This is the News in Brief from the United Nations.
COVID: Using AstraZeneca vaccine is ‘right thing to do’ for everyone: WHO
A World Health Organization (WHO) expert panel has countered concerns over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine and urged countries to use it, including those where variants have surfaced.
The development follows the recent release of data from a study in South Africa indicating that the AstraZeneca jab provided little protection against a variant of the new coronavirus among older people.
At a press conference in Geneva of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), Dr Kate O’Brien, WHO’s head of immunization, said that the study’s findings were “inconclusive”.
And she explained that the highest impact of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been among the most poorly patients.
“For all of the vaccines there is a gradient of response...The highest response is against the most severe disease and then somewhat lower efficacy for moderate and then further down for mild disease…so given all the evidence on mild to moderate disease we would expect that whatever the efficacy is it would be higher against severe disease than mild and moderate.”
COVID numbers are still too high in Europe, warns WHO regional director
In related news, the World Health Organization warned on Thursday that coronavirus infections “are still too high” in Europe and that the region’s countries should not lose hard-won gains by reopening “too fast”.
Dr Hans Kluge, the UN agency’s Regional Director for Europe, said that “the overwhelming majority of European countries remain vulnerable”, with more than one million cases reported every week.
This was despite a falling number of deaths in the last two weeks and decreasing infection rates over the past month - although earlier this week, 40 countries in the European Region reported 3,610 COVID deaths in only 24 hours.
According to the UN agency, in the 29 European countries offering COVID vaccinations, only 7.8 million people have completed their immunization series - just 1.5 per cent of the population in those States.
Highlighting the need for governments to avoid making “rash” decisions around lifting coronavirus restrictions, Dr. Kluge said that the relative decline in case numbers “conceals increasing numbers of outbreaks and community spread involving variants”.
The so-called South African variant B.1.351 has now been identified in 19 European countries, the WHO official explained.
Remove activists from ‘terrorist list’, urge UN-appointed independent experts
An appeal now from UN-appointed independent rights experts to the Egyptian authorities to remove two activists from a “terrorist” list - and to stop allegedly misusing counter-terrorism powers.
Highlighting the cases of Ramy Shaath and Zyad El-Elaimy, whose names were added to the list last year, the rights experts said that they were deeply disturbed by Egypt’s counter-terrorism law, “its definitions and misuse”.
An appeal against the men’s listing was heard on appeal on Wednesday; the judgment is due to be given in a month.
In a statement, the experts - including Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Ní Aoláin – expressed concern that the listing procedure was used “to attack individuals engaged in human rights work”.
They alleged further that both men had been arrested in June 2019 and placed on the terror list “without evidence”, before insisting that misusing counter-terrorism powers was “not consistent” with the State’s international obligations.
Daniel Johnson, UN News.