Novavax says its COVID-19 vaccine is 90.4% effective

By Grace Kuria

Novavax has on Monday announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective against COVID-19.

A statement issued by Novavax showed that, NVX-CoV2373, (Novavax’s recombinant nanoparticle protein-based COVID-19 vaccine), demonstrated 100% protection against moderate and severe disease, 90.4% efficacy overall.

One of the clinical trial participants around the world who volunteered in the Novavax vaccine clinical research. Novavax says its COVID-19 vaccine 90.4% effective
Source: Novavax

The results were met through a study which enrolled 29,960 participants across 119 sites in the U.S. and Mexico to evaluate efficacy, safety and immunogenicity.

Stanley C. Erck, President and Chief Executive Officer, Novavax said, “today, Novavax is one step closer to addressing the critical and persistent global public health need for additional COVID-19 vaccines.”

“These clinical results reinforce that NVX-CoV2373 is extremely effective and offers complete protection against both moderate and severe COVID-19 infection.” The President added.

The company intends to file for regulatory authorizations in the third quarter, upon completion of the final phases of process qualification and assay validation needed to meet chemistry, manufacturing and controls (CMC) requirements.

Upon regulatory approvals, Novavax remains on track to reach manufacturing capacity of 100 million doses per month by the end of the third quarter and 150 million doses per month by the end of the fourth quarter of 2021.

Uganda says its COVID-19 deaths will be reported in real time

By Grace Kuria

Uganda’s Health Ministry has stated that moving forward, COVID-19 deaths will be reported in real time as confirmed or probable COVID-19 deaths.

Dr. Olaro Charles, Director General Health Services clarified that this will be done forward (June 13) and not retrospectively for the non-classified COVID-19 related deaths.

“When this is done, there will be a readjustment of deaths and we shall report accordingly.” Dr. Olaro stated.

This has been necessitated by concerns from the Ugandan population, regarding the delayed reporting and notification of COVID-19 and COVID-19 related deaths.

“This has in turn caused discomfort from the general population, family members of the deceased and the health workers managing the patients in the various treatment centers across the country. This is highly regretted.” The ministry stated.

Further explaining that, COVID-19 diagnosis is principally using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), and antigen (Rapid Diagnostic Tests) RDTs.

However, given different biological processes: timings, technique, storage, and transportation of the COVID-19 sample, including when the suspected patient accesses the health facility and is instituted in care, the presence of the virus may not be detected at the time (by PCR and Antigen RDTs)

Uganda’s Ministry of Health reports that the country has thus far recorded 61,977 positive coronavirus cases and 428 deaths.

G7 leaders to provide more than 1B COVID-19 vaccines

By Grace Kuria

G7 leaders have agreed to provide an additional more than 1 billion COVID-19 doses starting mid 2021.

A communique by White House stated, “this week in Cornwall, G7 Leaders agreed to provide at least 1 billion doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to accelerate global vaccine coverage, particularly for the poorest countries.”

On its part, the United States announced its commitment to purchase and contribute to Gavi or in support of COVAX 500 million doses of Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, with delivery beginning in August 2021.

The U.S. will allocate these doses to 92 low and lower-middle income nations around the world.

“This announcement means that since 2020, the G7 has committed to financing and providing approximately 2.3 billion vaccines for the world.” The statement read.

This 2.3 billion total includes support for expanding local production capacity around the world to add more than a billion doses to the global vaccine supply by the end of 2022.

Rwanda capable of preventing third wave of COVID-19: health minister

By XINHUA

Rwanda rolled out its mass vaccination drive earlier this month focusing on healthcare workers, essential service providers and the elderly. /Photo courtesy: Rwanda Health Ministry – Twitter.

Rwandan Minister of Health Daniel Ngamije on Sunday affirmed the central African nation’s capacity to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 despite a rise in infections in the past two weeks.

There are currently 17-20 people testing positive per 100,000 tests in the country, Ngamije said during Rwanda Television’s talk show.

