Following is a summary of current health news briefs.
Data on AstraZeneca vaccine and South African variant should come soon: UK expert
Data on the highly contagious COVID-19 variant identified in England do not suggest that vaccines will be less effective against it, while data on the South African variant should be available within weeks, a top British vaccines expert said. "We have the most data on the UK variant. That doesn't suggest that it will be any less well protected against by the vaccine," said Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 Immunisation on Britain's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
U.S. widens vaccination eligibility as COVID-19 deaths mount
U.S. federal officials on Tuesday agreed to send states additional coronavirus vaccine doses requested by several governors, as the country tries to ramp up the pace of inoculations with the daily COVID-19 death toll hovering at 3,200. Officials also recommended that states broaden vaccination eligibility to people as young as 65 or who have other chronic health conditions that make them vulnerable to severe COVID-19, drawing a mixed reaction from states that have tailored their inoculation priorities differently.
Japan set to expand state of emergency, public cools to Olympics
The Japanese government plans to expand a state of emergency it declared for the Tokyo area last week to seven additional prefectures on Wednesday in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, public broadcaster NHK reported. The move comes after the governors of Osaka, Hyogo, Aichi and other hard-hit prefectures requested the government issue the emergency state, which gives local authorities the legal basis to place restrictions on residents' movements and businesses.
AstraZeneca says to release 2 million vaccine doses a week to UK by mid-February
AstraZeneca is scaling up releases of COVID-19 vaccine doses to the United Kingdom to the point where it expects to be providing 2 million a week by or before the middle of February, a top executive told lawmakers on Wednesday. "We've released just over 1.1 million doses, to date, and we are scaling up as we've said very rapidly. And this will happen imminently, to releasing 2 million doses a week, we're absolutely on track to do that," said Tom Keith-Roach, president of AstraZeneca UK.
J&J likely to seek EU approval for COVID-19 vaccine in February: lawmaker
U.S. firm Johnson & Johnson is likely to apply for EU approval for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in February, a top lawmaker said on Wednesday. "EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides announced during our (EU lawmakers) group meeting this morning that the vaccine manufacturer Johnson & Johnson is likely to submit an application for approval to the EU for their vaccine in February," said Peter Liese, who represents health matters for the EU's centre-right group, the assembly's largest.
Singapore says ramping up COVID-19 vaccination drive
More than 6,000 people in Singapore have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the health ministry said on Wednesday, with numbers expected to rise substantially in the coming weeks as the city-state ramps up its immunisation drive. Singapore started vaccinating healthcare workers on Dec. 30, becoming one of the first Asian countries to start its coronavirus inoculation programme.
UK minister favours vaccinating teachers, police ahead of second dose deployment
Britain's minister in charge of COVID-19 vaccinations said once everyone in the top priority groups had been reached, he favoured moving onto groups such as teachers and the police rather than bringing forward second doses. Nadhim Zahawi said a decision had not yet been made on how to prioritise the use of available doses once the priority groups, such as elderly and clinically vulnerable people, had received an initial dose. He added that his comment reflected only his personal view.
California COVID surge shows signs of easing with hospitals strained to brink
California's COVID-19 surge is showing signs of leveling off after besieging hospitals, emergency services and morgues for weeks, the state's top health official said on Tuesday, as medical staffing continued to buckle under the strain. The number of newly hospitalized coronavirus patients statewide has declined to 2,500 admissions every 24 hours over the past two days, down from 3,500 in previous days, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr Mark Ghaly said in an online briefing with reporters.
China's Sinovac to double annual COVID-19 vaccine capacity to 1 billion doses
A unit of Sinovac Biotech could double annual production capacity of its CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine to 1 billion doses by February, the group's chairman said on Wednesday. More than 7 million doses of CoronaVac vaccine, one of the three China has included in its emergency vaccination programme, have so far been supplied to regions including the city of Beijing and Guangdong province, Sinovac Biotech Chairman Yin Weidong told a news conference.
Waiting for spring? Europe extends, tightens lockdown
Governments across Europe announced tighter and longer coronavirus lockdowns on Wednesday over fears about a fast-spreading variant first detected in Britain, with vaccinations not expected to help much for another two to three months. Italy will extend its COVID-19 state of emergency to the end of April, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said as infections currently show no sign of abating.