LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH
Positive data from an interim analysis of the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK and Brazil shows that it protects 70% of people from developing Covid symptoms, Oxford's manufacturing partner, AstraZeneca announced on Monday.
The data is from the COV002 Phase 2/3 trial in the UK and COV003 Phase 3 trial in Brazil, which involves more than 23 000 participants. No hospitalisations or severe cases of the disease were reported in volunteers who received the vaccine, named AZD1222.
A total of 30 cases of Covid-19 were found in participants who received two jabs of the vaccine, and 101 cases in people who received a saline injection. According to the researchers, it translates to 70% protection.
Additional data from the large-scale trial also suggests that perfecting the dose could increase protection up to 90%. This was seen for one course of dosing, where volunteers received a half dose of the vaccine, followed by a full dose at least one month after.
When participants were given two "high" doses, it resulted in 62% protection. However, this increased to 90% when participants received a "low" dose followed by a high one.
Professor Andrew Pollard, the trial’s lead investigator said: "Excitingly, we've found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90% effective and if this dosing regime is used, more people could be vaccinated with planned vaccine supply."
The researchers stated that it's not clear why there is a difference, although Pollard told the BBC that the team is “really pleased with these results”.
There were also lower levels of asymptomatic infection in the low followed by high dose group which "means we might be able to halt the virus in its tracks," Pollard said.
Vaccine's architect Professor Sarah Gilbert also commented: “The announcement today takes us another step closer to the time when we can use vaccines to bring an end to the devastation caused by [the virus].”
Two vaccine candidates from pharmaceutical and biotech companies Pfizer and Moderna have shown promising results, but African countries need to ensure they aren’t left behind when vaccine rollouts start happening.
These were the words of the Regional Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, during a virtual discussion hosted by Doha Debates on Wednesday.
“It’s true we need to wait for full efficacy and safety data to be available, but we are all gearing up to make sure there is equitable distribution in Africa,” Moeti said. “Coming from Africa, I have to say our experience in the past has been that when a new technology comes out, African countries are at the back of the queue to get it.
“We’ve seen sometimes it takes a decade for a new technology to be available in Africa, in a scaled-up fashion in our health systems.”
In comments made earlier this year, Professor Helen Rees, executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Unit (RHI), stressed that the opportunity to participate in trials must ensure that Africa is not left behind like it was in the past.
If trials are limited to the North, Rees cautioned that it will result in "vaccine nationalism", which typically occurs when a country’s government manages to secure vaccine doses for its own citizens before it’s made available to other countries – something that has already been seen in the US and UK.
According to The Telegraph, the UK has already put in an order for five million doses of the Moderna vaccine, while CNBC reported in July that the US struck an agreement with Pfizer to get 100 million doses of their vaccine, and acquire 500 million additional doses if needed.
Rees commented then on the crisis with the pandemic flu vaccine and HIV antiretrovirals in the past, where Africa got left behind and ultimately received very little vaccine and months too late. “We cannot allow that to happen again,” she said.
There is a risk that the poor and vulnerable will be trampled on in the stampede for coronavirus vaccines, the head of the World Health Organisation said on Monday, adding that $4.3 billion was needed urgently for a world vaccine-sharing scheme.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was speaking at a virtual briefing in Geneva.
Dozens of countries have signed up to the global vaccine plan known as COVAX, which was set up by the WHO and the GAVI vaccine group to provide vaccine doses for countries that could not otherwise afford them.
CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST
The latest number of confirmed cases is 769 759.
According to the latest update, 20 968 deaths have been recorded in the country.
There have been 711 195 recoveries.
So far, more than 5.3 million tests have been conducted, with 14 377 new tests reported.
Global cases update:
For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.
Early on Tuesday morning, positive cases worldwide were just over 58.9 million, while deaths were close to 1.4 million.
The United States had the most cases in the world - close to 12.3 million, as well as the most deaths - more than 256 000.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA
Eastern Cape Health MEC Sindiswa Gomba said the provincial government was concerned about the surge in Covid-19 infections, which signalled a second wave of infections in the province.
Taverns and other places that draw large crowds will be a focus point when Gomba, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu meet this week to intensify the fight against the second wave.
HeraldLive reported that scores of unmasked patrons were sharing drinks in overcrowded taverns and not adhering to social distancing rules.
These were just some of the disturbing discoveries made by the police and Eastern Cape Liquor Board officials during tavern inspections over the weekend, the newspaper reported.
Broadcaster eNCA reported that 80% of people needing ventilators in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality public hospitals and half of those entering casualty wards, do not make it out alive.
According to the channel, there were no oxygen points left at Uitenhage Provincial Hospital and award meant for eight patients had 20.
