By Ahmed Rahma
Just after South Africa suspended the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine codenamed AZD1222 due to its failure to protect clinical-trial participants, Portugal has announced an age restriction for the use of the shot developed by Oxford University.
The European country has declared that the vaccine should be preferably used for people of age 65 and below until new data is available.
This was according to Portugal’s Directorate-General for Health.
“In no situation should the vaccination of older people be delayed if only the AstraZeneca vaccine is available,” the Directorate-General of Health said on Monday in a statement posted on its website.
Portugal has already started administering Pfizer-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. vaccines.
According to a report, on September 8, 2020, the producer of the vaccine announced a global halt to the vaccine trial while a possible adverse reaction in a participant in the United Kingdom was investigated.
On September 13, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford resumed clinical trials in the United Kingdom after regulators concluded it was safe to do so.
AstraZeneca was criticized for vaccine safety after concerns from experts, noting that the company’s refusal to provide details about serious neurological illnesses in two participants who received the experimental vaccine in Britain.
While the trial resumed in the UK, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and India, it remained on hold in the US till October 23, 2020, while the Food Drug Administration (FDA) investigated a patient illness that triggered the clinical hold, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar.
Ghana, UK Sign $1.6bn Bilateral Trade Deal
By Adedapo Adesanya
Ghana and the United Kingdom have signed a trade agreement worth $1.6 billion in one of the latest bilateral deals since Britain exited the European Union (EU).
In an agreement signed yesterday, the terms will allow duty-free and quota-free access for Ghana to the UK market and preferential tariff reductions for UK exporters to the Ghanaian market.
It means Ghanian products such as bananas, tinned tuna and cocoa can be exported to Britain without tariffs.
Before the UK left the European trade bloc, Britain set up UK Economic Partnerships with 16 African countries so it could continue deals it already had while it was in the EU.
They are the same pacts as what the EU offers Africa, which is African countries do not pay tariffs or duties on exports to the UK.
However, Ghana was exempted from that list, subjecting Ghanian importers to heavy tariffs and extra paperwork.
The UK government said Ghana’s largest exports to Britain include mineral fuels and oil, preparations of fish, fruit, cocoa and cocoa preparations.
“The agreement will enter into effect following the completion of relevant internal procedures required in both Ghana and the UK,” both governments said in the statement.
The UK has said it sees Africa’s potential and showed this when British Prime Minister, Mr Boris Johnson skipped the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos to host the UK-Africa investment summit in 2020 where deals worth almost $8 billion were announced.
The country showed its commitment by signing a trade deal with Egypt in December. The agreement will allow British businesses and consumers to benefit from continued preferential access to the market, which will help boost vital trade and investment.
In addition to securing trade, the UK noted that it will strengthen its relationship with Egypt and building co-operation on important issues including education, the environment and human rights.
The total trade on goods and services between the UK and Egypt was worth £3.5 billion in 2019, which the country says it will expand.
Critics have noted that despite this, the UK is likely to prioritise deals with the EU, United States, China, South Korea and Australia ahead of Africa.
UN Seeks $266m for East African Refugees
By Ahmed Rahma
The United Nations on Tuesday appealed for $266 million to help feed more than three million refugees and asylum seekers across East Africa, suffering extra hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint statement stated that lockdowns and other measures to contain the contagion have made it more difficult for refugees to get food or earn money.
“We’ve never had such a terrible funding situation for refugees,” said WFP’s regional director for East Africa, Mr Michael Dunford, adding that $266 million was needed for the next six months just to cover refugees’ minimum needs.
The UNHCR estimates almost three-quarters of some 4.7 million refugees living in the 11 countries where it works in the region do not have enough to eat.
“The pandemic has been devastating for everyone, but for refugees even more so,” said UNHCR’s Clementine Nkweta-Salami. “Unless more funds are made available, thousands of refugees including children will not have enough to eat.”
She said refugees faced with food rationing and cash cuts are already turning to “negative coping strategies” including skipping meals, selling assets, child labour and increased domestic violence.
“There is often a desperation and a feeling of no alternative,” she said.
The funding shortfall has led the WFP to slash its monthly assistance for refugees by more than half in Rwanda, and make big cuts in countries including Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan.
“We are deeply concerned that if cuts continue, (refugees) will be faced with a very difficult decision: stay in the camps where food and nutrition security is deteriorating or consider risking going back when it is unsafe,” Mr Dunford said.
Facebook Partners German Media on News Contents
By Adedapo Adesanya
Popular social media giant, Facebook, will start showing news contents from numerous German publishers and media outlets on a dedicated part of its site from May.
In an online news conference, Mr Jesper Doub, the Director for News Partnerships in Europe said, “We’re going to invest about a billion dollars in Facebook News worldwide over the next three years.”
“Facebook News in Germany is part of that,” he added.
