Vaccine campaigns gather pace as US nears Pfizer approval

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Washington – The US could soon to be the next country to launch an immunization campaign against the novel coronavirus after experts voted to recommend emergency approval for Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine. The key milestone comes as the world’s hardest-hit country logged nearly 6,000 virus deaths in 48 hours with its overall toll approaching 300,000. President-elect Joe Biden called the FDA experts’ decision on Thursday a “bright light in a needlessly dark time”, with official approval expected within days.  Inoculation plans are picking up pace around the world, where the virus has killed at least 1.58 million lives since emerging in China last December, according to an AFP tally from official sources. Infections are spreading fastest in North America and parts of Africa whereas Europe’s second wave has started to stabilize and cases are down in Asia and the Middle East.  Britain this week became the first Western country to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, which Canada, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have also approved. And while Russia and China have already begun inoculation efforts with domestically produced vaccines, EU countries are eagerly awaiting clearance.   The EU’s watchdog said it would deliver decisions on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in late December and early January respectively, despite the disturbance of a two-week-long cyber attack which is under investigation. A new combined approach is also being tested by AstraZeneca, whose Russian branch said it would mix its shot with the Russia-made Sputnik V vaccine in clinical trials. “Combinations of different COVID-19 vaccines may be an important step in generating wider protection through a stronger immune response and better accessibility,” the pharma giant said in its statement. Yet some vaccine development efforts have suffered setbacks.  France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GSK announced that their candidate would not be ready until the end of 2021, after new results showed a low immune response in older adults. The development of a vaccine by The University of Queensland in Australia was also abandoned Friday after clinical trials produced a false positive HIV result among subjects involved in early-stage testing.

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                  The government will now axe plans to purchase millions of doses of the candidate vaccine and instead increase orders of alternatives from AstraZeneca and Novax, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

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