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15 February 2021

D-day for first vaccinations on February 17

Business Day 11 February 2021 - The government plans to begin dispensing shots to health-care workers on Wednesday after J&J's vaccine gets the green light for a trial in health-care workers

Preliminary data from the Ensemble trial, which J&J is using to seek emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration, showed its vaccine was 57% effective at preventing mild to moderate illness in SA and 85% effective in preventing severe Covid-19. Last week, the government suspended its planned rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, after preliminary findings from a small clinical trial found it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate Covid-19 caused by the new variant, 501Y.V2, which now dominates transmission in SA. 

Zimbabwe to get 800,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm vaccine

Business Day 11 February 2021 - Harare accepts offers of vaccines from China and Russia, with first doses to arrive mid-February

Zimbabwe has purchased 600,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses from China's Sinopharm, in addition to 200,000 China has donated,  information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, adding these were due to arrive in Zimbabwe by the start of March. Mutsvangwa also said on Wednesday Zimbabwe is negotiating with Russia over the procurement of its Sputnik V vaccines  and was expecting more doses from India and Covax. 

Vaccine rollout slated to begin on February 17

Business Day 11 February 2021 - The government now plans to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has to be approved by SA regulators

SA’s coronavirus vaccination programme is slated to begin on February 17, according to a senior scientist involved in crafting the government’s revised rollout strategy. The government now plans to use Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) vaccine to kick-start the programme, but because the shot has yet to be licensed by regulators and is not commercially available, it intends to administer the vaccines as part of a research study. 

Africa CDC says AstraZeneca vaccine should still be used

Business Day 11 February 2021 - John Nkengasong says more work needs to be done on how the vaccine works against the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant first identified in SA

The AU’s disease control body said on Thursday that it is not “walking away” from AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after trial data showed it had greatly reduced efficacy against the coronavirus variant dominant in SA. African countries are due to receive 100-million doses of the AstraZeneca shot this year under an AU vaccine plan. SA has paused the rollout of AstraZeneca shots to health workers and said on Wednesday it could seek to sell or swap doses of the vaccine. 

Covid-19 variant in UK ‘likely to sweep the world’

Business Day 11 February 2021 - Vaccines have been effective against variants in the UK so far, but mutations could potentially undermine the shots, a vaccines expert says

The coronavirus variant first found in the British region of Kent is a concern because it could undermine the protection given by vaccines against developing Covid-19, the head of the UK’s genetic surveillance programme said. She also said the variant was dominant in the country and was likely “to sweep the world, in all probability”. 

Vaccine hitch won’t derail SA’s recovery, says economist

Business Day 10 February 2021 - Recent setback in the rollout is just ‘a bump in the road’, says Standard Bank's Goolam Ballim

The challenges to the government’s vaccine rollout plan, which is pivotal to reigniting confidence in the economy, are unlikely to be a big stumbling block to SA’s recovery, Standard Bank’s chief economist, Goolam Ballim, said on Wednesday. The bank is forecasting SA will grow 4.6% in 2021, a view that is more upbeat than many other market predictions, including those of the IMF and the SA Reserve Bank, which are expecting growth of 2.8% and 3.6%, respectively. 

WHO recommends AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 shot even in countries with variant found in SA

Business Day 10 February 2021 - World Health Organization panel says vaccine should be given in two doses and should also be used in people over 65

In interim recommendations on the shot, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (Sage) panel said the vaccine should be given in two doses with an interval of 8 to 12 weeks, and should also be used in people aged 65 and older. Even in countries such as SA, where questions have been raised about the AstraZeneca vaccine's efficacy against a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, “there is no reason not to recommend its use”, Sage chair Alejandro Cravioto told a briefing. 

SA needs ‘all hands on deck’ to avoid vaccine chaos — Scientists’ Collective

Medical Brief 10 February 2021 - or South Africans to get their lives back, they need vaccines by winter and herd immunity against COVID-19, says a Scientists’ Collective of 15 top experts in the SA Medical Journal. 

The public health sector cannot achieve this alone – to avoid vaccine roll-out disaster SA also needs the private sector, labour and NGOs. “We need all hands on deck.” Without co-ordination there would be “chaos and duplications of effort” similar to the experience at the start of the pandemic in SA, warn the scientists in a guest editorial in the February 2021 issue of SAMJ titled “The Scientists’ Collective 10-point proposal for equitable and timeous access to COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa”. However, the scientists argue: “If we put vaccines together with all the tools we have, we could reduce mortality and stop transmission and get our lives back. We cannot afford to let this opportunity go to waste.” 

Vaccinations likely to start next week as J&J’s research stock bridges gap

Business Day 10 February 2021 - Up to 500,000 doses are potentially available to SA

The government expects to have 80,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) coronavirus vaccine on hand next week to launch its immunisation drive, it emerged on Wednesday. The supplies are being drawn from J&J’s research stock, as its vaccine has yet to be approved by regulators and no commercial product is currently available. Up to 500,000 doses are potentially available to SA. 

Aspen’s offer to cut prices of cancer drugs allows it to avoid EU fine

Business Day 10 February 2021 - The EU executive is concerned that Aspen may have charged excessive prices for drugs mainly used to treat leukaemia and other haematological cancers

Aspen Pharmacare warded off a possible hefty EU antitrust fine after regulators accepted the pharmaceutical company’s offer to cut cancer drug prices in Europe by about two-thirds, in a landmark case aimed at deterring excessive prices. In the past decade, the European Commission has cracked down on the pharmaceutical industry for pay-for-delay deals between brand name companies and their generic rivals, while shying away from excessive pricing cases. 

The WHO not yet able to explain the where and why of Covid-19

Business Day 10 February 2021 - Examining the expert team’s findings after a 28-day search for clues about SARS-CoV-2 in Wuhan

A team of experts appointed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) completed its 28-day mission to the Chinese city of Wuhan this week seeking clues about the origins of Covid-19. The following looks at their findings. Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO’s leading animal disease expert, said the team conducted scientific investigations into four main scenarios about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, spread into humans. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine useful despite new variants, says WHO

Business Day 09 February 2021 - The shot still appears to prevent more serious problems, says expert, despite poor numbers in local trials against the SA variant

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is worth using in areas hit by mutated strains of the virus, World Health Organization (WHO) officials and partners have said, countering concerns about reduced effectiveness that arose in a recent test. There’s evidence the vaccine AstraZeneca developed with the University of Oxford could provide meaningful protection against severe disease caused by the highly infectious variant that emerged in SA, called B.1.351. 

Oxford research group on whether we need new Covid-19 vaccines

Business Day 09 February 2021 - Andrew Pollard, chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, says there’s no need for alarm with SA variant

It is not yet clear whether the world needs a new set of vaccines to fight different variants of the novel coronavirus, but scientists are working on new ones so there is no reason for alarm, the head of the Oxford vaccine group said on Tuesday. “There are definitely new questions about variants that we’re going to address, and one of those is: Do we need new vaccines?,” Andrew Pollard, chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, told BBC radio. 

Recovered Covid patients likely protected for at least six months, study finds

BizCommunity 09 February 2021 - Almost all people previously infected with Covid-19 have high levels of antibodies for at least six months that are likely to protect them from reinfection with the disease, results of a major UK study showed.

Scientists said the study, which measured levels of previous Covid-19 infection in populations across Britain, as well as how long antibodies persisted in those infected, should provide some reassurance that swift cases of reinfection will be rare.