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WHO Urges Measures to Stop Spread of COVID-19 Amid Vaccinations

A health worker prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine in Surabaya, Indonesia, Feb. 8, 2021.

The World Health Organization expressed concern Monday over new reports that vaccines against the coronavirus may not sufficiently protect against new variants.

On Sunday, South Africa suspended its vaccination campaign against COVID-19 after a new study revealed that the AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective against a variant of the virus found in the country.

Speaking at a media briefing a day later, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing that the decision is "a reminder that we need to do everything we can to reduce circulation of the virus with proven public health measures."

FILE - A clinical trial patient receives a dose of AstraZeneca test vaccine at the University of Witwatersrand facility in Soweto, South Africa, Nov. 30, 2020.

The study, conducted by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and not yet peer reviewed, concluded that the British vaccine offered only "limited protection against moderate forms of the disease caused by the South African variant, in young adults."

The news was a blow to South Africa, which has seen more than 46,000 people die from the virus. It had planned to begin inoculating its population with a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming days. But the study found that the vaccine was only 22% effective in moderate cases of the South African variant of the disease.

The study did not explore the vaccine's effect against severe cases. The variant has been found in at least 32 other countries, including the United States.

AstraZeneca said Sunday it was developing another vaccine that would be more effective against the South African variant, which could be expected by this autumn.

A man photographs his mother getting a shot of China's Sinovac CoronaVac vaccine for COVID-19 during a priority vaccination program for the elderly at a drive-thru site in the Pacaembu soccer stadium parking lot in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Feb. 8, 2021.

But WHO's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, cautioned Monday that countries should not assume the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work, noting that all available evidence shows that vaccines reduce death, hospitalizations and severe disease.

Millions of Mexicans were frustrated last week with the rollout of the country's website to register people for coronavirus vaccine appointments. The first group designated to use the site to arrange appointments were the country's senior citizens.

One man told Britain's Guardian newspaper that he "spent three days fighting with the website" to get a vaccination appointment for his mother. He told the newspaper his mother "would have been unable to do it without me."

Florida seniors have their temperatures taken before receiving the second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Health System, in Miami, Feb. 8, 2021.

The shaky launch of the site is disheartening for a country that has the third-highest number of deaths from the coronavirus. Mexico has more than 166,200 COVID-19 deaths. Only Brazil and the U.S. have more, with 231,534 and 463,477 respectively, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The U.S. remains at the top of Johns Hopkins' list as the place with the most COVID-19 infections. The U.S. now has more than 27 million cases, followed by India with 10.8 million and Brazil with 9.5 million.

Head of Iran's Razi Vaccine and Serum research Institute Ali Eshaghi speaks during a press conference after the unveiling ceremony of the locally-made Razi Cov Pars coronavirus vaccine, in the northern Alborz Province, Feb. 8, 2021.

Over the weekend, both Iran and China unveiled new vaccines against the virus. On Sunday, Iran announced it had developed the Razi Cov Pars vaccine manufactured by the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute. Scientists will begin testing the vaccine on people this week.

More than 59 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday. More than 41 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines had been administered by Sunday morning, with more than 31.5 million people receiving the first inoculation, according to the CDC. More than 9 million people received their second dose.

VOA's Fern Robinson contributed to this report.

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