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The Latest: Policy switch aims to boost India's vaccinations

·4 min read

NEW DELHI — Every adult in India is now eligible for a free vaccine paid for by the federal government.

The changed role for the federal government starting Monday ends a complex system of buying and distributing vaccines that overburdened states and created inequities in who got the shots.

The switch comes as coronavirus cases continue to drop. India registered 53,256 new infections and 1,422 deaths in the last 24 hours, the lowest in nearly three months. That raises its totals past 29.8 million cases and 386,000 deaths, though both are likely undercounts.

The lagging vaccination drive, marred by delays and shortages, prompted the revised strategy.

Earlier, states and the private sector had to procure jabs themselves and provide them to younger adults. Now, the federal government will procure 75% of all vaccines directly from manufacturers and provide them to the states for free. The remaining 25% will be purchased by the private sector.

Only about 5% of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people are fully immunized, and experts hope the new policy will help end supply issues and make vaccines more accessible.

Meanwhile, more cities and states are easing restrictions. Starting Monday, parks, restaurants and bars can open in New Delhi with some restrictions on capacity and timings. The southern state of Telangana has lifted its lockdown, while neighboring Karnataka state eased restrictions in 16 more districts. Even though some states have extended curfews, they have allowed shops and offices to open with limited capacity.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Hesitancy undermining India’s vaccination efforts, especially in rural areas where most people live

— Thousands of Japanese companies are giving vaccines to workers, boosting nation’s slow rollout

— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE'S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

CANBERRA, Australia — A top health official is urging Australians to get their second doses of AstraZeneca despite deaths from the vaccine exceeding the nation’s COVID-19 death toll this year.

Two women in Australia have died from rare blood clots caused by the vaccine. The only COVID-19 fatality this year was an 80-year-old traveler who died in April after being infected overseas and diagnosed in hotel quarantine.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told state leaders on Monday that health authorities did not recommend people follow up their first AstraZeneca dose with a different vaccine. Globally, the safety and effectiveness of switching vaccines between doses is still being tested.

He urged people not to cancel their second AstraZenca jab, which is booked three months after the first, saying the chances of developing blood clots after a second dose were 1.5 in a million.

COVID-19 has claimed 910 lives in Australia, but vaccine hesitancy is on the rise as the death rate slows.

Australia last week lifted its recommended age limit for AstraZeneca from 50 to 60 after a 52-year-old woman died of clots. A 48-year-old woman died in April.

Pfizer is currently the only alternative to AstraZeneca in Australia, although Moderna is expected to be registered soon. The government hopes that every Australian adult who wants a vaccine will have access to one by the end of the year.

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government has signed a purchase deal for 40 million doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in its largest such agreement this year after huge demands from wealthy countries started to ease.

Carlito Galvez Jr., who oversees the government’s vaccine purchases, said bulk shipments funded by loans from the Asian Development Bank and other lenders will start in August.

He asked towns and provinces to prepare to receive “very sensitive vaccines” like Pfizer. The Philippine archipelago has sweltering tropical weather conditions, and many rural areas also lack warehouses, delivery aircraft and trucks equipped to keep the vaccines at sub-zero temperatures.

“We don’t want any vaccine to be wasted because of spoilage and mishandling,” Galvez said.

The Philippines has concluded deals to buy 113 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from five foreign pharmaceutical companies and expects to receive 44 million doses this year under the U.N.-backed COVAX program. It has administered more than 8 million doses so far from existing stocks.

The Pfizer vaccine will considerably boost the country’s immunization campaign “and will enable us to realize our goal of achieving herd immunity by year end,” Galvez said.

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Medical regulators in New Zealand have approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in children as young as 12, following the lead of regulators in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.

The decision by Medsafe was welcomed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, although it still needs official sign-off from the government, which is likely later this month.

The Pfizer vaccine was previously approved in New Zealand for people aged 16 and older.

Ardern said about 265,000 extra children would be eligible under the expanded coverage, although she didn’t believe it would alter plans to complete the nation’s coronavirus vaccination rollout by the year’s end.

New Zealand plans to use only the Pfizer vaccine to inoculate its population of 5 million.

The Associated Press

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