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01 February 2021

Drugmakers rush to adapt Covid treatments to mutant variants

Business Day 01 February 2021 - Effectiveness of antibody therapy may be severely diminished by mutated strains of the virus, says Anthony Fauci

Covid-19 drugmakers are hunting for new antibodies after warnings that some treatments may prove ineffective against rapidly spreading variants of the coronavirus. Antibody treatments — such as the one given to Donald Trump when he contracted the virus in October — are used to bolster the immune systems of patients struggling to mount their own response. Trial data suggest the drugs, also known as monoclonal antibody treatment, could also be used as a preventive measure in high-risk settings such as nursing homes. But new studies show their effectiveness may be “severely” diminished by mutated strains of the virus, Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, warned this week. 

Medical schemes still divided on vaccination contribution costs to people without cover

Business Day 29 January 2021 - Discovery Health has said medical schemes are ready to go, but other schemes say there is still uncertainty and that it’s complicated

Days before coronavirus vaccinations start in SA, medical schemes have still not agreed how and to what extent they will contribute to the cost of inoculations for people without insurance cover, industry executives have said. Discovery Health said earlier in the month that medical schemes had agreed to pay above cost for vaccine doses for their members — roughly 7-million adults over 15 — thereby “cross-subsidising” procurement for another 7-million adults without private cover. But other schemes or their administrators said the industry has not yet formally agreed those parameters and there are different views on how to proceed. More than 80% of SA’s population of roughly 60-million are not covered by medical schemes. 

WHO calls for patience as vaccine makers work around the clock

Business Day 28 January 2021 - The World Health Organization’s Europe director says there is a shortage of vaccines and that governments and manufacturers should together

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Europe director Hans Kluge said on Thursday that vaccine manufacturers are working non-stop to plug shortfalls in supplies to countries struggling to curb the Covid-19 pandemic and urged them not to jostle for deliveries. 

Newly qualified doctors battle to find jobs in SA’s shambolic public health system

Business Day 28 January 2021 - Nearly 200 doctors, 325 nurses and 200 other health workers are unemployed, according to Hire our Medical Heroes

Alex Van Den Heever, an expert in the administration of public health at Wits University, said budget constraints explained the anomaly. The government is trying to rein in its huge national wage bill, “so there will be an emphasis on freezing posts”, including medical ones. “There’s a mismatch,” he said. “The crisis picks up but there isn’t enough flexibility in the budget system to release funds for sessional doctors.” 

Zimbabwe sets aside $100m for Covid-19 vaccines after top officials die

Business Day 31 January 2021 - Harare says it is ready with funding but is still waiting to see ‘which vaccine we need to procure and from who’

Zimbabwe says it has allocated $100m to buy Covid-19 vaccines, in reaction to rising cases that recently claimed the lives of some of the country’s top leaders including three cabinet ministers in just one week. Before the pandemic Zimbabwe’s top officials were known for flying abroad to seek medical treatment, but tough international travel restrictions have left them seeking treatment at home. Zimbabwe’s hospitals are in a shambles with shortages of oxygen for Covid-19 patients while doctors and nurses constantly strike over poor wages.    


Opposition casts huge doubt on SA vaccine strategy

Business Day 31 January 2021 - Population immunity in SA might never be achieved, says DA

The vagueness about the government’s Covid-19 vaccine strategy and its failure to secure sufficient doses within a reasonable time violates its obligations set out in the constitution, the DA has argued in court papers. The opposition party on Friday lodged an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court seeking a declarator that government’s conduct in procuring vaccines and its preparation for the rollout violated several constitutional provisions, such as the right to access to health-care services. 

Medicines regulator to allow limited use of ivermectin for Covid-19 patients

Business Day 27 January 2021 - Ivermectin is a cheap, off-patent, anti-parasitic drug not registered for human use in SA, but which has piqued the interest of researchers

SA’s medicines regulator will allow doctors to prescribe ivermectin for coronavirus patients under a tightly controlled “compassionate use” programme, while it waits for stronger evidence to emerge from ongoing clinical trials, it announced on Wednesday. A recent review of 18 studies on ivermectin and Covid-19 by the University of Liverpool’s Andrew Hill found the drug is associated with reduced inflammation and faster elimination of the coronavirus, but he said more research is needed to provide the level of evidence required by regulators. 

