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06 April 2021

State nails down Pfizer deal at last as crucial contract signed

Business Day 06 April  2021 - Delivery of vaccines from middle of April means scene is set for SA to begin its vaccination programme

The department of health says it has finally signed a crucial contract with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for the supply of 20-million vaccines with delivery beginning mid-April. Together with the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) agreement for 30-million vaccines, the scene is finally set for SA to begin the rollout of its vaccine programme. Pfizer is a double-dose vaccine, while J&J is a single dose. So far the government has vaccinated 269,102 health workers under a J&J implementation trial. The signing comes as a new but small study showed that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was 100% effective against cases of the B.1.351 variant first identified in SA. In larger global trials it has been found to be 91% effective in preventing disease. 

Netcare’s multimillion-rand PPP deal collapses in Lesotho

Business Day 05 April 2021 - Hospital group and government trade allegations

Netcare Hospital Group’s multimillion-rand deal to build and manage Lesotho’s biggest hospital was supposed to be a model public-private partnership (PPP). The 18-year contract, which the Lesotho government is now cancelling due to allegations against Netcare, was once lauded as an example of financing health infrastructure on the continent.  The cash-strapped government, which is desperate for a hospital, was working with the biggest health-care provider in SA, as well as the UK, to build its only national referral health centre. Netcare and its local partners Tsepong borrowed 800-million maloti  from the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to build the R1.2bn  Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital.  The government guaranteed the loan and paid R400m  towards the construction to reduce the cost of the debt and fees. Scheduled to end in 2026, the deal came with local empowerment and skills’ transfer components. 

GLOBE & MAIL: AstraZeneca’s misleading data undermines trust

Business Day 05 April  2021 - If you asked Canadians if they wanted the AstraZeneca vaccine, a lot would say no. And it wouldn’t be because they were vaccine hesitant.

It would be because AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company producing the low-cost vaccine developed by Oxford University, has repeatedly mishandled the delicate process of proving the safety and efficacy of shots destined to be put into a billion arms. The latest setback came last week when Canada’s national advisory committee on immunisation unexpectedly recommended that AstraZeneca not be given to people under 55 until there is more information about its possible link to a tiny handful of potentially fatal blood clot cases in Europe that seem to strike younger people. Barely 10 days earlier Health Canada had said it was aware of the blood clot issue, but that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweighed any risks and that it should be given to people 18 and up. 

J&J vaccine gets conditional approval and Pfizer trial shows great success

Business Day 01 April  2021 - The J&J vaccine can now start being used in the general population, while the Pfizer trial shows its vaccine is effective against the B.1.351 variant

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has announced that its single-dose vaccine, being used in a clinical trial for health workers, has received approval for use in SA. SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) CEO Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela said, “The registration signals a significant step in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.” The approval means the vaccine can be administered to the general population. J&J has signed agreements to provide 31-million doses of the vaccine to SA. The Thursday release detailed that it will provide 2.8-million doses between April and June, with the “first delivery scheduled for the second half of April”. 

Pfizer vaccine protects well against Covid-19 variant found in SA, data shows

Business Day 01 April 2021 - While the new overall efficacy rate of 91.3% is lower than the 95% originally reported in November, a number of variants have become more prevalent globally since then

Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine is about 91% effective at preventing the disease, they said on Thursday, citing updated trial data that included participants inoculated for up to six months. The shot was also 100% effective in preventing illness among trial participants in SA, where a new variant called B1351 is dominant, though the number of those participants was relatively small at 800. While the new overall efficacy rate of 91.3% is lower than the 95% originally reported in November for its 44,000-person trial, a number of variants have become more prevalent around the world since then. 

