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South African firm to make Pfizer vaccine, first in Africa

Associated Press

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South African firm to make Pfizer vaccine, first in Africa

A South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, the first time that the shot will be produced in Africa, Pfizer announced Wednesday.

The Biovac Institute based in Cape Town will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa, a move that should help address the continent’s desperate need for more vaccine doses amid a recent surge of cases.

Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials and package them for distribution. The production will begin in 2022 with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa.

The development is “a critical step” in increasing African’s access to an effective COVID-19 vaccine, Biovac chief executive Dr. Morena Makhoana said.

Lara Dovifat of the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, called the agreement “a first step” but said it is “clearly not enough to achieve vaccine independence on the African continent.”

She criticized the agreement’s failure to share Pfizer-BioNTech’s technology and know-how to independently manufacture vaccines with the South African company.

Pfizer’s goal is to provide access to its vaccine to people everywhere, CEO Albert Bourla said. But the vast majority of its vaccine doses have been sold in bilateral deals to rich countries and only a small amount was made available to the U.N.-backed effort to share COVID-19 vaccines fairly.

For its mass inoculation drive, South Africa is relying on the Pfizer vaccine and has purchased 40 million doses, which are arriving in weekly deliveries.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is already being produced in South Africa. Aspen Pharmacare’s factory in Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, is making the J&J vaccine in the same “fill and finish” process and has the capacity to make more than 200 million doses of the vaccine annually. The J&J vaccines made in South Africa are also being distributed across the African continent.

South Africa’s vaccination drive is ramping up, with more than 220,000 people getting shots on weekdays. More than 5.5 million of South Africa’s 60 million people have received at least one jab, with more than 1.4 million fully vaccinated, according to official figures Wednesday.

South Africa’s goal is to vaccinate about 67% of its population by February 2022.

Vaccination levels are low across Africa, with less than 2% of the continent’s population of 1.3 billion having received at least one shot, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To help alleviate the vaccine shortage on the continent, the U.S. is delivering in the coming weeks the first batches of 25 million doses of vaccines it is sharing with the African Union.

Senegal, Burkina Faso and Gambia have received about 151,200 doses of the Janssen jab as part of a first delivery that will be increased in coming weeks. Ethiopia and Djibouti are also receiving doses.

Gayle Smith, the U.S. Global COVID-19 Response Coordinator, said the U.S. is working with African partners to move the vaccines out as quickly as possible.

“We are doing this with no strings attached,” she said. “We want to see Africa defeat this pandemic. We want to see Africa be resilient and thrive.”

Currently, Africa is 99% dependent on imports for its vaccines, she said. The U.S. is investing in both South Africa and Senegal to help increase the speed and ability of Africa to produce its own vaccines, she said.

Senegal, the European Union and the U.S. recently signed an investment agreement to build a new vaccine manufacturing plant in Dakar, which will lead to the production of COVID-19 vaccines in Senegal.

Many African countries depending on vaccines from the U.N.-backed effort known as COVAX, have been left waiting for months. The effort has delivered only 200 million vaccines globally since February, while the U.S. alone has administered more than 338 million doses. After COVAX’s biggest supplier — the Serum Institute of India — halted exports in March to deal with an explosive surge on the subcontinent, the agencies behind COVAX, including the World Health Organization, resorted to begging rich countries for donations.

Most of the promised doses won’t arrive until next year and although Group of Seven countries pledged to donate a billion COVID-19 vaccines, that is far short of the 11 billion WHO says are needed to protect the world.


JOHANNESBURG (AP)

MedTech

Sleep therapy device raises over $315.38 in crowdfunding

Karim Husami

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A UK-designed sleep therapy solution with global ambitions raised over $314.21 in the first week of a Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign.

SleepCogni, a portable device with data support for people suffering from insomnia, has so far attracted funds from 157 different investors in this latest fundraiser that combines venture capital investments and crowdfunding.

The firm’s latest lenders include Chasnay ​​Capital Investments, a new private investment fund founded by three former senior executives from General Electric (GE) Healthcare.

Co-founded by Sheffield-based entrepreneur Richard Mills, who has personally suffered from sleeping disorders, and Dutch chronobiologist and sleep expert, Dr Maan van de Werken, said the device allows users to self-manage their insomnia, a condition which affects one in three people across the world.

“Our successful crowdfund campaign builds on the momentum of last month’s FDA registration and the completion of clinical trials where SleepCogni achieved extraordinary results reducing clinical insomnia in just seven days.”

Reinaldo Garcia from Chasnay Capital Investments added: “We’re excited by our investment into SleepCogni for many reasons: its patented technology and clinically validated solution addresses an unmet need in the global sleep aid market, and the company is backed by an excellent team. As experienced global senior leaders with a proven track record, we can add value in this next exciting stage of the business and help SleepCogni scale on a global level.”

