WHO advises against hydroxychloroquine to curb COVID-19

A World Health Organization (WHO) panel today strongly advised against using hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19, as the COVAX program gained more steam with vaccine doses arriving in Colombia and countries learning of their allocations.

In other developments, the WHO in its weekly situation report had more details about the recent rises in cases, which reversed a 6-week decline.

Hydroxy review finds no preventive effect

A WHO expert panel that reviewed hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 preventive based their firm conclusion on a review of six randomized controlled trials that included more than 6,000 participants who did and didn't have exposure to someone infected with the virus. They published their findings today in BMJ, as well as on the WHO's website.

With high certainty, the evidence showed no meaningful effect on death and hospital admission, and with moderate certainty found no effect on lab-confirmed infection. Also, the group wrote that the drug probably increases the risk of adverse effects.

Given the lack of evidence for any benefit, the panel said hydroxychloroquine shouldn't be a research priority anymore and that resources are better targeted to more promising drugs for preventing COVID-19.

In a statement, the WHO said today's recommendation marks the first of a living guideline for drugs to prevent COVID-19 and that the goal of the guidelines is to provide a trustworthy source for managing the disease and help doctors make better decisions for their patients.

Colombia receives COVAX shipment

Following yesterday's launch of immunization programs in the first two African countries, Ghana and Ivory Coast, the WHO's Pan American Health Organization (WHO) announced that Colombia today became the first country in the Americas to receive vaccines shipments from COVAX. The program, led by the WHO and three key partners, is designed to support vaccine development and provide equitable access to vaccine doses.

In a statement, it said Colombia received 117,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and that 36 Americas countries will receive Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine shipments in the weeks ahead.

In a related development today, the WHO and its COVAX partners announced the first round of allocations through the program. The partners include the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and UNICEF.

The initial allocations include 237 million doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, made by India's Serum Institute, through May 2021 to 142 participants. Distribution of 1.2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was announced in February. Allocation sizes range from 14.6 million in Pakistan to 4,800 in the Polynesian island country Tuvalu.

Hot spots fueling global case rise

In a briefing yesterday, the WHO warned that global COVID-19 cases were on the rise again, after falling for 6 consecutive weeks, and today in its weekly situation report it had more details on the trends and where cases are spiking. Overall, cases rose 7%, though deaths declined 6% compared to the week before.

Among the possible reasons for the increase include the spread of more transmissible variants, relaxation of COVID-19 measures, and the public's fatigue with following the public health steps, the WHO said. The impact of vaccination isn't yet apparent, since it takes weeks for in individual to become immune after immunization.

Virus activity rose in four of the WHO's regions, with the biggest increase seen in the Eastern Mediterranean region, followed by South East Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The five countries that added the most cases to the pandemic total over the past week include the United States, Brazil, France, Italy, and India.

Hot spots in the Americas include Argentina, which saw a 50% spike, and Brazil, where cases rose by 18%. Middle Eastern countries reporting the steepest rises include Iraq and Jordan. In Europe, the biggest surges were reported by Italy, where cases rose by 32%, the Czech Republic with a 26% spike, and France with a 14% increase. South East Asia's rise was mainly led by India's 26% increase in cases.

Regarding the spread of SARS-CoV-2 variants, five more countries reported their first B117 detections, raising the total to 106, and community transmission is underway in at least 42. Also, five more countries detected the B1351 variant, putting the total at 56. And for P1, one more country confirmed the virus, pushing the total to 29.

The global COVID-19 total today rose to 114,694,012 cases, and 2,544,559 people have died from their infections, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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