Get more Covid-19 vaccines approved and factories producing, Bill Gates urges

Business Day 27 January 2021 - The Gates Foundation has provided direct support to vaccine manufacturers to enable them to produce shots developed by other companies.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates has weighed in on the debate around coronavirus vaccine nationalism, saying part of the solution to securing shots for poorer nations lies in stepping up production. “We are hopeful that particularly with some factories in India that the foundation has helped to finance, within the next few months a large number of doses will come out of there and be targeted almost entirely to the developing world. That is the goal of Covax,” said Gates, referring to the global vaccine financing vehicle co-ordinated by the World Health Organisation and the vaccine alliance Gavi. 

Life Healthcare had trading bump just before SA’s second wave hit

Business Day 27 January 2021 - Hospital occupancies enjoyed a healthy improvement in October and November as elective surgeries picked up

Life Healthcare, SA’s second-biggest JSE-listed private hospital operator, says a return of patients for elective surgeries resulted in better-than-expected trading in the last three months of 2020, though that is when a second wave of Covid-19 struck SA. Paid patient days increased to 58% in October 2020 and 60% in November, from 53% in September, the group said, with its first-quarter revenue growing 5% on a like-for-like basis when compared with the previous year. 

Global competition over vaccines may prolong crisis, Cyril Ramaphosa tells WEF

Business Day 26 January 2021 - Global vaccine initiative Gavi estimates that countries have bought more than 800-million does than they need and it will look to distribute them more evenly to nations that need them

President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on rich nations that have bought and hoarded more Covid-19 vaccines than they need to release their excess supply for poorer nations, warning that failure to distribute them fairly risks prolonging the health and economic crisis battering the globe. 

Medical negligence bill needs more work, say MPs

Business Day 26 January 2021 - Parliament has referred back to the health and justice departments a bill that seeks to reduce the effect of lump-sum payments on the state arising from claims for medical negligence.

The State Liability Amendment Bill, introduced in parliament in 2018 to provide for the settlement structure of claims against the state that result from the wrongful medical treatment of people in the public health system, lapsed before parliament could finish processing it when its term ended with the general election in 2019. Claims for medical negligence against the state have more than tripled over four years, rising to a staggering R104.5bn in 2019 as patients seek redress for harm allegedly wrought by SA’s overstretched public health system. 

US restricts travel from SA

Business Day 26 January 2021 - US President Joe Biden is taking an aggressive approach to combating the spread of the virus

President Joe Biden will impose a ban on most non-US citizens entering the country who have recently been in SA starting on Saturday in a bid to contain the spread of a new variant of Covid-19, a senior US public health official says. The SA variant has not yet been found in the US but at least 20 US states have detected a UK variant known as B.1.1.7. Current vaccines appear effective against the UK mutations. 

Boris Johnson ‘deeply sorry’ as Britain passes 100,000 Covid-19 deaths

Business Day 26 January 2021 - 100,162 coronavirus-related deaths recorded — more than Britain's civilian toll in World War 2

The death toll in Britain from the coronavirus pandemic passed 100,000 people on Tuesday as the government battled to speed up vaccination delivery and keep variants of the virus at bay. Many more deaths would follow before a vaccination programme began to take effect, Britain's chief medical officer Chris Whitty said. 

EU standoff with AstraZeneca raises vaccine tensions

Business Day 26 January 2021 - Germany wants the EU to limit vaccine exports, as AstraZeneca sparks a backlash after saying initial deliveries would be delayed

The EU’s standoff with AstraZeneca has intensified as Germany urged the bloc to limit vaccine exports, risking tensions with the UK and other buyers of the British drug-maker’s shot. European authorities are under increasing pressure as the bloc’s underwhelming inoculation campaigns threaten to prolong recession-inducing lockdowns.