Coronavirus: Pence receives vaccination live on TV

World wrap: WHO warns against gatherings at Christmas as it is ‘not worth the risk’

US vice-president Mike Pence receives a COVID-19 vaccine to promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine at the White House. Photograph: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty

US vice-president Mike Pence receives a COVID-19 vaccine to promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine at the White House. Photograph: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty

 

US vice-president Mike Pence has received his first coronavirus jab live on TV alongside his wife Karen and US surgeon general Jerome Adams.

The trio were vaccinated on Friday morning in an office suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building from three medical technicians from Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre.

Mr Pence said the speed with which the vaccine was developed is “a medical miracle”.

“I didn’t feel a thing, well done,” Mr Pence told the medics who administered his Pfizer/BioNTech shot early on Friday morning.

He did not flinch during the quick prick, nor did his wife or Mr Adams.

“Hope is on the way,” Mr Pence said.

“The American people can be confident — we have one and, perhaps within hours, two safe vaccines,” he added, referring to expected Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for Moderna’s vaccine.

Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine was the first to be approved.

“Building confidence in the vaccine is what brings us here this morning,” he said.

Mr Adams emphasised “the importance of representation” in outreach to at-risk communities and encouraged Americans to avoid disinformation around the vaccines.

US president Donald Trump’s administration has helped deliver vaccinations against coronavirus earlier than even some in his administration thought possible.

Operation Warp Speed — the US government campaign to help swiftly develop and distribute vaccines — was launched in spring with great fanfare in the White House Rose Garden.

But five days into the largest vaccination campaign in the nation’s history, Mr Trump has held no public events to herald the rollout.

He has not been inoculated himself and has tweeted only twice about the vaccine.

Mr Pence, meanwhile, has taken centre stage — touring a vaccine production facility this week and receiving a dose himself on live TV.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell both said on Thursday that they will get vaccinated in the next few days.

Mr Biden expects to receive his shot as soon as next week.

“Don’t let Joe Biden take credit for the vaccines,” Mr Trump has told reporters.

World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has appealed to people to stay home during the holiday season as it is “not worth the risk” of catching Covid-19.

With more than two-thirds of England’s population to be living under Tier 3 measures from Saturday as the UK government tries to stem rising infections, WHO said “the safest thing to do right now is to remain at home”.

The organisation’s regional director for Europe Dr Hans Kluge said: “There remains a difference between what you are being permitted to do by your authorities and what you should do.”

A medical staff explains a SARS CoV-2 rapid test to a person at the Corona Antigen Rapid test center at the ‘KitKat-Club’ in Berlin, Germany. Photograph: Markus Schreiber
A medical staff explains a SARS CoV-2 rapid test to a person at the Corona Antigen Rapid test center at the ‘KitKat-Club’ in Berlin, Germany. Photograph: Markus Schreiber

In a statement, he said: “We have a few more months of sacrifice ahead and can behave now in a way that collectively we are proud of. When we look back at these unprecedented times, I hope we all felt we acted with a spirit of shared humanity to protect those in need.”

Dr Kluge said the pandemic’s “devastation” had hit communities across Europe.

“Covid-19 has forced families and communities apart, bankrupted businesses, and deprived people of opportunities that a year ago were taken for granted,” he said.

“From anxieties around virus transmission, the psychological impact of lockdowns and self-isolation, to the effects of unemployment, financial worries and social exclusion – the mental health impact of the pandemic will be long term and far reaching.

“What has resulted is a growing mental health crisis in Europe.”

Sweden

The king of Sweden has said the country has failed in its response to Covid-19, as hospitals in the Stockholm region warned they were struggling to cope with a surge in cases and polls showed public confidence in the authorities had plunged to a new low.

“The people of Sweden have suffered tremendously in difficult conditions,” King Carl XVI Gustaf told the state broadcaster, SVT, in an end-of-year interview. “I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died, and that is terrible.”

The comments were initially taken as a criticism of Sweden’s controversial anti-lockdown strategy, but the royal court later said the king was referring “to the whole of Sweden and the whole society. He is showing empathy for all those affected.”

The rare royal intervention came after the two major Swedish regions of Stockholm and Skåne announced they had been forced to postpone non-emergency operations as the country’s health sector strains to deal with a second wave of infections.

“We will manage emergency care, we will manage Covid care,” Skåne’s regional health director, Alf Jönsson, said on Wednesday. “But this will happen at the expense of other healthcare.” More than 25 per cent of Covid-19 tests were positive, he said.

The Stockholm regional healthcare director said all non-urgent care would be put off until at least January 31st. “My duty now is to do everything I can to relieve and help care staff,” Björn Eriksson said. “They have to keep going for weeks, months.”

An Ipsos poll for the daily Dagens Nyheter on Thursday showed public support for Anders Tegnell, the country’s chief epidemiologist and architect of its light-touch strategy, had fallen 13 points to 59 per cent, with trust in the public health agency down from 68 per cent to 52 per cent. Confidence in the the authorities in general slumped to a record low of 34per cent.

Tegnell said in a television interview it was too soon to say whether Sweden’s strategy had failed. “Pretty much every country is struggling with this,” he told TV4, adding that he had been surprised by the scale of the second wave and conceding the situation was “beginning to approach breaking point” in some areas.

