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U.S. Politics

VP Pence prepares for jab as Moderna vaccine nears US approval


US Vice President Mike Pence prepared to roll up his sleeve for a public coronavirus jab on Friday as the country neared approval of a second vaccine and several European leaders quarantined ahead of the Christmas holidays.

Pence’s move comes as inoculation efforts unfurl across the globe, with officials mounting campaigns to quash skepticism about the record-fast development of the jabs.

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The vice president’s public injection is an effort to “build confidence among the American people” about the safety of the vaccines, the White House said. 

Due to be held at the White House, the event caps the country’s first week of a mass immunization program against a virus that has killed more than 300,000 Americans.

Worldwide, at least 1.66 million people have died from Covid-19 and more than 74 million cases have been diagnosed, according to an AFP count. 

The Moderna shot is now expected to become the second vaccine allowed in a Western country after a panel of US experts recommended emergency use approval, a week after greenlighting the Pfizer/BioNtech jab. 

Other leaders around the world are also lining up for on-camera injections to counter small but often vocal anti-vaccination movements. 

President-elect Joe Biden, 78, has announced plans to take a vaccine in public soon, while 68-year-old Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would take the domestically-produced Sputnik V jab as soon as it is approved for his age group.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also plans to get a public injection on Saturday.

– EU isolating –

The European Union is facing heavy pressure to approve vaccines after Britain and the United States have already administered tens of thousands of shots while China and Russia have begun efforts with their own vaccines. 

The bloc intends to start its inoculations with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before the end of the year. 

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen described it as “Europe’s moment” in the battle against the virus as the continent became the first region to pass half a million deaths.

Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis declared he and other party leaders would be among the first to get a jab “to demonstrate our confidence in science”.

Elsewhere, a raft of European politicians were forced to isolate after French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for coronavirus.

Following recent contact with Macron, European Council chief Charles Michel and the prime ministers of Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg went into quarantine. 

It comes as the continent battles 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. 

Several European countries are hardening restrictions as fears grow of an explosion in cases after the Christmas holidays.

Germany has been reporting record high infections as its early mastery over the virus has slipped.

Yet German business confidence nevertheless rose in December, a survey showed Friday, likely reflecting optimism about vaccines.

– China widens vaccination –

In China at least one million people have already received shots from 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.

Elsewhere, 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 the 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.


Becca Milfeld with AFP bureaus

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