The country will gradually expand rapid testing services in specific areas such as big hotels, he said, adding that any events taking place in public places must not exceed 30 percent of the venue’s capacity, and all participants are required to have a negative test result of COVID-19 within 72 hours.

The country expects to secure 4.5 million more vaccine doses in the coming months, including 1 million Johnson & Johnson ones, he said.

Rwanda launched the first phase of a COVID-19 vaccination campaign nationwide on March 5. It plans to vaccinate 30 percent of its population by the end of this year and 60 percent, or some 8 million people, by 2022, to achieve herd immunity against the coronavirus.

As of Saturday, the country had registered 28,146 COVID-19 cases with 26,341 recoveries and 370 deaths.

Safe to mix and match AstraZeneca and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines, say WHO experts

By AFP

With the continuing global vaccine supply shortages and an increasing variety of COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use, many have wondered whether combining different vaccines could be a feasible option to fast-track and simplify vaccination efforts.

The short answer from the World Health Organization, following preliminary studies in Spain, the UK and Germany and evidence coming from real-life scenarios in India, is yes.

But so far it is only with an AstraZeneca first dose followed by a Pfizer vaccine as a second dose that we know for sure that this can be done “without any problems in the sense of efficacy,” said Alejandro Cravioto, WHO Chair of Strategic Management, when asked about the issue at an online question and answer session.

In recent studies, researchers have found that this mixing and matching – which initially happened because of necessity – is actually beneficial, as a first dose of AstraZeneca combined with a second dose of Pfizer proved to develop levels of protection against the virus as high as two doses of Pfizer, with efficacy rates at 97 percent after the second dose.

In Europe and Canada, the question was whether patients who had received a first dose of AstraZeneca could switch to a different vaccine, after some countries said that AstraZeneca should not be recommended for younger age groups.

While there is enough evidence to prove that it is safe and efficient to mix the AstraZeneca vaccine with the Pfizer vaccine, the same information is not yet available for all the possible combinations of the many vaccines currently available across the world.

“We have over 15 vaccines now that are being used in different countries,” said Katherine O’Brien, WHO Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals department.

Despite the fact that some of these vaccines are very different in the way they work, whether they’re based on an inactivated cold flu virus like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or use mRNA technology like Pfizer and Moderna, “in one way or another [they] are all stimulating your own immune system to develop antibodies against that spike [protein]” of the COVID-19 virus, said O’Brien.

“So just on basic principles of how vaccines work, we do think that the mix and match regimens are going to work. But it is important that we actually get data on the degree to which your immune response does respond to a second dose that’s not the same vaccine as the first dose.”

Mixing doses of different vaccines is nothing out of the ordinary in immunology. Following the ebola epidemic of 2014, Johnson & Johnson produced a two-dose vaccine containing different carrier viral vectors (an adenovirus and a modified version of a poxvirus) that was able to provide long-lasting immunity.

Mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines could potentially not only solve issues of vaccine roll-outs in those countries struggling with sufficient supplies, but also boost the body’s immunity to variants of the virus, giving more weapons in our arsenal to fight the virus.

But as mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna have only been approved for the first time to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a lack of evidence from previous experience with different diseases that mixing and matching will work without possible side effects.

For this reason, researchers are pressing for more studies to test different vaccine combinations and the reaction of our bodies to them.

South Africa’s Vodacom Bulls to face Italy’s Benetton in Rainbow Cup final

By David Ochieng Mbewa

South African rugby franchise Vodacom Bulls will play Italian outfit Benetton in the final of the PRO14 Rainbow Cup after defeating local rivals Cell C Sharks on Saturday.

The Bulls secured a 34-22 bonus point victory in Durban which saw them win the southern league of the tournament.

FILE PHOTO: Zak Burger of the Vodacom Bulls in action during a PRO14 Rainbow Cup SA match in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The Bulls outscored their opponents by four tries to three with Cornal Hendricks, David Kriel, Stravino Jacobs and Janko Swanepoel all grabbing five pointers. Meanwhile, JJ van der Mescht, Springboks captain Siya Kolisi and Anthony Volmink crossed the whitewash for the hosts.