The channel also estimated that 10 people die daily of Covid-19 at Eastern Cape public hospitals.
Hospitals are filled to capacity amid a critical shortage of beds, the channel reported.This comes as the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and the Sarah Baartman District Municipality are battling a second wave of Covid-19.
The numbers of health workers testing positive was also increasing rapidly in the metro.
Gomba has announced that the provincial health department will this week continue to intensify the fight against Covid-19 by meeting with health workers, organised labour, religious and church leaders, civil society and businesses, especially tavern associations.
She said this will be done to ensure everyone plays their respective roles in the fight against the resurgence.
At least 13 initiation schools were shut down by Eastern Cape police and traditional leaders on Monday, and 30 initiates were sent home to their parents or to hospitals.
Initiation is suspended under Alert Level 1 lockdown, and those who organise the ritual, are in breach of lockdown regulations.
The raids took place on Monday in Buffalo City Metro Municipality and Nyandeni Local Municipality, confirmed Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) spokesperson Mamkeli Ngam.
Ngam said the number of illegal initiates is expected to increase as officials continue raiding illegal initiation schools across the province.
Asked about the fate of the initiates, Ngam said: "Parents either took them home or we sent them to hospitals."
The Monday clampdown took place in East London, Mdantsane, and in several villages in the Nyandeni local municipality, said Ngam.
Ngam said the police are investigating 13 cases of illegal circumcision. He added that 30 initiates have been affected by the closure of the schools so far.
The raids came as deputy minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs Obed Bapela declared its intention to clamp down on bogus initiation.
In a statement Bapela said: "To this end, government and all stakeholders will not tolerate bogus initiation schools and anyone who is found to be disobeying the order of initiation suspension in the wake of Covid-19.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce that strict coronavirus rules will be suspended for several days over Christmas, allowing multiple households across the country to mix both at home and in pubs over the festive period.
Johnson will announce a UK-wide plan for relaxed rules at the end of December after discussions with scientists, government ministers, and the devolved administrations about how to let people see their families this Christmas in a way that minimises transmission of the virus.
The details of the government's Christmas plan are yet to be confirmed. However, ITV's Robert Peston reported that up to three households will be allowed to form bubbles for five days between December 23 and 27.
Johnson is expected to announce the plan this week, possibly as soon as Tuesday, once it has been signed off by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales as part of a UK-wide approach.
The prime minister will on Monday afternoon also set out to Members of Parliament details of a new regional tier system for England that will replace the current national lockdown when it expires on Wednesday, December 2.
The new system of local restrictions is expected to be harsher than its predecessor, with households in tier 2 and 3 areas unable to mix in any other indoor setting, possibly for several months.
The toughened tiers are set to be particularly restrictive for England's hospitality industry.
Unlike the previous tier system, households will not be allowed to mix in pubs, restaurants, and other hospitality settings, according to multiple reports. Pubs and restaurants in tier 2 will only be allowed to serve alcohol to people in the same household as part of "substantial meals," and in tier 3 they will have to be takeaway-only, reports suggest.
More than 600 bodies of New Yorkers who died in the Covid-19 pandemic's first wave are still being stored in freezer trucks, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The cost of burial and the difficulty in contacting relatives led to a backlog, the paper reported, even as the country experiences a sustained resurgence of the virus.
The temporary cold storage was set up on a Brooklyn pier to handle the overflow of deaths from the virus in late March, when New York City was the US epicentre of the surging pandemic.
At that time, hospital morgues were running out of room, as Insider's Dave Mosher reported. The city's chief medical examiner's office became overwhelmed, according to the Journal.
The paper said that Chief Medical Examiner Dina Maniotis and her team were faced with 200 deaths to process per day, instead of the 20 or so they were used to.
To cope with the influx of calls, more than 100 staff were redirected from the city's health department, the Journal reported.
But it was not enough to solve the backlog. The office is still trying to track down the next of kin of about 230 people from that period, per the Journal's report on Sunday November 22.
Medical staff found that in some cases, the relatives they were trying to reach had themselves died, Aden Naka, the deputy director of forensic investigations told the Journal.
Most of the remaining deceased are still in storage due to the costs of holding a funeral, according to the WSJ. While the city increased burial assistance from $900 to $1,700 under an emergency directive, the funeral costs still remain out of many families' reach.
HEALTH TIPS (as recommended by the NICD and WHO)
• Maintain physical distancing – stay at least one metre away from somebody who is coughing or sneezing
• Practise frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as your hands touch many surfaces and could potentially transfer the virus
• Practise respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dispose the tissue immediately after use.
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