As many Asian countries battle their worst surge of COVID-19 infections, the slow flow of vaccine doses from around the world is finally picking up speed, giving hope that low inoculation rates can increase and help blunt the effect of the rapidly spreading delta variant.
With many vaccine pledges still unfulfilled and rates of infection spiking across multiple countries, however, experts say more needs to be done to help nations struggling with the overflow of patients and shortages of oxygen and other critical supplies.
Some 1.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived Thursday afternoon in Indonesia, which has become a dominant hot spot with record high infections and deaths.
The Health Ministry in Indonesia reported 54,517 confirmed new cases on Wednesday, up from about 8,000 a month ago. The country began its vaccine rollout in January, but only about 5.8 per cent of its 270 million people have received both shots.
‘Race between the vaccines and the variants’
The U.S. shipment follows three million other American doses of the Moderna vaccine that arrived Sunday, and 11.7 million doses of AstraZeneca that have come in batches since March through the UN-backed COVAX mechanism, the last earlier this week.
“It’s quite encouraging,” said Sowmya Kadandale, health chief in Indonesia of UNICEF, which is in charge of the distribution of vaccines provided through COVAX. “It seems now to be, and not just in Indonesia, a race between the vaccines and the variants, and I hope we win that race.”
Many, including the World Health Organization, have been critical of the vaccine inequalities in the world, pointing out that many wealthy nations have more than half of their populations at least partially vaccinated, while the vast majority of people in lower-income countries are still waiting on a first dose.
The International Red Cross warned this week of a “widening global vaccine divide” and said wealthy countries needed to increase the pace of following through on their pledges.
Vietnam, Thailand and South Korea have all imposed new lockdown restrictions over the past week as they struggle to contain rapidly rising infections amid sluggish vaccination campaigns.
While the majority of recent deliveries have been American, Japan was sending one million doses of AstraZeneca on Thursday each to Indonesia, Taiwan and Vietnam as part of bilateral deals, and Vietnam said it was receiving 1.5 million more AstraZeneca doses from Australia.
The Philippines is expecting a total of 16 million doses in July, including 3.2 million from the U.S. later this week, 1.1 million from Japan, 132,000 of Sputnik V from Russia, as well as others through COVAX. Japan is also sending 11 million through COVAX this month to Bangladesh, Cambodia, Iran, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and others.
Canada this week committed an additional 17.7 million surplus AstraZeneca doses to the 100 million already pledged through COVAX, which is co-ordinated by GAVI, a vaccine alliance. France delivered 1.7 million doses worldwide through June with COVAX and is sending millions more this summer.
In addition to distributing some donated vaccines, financial contributions to COVAX also help fund the purchase of doses to distribute for free to 92 low- or moderate-income nations.
Earlier this month, it took blistering criticism from the African Union for how long it was taking for vaccines to reach the continent, noting that just one per cent of Africans are fully vaccinated.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of early Thursday morning, Canada had reported 1,421,831 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 4,830 considered active. The country’s COVID-19 death toll stood at 26,458. More than 43.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far across the country, according to a CBC News tally.
In Atlantic Canada on Wednesday, there were just three new cases of COVID-19. Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador said the cases were found in people aboard one of the ships currently anchored off the coast.The provincial Department of Health said eight crew members from one ship have tested positive, and there are 14 cases aboard another vessel.
There were no new cases reported Wednesday in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, where some COVID-19 testing centres are closing.
Ontario health officials reported seven additional deaths on Wednesday and 153 new cases of COVID-19.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba saw no additional deaths on Wednesday 53 additional cases of COVID-19. The province is moving into the second stage of its reopening plan on Saturday — weeks earlier than planned.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said at a briefing that the vaccination efforts are “paying off” as he announced the changes, which will include easing of restrictions on indoor gatherings.
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported 18 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and no new deaths.
Health officials in Alberta reported one death Wednesday and 46 new COVID-19 infections.
Across the North, there were no new cases reported Wednesday in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon — where officials are expanding the number of people allowed to gather under COVID-19 restrictions with more than three-quarters of residents fully vaccinated.
In British Columbia, there were no new deaths recorded Wednesday and 41 new cases of COVID-19.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:55 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 188.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to a case-tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than four million.
In the Americas, Argentina has reported more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, a heavy blow to a country that intermittently imposed some of the most severe lockdowns in the world, only to see erratic compliance by many people.
Recent coronavirus variants have helped spread the disease even faster and the vaccine program, while making progress, is still falling short.
The Health Ministry said Wednesday that 614 people died from the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 100,250.
In Africa, Senegal is experiencing an “unprecedented” surge in infections, after reporting a new daily record of 733 cases.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Australia reported a slowdown in new COVID-19 cases in Sydney on Thursday, while Melbourne and the rest of the state of Victoria was ordered into a five-day lockdown on Thursday following a spike in COVID-19 infections. The country’s two main population hubs have been battling outbreaks of the delta variant.
In Europe, daily coronavirus cases in Britain have risen above 40,000 for the first time in nearly six months. Government figures showed another 42,302 infections, the highest daily figure since Jan. 15 when the country was in strict lockdown following a lethal second wave of the pandemic.
Cases are expected to spike higher, with the government warning an unprecedented 100,000 daily infections may be possible this summer.
The sharp uptick in cases in recent weeks from the more contagious delta variant has prompted concerns about the coming easing of restrictions on Monday in England, which will remove legal limits on social contact and mask-wearing.
In the Middle East, Kuwait reported 11 deaths on Wednesday and 1,623 new cases of COVID-19, local media reported.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET