TEL AVIV, Israel — Dr. Anthony Fauci has won the $1 million Dan David Prize for “defending science” and advocating for vaccines now being administered worldwide to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The Israel-based Dan David Foundation on Monday named President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser as the winner of one of three prizes. It said he had earned the recognition over a lifetime of leadership on HIV research and AIDS relief, as well as his advocacy for the vaccines against COVID-19.
In its statement, the private foundation did not mention former President Donald Trump, who undermined Fauci’s follow-the-science approach to the pandemic. But it credited Fauci with “courageously defending science in the face of uninformed opposition during the challenging COVID crisis.”
United Nations launches COVAX vaccine program
GENEVA — It’s nearly launch time for COVAX, the United Nations’ unprecedented program to deploy COVID-19 vaccines for hundreds of millions in need around the globe.
More than two months after countries like Britain and the United States started immunizing their most vulnerable people, the U.N.’s health agency gave its approval to a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which should trigger the release of hundreds of millions of doses by COVAX.
COVAX missed its own target of starting vaccination in poor countries at the same time as immunizations were rolled out in rich countries, and numerous developing countries have signed their own deals to buy vaccine, fearing the program won’t deliver.
The World Health Organization and partners hope COVAX can finally start shipping out vaccines later this month.
Colombia receives first vaccine shipment
BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombia received its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines on Monday and will soon begin to vaccinate its population of 50 million people, the third largest in Latin America.
The government says it aims to vaccinate 35 million people this year including hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants and refugees who are currently living in the South American country.
On Monday, a yellow DHL plane carrying Colombia’s first 50,000 vaccines arrived at Bogota’s international airport and was welcomed personally by President Ivan Duque and his health minister. The shots were supplied by Pfizer, which has a contract to sell 10 million vaccines to Colombia.
“Today I want to thank God, I want to thank science” Duque said from a podium set up on the runway. “We will now walk forward with the “v” of vaccines. With the “v” of victory.”
Colombia will be one of the last countries in Latin America to start vaccinations.
Mexico vaccinating seniors
MEXICO CITY — Mexico began vaccinating senior citizens in more than 300 municipalities across the country Monday after receiving some 870,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
Most of the effort was concentrated in remote rural communities, but in a few far-flung corners of the sprawling capital, hundreds of Mexicans over the age of 60 lined up before dawn for the chance to get vaccinated.
The government has designated 1,000 vaccination sites, including schools and health centers, mostly in the country’s poorest communities.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador conceded Monday that bad weather and snow had kept the vaccine from arriving to some isolated areas in Mexico’s northwest. He said the armed forces, which are in charge of logistics for the vaccination campaign, were working to access those areas.
Mexico started vaccinating health workers in mid-December with some 726,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Spain sees dip in hospitalizations
MADRID — Spanish hospitals are starting to discharge more COVID-19 patients than the ones they admit in, although authorities say that a waning rate of infection remains too high to relax pandemic restrictions.
Health Ministry data showed that the share of hospital beds treating COVID-19 patients went from a 25% peak on Feb. 1 to 16.5% on Monday, with intensive care unit occupation in the same period dropping from 45% to 38% of the total, expanded capacity.
Spain has halved its 14-day of infection rate following a sharp post-Christmas contagion surge by avoiding a strict lockdown and choosing instead to restrict inter-regional mobility, impose night-time curfews and limit social gatherings. The two-week rate dropped from nearly 900 cases per 100,000 residents at the end of January to 417 infections on Monday.
The level is still considered of high risk and, according to Spain’s top coronavirus expert, Fernando Simón, “well above the goals established to relax some of the measures.”
Students returning to school in Czech Republic
PRAGUE — The Czech government has approved a plan for children and students to gradually return to schools in March.
Education Minister Robert Plaga says the first to return on March 1 should be the students of the final grade at high schools and schoolchildren of the final grade of elementary schools.
All students still will have to get tested at schools on a regular basis with the government ready to supply all the necessary tests.
Monday’s announcement comes a day after the heads of all 14 regions in the country made it possible for the government to extend the state of emergency and keep in place coronavirus restrictions despite a previous refusal of Parliament to do so. The school reopening was one of the key conditions requested by the governors.
Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic remain at high levels. The nation of 10.7 million, has had more than 1 million confirmed cases, with 18,250 deaths.
Coronavirus cases dropping in the U.K.
LONDON - The daily number of people in the U.K. testing positive for the coronavirus has fallen below 10,000 for the first time since Oct. 2.
Government figures on Monday show that 9,765 people tested positive for COVID-19.
Infections have fallen sharply over the past few weeks from a high of 68,053 largely as a result of lockdown measures. The U.K.’s rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines to the most at-risk groups has also helped. As of Monday, 15.3 million people in the U.K. have had their first dose of vaccine, or a little more than a quarter of the adult population.
In addition to the fall in infections, the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 and dying have also come down.
The government said another 230 people have died after testing positive for COVID-19, the lowest figure since Dec. 26 when the number of deaths was also 230.
The U.K. has witnessed Europe’s deadliest outbreak, with 117,396 people dying in the 28 days after testing positive for the virus.
What flu can teach us about COVID-19
WASHINGTON — The makers of COVID-19 vaccines are figuring out how to tweak their recipes against worrisome virus mutations — and regulators are looking to flu as a blueprint if and when the shots need an update.
“It’s not really something you can sort of flip a switch, do overnight,” cautioned Richard Webby, who directs a World Health Organization flu center from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Viruses mutate constantly and it takes just the right combination of particular mutations to escape vaccination. But studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don’t work as well against a mutant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions circulating around the world.
The good news: Many of the new COVID-19 vaccines are made with new, flexible technology that’s easy to upgrade. What’s harder: Deciding if the virus has mutated enough that it’s time to modify vaccines — and what changes to make.
‘Pandemic fatigue’ leads to lax restrictions
BERLIN — The European Union’s health agency is urging countries to address what it calls “pandemic fatigue” that is leading to increasing protests and unwillingness to follow virus restrictions.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said Monday that properly addressing pandemic fatigue was “a matter of urgency if further waves of infection are to be avoided.”
The Stockholm-based agency said governments should emphasize the risk of more cases and deaths if hygiene measures are ignored and be transparent about uncertainties regarding issues such as the vaccine rollout, which has raised widespread hopes of an imminent end to lockdowns.
ECDC said that the appearance of variants of the virus in the Europe posed a particular concern and could undo the drop in cases seen on the continent in recent weeks.
The agency said countries should increase testing sequencing of samples for variants, warning that its analysis suggests unless pandemic restrictions such as mask wearing are continued or strengthened during the coming months, “a significant increase in COVID-19-related cases and deaths” in Europe can be expected.
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