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Pfizer vaccine efficacy falls to 84% after 6 months

Hala Turk

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Pfizer and BioNTech published on Wednesday new data indicating their COVID-19 vaccine efficacy decline from 96 percent to 84 percent over six months.

These numbers are regarded as a big motivator to the drug makers currently developing a third “booster shot” to target the Indian Delta variant. 

The released data shows that the antibody levels are much higher against the Alpha coronavirus variant and the South African Beta variant, after a third dose.

Based on the figures, the efficacy “declined gradually” as it dropped from 96 percent during the first week to around two months after receiving a second jab. The dose’s effectiveness then plummeted to 83.7 percent four to six months later with an average drop of 6 percent over the last two months.

The findings may be considered by U.S. health authorities in deciding when the pair’s booster shot might be needed.

The data, which involved tests of 23 people, was published by Pfizer and has not been peer reviewed by the scientific community.

The announcement of the data and was released on the day of the company’s earnings call.

During the call, Mikael Dolsten chief scientific officers described the new data on a third dose of vaccine “encouraging.”

“Receiving a third dose more than six months after vaccination, when protection may be beginning to wane, was estimated to potentially boost the neutralizing antibody titers in participants in this study to up to 100 times higher post-dose three compared to pre-dose three,” Dolsten said in a statement.

Despite Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech’s booster shot plans, both Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a joint statement highlighting that Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this moment in time.

The statement noted that FDA, CDC, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) are engaged in a science-based process to consider whether or when a booster might be necessary.

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Google delays return to office, mandates vaccines

Associated Press

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Google delays return to office, mandates vaccines

Google is postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone to be vaccinated once its sprawling campuses are fully reopened.

The more highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus is driving a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Google’s Wednesday announcement was shortly followed by Facebook, which also said it will make vaccines mandatory for U.S. employees who work in offices. Exceptions will be made for medical and other reasons.

In an email sent to Google’s more than 130,000 employees worldwide, CEO Sundar Pichai said the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning Oct. 18 instead of its previous target date of Sept. 1.

The decision also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.

“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai wrote.

And Pichai disclosed that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have to be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters and other U.S. offices, before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where Google operates.

“This is the stuff that needs to be done, because otherwise we are endangering workers and their families,” said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University and a former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore. “It is not fair to parents to be expected to come back to work and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with unvaccinated people who could be carrying a potentially deadly virus.”

Because children under the age of 12 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated, parents can bring the virus home to them from the office if they are around unvaccinated colleagues, Wen said.

Various government agencies already have announced demands for all their employees to be vaccinated, but the corporate world so far has been taking a more measured approach, even though most lawyers believe the mandates are legal.

Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring their employees to disclose their vaccination status, but are not requiring staffers to be vaccinated.

Less than 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.

While other major technology companies may follow suit now that Google and Facebook have taken stands on vaccines, employers in other industries still may be reluctant, predicted Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner’s human resources practice.

“Google is seen as being such a different kind of company that I think it’s going to take one or two more big employers to do something similar in terms of becoming a game changer,” Kropp said.

Google’s vaccine mandate will be adjusted to adhere to the laws and regulations of each location, Pichai wrote, and exceptions will be made for medical and other “protected” reasons.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai explained.

Google’s decision to require employees working in the office to be vaccinated comes on the heels of similar moves affecting hundreds of thousands government workers in California and New York as part of stepped-up measures to fight the delta variant. President Joe Biden also is considering mandating all federal government workers be vaccinated.

The rapid rise in cases during the past month has prompted more public health officials to urge stricter measures to help overcome vaccine skepticism and misinformation.

The vaccine requirement rolling out in California next month covers more than 240,000 government employees. The city and county of San Francisco is also requiring its roughly 35,000 workers to be vaccinated or risk disciplinary action after the Food and Drug Administration approves one of the vaccines now being distributed under an emergency order.

It’s unclear how many of Google’s workers still haven’t been vaccinated. In his email, Pichai described the vaccination rate at the company as high.

Google’s decision to extend its remote-work follows a similar move by another technology powerhouse, Apple, which recently moved its return-to-office plans from September to October, too.

The delays by Apple and Google could influence other major employers to take similar precautions, given that the technology industry has been at the forefront of the shift to remote work triggered by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020, Google, Apple and many other prominent tech firms had been telling their employees to work from home. This marks the third time Google has pushed back the date for fully reopening its offices.

Google’s vaccine requirement also could embolden other employers to issue similar mandates to guard against outbreaks and minimize the need to wear masks in the office.

While most companies are planning to bring back their workers at least a few days a week, others in the tech industry have decided to let employees do their jobs from remote locations permanently.


SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP)

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