Back to School, Booster Doses, Contaminated Vaccines: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

September 02, 2021

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

In the UK, as children return to school plans are being put in place to vaccinate 12 to 15-year-olds in England ahead of expected advice from government vaccination authorities. Daily COVID-19 cases remain above 30,000 but may be showing signs of levelling off.  UK research published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases found that people infected with the Delta variant of COVID-19 carry twice the risk of needing to be treated in hospital than those with the Alpha strain. 

While the epidemic seems to have slowed down slightly in France, the Scientific Council and experts worry about the start of the school year both in terms of the spread of the Delta variant and the impact of any new classroom closures on child and adolescent mental health.

On Tuesday, August 31, 19,425 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded and 941 patients were admitted to hospital, compared with 725 the day before, and 2292 patients were in intensive care. This indicator has risen slightly over the last 7 days, but at a much slower pace than between the end of July and mid-August.

As of Tuesday, 78% of the adult population was fully vaccinated. Sixty-one percent of 12 to 17-year-olds received a first dose, while vaccination in this age group is increasing by 5% to 8% a week. Fewer than 10 million French people eligible for vaccination against COVID-19 have not yet received a single dose. The vaccination booster campaign began on September 1 and is targeting 18 million people.  

Belgium was previously aiming for vaccination coverage of 70% to achieve herd immunity, but experts have now said the threshold should be raised to 85% to 90%, especially considering the possibility of new variants, and the rise in cases. As the number of coronavirus infections has risen again in recent weeks, the Belgian virologist Steven Van Gucht is calling for caution at the start of a new school year on September 1st. "Most infections are still detected in young people, in children,” he said, adding that they account for about 20% of infections.

This week the average incidence in Italy rose from 69 to 71 new cases per 100,000. Hospitalisations rose, with 504 intensive care beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. Only Sicily exceeds a 10% occupation rate of intensive care and medical wards, with a weekly incidence much higher than the threshold of 50 per 100,000 (344 positive cases per 100,000).

With more than 77 million doses administered, 70% of the Italian population over the age of 12 has now been vaccinated. The number of vaccinations increased compared to last week, confirming the hypothesis that the slowdown was mainly due to factors related to the summer holidays, according to the Ministry of Health. However, Italy has around 4.5 million unvaccinated people. Paediatric and women's health societies urged the Ministry of Health to increase the pace of vaccination for pregnant women and 12 to 17-year- olds, stating that there is now clear evidence that benefits largely outweigh risks.

In Germany, the 7-day incidence is decreasing for the first time since the beginning of July. However, the number of COVID-19 patients treated in intensive care rose again to more than 1000 nationwide for the first time in the fourth wave. 

The Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn is considering a booster vaccination for everyone. Experts claim this should first be offered to elderly people and other at risk groups. However, it is more important to immunise those who are yet to be vaccinated.

Switzerland decided on mandatory vaccination certification for visits to indoor venues like restaurants or fitness centres as hospitals and ICU use rose. As of September 1, the 7-day incidence is 203 per 100,000 people, and the vaccination rate is about 57% for first vaccine doses, and 51% for second doses.

In Austria, as of August 31, about 62% of the population had been vaccinated with at least one vaccine dose. Around 58% had received a second dose. The 7-day-incidence was 108.3 on August 30, an increase from 93.4 at the beginning of the week.

In Portugal, more than 100,000 people were vaccinated last weekend, of which more than 80,000 were young people between 12 and 17-years-old, according to official data. Portugal has more than 72% of the resident population fully vaccinated and 80% with at least one vaccine dose.

The Delta variant is now responsible for all infections in the country, according to the National Institute of Health Doctor Ricardo Jorge (INSA).

Spain has almost reached its goal of having 70% of the population fully vaccinated by the end of the summer, with 69.5% having had both doses by September 1, and more than 76% having at least one dose.

On Tuesday 31 August the 14-day incidence dropped to 233.75 cases per 100,000 population, compared to the 242.18 reported the day before.

The Ministry of Health is considering offering booster doses to immunosuppressed patients.

The director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Carissa Etienne, said that "three quarters of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have not been fully immunised".

Over the last week, the Americas have reported more than 1.6 million new cases and nearly 22,000 COVID-19-related deaths. Costa Rica and Belize are having outbreaks of new cases, Saint Lucia and Puerto Rico are reporting high rates of new infections and in Suriname, transmission has increased for 4 consecutive weeks. Hospitals in Haiti remain overwhelmed after the earthquake of August 14. Jamaica is seeing its highest-ever COVID deaths as its hospitals reach full capacity.

In Mexico, August was the month with the highest number of recorded COVID-19 infections and the number of deaths was similar to that recorded in July 2020 during the first wave of COVID-19. The Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion, Hugo Lopez Gatell, stated that the epidemic curve is declining and that cases will continue to fall in the coming weeks.

In Brazil, deaths and infections continue to fall. On Monday, 331 COVID-19 deaths were registered in 24 hours, 20% fewer than 2 weeks ago. On the same date, the 7-day moving average was 671 dead. It was the fifth day in a row with a moving average of less than 700 deaths. In 2021, the moving average of deaths reached above one thousand for 191 consecutive days.

The Ministry of Health has scheduled the start of booster vaccinations from September 15, but several states have already started the campaign. The Ministry of Health admitted that it is planning for the possibility of an increase in cases and hospitalisations due to the spread of the Delta variant. By August 31, 62.95% of the Brazilian population had received a first vaccine dose, and 28.67% were fully vaccinated.

Australia is set to receive 500,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Singapore this week, as part of a swap deal that will see Australia return the same number of doses to Singapore later in the year. On August 31, Canberra extended its lockdown by a further 2 weeks as the Delta variant continues to drive the surge in COVID-19 infections. The lockdown in Melbourne is likely to be extended until September 23. 

New Zealand is seeing a decline in COVID-19 infections, as cases dropped for the second consecutive day on August 31. On August 30, the country reported its first death linked to a COVID-19 vaccine, where a woman died as a result of myocarditis after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Japan suspended the use of 1.63 million doses of Moderna vaccine on August 25 after being informed by the domestic distributor Takeda Pharmaceutical that some of the vials had contaminants. On August 28, two people in Japan were reported to have died after receiving the Moderna vaccine. Both had received doses from batches that were suspended. Their cause of death is being investigated. Another tainted vial of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine was recently discovered in the Kanagawa prefecture.

Singapore has become the most-vaccinated country in the world, after having fully vaccinated 80% of its 5.7 million population. 

On August 27, India achieved the feat of administering 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in a single day for the first time. The feat was repeated on August 31. The country has administered 660 million doses to date. 

Israel has announced that all citizens over 12 years of age are eligible to receive a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Two million Israelis have already received a third dose. 

In the US, waning immunity to SARS-CoV-2 vaccination, coupled with the highly transmissible Delta variant and the end of mask mandates, probably contributed to a resurgence of SARS-CoV-2 infections among a highly vaccinated group of healthcare workers in California, according to a report released on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Florida will start issuing $5000 fines to businesses, schools, and government agencies that require people to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.

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

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