Scientists push back against criticism of WHO report on coronavirus origins

Business Day 01 April 2021 - Bizarrely, the DG of the WHO is himself questioning the report and says the chance that it came from a lab needs to be thoroughly vetted

Nearly three dozen scientists vetted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Chinese government gathered in Wuhan, China, earlier this year to start the arduous task of finding the origins of Covid-19 and determining how it spread like wildfire around the world. Six weeks after that trip, the working group delivered an analysis that laid out four possible scenarios and recommended next steps for digging deeper to find the pandemic’s genesis. The 123-page report, and a nearly 200-page supplement, was immediately engulfed by criticism, with a dozen nations including the US, the UK and Japan questioning its structure and insights. The most unexpected detractor was WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who helped negotiate the details of the trip and agreed to the scope of the work back in July. He said the theory that the virus escaped via a laboratory accident needed to be more thoroughly vetted, a hypothesis that has been vigorously denied by the Chinese government. 

Brazil detects new coronavirus variant similar to one first found in SA

Business Day 31 March 2021 - Patient has no history of travel to SA, says biomedical institute chief

 Brazil has detected a new Covid-19 variant in Sao Paulo state that is similar to the one first found in SA, the head of the state's Butantan biomedical institute said on Wednesday. Speaking at a press conference the day after Brazil suffered a record 3,780 deaths in a day, Butantan president Dimas Covas said the patient with the variant had no history of travel to SA. The variant has alarmed public health experts as there are questions over how effective current vaccines are against it. Brazil is also grappling with its own home-grown variant, called P1, which appears to be fuelling a record-breaking run of infections. 

Novavax to be evaluated for SA use

Business Day 31 March 2021 - Committee advised against using jab, Zweli Mkhize told portfolio committee on Tuesday

The ministerial advisory committee will assess whether the Novavax vaccine is suitable for use in SA, the head of the committee, Prof Barry Schoub, confirmed on Wednesday. This comes after health minister Zweli Mkhize told the portfolio committee in parliament on Tuesday the committee had advised the shot is “not suitable for our setting”.  The vaccine has been tested in SA in a clinical trial that comprised 4,387 participants, half whom got the jab, while the other half received a placebo. It proved to be 60% effective against the strain in SA and about 50% effective when participants with HIV were included. 

Over-60s are next in the vaccine queue

Business Day 31 March 2021 - Putting the elderly at the front of the queue has been urged by public health experts, partly to protect the health system

SA’s hazy vaccine plan is slowly taking shape with a decision that the over-60s will be next in the queue beginning in early May. The vaccine rollout has been inordinately slow with only 350,000 of 1.2-million health workers vaccinated so far. After the health workers, the second phase of the plan includes everyone from the elderly to those with co-morbidities, and essential workers.  There are 13-million to 16-million people in this cohort and the sequencing is undecided. 

SAHPRA settles over Ivermectin; AfriForum gets R500,000 costs

Medical Brief 31 March 2021 - The civil rights organisation AfriForum and Dr George Coetzee have successfully obtained a settlement and R500,000 costs agreement with the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) regarding the compounding of and access to Ivermectin.

SAHPRA has also reached three other settlement agreements on actions challenging its rulings on Ivermectin use, which will be consolidated into a single agreement that is to likely be made an order of the court today (Thursday, 1 April). AfriForum said in a statement that the settlement determines that a medicine containing Ivermectin as an active ingredient has been registered by SAHPRA in terms of the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101 of 1965 on 16 March 2021. The effect of the registration is that medicines containing Ivermectin may be compounded and made available and accessible in accordance with the provisions of Section 14(4) of the Act. SAHPRA and the Minister of Health, jointly and severally, will pay a contribution to the costs of the applicants in the amount of R500,000 (plus VAT). 

WATCH: Why SA may miss the herd immunity target​

Business Day 31 March 2021 - Wits University’s health & social security systems specialist, Alex van den Heever, talks to Business Day TV

Experts have warned that SA is likely to miss its Covid-19 herd immunity target for 2021.

Business Day TV’s Alishia Seckam spoke to Alex van den Heever, health & social security systems specialist at Wits University