Veteran fly-half Morne Steyn also came out on top in another battle against his opposite number Curwin Bosch kicking 14 points for the Bulls while Bosch managed to kick five points.

36-year-old Steyn was recently recalled to the South Africa squad for the first time since 2016 for the upcoming British & Irish Lions tour at the expense of 23-year-old Bosch.

Steyn has been a reliable performer for the Bulls over recent weeks and his exceptional goal-kicking ability was also a factor in his selection.

The Bulls finished the league with five wins from six games and a total of 25 points while the Sharks ended the campaign third with three wins and 16 points.

DHL Stormers finished second with 21 points after they were awarded a win in their match against Emirates Lions after the latter was hit by a number of COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, Benetton finished top of the northern league after their game at Ospreys was called off because of three COVID-19 cases in the Welsh side’s camp.

The Italian outfit was awarded four points for the win meaning neither Glasgow Warriors nor Munster could catch them at the top.

The Bulls will take on Benetton on June 19 in Treviso.

WTO boss sees way for deal to speed COVID vaccines for poor nations

By Reuters

The head of the World Trade Organization said there was a pathway for a global deal to get more COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries, despite a split over whether drugs firms should be stripped of their intellectual property rights.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, speaking to reporters before joining discussions among leaders of the Group of Seven nations, said she was hopeful there would be more clarity on the way ahead for the IP waiver issue by July.

“It may be difficult because some of the positions, maybe, are a little bit far apart, but there is a pathway,” she said. “I would very much like to see some form of progress by July.”

WTO members agreed on Wednesday to start formal talks on a plan to boost COVID-19 vaccine supply to developing countries but the battle lines are drawn for tough negotiations.

South Africa and India, backed by many emerging nations, want a temporary waiver of IP rights on vaccines and other treatments to allow local manufacturers to produce shots.

WTO members are due to discuss next week the format of negotiations with a view to producing a report by July 21-22.

The G7 leaders, holding a summit in southwest England, agreed on Friday to donate 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to poorer countries, something the United Nations and campaign groups said fell short of what is needed.

Separately, Okonjo-Iweala said she was hoping for a “significant advance” in talks on fishery subsidies by July “even if we don’t get to a conclusion which is quite possible”.

She is due to host a meeting of WTO member countries on July 15 to try to cut fisheries subsidies after 20 years of talks.

Over 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in Angola

By CGTN Africa

Angola receives COVAX vaccines

Angola has reached the milestone of administering more than one million doses of COVID-19 vaccines after receiving the first doses from COVAX, the Angolan Ministry of Health announced.

The health ministry said that the milestone was reached after the country received 624 000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine on 2 March this year from the Serum Institute of India, as part of the COVAX initiative, and subsequently, in April 2021, an additional 495 000 doses.

A total of 2.17 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were allocated to Angola until June 2021, as part of the doses donated to more than 92 low-income countries by partners of the COVAX initiative.

According to the WHO Representative in Angola, Dr Djamila Cabral, the positive results recorded in the country reflect the commitment of the authorities and the joint efforts of society to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We congratulate Angola for the country’s strong engagement and determination which began with a timely preparation of a vaccination plan and quick regulatory oversight, resulting in a positive response from COVAX and the timely procurement of vaccines for the protection of the Angolan people,” she said. “WHO is pleased to be part of Angola’s efforts to protect the health of all and save lives.”

To ensure safe and equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines and the success of the vaccination campaign, the Angolan health authorities have developed, with the support of their partners—WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Gavi—a National Vaccination and Vaccine Distribution Plan.

The plan includes the prioritisation of target groups, strengthening of infrastructure for vaccination and the cold chain, the training of vaccinators, the continuous management of misinformation, the creation of an electronic vaccination registration system and the creation of high-performance vaccination centers.

UNICEF’s Representative in Angola, Ivan Yerovi, affirmed that this is a remarkable milestone and testimony of the hard work of health workers, government officials and others involved in the campaign.

