US Vice President Mike Pence received a Covid-19 jab on live television Friday as the country prepared to greenlight its second vaccine in a boost to the planet’s unprecedented immunization campaign.
Pence’s move comes as inoculation efforts are unfurling around the world in the race to halt a pandemic that has claimed at least 1.66 million lives and infected more than 74 million people.
Yet in hard-hit Europe — which is yet to approve a vaccine — unease was mounting after Slovakia’s 47-year-old Prime Minister Igor Matovic tested positive Friday for Covid-19 a week after attending an EU summit in Brussels.
The summit is believed to be where French President Emmanuel Macron caught the virus, an announcement a day earlier that led a host of European leaders and top French officials to rush into self-isolation.
Elsewhere, world leaders from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are pledging to get public injections like Pence in order to boost faith in the jabs.
“Building confidence in the vaccine is what brings us here this morning,” Pence said after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTeh shot at the White House with his wife.
“I didn’t feel a thing.”
The event capped the US’s first week of a mass vaccination program with the Pfizer/BioNtech jab against a virus that has killed more than 300,000 Americans.
Another vaccine, made by Moderna, is now expected to become the second shot allowed in a Western country after a panel of US experts recommended emergency use approval.
President Donald Trump — notably absent from Pence’s vaccine event — has frequently downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19 throughout the pandemic.
But he has been eager to take credit for record-fast vaccine breakthroughs.
He sparked some confusion Friday by jumping the gun to declare Moderna approved, ahead of the final verdict from the Food and Drug Administration expected later in the day.
“Distribution to start immediately,” Trump tweeted.
Two billion doses
The European Union is facing pressure to approve vaccines after Britain and the United States have administered tens of thousands of shots while China and Russia have launched efforts with domestically-produced vaccines.
The bloc intends to begin its inoculations with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before the end of the year, with some countries naming December 27 as a start date.
Poorer countries also got a boost Friday when the World Health Organization and partners said vaccines would be distributed early next year to the 190 countries in its Covax initiative, a pooling effort formed to ensure an equitable distribution.
“The light at the end of the tunnel has grown a little bit brighter,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference.
Two billion doses have been secured from developers AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novovax and Sanofi/GSK, though none of their candidates have so far received authorisation for use.
In China at least one million people have already received shots from domestically-produced vaccine candidates approved for “emergency use”.
After focusing on priority groups, the country plans to widen its program to the public in southwestern Sichuan province early next year, health officials said.
China’s five coronavirus vaccines are in the final stages of development, but none has received official approval and the results of late-stage trials have yet to be published.
Africa’s second wave
While the world’s vaccine plans have lifted spirits, the virus is still claiming thousands of lives every day.
Europe is still in the throes of a winter surge that has caused almost 37,000 deaths over the past seven days, the highest weekly toll since the start of the pandemic.
And Africa was bracing for a second wave as new virus cases emerge in the east, north and south.
In total the continent of more than 1.2 billion people has registered over 57,000 deaths, with one latest victim former president of Burundi Pierre Buyoya.
He died at age 71 on Thursday just weeks after resigning as the African Union’s special envoy to Mali and the Sahel.
Yet the epidemic has still not been as destructive in the continent as experts feared, possibly because of Africa’s youthful population, cross-immunity derived from previous epidemics and a lower population density in some countries.
Latin America, however, is still seeing hard days, with Brazil and Mexico logging the highest number of new deaths after the United States.
Despite warnings against large Christmas celebrations, Mexico’s capital was still churning out pinatas for the holiday season.
Instead of the traditional door-to-door carolling, Hilda Varela, a 66-year-old doctor, was among those settling for a middle ground with a celebration on Facebook.
“By tradition, you cannot close the door to God. Even if online, we will go forward,” she told AFP.