Israel Leads Vaccination Race, New Virus Variants: COVID-19 Global Update

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

January 15, 2021

These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.

Israel has achieved the world's fastest per capita COVID-19 vaccination roll out. The Health Ministry reported that nearly 20% of the population has received the first dose, including more than 72% of over-60s. The country began giving booster doses on January 10. UAE was in second place, having vaccinated 10% of its population.

The United States has reported more than 100,000 COVID-19 hospitalisations for 40 days in a row and continues to hit records with deaths rapidly heading toward 400,000. To try to counter the surge and speed up vaccination, the Government is urging states to give access to vaccination to anyone 65 years or older, and younger adults with comorbidities. But with distribution and access still unreliable, some doctors in small practices report they are only now getting vaccines for themselves.  

In Brazil, the transmission rate rose to 1.21, according to data gathered by Imperial College London released on 12 January. There have been more than 203,000 COVID-19 deaths and 8.1 million cases.

Post-Christmas pressure on UK hospitals continued after London declared a major incident and another hospital had to ration oxygen. COVID-19 deaths within 28 days of a positive test passed 80,000 at the weekend. Seven mass vaccination centres opened this week working alongside primary care and hospital vaccination services. As of Thursday, 2.9 million first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines had been given.

With a third wave after Christmas holidays, last weekend Spain reached a new peak of infections, exceeding 2 million cases. On Wednesday, the first 37,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine were received, adding to the 350,000 weekly from Pfizer/BioNTech. Spain has already administered 581,638 doses.

A report from the Italian Ministry of Health shows that, after Christmas holidays, the R number is higher than 1 in all regions. In Lombardy and Sicily, the transmission rate is around 1.25. If the rate is confirmed, the two regions will become 'red' lockdown zones from next Monday.

On January 10, Italy reported 23,427 COVID-19 hospitalised patients, 2615 in ICUs. The number of diagnosed patients isolated at home has also risen to 579,932. One in two regions already has more than 30% of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. 

Italy's vaccination campaign started on January 4 prioritising health professionals and older people in retirement homes.

After difficulty launching its vaccination campaign, 247,167 people in France have now received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as of 13 January. Fifty thousand doses of the Moderna vaccine were received this week and are being distributed in worst hit areas.

Concerns are growing over an increase in positive cases (23,852 on January 13) and the spread of the UK variant, which is said to be under-reported. 

Germany is approaching 700,000 people with at least one vaccine dose, averaging more than 50,000 doses per day. There are still around 20,000 new daily cases, and more than 1000 deaths. A German research team has shown that hypertension is an independent risk factor for severe COVID-19, but that patients with treated hypertension (including ACE inhibitors) are not at increased risk.

Belgium started its large-scale vaccination campaign on January 5. So far, only the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been administered, but the first doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in Belgium on Monday. So far, 8000 people have been vaccinated.

The latest results from the Great Corona Study show that 80% of people are prepared to have a jab to protect themselves against coronavirus.

More than 70,000 people have been vaccinated in mainland Portugal. This week priority was given to hospice patients, people in long-term care, and health professionals.

Japan has identified a new SARS-CoV-2 variant in four travellers who arrived from Brazil’s Amazonas state. The variant which has 12 mutations is distinct from the UK and South African variants. There is no clear evidence at the moment to show if the new variant is highly infectious.

In Africa, several countries have seen a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with the South African variant a cause for concern.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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