EU holds virus talks as Pfizer says vaccine 94% effective

EU leaders met Thursday under the spectre of Europe’s sluggish vaccine drive as Pfizer said its Covid jab proved 94 percent effective, raising hopes for mass immunisation campaigns to help end the pandemic.

The news came as the World Health Organization (WHO) urged governments to try to better understand the long-term consequences of coronavirus on some sufferers, calling the impact of prolonged symptoms a “significant” burden. 

The virus was centre stage at a virtual EU meeting where leaders were due to discuss Europe’s vaccine procurement woes — and also debate so called “green passports”. 

Ahead of the video-conference, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov called for passes to be issued to allow Europeans who have been vaccinated to travel and socialise.

“We want to get back to normal as quickly as possible, have our old lives back and maximum freedom,” Kurz tweeted.

The bloc has been plagued by vaccine supply problems and has come under fire for its stuttering rollout. 

Just four percent of the EU’s 450 million people have received at least one jab, according to an AFP tally, and only two percent have been fully vaccinated with two doses. 

But European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said her goal is to have 70 percent of adults in the European Union vaccinated by mid-September.

– Israel, US lead vaccine rollouts –

Vaccines are boosting hopes that countries can finally start to emerge from the pandemic that has killed more than 2.4 million people and infected at least 112 million worldwide. 

But rollouts have been patchy so far and most of the 217 million vaccine doses administered globally have gone to wealthier countries, with Israel and the United States leading the way. 

The latest news from Pfizer came from a large real-world study published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday that involved 1.2 million people in Israel, where 52 percent of the population has received at least one dose. 

The jab’s efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19 was 94 percent seven or more days after the second dose — very close to the 95 percent achieved during Phase 3 clinical trials.

“This is the first peer-reviewed large scale evidence for the effectiveness of a vaccine in real world conditions,” Ben Reis, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and one of the paper’s authors, told AFP.

– Plastic surgery boom –

As spirits were buoyed over the good vaccine news, the WHO urged government to look into long-term Covid, which causes some people to show symptoms for months, including tiredness, brain fog, and cardiac and neurological disorders. 

“It’s a clear priority for WHO, and of the utmost importance. It should be for every health authority,” said Hans Kluge, regional director for WHO Europe. 

In France, hopes of a return to normal on the sports front were dashed after more than a dozen rugby players and staff tested positive, forcing Sunday’s Six Nations match against Scotland to be scrapped.  

And in Japan, organisers of the delayed Olympic torch relay said fans could line the route when it kicks off next month, but cheering is strictly banned and social distancing will be enforced.

In the hospitality sector, there was more grim data as the world’s largest brewer AB InBev — which makes Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona — said annual profits were cut by half. 

Beer sales were way down around the world thanks to the closures of pubs and restaurants, and a boost of consumption at home couldn’t make up for badly hammered sales.

Meanwhile in the US, business has been unexpectedly booming for plastic surgeons who have seen an uptick in cosmetic procedures — seemingly a Zoom-era speciality. 

“It’s something new when you have to stare at your face for a couple of hours a day, and there’s only so much you can do with good lighting and good angles,” said real estate trainee Hudson Young after a series of nips and tucks.

by Marc Burleigh, with AFP bureaus