Vaccines offer hope one year after pandemic declared

·4-min read
Countries are hoping vaccines will clear the path to a return to normal, but the rollout has been uneven globally, with demand far outstripping supply.

The world on Thursday marked one year since the coronavirus threat was declared a pandemic, with vaccinations offering hope but much of humanity still enduring highly restricted lives and no clear path back to normality.

More than 2.6 million people have now died from the virus, a staggering toll unimaginable before the virus swept the globe -- subjecting most of humanity to restrictions of some form and eviscerating the global economy.

Today, countries are hoping vaccines will clear the path to a return to normal, but the rollout has been uneven globally, with demand far outstripping supply.

In a promising development in Europe, the continent's medical regulator approved the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is stored at higher temperatures than its competitors making it easier to distribute.

It is the fourth vaccine to get the nod from the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency for use in the bloc, which has come under fire for its sluggish rollout.

But the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine hit a snag Thursday as Denmark temporarily suspended its use as a precaution after some patients developed blood clots since receiving the jab. Norway and Iceland quickly followed suit.

The UK swiftly issued a statement saying the jab was "safe and effective".

"When people are asked to come forward and take it, they should do so in confidence," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's official spokesman told reporters.


- 'Paying for it' -

In some countries, it was hard to see the glimmer of hope offered by vaccines.

Hotspot Brazil on Wednesday reported a record 2,286 deaths in a single day as more contagious new variants fuel a surge there.

"It took a long time for the politicians to act... we are paying for it, the poor people," said Adilson Menezes, 40, outside a hospital in Brazil's biggest city Sao Paulo.

But across the Atlantic in Europe, some governments were moving toward lifting punishing restrictions.

France said it would ease travel restrictions from seven countries -- including the UK -- while Portugal was set to peel back some of its anti-virus measures later Thursday.


- 'War footing' -

Since first emerging in China at the end of 2019, the coronavirus has infected nearly 118 million people, with no corner of the globe left untouched.

The World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11 last year as infection numbers were beginning to explode across Asia and Europe.

The only defences to the contagious virus then appeared to be face masks and stopping people from interacting.

Global aviation came to a standstill and governments imposed deeply unpopular restrictions, forcing billions of fearful people into some form of lockdown.

"We are on a war footing," Corinne Krencker, the head of a hospital network in eastern France told AFP on March 11 last year, as patient and death numbers began to surge.

At the same time, governments and scientists launched the race to create vaccines -- research and development that would take place at an unprecedented, breakneck pace.

Today, several shots are being rolled out, including those developed in the United States, Germany, China, Russia and India.

More than 300 million vaccine doses have been administered in 140 countries, according to an AFP count.


- Vaccines at the Olympics -

The global vaccine rollout has also exposed power and wealth divides.

Rich nations have surged ahead with their mass vaccination programs, while billions in poorer nations are still waiting to receive shots.

Hope for a worldwide push has been boosted by the launch of deliveries under the WHO-backed Covax scheme, which aims to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines.

And the sports world -- after a year of cancelled or spectator-less matches -- also looked to a return to normal thanks to more jabs.

The International Olympic Committee said athletes at the much-delayed Tokyo Games and 2022 Beijing Winter Games would be offered vaccines bought from China, offering optimism the competition in Japan may actually move ahead safely this summer.

There was more good news on the immunisation front, when a real-world study in Israel -- which is leading the world's vaccine race -- showed the Pfizer/BioNTech jabs to be 97 percent effective against symptomatic Covid cases, higher than originally thought.

Meanwhile, in the United States, congress passed one of its biggest stimulus efforts ever -- a $1.9 trillion package that President Joe Biden said would give struggling American families a "fighting chance".

Vaccination efforts there have gained momentum in recent weeks, with Biden vowing to have enough doses in place within months for the entire population in a country that has already clocked some 529,000 deaths, the highest in the world.

Biden, who is expected to sign into law on Friday, will deliver a prime-time address on Thursday in which he will offer an optimistic vision for his nation.

"There is real reason for hope, folks, I promise you," Biden said in a preview of his remarks.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel."