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WHO Grants Emergency Approval to 2 AstraZeneca Vaccines

By VOA News February 15, 2021

The World Health Organization announced Monday it has approved two versions of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, a move that will boost global supplies in the coming weeks.

WHO said the vaccines are safe for those above 18 years old and will be distributed through the organization's COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative targeting mid- and low-income countries.

The newly approved vaccines are produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio in South Korea and the Serum Institute of India. AstraZeneca's vaccine makes up most of the doses in the COVAX initiative.

The approval also allows countries to speed up domestic regulatory approval to import and administer the vaccines. It took the global health body less than a month to assess data on the quality, safety and efficacy of the drugs and grant the emergency-use approval.

"We now have all the pieces in place for the rapid distribution of vaccines. But we still need to scale up production," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news briefing from Geneva on Monday.

Also Monday, Britain began a quarantine program for travelers arriving from 33 "red list" countries determined to be a high risk for COVID-19, as part of its effort to keep variant strains of the coronavirus out of the country.

Under the program, anyone entering Britain is required to spend 10 days quarantined in a hotel room. Arrivals from countries not on the red list are required to quarantine at home for 10 days and take two tests for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronoavirus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he wants to chart a "cautious, but irreversible" path out of lockdown.

"If we possibly can, we'll be setting out dates," he said.

Johnson said he would like to stick to his current plan to reopen schools in the country on March 8 but said it will depend "on the data." He noted infection rates were still very high in Britain, as is the death rate.

In the United States, top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci won a $1 million Israeli prize Monday for "defending science" throughout his career.

The Israel-based Dan David Foundation said Fauci was chosen for the prize for his lifetime of leadership on HIV research, as well as his advocacy for the vaccines against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe state media reported Monday the nation received its first doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, donated from China. The report said Zimbabwe's government has also purchased an additional 600,000 doses that are expected to arrive in the African nation next month. The amount is still far short of what it will need to inoculate the country's population of 14 million.

Colombia also received its first doses of a coronavirus vaccine on Monday. President Ivan Duque and his health minister were at the airport to welcome the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine doses.

In the Czech Republic, the government approved a plan Monday for children and students to gradually return to schools beginning March 1. Schools in the country have mostly been closed since October.

While governments around the world make decisions on how much to reopen their societies, the makers of COVID-19 vaccines are working on ways to modify their inoculations to protect against new virus mutations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization are looking to the global flu vaccine system in deciding how to handle decisions about when to modify COVID-19 shots, according to The Associated Press.

Recent studies have shown that current COVID-19 vaccines do not work as well against newer strains of the virus.

On Sunday, U.S. researchers reported a new mutation found in seven coronavirus variants that have been identified in several states.

It is not immediately clear, however, if the U.S. variants are as highly contagious as the British and South African variants.

The average number of confirmed daily coronavirus cases in the U.S. has recently dropped below 100,000 for the first time in months. However, the United States remains the country with the highest number of cases.

There have been more than 109 million coronavirus infections worldwide. The U.S. has more than 27.6 million, followed by India with 10.9 million and Brazil with 9.8 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the virus.

Mental health professionals are warning about a mental health crisis among young people brought on by the pandemic. Mental health experts say young people are experiencing loneliness and despair, and some are contemplating suicide with all the upheavals the virus has brought to their young lives.

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