“We cannot stop until the most vulnerable family of Angola is safe. We are all together in supporting the global vaccination campaign. UNICEF will not leave any stone unturned to support the Government of Angola in their efforts,” he said.

In Angola, around 30 000 doses of vaccine are currently being administered daily, with the expectation of reaching the target of at least 20% of the population by the end of the year.

However, the challenge of scarcity and inequality of access to COVID-19 vaccines may slowdown the country’s vaccination drive. WHO, UNICEF and other COVAX partners renew their appeal to the international community to accelerate dose sharing of excess vaccines and the promotion of their production worldwide.

Zimbabwe to strengthen COVID-19 preventive measures as cases surge

By XINHUA

Zimbabwe has decided to strengthen anti-COVID-19 measures from Monday, banning all social gatherings and enforcing mandatory testing of travelers from hotspot countries, following a surge in infections and deaths in recent weeks.

FILE PHOTO: Locals queue to register details for COVID-19 vaccination exercise at Wilkins Hospital in Harare, capital of Zimbabwe. (Xinhua/Shaun Jusa)

“The last seven days have seen 596 new cases and 26 deaths as compared to the same period in May 2021 when we had 132 new cases and 6 deaths,” Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, also minister of health and child care, said on Saturday night. “This is a more than three-fold increase in new cases and deaths.”

“Sadly, it has been noted that there has been a general complacency in adhering to the preventative measures both in the communities and workplaces,” he added. “We are also witnessing a sharp increase in cases and deaths globally and in the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region.”

Chiwenga said there would be stricter enforcement of preventive measures such as mandatory wearing of masks in public places, maintaining social and physical distancing, and washing or sanitizing of hands frequently.

“Government will strengthen testing and contact tracing as well as quarantining contacts and isolating confirmed cases,” he said.

He said public transport operators should adhere to the instructions on recommended passenger numbers and ensure all passengers are wearing their face masks properly.

Passengers must have their temperature checked and their hands sanitized during boarding. Public transport operators will be required to disinfect their vehicles after every trip.

“All gatherings except funerals are banned. These gatherings include but are not limited to weddings, church gatherings, music festivals and sports activities. Funerals shall be limited to 30 people,” he said.

While funeral gatherings will be allowed, the number of attendees has been limited to 30. He added that all COVID-19 funerals would be supervised by health personnel.

“All workshops and meetings are to be held virtually,” said the vice president. In addition, all offices, both government and private, are to be decongested by 50 percent, except for offices connected with essential services.

Chiwenga also announced that beer halls and nightclubs would remain closed while bottle stores would operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “Operators should ensure that there is no drinking in and around their premises,” he said. “Failure to adhere to these measures will result in withdrawal of business licenses.”

“Hotel and lodge bars and restaurants are open to their residents up to 10 p.m. All other restaurants and fast food outlets will serve takeaways only,” Chiwenga added.

He said there would be strict enforcement of the 48-hour PCR negative certificate requirement and mandatory testing of all travelers from hot spots at their expense regardless of their negative PCR certificates.

“Those who present fake COVID-19 negative certificates shall be arrested and prosecuted,” he warned.

Cape Verde receives COVID-19 vaccines from China

By XINHUA

Cape Verde on Saturday received 50,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses provided by China.

During the handover ceremony for the vaccines and over 50,000 syringes at the Nelson Mandela International Airport in the capital Praia, Cape Verdean Prime Minister Ulisses Correia e Silva expressed gratitude for China’s support, saying his country would fulfill its vaccination plan to vaccinate 70 percent of the population by the end of this year.

“I would like to warmly thank the People’s Republic of China for this contribution, for this donation which will allow us to strengthen our vaccination plan,” the prime minister said, reiterating his country’s commitment to fight against COVID-19.

Chinese Ambassador to Cape Verde Du Xiaocong said the Chinese government will continue to support Cape Verde to combat the pandemic and revive its economy, adding that he is ready to help the island country acquire more vaccines if necessary.

As of Friday, Cape Verde registered 31,512 COVID-19 cases, including 30,231 recoveries and 272 deaths. The country reported its first positive case on March 20, 2020.