Monoclonal Antibody Combo, Lab Leak Origin Unlikely, Vaccination Efforts Continue: Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

February 12, 2021

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

In the US, the FDA has issued an emergency use authorisation for the use of a monoclonal antibody combination, bamlanivimab and etesevimab, for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in people 12 years or older and positive for SARS-CoV-2, including adults over 65 and those with relevant comorbidities.

Meanwhile, millions of counterfeit N95 masks have been sold across at least five states and federal investigations are currently underway.

On February 9, the first phase of vaccination began in Peru with the Sinopharm vaccine, including the vaccination of health, administrative, security personnel, and cleaning staff from health establishments.

Meanwhile in Mexico , by Tuesday 724,347 doses had been administered (health personnel: 622,672 first doses, 84,218 two-doses; educational personnel: 17,457).

In Brazil, a total of 4,052,986 people had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Tuesday. This is the equivalent of 1.91% of the population. Second doses have been given to 0.02% of the population, according to a daily survey carried out by a consortium of media outlets. Also on Tuesday, the regulatory agency Anvisa decided that vaccines purchased by the Ministry of Health through the COVAX Facility will not need registration and authorisation for emergency use. They can therefore be administered as soon as they arrive in the country.

On the 10th, Brazil received the second batch of raw material to produce doses of the CoronaVac vaccine (Sinovac/Butantan). The first batch arrived on the 3rd, after intense negotiations. These materials will be sufficient to produce 17.3 million doses of CoronaVac. On the 6th, the first batch of supplies for the production of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine arrived.

The National Health System in Spain updated its coronavirus vaccination strategy for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine so that it now includes under-55s. Under-55s who have already been infected and have antibodies will need to wait 6 months to be vaccinated, since it says the chances of reinfection are very low. New cases of COVID-19 are decreasing in Spain, even if the number of deaths are still very high. 

The Government of Portugal authorised the temporary hiring of doctors and nurses trained abroad. The country has been in lockdown since January 15 but is now believed to have passed the peak in this wave. However, as the numbers remain high, restrictions may stay in place until Easter. By Wednesday 415,283 doses of vaccine had been administered with around 22,000 people vaccinated each day.

International travellers to the UK from 'red list' countries face mandatory hotel quarantine at their own cost from next week. Ten year jail terms are threatened for people lying on passenger locator forms. More than 13 million people, that's 1 in 4 adults, have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. New cases, hospitalisations, and deaths are falling but numbers remain high. 'Surge testing' is taking place in areas where virus "variants of concern" have been detected, including a new Bristol variant. Unpublished preprint trial data suggested the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine gave "minimal protection" against mild-moderate infection with the South African virus variant, but its use in all ages, and against variants, was endorsed by the World Health Organisation.

In France, where the Government is still trying to avoid a new lockdown, more testing and screening is taking place to identify contamination with a variant of concern. More than 3% of the total population has now received a first dose of a vaccine. This week the AstraZeneca vaccine started to be given to healthcare professionals. A new report put the number of private practice doctors who died from COVID-19 in 2020 at 74. A large French population health study re-examined samples taken in late 2019 and found evidence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies going back to 4 November, showing potential early circulation of the virus in Europe.

In Italy, the Institute for National Statistics (ISTAT) released data on excess mortality during the last peak of the pandemic in November. The data show a 30% excess mortality that didn't appear in daily government figures.

Italy now has 1,236,884 people vaccinated with two doses of vaccine (2.05% of the population) and 1,518,772 with one dose (2.52%). The Health Ministry provided an app and a national platform to book vaccinations and register them in a national database but many regions decided to build their own.

Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East kicked off its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on February 9 using the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Intensive care staff in hospitals will be the first to be vaccinated. 

Israel is seeing a decline in COVID-19 mortality in the country's first group to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Cases, hospitalisations, and critical illness have also decreased among people aged 60 years and older. Eran Segal, PhD, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, will be giving more details in a forthcoming edition of Medscape's Medicine and the Machine podcast.

The WHO-led team of scientists investigating the origins of SARS-CoV-2 have concluded its month-long probe in Wuhan, China. The team stated that bats could be a likely source and that the lab leak theory was unlikely. They also suggested that transmission of the virus through frozen food was a possibility that warrants further investigation.

In Australia, the state of Victoria is starting a 'circuit breaker' lockdown after an outbreak of the UK virus variant linked to a Melbourne quarantine hotel worker. Premier Daniel Andrews said: "In short: this hyper-infectious variant is moving at hyper-speed."

Local authorities in Seoul, South Korea are offering free COVID-19 tests for pet dogs and cats if they show symptoms after coming into contact with infected humans. This comes after a kitten was found to be infected in Jinju city last month. If tested positive, pets need to be quarantined at home.

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

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