
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was poised on Wednesday to agree a gradual relaxation of coronavirus curbs with regional leaders, but the rules can be tightened again if infections jump, according to draft plans seen by Reuters.
Pressure is growing on the government to set out clear plans to restore normal activities after months of pandemic lockdown, even though daily cases have begun creeping up again and the pace of vaccination has been sluggish.
The draft plans say that from March 8 a maximum of five people from two households, excluding children younger than 14, will be allowed to meet.
Flower shops and book stores, garden centres, tattoo and nail parlours as well as massage salons will also be allowed to reopen on March 8, the draft shows. Hairdressers and some schools have reopened in recent days.
The tally of infections rose by 9,019 to 2,460,030 on Wednesday, an increase of more than 1,000 over last week, while the death toll rose by 418 to 70,881.
However, the number of cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days fell slightly, to 64 from 65.8 on Tuesday.
Chinese delegates to propose vaccine passports at annual meetings
Some delegates attending the annual meetings of the Chinese parliament and its advisory body due to begin this week will propose issuing Covid-19 vaccine passports and recognising such passports globally that they say will restore some normality, boost international tourism and economic exchanges, the Global Times reported on Wednesday.
Zhu Zhengfu, a member of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, also told the Global Times, published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, that international arrivals could be exempted from quarantine requirements if they have a negative nucleic acid test and a vaccine passport.
Biden calls for teachers to be prioritised in vaccine rollout
President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on US states to prioritise Covid-19 vaccinations for teachers to ensure children could return to school quickly and safely, and said every educator should receive at least one shot by the end of March.
Mr Biden also announced that Merck & Co Inc would help make rival Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, a partnership similar to those seen during World War Two.
With three vaccines now available, Mr Biden said he was confident there would be enough vaccines available for each adult in the United States by the end of May.
Read more: Can I visit the US? Latest travel advice
Ontario seniors won’t receive AstraZeneca vaccine
The health minister of Canada’s most populous province says Ontario seniors won’t receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since there’s limited data on its effectiveness in older populations.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says Ontario plans to follow the advice of a national panel that’s recommended against using the newly approved vaccine on people aged 65 and older.
Mr Elliott says for anyone over that age, it’s recommended that they receive either the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccine.
There are no concerns that the vaccine is unsafe for use, but Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunisation said this week that the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are preferred for seniors due to “suggested superior efficacy”.
Virus deaths in Brazil hit all-time record high
Brazil registered an all-time record on Tuesday for the number of Covid-19 deaths in a single day with 1,641 people dying from the disease, according to Health Ministry data.
That surpasses the previous single-day high of 1,595 deaths recorded in late July 2020, as Brazil faces a new peak in cases and the hospital system is pushed to the brink of collapse.
US states begin easing restrictions
Texas on Tuesday became the biggest state to lift its mask rule, joining a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the US to loosen restrictions despite pleas from health officials not to let their guard down yet.
The Lone Star State will also do away with limits on the number of diners who can be served indoors, said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock.
The governors of Michigan, Mississippi and Louisiana likewise eased up on bars, restaurants and other businesses Tuesday, as did the mayor of San Francisco.
“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Mr Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many of those surrounding him were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”
Dolly Parton gets taste of her own medicine
Dolly Parton has been inoculated by the Covid-19 vaccine she helped to fund.
The beloved country music star, 75, broke into song while getting the jab and adapted one of her best-known ballads.
To the tune of Jolene, Parton sang: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, because once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late.”
Parton was credited with helping fund the Moderna vaccine after donating one million dollars (about £716,000) to Vanderbilt University Medical Centre in Nashville, Tennessee.
Australia looks to defence to help ramp up vaccine rollout
Australia will seek the support of the defence forces in its Covid-19 immunisation drive, authorities said on Wednesday, as it looks to ramp up a vaccination rollout programme that is running behind schedule.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) will provide help in rolling out vaccines to aged care residents in rural and regional areas not readily accessible by other medical providers, acting Defence Minister Marise Payne said.
ADF teams are expected to start next week and will focus on the planning, logistics and operations support.
Australia began mass inoculation for its 25 million population on Feb. 22 with frontline health staff and senior citizens getting the first shots, but missed its dosage target for the first week by nearly half.