South Africa Hails COVID-19 Vaccine Patent Waiver

Johan­nes­burg, South Africa — 
South Africa on Sat­ur­day hailed a WTO agree­ment to allow devel­op­ing coun­tries to start pro­duc­ing their own COVID vac­cines fol­low­ing a near two-year battle.
“We secured an agree­ment. It was a strong­ly fought agree­ment,” said Min­is­ter of Trade Ebrahim Patel, who along with India and NGOs had been call­ing for an intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty rights waiv­er on COVID-relat­ed treatments.
The World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion (WTO) announced a relax­ation of intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty restric­tions on vac­cines Wednes­day in a move aimed at a pro­vid­ing more equi­table access to shots but which many observers crit­i­cized for being lim­it­ed in time and scope.
After months of wran­gling, and talks going down to the wire this week to win over some major play­ers in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing to a com­pro­mise, the Unit­ed States and Chi­na final­ly clinched the deal by agree­ing on which coun­tries would ben­e­fit from the waiver.
Both South Africa and India had been vocal in their demands for such a move which they said was need­ed to stop “vac­cine apartheid.”
Accord­ing to the WTO, 60% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion has received two dos­es of the COVID vac­cine but there are glar­ing exam­ples of inequity with only 17% hav­ing been inoc­u­lat­ed in Libya, with the fig­ure at 8% in Nige­ria and less than 5% in Cameroon.
In a state­ment, the South African gov­ern­ment salut­ed a waiv­er designed to pro­vide local vac­cine man­u­fac­tur­ers with the right to pro­duce either vac­cines or ingre­di­ents or ele­ments that are under patents, with­out the author­i­ty of the patent hold­er, hail­ing this as a notable step for­ward — even if lim­it­ed to five years.
Pre­to­ria added that “to scale up the pro­duc­tion on the con­ti­nent, fur­ther part­ner­ships will be need­ed includ­ing access to know-how and technologies.”
The accord for the time being excludes, how­ev­er, tests and cost­ly ther­a­peu­tic treat­ments against COVID on which the WTO is to pro­nounce in the com­ing six months.
Com­mer­cial­iza­tion in Africa will be a chal­lenge, however.
Dur­ban-based South African phar­ma giant Aspen, which clinched a deal last Novem­ber with U.S.-based John­son & John­son to man­u­fac­ture a “made in Africa for Africa” Aspen-brand­ed COVID vac­cine Aspen­o­vax, said last month it could pull the plug owing to lack of orders.
“Our focus now is to ensure we address demand by per­suad­ing glob­al pro­cur­ers for vac­cines to source from African pro­duc­ers,” said Patel.
South Africa has three sites under the aegis of Aspen in Dur­ban, Afrigen in Cape Town and Bio­vac, also in Cape Town, which makes the Pfiz­er-BioN­Tech vaccine.
Afrigen’s biotech con­sor­tium makes the mes­sen­ger RNA shot based on the Mod­er­na for­mu­la, the first to be made based on a broad­ly used vac­cine that does not require the devel­op­er’s assis­tance and approval.

Vaccination rates for the vulnerable are soaring in Africa, the W.H.O. says.

Most coun­tries in Africa have made sig­nif­i­cant gains in vac­ci­nat­ing two vul­ner­a­ble groups against Covid-19, but new infec­tions are creep­ing upward as sum­mer trav­el begins and some coun­tries ease pub­lic health mea­sures, the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion said on Thurs­day. About half of pub­lic health work­ers and peo­ple over 60 have been ful­ly vac­ci­nat­ed in 31…

Pregnant people in Sub-Saharan Africa are at higher risk of complications and death from COVID-19

Preg­nant peo­ple who are hos­pi­tal­ized with COVID-19 in Sub-Saha­ran Africa are dying at a rate far greater than preg­nant peo­ple with­out COVID-19 and non-preg­nant peo­ple with COVID-19, accord­ing to a new mul­ti­cen­ter study encom­pass­ing six African coun­tries. The research was pub­lished today in Clin­i­cal Infec­tious Dis­eases and led by a Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh School of Pub­lic Health infec­tious dis­eases epidemiologist.

