The mixed news on the vaccine front comes as infections quickly accelerated in North America and parts of Africa, but began to stabilize in Europe and declined in Asia and the Middle East.
Worldwide, more than 1.58 million lives have been lost to Covid-19 since it emerged in China a year ago, according to an AFP tally from official sources.
While the record development of vaccine options has brought hope to the planet, some candidates are experiencing setbacks.
France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GSK said on Friday their vaccine would not be ready until the end of 2021.
The new results showed a low immune response in older adults, the researchers said.
And in Australia, vaccine development in phase one trials at the University of Queensland was abandoned on Friday after clinical trials produced a false positive HIV result among subjects involved in early-stage testing.
However, plans for inoculation with other vaccines are accelerating.
In the US, an expert recommendation on Pfizer means the injection will likely receive official approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a matter of days.
President-elect Joe Biden praised the “bright light in an unnecessarily dark time” in the United States, which is home to the world’s highest death toll at nearly 300,000.
The country expects to begin vaccinating 20 million people this month, starting with residents of long-term care facilities and healthcare workers.
Britain this week became the first Western country to implement the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, which was also approved by Canada, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The first vaccine shipments to 14 sites across Canada are scheduled to arrive on Monday, with people receiving vaccinations a day or two later.
“I am very excited. I want to get vaccinated as soon as possible because I have a new baby,” Toronto resident Michelle told AFP.
Israel, which accepted its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday, is targeting a December 27 launch.
And Hong Kong said on Friday it had struck deals for two vaccines, one from Pfizer and the other from Beijing-based Sinovac, with plans to launch a campaign in early 2021.
AstraZeneca is also testing a new combination approach, the Russian operation of which said it would mix its injection with locally made Sputnik V vaccine in clinical trials.
“Combinations of different Covid-19 vaccines can be an important step in generating broader protection through a stronger immune response and better accessibility,” the pharmaceutical giant said in its statement.
Russia and China have already started inoculation efforts with domestically produced vaccines that have been the subject of less rigorous research, while EU countries eagerly await approval of two options.
The EU watchdog said it would deliver decisions on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in late December and early January, respectively.
However, many questions remain about vaccines.
Key questions include whether more side effects will arise with longer follow-up, how long the vaccine will remain effective, whether it will limit transmission, and how it will work in children, pregnant women, and immunosuppressed patients.
As Europe’s rise slows slightly, France plans to lift a six-week lockdown starting Tuesday, but will impose a curfew starting at 8 p.m., including New Year’s Eve.
Greece also announced new plans on Friday to reduce the quarantine time for incoming travelers and reopen churches for Christmas, while some small shops like barber shops and bookstores may open their doors from Monday.
But Switzerland, which is experiencing a strong resurgence in cases, announced a 7 p.m. curfew for shops, restaurants and bars.
“Our hospitals and our healthcare workers are being pushed to the limit. We couldn’t wait any longer,” President Simonetta Sommaruga said at a press conference in the capital Bern.
While the lockdowns have brought financial pain, boredom, and a myriad of other problems, the effect on the environment has been more positive.
Carbon emissions fell a record seven percent in 2020 when countries imposed lockdowns, according to the Global Carbon Project.
The biggest drops were recorded in the United States, 12 percent, and the European Union, 11 percent.
And in the sports world, Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton was given the green light to return to compete in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after recovering from his own bout with the virus.