Although he didn’t specify how much individual publishers will be paid, he noted that it was important for publishers to partner with Facebook so that they can be remunerated for content linked to on the site.
He, however, clarified that the content does not have to be produced especially for Facebook.
“What’s important here is that content itself doesn’t end up on Facebook, but we put links to the publishers’ offerings,” Mr Doub stressed.
According to Facebook, partners so far include Germany’s Spiegel news magazine, the Funke Media Group and Hamburg-based publishing house Gruner + Jahr, which belongs to the Bertelsmann Group.
Mr Doub described Facebook News as “a long-term collaboration”, adding that, “We believe it will take several years before the product is really good.”
Facebook News was launched in the United States in 2020 and was recently introduced in the United Kingdom.
In Australia, Facebook agreed last week to support publishers of its choice after a tough battle with the government there about paying for content.
The row had briefly prompted Facebook to ban news content from its platform.
Ghana’s President, Wife Receive COVID-19 Vaccine
Ghana’s first citizen, Mr Nano Akufo-Addo and his wife, Mrs Rebecca Akufo, have received the COVID-19 vaccine, signifying the beginning of the vaccination in the country.
According to reports, the duo got vaccinated at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra, Ghana on Monday, March 1, 2021.
Before taking the shot, President said, “I decided to take it [the vaccine] publicly to clear all doubts and urge everyone to also accept the vaccine.”
“It’s important to state that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it. So, everybody in Ghana should feel comfortable about taking the vaccine. It is important that everybody at the end of the day is vaccinated. That is our objective,” Mr Akufo-Addo said.
The president called on Ghanaians not to be complacent but rather continue to observe the necessary safety protocols in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All the other protocols remain in place until we are satisfied that the virus finally disappears from Ghana,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, and his wife, Mrs Samira Bawumia, are also expected to be inoculated later in the day at a different health facility.
It is important to note that while vaccination commenced today in Ghana, Nigeria is yet to get her own vaccines.
Business Post earlier reported today that the federal government has opened a portal for the registration of vaccination in Nigeria. The African giant expects its vaccines on Tuesday. The type is the one produced by AstraZeneca and nearly 4 million doses are expected.
Okonjo-Iweala Resumes as WTO Director-General
By Ahmed Rahma
The newly-elected Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has assumed office today, March 1, 2021.
The former Nigerian finance minister, the first woman and African to be in that position, is the organisation’s seventh DG.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, whose tenure as the DG will end on August 31, 2025, revealed her plans to work with other members of the organisation to restructure the global trade body.
“Some WTO rules and procedures also need to be revisited, including the procedure for appointing director-general,” she noted in her acceptance speech.
The new WTO boss added that the trade body’s rulebook needed to reflect 21st-century realities such as e-commerce, the digital economy, and the pandemic.
The lengthy selection process ended up with Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who spent 25 years at the World Bank, to lead the body by the WTO’s 164 members on February 15.
The council’s consensus made her appointment possible.
The process was hampered by the United States’ objection under former President Donald Trump, despite the approval of council members in October 2020.
Her election has been described as a welcome development because of her experience at the World Bank. She is believed to be the right person to lead the WTO.
The Great Game of Vaccination Diplomacy Targets Africa
By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Russia is committed to helping eradicate the rapidly increasing coronavirus infections in Africa amounting to approximately 3.8 million with its latest developed Sputnik V vaccine.
Such a step will enable Russia to reassert its geopolitical influence that involves a keen competition with other foreign players on the continent.
An official media release in mid-February said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team — set up by the African Union to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa can attain a target immunization of 60% — has received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation.
This includes a financing package for any member states wishing to secure this vaccine. The Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team also informed that it had secured 270 million doses each from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), explained: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”
Several countries around the world have ordered the Sputnik V, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). This is a sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors.
The offer of 300 million doses to Africa, to be delivered in May, seems limited by Russia’s own production capability. Quoting Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, TASS Information News Agency in February 2021 reported that Russia plans to produce 88 million double doses of coronavirus vaccines in the first six months of the year, not including the newly registered CoviVac vaccine.
“We expect that 88 million double doses of coronavirus vaccines will be produced by the end of the first half of the year, not including CoviVac,” she said, adding that 83 million double doses of the Sputnik V vaccine as well as 5.4 million double doses of EpiVacCorona would be manufactured.
According to Golikova, 30.5 million double doses of the vaccines will be produced this first quarter of the year. She also said that 11.1 million double doses of the vaccines have been manufactured in the country so far and 7.9 million doses have been released for civil distribution.
In his wide-ranging annual media conference held on December 17, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that as the pandemic spreads, millions of coronavirus vaccine doses will have been produced in Russia at the beginning of the year. The primary objective is to vaccinate the Russian population. “Production of this vaccine requires relevant plants, enterprises, and hardware — all that will be scaled up. I expect all of these plans to be fulfilled and production of millions of vaccine doses at the beginning of the year,” he said.
