The World Health Organization says it has cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, meaning poorer countries may soon get access to the shot already available in Europe and North America.
Every country that has a drug regulatory agency will have to issue its own approval for any COVID-19 vaccine, but countries with weak systems usually rely on WHO to vet the shots.
The global body said late Thursday that the decision to issue its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine “opens the door for countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes to import and administer the vaccine.”
The UN health agency said its review found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already received clearance in the United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and a dozen other countries, “met the must-have criteria for safety and efficacy set out by WHO.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be stored at ultra-frozen temperatures, a big hurdle for developing countries where the required freezers and reliable electricity supply may not be available.
“This requirement makes the vaccine more challenging to deploy in settings where ultra-cold chain equipment may not be available or reliably accessible,” WHO said, adding that it was “working to support countries in assessing their delivery plans and preparing for use where possible.”
What’s happening across Canada
WATCH | Mandatory COVID-19 tests add turbulence between airlines, Ottawa:
Quebec, the hardest-hit province in Canada, exceeded 200,000 COVID-19 infections on Thursday after reporting a record 2,819 new cases — a record single-day high.
Health officials in the province also reported 62 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, bringing the provincial death toll to 8,226. Hospitalizations stood at 1,175 with 165 people in intensive care units.
Quebec also said Thursday that it’s changing its COVID-19 vaccine strategy in order to vaccinate as many people as possible instead of holding doses back for booster shots — a practice already in place in several other provinces.
As of Thursday, the province had received 87,000 doses of vaccine and has administered 29,250 injections.
Quebec wasn’t the only province to shatter its single-day COVID-19 case record on Thursday — Ontario reported 3,328 cases of COVID-19, becoming the first province to report more than 3,000 cases in a single day.
As of early Friday morning, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 580,195, with 74,777 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,605.
British Columbia’s provincial health officer on Thursday urged people to start 2021 by following COVID-19 precautions to prevent a surge in cases similar to those in other jurisdictions.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said persistence under adversity during 2020 has helped save lives, but some sacrifices must continue before more people can be vaccinated. She said 17,510 people in every region of the province have had their first dose of a vaccine, mostly the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Here’s a look at what’s happening with COVID-19 across the country:
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening in the U.S.
Florida health authorities late Thursday reported finding evidence of the latest U.S. case of the new and apparently more contagious coronavirus strain first seen in England, saying it was detected in a man with no recent travel history.
The case, disclosed in a Florida Health Department statement tweeted on its HealthyFla site, comes after reports in recent days of two individual cases of the new strain of COVID-19 discovered in Colorado and California.
Florida’s health statement said the new virus variant was detected in a man in his 20s in Martin County, which abuts the Atlantic Coast above densely populated South Florida. The health department did not give further details, such as releasing the man’s medical condition or how the strain was detected.
California on Wednesday announced the nation’s second confirmed case of the new virus strain. The announcement came 24 hours after word of the first reported variant infection in the U.S., which emerged in Colorado — in a National Guardsman who had been sent to help out at a nursing home struggling with an outbreak.
Scientists in the U.K. believe the variant is more contagious than previously identified strains. The cases have triggered questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the U.S. and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the United States.
The U.S. has been dealing with rising case numbers and a vaccination effort that hasn’t moved forward as quickly as officials hoped. More than 19.9 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the U.S. and the country has seen more than 345,000 deaths.
In Wisconsin, authorities arrested a suburban Milwaukee pharmacist Thursday suspected of deliberately ruining hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine by removing them from refrigeration. Police in Grafton, about 32 kilometres north of Milwaukee, said the Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist was arrested on suspicion of reckless endangerment, adulterating a prescription drug and criminal damage to property, all felonies.
The pharmacist has been fired and police said in a news release that he was in jail. Police did not identify the pharmacist, saying he has not yet been formally charged. His motive remains unclear. Police said that detectives believe he knew the spoiled doses would be useless and people who received them would mistakenly think they’d been vaccinated when they hadn’t.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 83.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 47.1 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
In Europe, British medics warned Friday that hospitals around the country face a perilous few weeks amid surging new coronavirus infections that have been blamed on a new variant of the virus.
