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UK scientists worry vaccines may not work on South African Covid-19 strain

Scientists in the UK are worried that newly developed Covid-19 vaccines may not be able to protect against new strain of the virus.

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UK scientists are worried that the Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out in Britain may not be able to protect against a new strain of the coronavirus that emerged in South Africa and has spread to other parts of the globe, according to Reuters.

The British Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, while citing a conversation he had with his South African counterpart, said he was very worried about the variant discovered in South Africa as he believes that it is more of a problem than the UK variant.

The new strain of the coronavirus in South Africa is driving a surge in Covid-19 cases in the country, and just like the strain in the UK, it appears to be more infectious than the previous mutations.

What the Scientists are saying

Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said that while both variants had some new features in common, the one found in South Africa has a number of additional mutations, which are concerning.

Going further, he said, ‘’These included more extensive alterations to a key part of the virus known as the spike protein – which the virus uses to infect human cells – and may make the virus less susceptible to the immune response triggered by the vaccines.’’

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Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick University, also noted that the South African variant has “multiple spike mutations”.

He said, “The accumulation of more spike mutations in the South African variant are more of a concern and could lead to some escape from immune protection.’’

However, the South African Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, said last month that there is no evidence that the South African variant is more transmissible or causes more severe disease than the U.K. variant. He pointed out that 2 variants developed independently, and there’s evidence that the U.K. strain predates the South African one.

Scientists including BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin and John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, said they are testing the vaccines against the new variants and could possibly make any required changes in around six weeks.

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Public Health England said there was currently little or no evidence to suggest Covid-19 vaccines would not protect against the mutated virus variants.

The world’s richest countries have started vaccinating their populations to safeguard against a disease that has killed 1.8 million people and crushed the global economy.

What you should know

  • It can be recalled that a new strain of the coronavirus disease which spreads faster was detected in the UK and South Africa, spreading to other countries.
  • The UK government also announced new travel restrictions on passengers coming from South Africa with effect from December 24, to protect public health due to a reported outbreak of Covid-19, with a variant strain spreading in some provinces.
  • The easing of restrictions in South Africa, several months ago, has seen a surge in coronavirus cases in the country, and a second wave is now coinciding with the summer holidays.
  • Scientists say both the South African and UK variants are associated with a higher viral load, meaning a greater concentration of virus particles in patients’ bodies, possibly contributing to increased transmission.

Chike Olisah is a graduate of accountancy with over 15 years working experience in the financial service sector. He has worked in research and marketing departments of three top commercial banks. Chike is a senior member of the Nairametrics Editorial Team. You may contact him via his email- [email protected]

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WHO warns Africa in danger of being left behind in Covid-19 vaccination

The WHO has warned that Africa is in danger of being left behind in Covid-19 vaccination.

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AstraZeneca suspends COVID-19 vaccine final stage trial over safety concerns, COVID-19: J&J starts vaccine trials on humans after success on monkeys

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that Africa is in danger of being left behind in Covid-19 vaccination as countries from other regions strike bilateral deals, thereby driving up prices.

This follows the development and approval of safe and effective vaccine less than a year after the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, regarded as a stunning achievement.

This disclosure was made by the WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti while speaking during a virtual press conference which was facilitated by APO Group.

Dr Moeti was joined at the press briefing by the Managing Director, Country Programmes, Gavi, Thabani Maphosa and UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed Fall.

What the WHO’s Regional Director for Africa is saying

Dr Moeti stated that as of early this week, 40 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in 50 mostly high-income countries with Guinea being the only low-income country on the continent to have provided doses to only 25 people so far.

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According to her, Seychelles is the only high-income country on the continent where a national Covid-19 vaccination campaign has started.

She said, “We first, not me first, is the only way to end the pandemic. Vaccine hoarding will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa’s recovery. It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe.

“Health workers and vulnerable people in Africa need urgent access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.’’

What the Managing Director, Country Programmes, GAVI, is saying

Mr Thabani Maphosa, the Managing Director, Country Programmes at GAVI, a partner in the alliance, was quoted as saying delivery would begin soon.