The effects of COVID-19 on preg­nan­cy have been stud­ied in detail in high-income coun­tries, such as the U.S., but stud­ies of sim­i­lar size and scope are lack­ing in low- and mid­dle-income coun­tries and non-West­ern set­tings. The new find­ings con­firm that preg­nant peo­ple are at high­er risk of com­pli­ca­tions and death from COVID-19 and, there­fore, should be pri­or­i­tized with oth­er high-risk peo­ple for COVID-19 vac­ci­na­tion in Sub-Saha­ran Africa.

Our find­ings indi­cate that hos­pi­tal­ized preg­nant women with COVID-19 in Sub-Saha­ran Africa have two to five times greater risk of need­ing inten­sive care and dying than unin­fect­ed, hos­pi­tal­ized preg­nant women. We must urgent­ly pri­or­i­tize preg­nant women among at-risk pop­u­la­tions in COVID-19 vac­cine pro­grams in Africa.”

Jean B. Nachega, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of infec­tious dis­eases and micro­bi­ol­o­gy and epi­demi­ol­o­gy at Pitt Pub­lic Health

The large study looked at out­comes of over 1,300 female patients of child-bear­ing age who were hos­pi­tal­ized between March 2020 and March 2021 in one of six coun­tries: the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of the Con­go, Ghana, Kenya, Nige­ria, South Africa and Ugan­da. Specif­i­cal­ly, this study looked at three cat­e­gories: preg­nant women with COVID-19, non-preg­nant women with COVID-19 and preg­nant women with­out COVID-19.

Researchers found that the rates of inten­sive care unit (ICU) admis­sion and use of sup­ple­men­tal oxy­gen were at least two-fold high­er and the death toll increased five-fold in the preg­nant women with SARS-CoV­‑2.

Relat­ed Sto­ries­Sub-Saha­ran Africa also has high­er rates of tuber­cu­lo­sis (TB) and HIV than the U.S., and pub­lished stud­ies on COVID-19 among peo­ple with these chron­ic infec­tions have had con­flict­ing results, so the team also inves­ti­gat­ed the impact of these infec­tions on their study pop­u­la­tion. Among the par­tic­i­pants, both preg­nant and non-preg­nant women with HIV or a pri­or his­to­ry of TB had a two-fold increased risk of ICU admission.

“The bur­den of TB and HIV infec­tions in Africa adds to the risk of severe COVID-19 dur­ing preg­nan­cy,” said coau­thor John W. Mel­lors, M.D., chief of the Divi­sion of Infec­tious Dis­eases in Pit­t’s School of Med­i­cine. “This fur­ther under­scores the impor­tance of COVID-19 vac­ci­na­tion as part of pre­na­tal care.”

Nachega, who splits his time between Pitt Pub­lic Health and a fac­ul­ty posi­tion at Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­si­ty in South Africa, not­ed recent progress on increas­ing the COVID-19 vac­cine sup­ply in Africa but empha­sized that COVID-19 vac­cine hes­i­tan­cy and mis­in­for­ma­tion about pub­lic health guid­ance is a glob­al issue, and Africa is no excep­tion. In an edi­to­r­i­al pub­lished along­side the study, Nachega and fel­low researchers empha­sized that tar­get­ing COVID-19 vac­ci­na­tions to this pop­u­la­tion is key in improv­ing moth­er and infant outcomes.

“COVID-19 vac­cine hes­i­tan­cy and low vac­cine uptake in preg­nan­cy include mis­in­for­ma­tion and dis­in­for­ma­tion pro­mot­ed on social media and oth­er plat­forms, which mis­lead the pub­lic about side effects, such as infer­til­i­ty and poten­tial fetal harm,” Nachega said. “Along with devot­ing resources to pro­mot­ing vac­ci­na­tion, we must also work to stop the spread of misinformation.”
Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burghJour­nal reference:Clinical Infec­tious Dis­eases. DOI: doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciac294

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