A day after the U.K. posted a record 55,892 new infections and another 964 coronavirus-related deaths, concerns are mounting about the impact on the overstretched National Health Service. Field hospitals that were constructed in the early days of the pandemic but that were subsequently mothballed are being reactivated.
The Royal College of Nursing’s England director, Mike Adams, told Sky News that the U.K. was in the “eye of the storm” and that it was “infuriating” to see people not following physical distancing guidance or wearing masks.
A leading physician also warned of burnout among health workers on the front line of the outbreak in hospitals, while also urging people to follow the rules.
“I am worried,” Adrian Boyle, vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, told the BBC. “We are very much at battle stations.”
New infections have more than doubled in recent weeks after a new variant that health experts have said appears to be significantly more contagious was found to be behind a big spike in cases around London and the southeast of England.
Given the lags between new cases and hospitalizations and subsequent deaths, there are huge concerns about the path of the pandemic over the coming month or two in a country that has Europe’s second-highest virus-related death toll at nearly 74,000.
As a result of the spike, which has spread around the country and seen lockdown restrictions tightened, the strategy around the rollout of vaccines has been changed to get more people an initial jab as soon as possible, with a scheduled second one delayed.
In a joint statement Thursday, the chief medical officers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, said the first vaccine dose offers “substantial” protection.
Currently, two vaccines have been approved for use in the U.K.
Just under 1 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech, with a small minority also getting the second dose as planned after 21 days.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines will prohibit the entry of foreign travelers from the United States effective Jan. 3, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesperson said on Friday, after the more infectious new variant of the coronavirus was detected in Florida.
The travel ban, until Jan. 15, covers those who have been to the United States within 14 days preceding arrival in the Philippines, spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. The measure expands the travel restriction that Manila announced on Tuesday, which initially covered passengers from 19 countries and territories — including Canada — and took effect as of midnight on Dec. 29.
Due to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a>, the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Philippines?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Philippines</a> is not allowing entry to travellers arriving from <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Canada?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Canada</a>, from December 30 to January 15. These restrictions could be extended.<br> <a href=”https://t.co/l6c54LdZ9O”>https://t.co/l6c54LdZ9O</a> <a href=”https://t.co/PWvvaiy6ax”>pic.twitter.com/PWvvaiy6ax</a>
Two major airports in northeastern China are requiring departing passengers to show a negative coronavirus test taken over the previous 72 hours before they can board their planes.
The requirements by the Shenyang and Dalian come amid a small but persistent growth in cases in the two cities located in Liaoning province just north of the capital Beijing. Four new cases were announced Friday in Liaoning, along with another five cases in Beijing, where emergency testing was ordered for more than a million people following the detection of a small cluster in the northeastern suburbs.
Wary of another wave of infections, China is urging tens of millions of migrant workers to stay put during next month’s annual Lunar New Year holiday.
The Thai capital is shutting down venues including schools and entertainment parks as coronavirus cases continue to spread. Thailand reported 279 new cases on Friday including two deaths.
In the Americas, Brazil reported more than 1,000 deaths from the coronavirus for a third day in a row. Brazil has seen more than 7.6 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 195,000 deaths.
In Africa, Chad has locked down its capital N’djamena for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic and has declared a dusk to dawn curfew due to a rise in infections.
In the Middle East, Israel said it has vaccinated 1 million people against COVID-19, more than a tenth of its population, as it rolls out one of the world’s earliest and most rapid inoculation campaigns.
Iranian media said Thursday the country is negotiating the purchase of coronavirus vaccines from China. The semiofficial ISNA news agency quoted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi as saying: “We are reaching agreement with China for buying 4 million doses.”
Vaezi said the process would take around two months. Iran has already discussed buying vaccines from both Russia and India. China on Thursday authorized the Sinopharm vaccine for general use, after it had already approved its use earlier to health-care professionals and essential workers under emergency-use guidelines. Vaezi said Iran will also buy 16.5 vaccines from COVAX, the global vaccine consortium.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 8:25 a.m. ET