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He said, “COVAX is on track to start delivering vaccine doses and begin ensuring global access to vaccines. This massive international undertaking has been made possible thanks to donations work towards dose-sharing deals and deals with manufacturers that have brought us to almost 2 billion doses secured. We look forward to rollout in the coming weeks.”

What you should know

  • COVAX facility is an international alliance which is backed by the WHO, Gavi, the vaccine alliance and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), to ensure equitable distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines among all countries regardless of income level.
  • The alliance has secured 2 billion doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for Africa from 5 producers, with options of over 1 billion more doses.
  • COVAX has committed to vaccinating no fewer than 20% of the population in Africa by the end of 2021.
  • Priority will be given to health workers and other vulnerable groups, such as older persons and those with pre-existing health conditions.
  • An initial 30 million vaccine doses are expected to begin arriving in countries by March.
  • The United Nations in its report said that a maximum of 600 million doses will be disbursed, based on 2 doses per person.

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Coronavirus

COVID-19: Evidence suggests that new variants could pose challenge for vaccines

The research findings show that the new COVID variants may likely not respond well to the vaccines.

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Recent research findings suggest that the new coronavirus variants would likely pose a big challenge for the vaccines, as revealed by studies by several medical researchers.

The new variant was first discovered in South Africa in October but has now been spread to more than a dozen countries all over the world.

According to the most recent findings, as reported by CNN, researchers took antibodies from six people who were hospitalized with Covid-19 before the new variant was discovered. They found to varying degrees, that the antibodies for all six of the survivors were unable to fully fight off the virus.

According to Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, “I think the evidence is building that these mutations — and I think other mutations — will emerge across the globe — and are emerging already — that are escaping antibodies from previous infection. It’s concerning.”

According to Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, “When you see two groups independently arriving at same basic answer, that good — there’s more consonance that they are correct”

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What you should know

  • Sigal’s findings were very similar to those of a recent study by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa.
  • A research study has revealed that mutations in the new variant allowed them to evade some of the immunity induced by vaccination, but it was far from a complete escape.
  • One thing that is critically safe for everyone is to get vaccinated, while the researchers are working to confirm whether these variants are dangerous or not to contain with the vaccines.
  • According to Alex Sigal, “I would for sure get it if I could. My father-in-law had the opportunity to fly to Israel and get it, and I was shooing him out of the house because you can’t get it here in South Africa.”
  • In a research study done at Rockefeller University, from a sample of 20 people who had received either the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine, it was found that different mutations in the viruses did allow some escape from some types of antibodies, but the volunteers’ immune systems threw an army of different types of antibodies at the viruses.
  • According to the research conducted in South Africa, blood was drawn from 44 people who had Covid-19 but the antibodies of about half of the 44 people were powerless against the new variant, while the other half, their antibody responses were weakened, but not totally knocked out.

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Coronavirus

Covid-19: Buhari approves N6.45 billion to set up 38 oxygen production plants

President Buhari has approved the sum of N6.45 billion for the set-up of 38 oxygen production plants across the country.

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President Muhammadu Buhari has announced his approval of N6.45 billion for the set-up of 38 oxygen production plants across the country, in a bid to contain the second wave of Covid-19.

The President disclosed this in a statement on Thursday evening after the first National Economic Council meeting of the year presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, with State Governors, Federal Capital Territory Minister, Central Bank Governor, and other senior government officials in attendance.

READ: Covid-19: FG directs universities to suspend academic activities till further notice

“As part of efforts to contain the second wave of Covid-19, we’re setting up new oxygen production plants in 38 locations across Nigeria—to enhance the management of patients in need of oxygen.

“I have equally approved funding for the rehabilitation of oxygen plants in 5 hospitals,” Buhari said.

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The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed said the President said the fund’s release was necessitated by the rising cases of Covid-19 in the country with patients needing oxygen.

READ: Toyota suspends operations in China over Coronavirus outbreak 

What you should know 

  • Recall Nairametrics reported that the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, warned that the rising second wave of the pandemic in Lagos had seen the demand for oxygen rise 5 times from 70 six-liter cylinders per day to 350 six-liter cylinders at Yaba Mainland Hospital alone.
  • He added that the state government had the decentralized provision of oxygen and other services needed for Covid-19 patients, citing the provision of oxygen kiosks.

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