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18 April 2021

Stalled J&J vaccine rollout poised to resume this week

Business Day 18 April 2021 - Enough inventory to resume quickly, says B4SA

The resumption of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine programme awaits approval of its updated protocol by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) and a group of university research ethics committees before the stalled programme can restart. “Once we have received the formal documentation, we will be able to critically evaluate it and turn it around very quickly,” said Prof Marc Blockman, chair of the human research ethics committee at the University of Cape Town’s faculty of health. This could see the first phase of the country’s vaccine programme restarting in a matter of days. 

Why is Covid-19 deadlier in Brazil than India?

Business Day 17 April 2021 - Is it mean population age? Is it a largely urban lifestyle rather than a well-ventilated rural one?

Facing a sudden surge in coronavirus infections, India is once again home to the world’s second-largest outbreak, overtaking Brazil after the latter moved ahead in March. But behind the bleak, statistical jockeying is an epidemiological enigma over why the Latin American country has been far more devastated by the pathogen. When it comes to the scale of infections, the two nations are similarly matched, with cases hovering around 14-million and hospitals from Mumbai to São Paulo under increasing pressure as admissions continue to rise. But it’s the divergence in fatalities that has scientists puzzled. Brazil, home to almost 214-million, has seen more than 365,000 people die from Covid-19, more than double the number of deaths in India, which has a far greater population of 1.4-billion. 

Scientists confident about Covid-19 vaccine for children but not all parents agree

Business Day 17 April 2021 - Many are concerned that vaccine hesitancy in some adults will be even more pronounced when it comes to their children

Health officials say vaccines are crucial to ending the pandemic. But many are concerned that vaccine hesitancy in some adults will be even more pronounced when it comes to their children. Parents may question the risks vs benefits, given the unknowns about the vaccines’ long-term effects on children’s development and data on how few young children have been hit hard by Covid-19. To ease those concerns, some scientists say the US Food and Drug Administration should slow the review process for paediatric Covid-19 vaccines. Pfizer spokesperson Jerica Pitts said it was premature to speculate on an approval pathway for children, but the company planned to work with public health institutions to promote the importance of vaccines. 

Doctors flee Poland for better pay, and patients pay price

Business Day 16 April 2021 - As Covid-19-related deaths in Poland surpass 800 a day, epidemiologists have pointed to a major medical personnel shortage as one of the culpri

As Covid-19-related deaths in Poland surpass 800 a day and the country hits a European record for excess deaths, epidemiologists have pointed to a major medical personnel shortage as one of the culprits. Across Poland, doctors have complained about long lines of ambulances at hospitals or rescheduled non-Covid-19 surgeries for life-threatening illnesses. "The country was unprepared for this scale of an epidemic... There are no beds, no personnel, simply no reserves," said professor Krzysztof Simon, a regional epidemiology consultant from Lower Silesia. According to Eurostat, Poland had only 2.4 doctors and 5.1 nurses per 1,000 citizens in 2017, among the lowest in the EU, even before the pandemic. 

South Africans older than 60 can now register for Covid-19 vaccination

Business Day 16 April 2021 - Those eligible will be able to register on the portal from 4pm on Friday afternoon

Health minister Zweli Mkhize says the coronavirus vaccine registration portal will be opened on Friday afternoon to all citizens who are 60 and older‚ as government prioritises those who are most at risk of getting sick or dying of Covid-19. Mkhize hailed this as a significant milestone not only for the country’s vaccination campaign but for SA’s advancement towards universal health coverage. “This is the first time in our democratic history that a major public health campaign will be supported by one digital system for all South Africans‚” he said. People without smartphones or internet access will be contacted in person by teams: this includes the elderly‚ the homeless and those who live in deep rural areas that are difficult to reach. 

Mediclinic pares recovery forecast due to third-wave threat

Business Day 16 April 2021 - The private hospital operator had expected to return to pre-pandemic performance in 2022

SA’s biggest private hospital group by market value, Mediclinic, has cut back on its recovery expectations as SA and Europe face a threat of a third wave of Covid-19, though it is still confident it will see operating profit growth in its 2022 year. Mediclinic had previously expected to return to pre-pandemic trading levels in its 2022 financial year, but is more cautious, also citing the uneven pace of the global vaccine rollout. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and the JSE, and operates hospitals in Southern Africa, Switzerland and the Middle East. The pace of recovery of its Hirslanden operations in Switzerland may be more moderate than previously expected, as a third wave of Covid-19 threatens Europe, already prompting countries such as France and Italy to reimpose lockdown restrictions. Covid-19 has hit the profits of private hospital groups, which have been forced to increase spending, including on protective equipment. The pandemic has also weighed on patient numbers amid a fall-off in non-essential surgeries. 

Injected antibody cocktail cuts COVID-19 infection risk by over 80%

Medical Brief 14 April 2021 - A single injected administration of Regeneron‘s monoclonal antibody cocktail cuts the risk of developing COVID-19 by over 80%, reports MedicalBrief. 

Antibody drugs may give doctors a new way to protect high-risk people who havenʼt been inoculated or who may not respond well to vaccination. The Regeneron study enrolled 1,500 healthy volunteers, each of whom shared a home with someone who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, and randomised them to receive a single dose of its antibody treatment, given subcutaneously as four shots, or placebo. After 29 days, 11 patients in the treatment group developed COVID-19 compared to 59 on placebo. And for the subjects who got COVID-19 despite treatment, their symptoms resolved after one week, compared to three weeks for those on placebo. In 204 patients who had already tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus at the study’s outset, the injection reduced their chances of progressing to symptomatic COVID-19 by 31%. 

Zweli Mkhize blames Big Pharma for vaccine delivery delays

Business Day 14 April 2021 - The health minister says talks have been lengthy and difficult as the manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines sought onerous terms

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has accused coronavirus vaccine manufacturers Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer of making unreasonable demands that have delayed the delivery of shots to SA. The government faces growing pressure over its failure to begin rolling out vaccines to the general population. Despite having Africa’s biggest recorded Covid-19 caseload, SA lags behind in its vaccination efforts and has so far inoculated only 290,000 health workers with J&J’s vaccine under the Sisonke implementation study. Delivery of the first commercial stocks of J&J’s vaccine is expected next week, while the first Pfizer shots are due to arrive in the first week of May. 

Brain clots far more likely from Covid-19 than vaccines, say UK scientists

Business Day 15 April 2021 - The researchers say the risk of a serious brain clot is eight to 10 times higher with Covid-19 than it is from existing vaccines for the disease

There is a much higher risk of brain blood clots from Covid-19 infection than there is from vaccines against the disease, British researchers said on Thursday, after the rollout of inoculations was disrupted by reports of rare clots. AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) have both seen very rare reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) linked to their vaccines. On Wednesday, the US paused vaccinations using J&J’s shot while a link with clots was investigated, with Denmark ditching AstraZeneca’s shot over the issue. British and European regulators have stressed that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.