The Latest: Official says Chinese vaccines not very powerful

BEIJING — In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to get a boost.

Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses abroad while trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine made using the previously experimental messenger RNA, or mRNA, process.

“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.

Officials at a news conference Sunday didn’t respond directly to questions about Gao’s comment or possible changes in official plans. But another CDC official said developers are working on mRNA-based vaccines.

Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer-BioNTech and the traditional AstraZeneca vaccine.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Ecuador, Peru head to polls under strict virus measures

— COVID-19 produces division in the European Union

— Thailand hits new daily record with nearly 1,000 virus cases

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PARIS — France’s health minister said Sunday that residents over age 55 will be granted access to COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, which is earlier than had been anticipated.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said citizens in the over-55 age bracket will be eligible for for the AstraZeneca vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is expected to arrive in France a week ahead of schedule.

Veran told the newspaper Le Journal de Dimanche that “many family caregivers are between 55 and 60, while others are in couples with older partners…They were worried about having to wait another month. Now, they can protect themselves.”

The shortened timeline comes as France is trying to increase the pace of its vaccination program, which has been criticized as sluggish, and to gain ground on the spread of the more contagious virus variant first identified in Britain.

At the same time, French officials have defended a policy of reserving the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 55 with serious health problems. Unusual blot clots have been found in a small number of younger recipients of that vaccine.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says it will resume administrating AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to all eligible people between the ages of 30 and 60.

Last week, South Korea suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccines for those 60 years old or younger while awaiting the outcome of the European Medicine Agency’s review.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Sunday it will restart the use of AstraZeneca vaccine beginning Monday, citing studies showing that the vaccine’s benefits outweighs the risk of side effects.

An agency statement said those aged 30 or younger will be excluded, as U.K. authorities have recommended they take alternative vaccines.

It says it’s found three cases of blood clots from vaccinated people in South Korea — but none belong to the type of side effects determined by European authorities.

Those who would get AstraZeneca vaccines from Monday include medical workers and people in long-term care facilities, those at special schools and welfare centers for disabled people and homeless people.

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BEIJING — China has reported 10 new confirmed coronavirus cases and no deaths.

All the new infections were believed have been acquired abroad, the National Health Commission announced Sunday.

China’s death toll stood at 4,636 out of 90,410 confirmed cases.

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ISLAMABAD— Pakistan has reported it’s highest single-day death toll from COVID-19.

The National Command and Control Center announced Sunday that 114 deaths from coronavirus had been confirmed, as well as more than 5,000 new cases.

A weekend ban on inter-city transport has been extended until mid-April, as part of measures to control a surge in virus infections and deaths. The ban will not apply on freight, ambulance services and supplies of medical equipment.

Pakistan, with a population of 220 million people, has vaccinated more than a million people using the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine since February.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan health authorities have imposed tough restrictions ahead of this week’s New Year festival in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Health officials on Sunday banned musical shows and many other traditional games, including the tug-of-war, for the April 14 holiday.

They’ve also ordered other gatherings not to exceed 100 people, and asked that gatherings for rituals be limited to immediate family members and close relatives.

The country’s New Year festival typically involves large-scale events, games, competitions and musical shows.