France expands vaccines to elderly, Brazil inoculates first citizens against COVID-19

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Jan. 18 (UPI) — France expanded its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to people over the age of 75 on Monday and Brazil began inoculating its first citizens as cases of the virus soared to more than 95 million.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran called on some 6 million people to begin receiving vaccinations this week. He said at least half a million elderly citizens have made appointments.

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Up until Monday only healthcare professionals and nursing home residents over the age of 50 were allowed to receive the vaccine.

Also Monday, new travel restrictions went into effect in requiring people from non-European Union to have a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in France. Those travelers must also quarantine for seven days once they enter the country.

France has recorded nearly 3 million cases of the novel coronavirus and more than 70,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s global tracker.

A nurse in Brazil became the country’s first person to be inoculated against COVID-19 Sunday after its health regulator gave emergency use authorization to two coronavirus vaccines.

The Board of Directors of Anvisa, the Brazilian health regulatory agency, unanimously voted Sunday to grant emergency use to vaccines developed by both Chinese company Sinovac and AstraZeneca.

Shortly after, nurse Monica Calazans, 54, was inoculated against the deadly coronavirus, the Sao Paulo government announced in a release.

Calazans, who is considered high risk to experience severe complications if she contracts the coronavirus as she suffers from hypertension and diabetes, works in the intensive care unit at a Sao Paulo reference hospital for serious cases of COVID-19 with an average occupancy rate for beds dedicated to battling the virus at about 90%.

“It’s not just a vaccine,” she said. “It is the restart of a life that can be fair, without prejudice and with the guarantee that we will all have the same conditions to live with dignity, with health and well-being.”

The vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech has shown an efficacy rate of 50.38% in vaccine trials, according to a statement published by the government of Sao Paulo, compared to an average efficacy rate of 70.4% for the vaccine AstraZeneca developed with Oxford University.

The Sao Paulo government on Sunday announced it has launched a website to ramp up its vaccination campaign now that its roll up may begin with priority given to healthcare professionals and indigenous people.

Vanuzia Costa Santos, 50, became the first indigenous person in Brazil to be vaccinated against the virus on Sunday, the government said in a separate statement.

In a village of about 200 families, Santos works as a nurse technician and social worker.

“I was very happy to participate in this moment,” she said. “I am a defender of life, other vaccines, prevention and health. We must value education, science and this can be reconciled by maintaining a belief, with the prayers and traditional medicine of my people.”

The vaccination campaign began as the country continues to battle infections.

On Sunday, the country reported 518 deaths and 31,394 cases, lifting its totals to nearly 210,000 deaths and 8.5 million cases, making Brazil one of the sickest countries to the pandemic. Only the United States has more deaths to the disease and only the United States and India have more cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Last week, the Sao Paulo government announced that 4.5 million vaccine doses will be sent to a distribution and logistics center by Monday and that 10.8 million doses are already in Brazil with plans for 46 million to be made available by the end of March.

Worldwide, there have been more than 95 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with more than 2 million deaths.