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AFP
August 20, 2020

Vaccine should be mandatory says Australian PM

World

AFP
August 20, 2020

SYDNEY: Australia’s leader called on Wednesday for coronavirus immunisations to be mandatory, wading into ethical and safety debates raging around the world as the race to develop a vaccine gathers pace.

Almost 30 potential vaccines are currently being tested on humans across the globe in hope of ending a pandemic that has now killed more than 775,000 people and infected nearly 22 million, according to an AFP tally.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he wants all 25 million Australians to get the jab after the country secured access to a vaccine currently under development by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

"There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis," he said. Nations are scrambling to develop an immunisation or gain access to one of a handful of contenders in the final stages of clinical trials.

Upping the ante, Russia on August 11 said it had developed the world’s first vaccine offering "sustainable immunity", and was in the final stage of human testing. But the announcement was met with scepticism by the World Health Organisation, which said it still needed a rigorous review, and scientists say it has been approved without large-scale trials.

Among the competitors, Brazilian health regulators on Tuesday gave the green light to the final stage of trials on a vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. The US pharmaceutical firm will test its drug on 7,000 volunteers in Brazil, authorities said, part of a group of up to 60,000 worldwide.

South Africa, meanwhile, will launch clinical trials of a US-developed vaccine with 2,900 volunteers this week, the second such study in the African country worst hit by the disease. However, the push for a vaccine has coincided with a rise in anti-vaccine sentiment that could hinder efforts to encourage widespread uptake.

The global outbreak has seen a sharp rise in online misinformation, speculation and opposition -- something experts have dubbed an "infodemic" -- with debate raging over whether vaccine rules impinge on personal freedoms.

The WHO has said the planet’s highest-risk populations must all be inoculated simultaneously or else it will be impossible to rebuild the global economy. It has appealed to countries to join its global shared vaccine programme rather than go it alone in developing a cure.

Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the most exposed 20 percent of each country’s population -- including frontline health workers, adults over 65 and those with pre-existing conditions -- would be vaccinated first in the WHO-led scheme.

"The fastest way to end this pandemic and to reopen economies is to start by protecting the highest risk populations everywhere, rather than the entire populations of just some countries," he said. His warning comes as the virus refuses to die across large parts of the globe, with South Korea and Lebanon the latest countries to witness new spikes.

In a short study published onTuesday in the US medical journal JAMA Network Open, virologists at a university hospital in Frankfurt, Germany meticulously contacted all of the passengers from the flight -- none of whom had worn masks at the time -- to examine the actual risk posed by the presence of travelers infected with Covid-19. On March 9, 102 passengers boarded the Tel Aviv-Frankfurt flight that lasted four hours and 40 minutes, including a group of 24 tourists.

German authorities were alerted that the group had come into contact with an infected hotel manager in Israel, and decided to test the 24 tourists upon their arrival in Frankfurt. Seven of them tested positive, as did another seven later on. Four to five weeks later, researchers contacted the 78 other passengers from the flight, 90 percent of whom responded. The researchers asked them whom they had come into contact with and what symptoms they had, and tested several of them. They found two passengers were most likely infected during the flight: the two people sitting across the aisle from the original seven cases.

For respiratory viruses, experts traditionally consider the contagion zone in an airplane to extend two rows of seats in front of the infected person and two rows behind. But shockingly, a person seated in the row (seat 44K) directly ahead of two of the infected tourists (seats 45J and 45H) was not infected.

The researchers also said that multiple studies on repatriation flights from Wuhan, China at the start of the pandemic found that no transmissions occurred on board while passengers were masked.