Total Covid-associated deaths in Sweden, which has avoided strict mandatory lockdowns in favour of largely voluntary measures, reached 7,802 on Wednesday, with more than 500 in the last week and in excess of 1,800 since the beginning of November.

Its toll per million of 766.2 is approximately 10 times higher than neighbouring Norway and Finland and nearly five times that of Denmark, but lower than some European countries that imposed lockdowns such as France, Italy, Spain and Britain.

The country’s approach has so far relied mainly on citizens’ responsibility to observe hygiene and distancing recommendations, with shops, bars and restaurants staying open throughout the pandemic and masks not recommended outside hospitals.

As the second wave struck, however, the public health agency and government issued tougher rules, banning alcohol sales after 10pm, reducing public gatherings from 50 to eight people, and switching high schools to online teaching.

People have also been told to avoid public transport and crowded stores, limit social interactions to single households or people already in regular contact, and not go to the gym, library, shopping centres or other public places.

UK

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing in the UK, warned relaxing coronavirus restrictions over Christmas could lead to an “unrelenting tsunami” of cases of coronavirus also known as Covid-19.

“After a difficult year, it is everybody’s instinct to want to be together and see loved ones – especially those who live far apart or feel isolated. But what is at stake is coming into sharp focus,” she said.

“Travelling and family visits associated with this time of year will undoubtedly lead to more cases, more pressure on NHS and care services, and more deaths. By turning the second and third waves into an unrelenting tsunami, we would begin 2021 in the worst possible way.”

She said nurses would not enjoy Christmas “knowing what awaits them in January” and called on the UK government to be “clearer about the risks – not just the rules”, warning: “This virus isn’t taking Christmas off and nor should we.”

US

An unrelenting coronavirus surge pushed besieged hospitals further to the brink as the United States pressed on with its immunization rollout on Thursday and prepared to ship nearly 6 million doses of a new vaccine on the cusp of winning regulatory approval.

Virus hospitalisations rose to record heights for a 19th straight day, with nearly 113,000 coronavirus patients counted in U.S. medical facilities nationwide on Wednesday, while 3,580 more perished, the most yet in a single day.

The virus has claimed over 311,000 lives in the United States to date, and health experts have warned of a deepening crisis this winter as intensive care units (ICUs) fill up and hospital beds spill over into hallways.

“We expect to have more dead bodies than we have spaces for them,” Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said at a briefing on Thursday, adding that the country’s second-largest city had fully exhausted its ICU capacity.

The number of US cases rose by at least 239,018 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, the highest one-day increase since the pandemic began, driving the number of known infections nationally to more than 17 million.

The tolls mounted as US regulators weighed whether to grant emergency use authorisation for a vaccine developed by Moderna Inc, just a week after an earlier vaccine from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE won consent for mass distribution.

China

China is planning to vaccinate 50 million people against the coronavirus before the start of the peak Lunar New Year travel season early next year, the South China Morning Post reported on Friday.

Beijing is planning to distribute 100 million doses of the two-dose inactivated vaccines made by Chinese firms Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech Ltd, the report said.

Australia

Australian states and territories on Friday began imposing border restrictions after 28 cases of the virus were detected from a cluster on Sydney’s northern beaches, with fears the number of infections will rise.

New South Wales (NSW) has urged about a quarter of a million residents in the affected suburbs in Sydney to stay home for three days. “My anxiety is we have not found the direct transmission route and we cannot be sure we have blocked the transmission line,” NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.

The new border restrictions threw Christmas travel plans for thousands of people into chaos.

Many people flocked to Sydney airport to try and fly out of the state, fearing hard border closures. Some travellers who left NSW were placed in immediate hotel quarantine for 14 days when they landed in another state.

Singapore study

Pregnant women with Covid-19 do not get more sick than the wider population, according to a Singapore study published on Friday, which also found that babies born to infected mothers have antibodies against the novel coronavirus.

The small study of 16 women also found no evidence of virus transmission between mother and baby, offering insights into an area of Covid-19 infection still not well understood globally.

The World Health Organisation says pregnant women can be badly affected by some respiratory infections, and that it is not known whether mothers with the virus can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy or delivery.

Brazil Supreme Court

Brazil recorded over a 1,000 new Covid-19 deaths for the first time in more than three months on Thursday, as its Supreme Court ruled that vaccinations could be required in the South American country.

Appetite for a widespread lockdown appears limited in Brazil, which has pockets of severe poverty. But a Brazilian Supreme Court justice issued an order requiring bars and restaurants in Sao Paulo, the nation’s most populous state, to stop serving alcohol after 8pm

The court also ruled that Brazilians could be “required, but not forced” by civil authorities to be vaccinated.

The specific enforcement mechanisms allowed by the order were not immediately clear, but Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski wrote in the majority ruling that individuals refusing to take vaccines could face sanctions, such as the inability to partake in certain activities or to frequent certain locations.

India

India recorded 22,890 new coronavirus infections, the health ministry said on Friday, taking its overall tally to 20,000 short of the 10-million mark. India has recorded the world’s second-highest number of infections behind the United States, but numbers have dipped steadily since hitting a peak in September. – Agencies