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Fully Vaccinated Travelers Can Soon Visit EU Countries

By Ernie Mundell and Robin Foster HealthDay Reporters

WEDNESDAY, May 19, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The fully vaccinated will soon be welcome to visit countries in the European Union, officials there announced Wednesday.

The new measures for tourists and other travelers could take effect as early as next week, The New York Times reported.

Visitors will be allowed into the bloc's 27 member states if they've been fully immunized with vaccines approved by the European Union's regulator or the World Health Organization. They include the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines.

That would make Americans, who have been receiving shots from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, eligible to travel to the EU.

Visitors from countries considered safe from a COVID-19 perspective will also be allowed to visit Europe, and a list of those countries will be finalized on Friday, the Times reported.

EU member states will still be able to require negative PCR tests or quarantines for certain visitors.

The EU will also have a legal "emergency brake" that will let it quickly return to more restrictive travel rules if a threatening new variant or other COVID-19 emergency emerges, the Times reported.

India posts highest daily death toll in pandemic so far

India reported the coronavirus pandemic's highest single daily death toll on Wednesday -- 4,529 -- as the virus raged through the country's rural regions.

The previous deadliest day for a single country was recorded in the United States in January, when 4,468 people died. Many experts believe the true number of deaths in India is even higher as evidence has emerged across the country of large numbers of people dying from COVID-19 who have not been officially counted, The New York Times reported.

The number of new cases was equally bleak: India reported 267,000 new cases on Tuesday, pushing the official case tally past 25 million, the Times said.

Meanwhile, British scientists have raised alarms about the coronavirus variant first found in India, the Washington Post reported. They advised the government of that country in technical papers that it could be as much as 50 percent more contagious than the already more infectious British variant that became dominant in many countries this spring.

Much remains unknown about the new Indian variant -- known as B.1.617.2 -- partly because Indian health officials have done so little genetic sequencing and cannot say how much it is responsible for the devastating outbreak there, the Post reported.

But Britain runs a consortium of genetic sequencing laboratories that are constantly on the lookout for new "variants of concern," and the arrival of the Indian variant has scientists and government officials in that country very concerned, the Post said.

While infections seem to be slowing down slightly in Indian cities like New Delhi and Mumbai, the virus is now spreading like wildfire through the country, the Times said. Testing there is limited, and the medical infrastructure is overwhelmed, the newspaper said.

Hospitals in India remain short of supplies, and the country's vaccination campaign has been slow. The death toll has remained over 4,000 for several days, suggesting that even if new infections are dropping in urban centers, those infected earlier in the outbreak are now dying.

The virus has not spared India's doctors and medical workers either.

More than 1,000 doctors have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began last year. The rate of deaths has been much higher, and the age of victims often much younger, since the second wave of infections started this spring, the Times reported. More than 260 doctors have died since April, according to the Indian Medical Association.

US to share another 20 million vaccine doses with countries in need

President Joe Biden announced this week that the United States will share another 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccines with countries that are in dire need of shots.

The move comes on the heels of his promise to share 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with the world by July 4. This latest batch of 20 million doses will include Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines as well as AstraZeneca's vaccine, which has yet to be approved by federal regulators before being shipped overseas, CNN reported.

"We need to help fight the disease around the world to keep us safe here at home and to do the right thing helping other people. It's the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, it's the strong thing to do," Biden said during a media briefing at the White House on Monday. "We want to lead the world with our values, with this demonstration of our innovation and ingenuity, and the fundamental decency of the American people."

Biden noted the United States was committing to sharing five times more than any other country has donated in COVID-19 vaccines.

As more and more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, the Biden administration has been starting to help other nations get their populations vaccinated as the pandemic worsens globally. Biden said the vaccines would be shipped by the end of June, when the United States has enough for all of its citizens, the Times reported.

In February, Biden said a $2 billion U.S. contribution would go toward a global coronavirus vaccine initiative, CNN reported. The funding will provide support to COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, known as COVAX. Biden also pledged an additional $2 billion in funding contingent on contributions from other nations and dose delivery targets being met, CNN said.

A staggering 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world's population, according to Duke University researchers, the Times reported. Only about 1.7 billion have been produced so far, the analytics firm Airfinity estimated.

"It's great to share, but redistributing 20 million existing doses has little impact on the global demand for the 10-to-15 billion doses needed," Lori Wallach, who oversees global trade work for advocacy organization Public Citizen, told the Post. "Obviously, it's better to share than not, but it's like offering 20 million bites from our existing slice of pizza when… we need to be getting a bunch of new pizza production lines going as fast as possible."

In the United States, the vaccination picture is much brighter. Biden has said there will be enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of this month. As of Wednesday, 124.4 million Americans were fully vaccinated and over 56 percent of adults had received at least one dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15.

As of Wednesday, the U.S. coronavirus case count neared 33 million, while the death toll passed 587,000, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, nearly 164.3 million cases had been reported by Wednesday, with nearly 3.4 million people dead from COVID-19.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCES: CNN; Associated Press; The New York Times; Washington Post; Sanofi/GlaxoSmithKline, news release, May 17, 2021

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