With regard to cooperation with other countries, it will boost the technological capabilities of enterprises to produce the vaccine. Foreign countries will invest their own money into expanding their production capacities and purchasing the corresponding equipment.
“As for cooperation with foreign countries: nothing is stopping us from manufacturing vaccine components at facilities in other countries precisely because we need time to enhance the technological capacities of our vaccine manufacturing enterprises. This does not hinder vaccination in the Russian Federation,” he said.
Sputnik V is registered in Russia, Belarus, Argentina, Bolivia, Serbia, Algeria, Palestine, Venezuela, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Hungary, UAE, Iran, Republic of Guinea, Tunisia, Armenia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Republika Srpska (an entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina), Lebanon, Myanmar, Pakistan, Mongolia, Bahrain, Montenegro, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Gabon, Ghana and San Marino.
On August 11, 2020, Russia became the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine named Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.
According to the latest media reports, Moscow is not the only foreign player making inroads into Africa. French President Emmanuel Macron urged Europe and the United States to send, without much delay, enough Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa to inoculate the continent’s healthcare workers or risk losing influence to Russia and China.
According to Macron, Europe and the United States could allocate up to 5% of their current vaccine supplies to developing countries in an effort to avoid an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality.
Addressing the Munich Security Conference in February after U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron pleaded for sending 13 million doses to Africa as a first step — enough to inoculate all its health workers, failure would mean Africa coming under justified pressure to buy doses from the Chinese and the Russians.
Ahead of the G7 meeting on February 19, Macron described the slow speed of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in Africa as “intolerable” and blaming inequality between poor and rich countries for access to vaccines. “We must respond to this outrageous inequality,” Macron said, during a videoconference with Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi and Comoros President Azali Assoumani.
The goal of the meeting was to identify “priority areas” and help bring African voices to talks planned between leaders of the G7 countries. “We are at a moment of truth if we want to act more effectively,” said Macron, adding that it was in the interest of the whole world to vaccinate people globally, otherwise the virus would continue to circulate, and different variants would emerge.
Increasing production capacities in Africa
He said production capacities in Africa needed to be increased, while transparency on vaccine pricing was needed, pointing to how some Western countries could buy vaccines more cheaply than African countries.
France is indeed part of the Covax facility, which acts as a global collective bargaining initiative to secure vaccine doses for countries who signed up, including those which are self-financing their purchases, as well as assistance from donors for poorer countries. The first vaccines purchased through Covax are destined to reach the African continent in February, with some 88.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines distributed to 47 countries by the first half of 2021.
Through bilateral relations, a number of African countries have had vaccine donations from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). China has already provided the Covid-19 vaccine, as donations, to Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe and will further help 19 African countries as part of its commitment to making vaccines global public goods, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said on February 22 that China would also support enterprises to export Covid-19 vaccines to African nations that urgently need, recognize, and have authorized the emergency use of Chinese vaccines.
The aid is a clear manifestation of the China-Africa traditional friendship, he said, adding that China will continue to provide support and assistance within its capacity and in accordance with the needs of Africa. China welcomes and supports France and other European and American nations in providing vaccines to help Africa fight the pandemic.
African countries are ready to help each other fight the pandemic. Senegal is the first African country to donate vaccines to its neighbours as Dakar announced that it would give 10,000 doses each of its Chinese coronavirus vaccines to The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. President Macky Sall confirmed the donation as a sign of solidarity.
Senegal received a vaccine consignment of 200,000 from China’s Sinopharm. The government said it paid a little over 2 billion CFA francs (US$3.74 million) for the doses to begin its campaign. Senegal says it is also in negotiations with Russia to purchase its Sputnik V vaccine. It aims to innoculate about 90% of a targeted 3.5 million people, including health workers and high-risk individuals between the ages of 19 and 60, by the end of 2021. The country’s population is about 16 million.
Senegal is eligible for the COVAX program, a WHO-backed program expected to deliver vaccines to those who need them most. During the virtual meeting of G7 leaders, the European Union announced it had donated a further 500 million euros to the COVAX program. According to the Senegalese Health Ministry, it expects 1.3 million doses by early March. It comes at no cost to the West African nation.
According to official reports, India is also joining the global players in Africa. India will make its first shipment of a locally made Covid-19 to the WHO-backed equitable vaccine distribution network COVAX. “In fulfilling our commitment to helping the world with Covid-19 vaccines, the supply of Made-in-India vaccine has commenced for Africa under COVAX facility,” Anurag Srivastava, spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs, said on Twitter.
The World Health Organization this February paved the way for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine’s global rollout by approving emergency use of the product produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, and SK Bioscience of South Korea. SII will also start producing the Novavax vaccine mainly for poor and middle-income countries.
India, the world’s biggest maker of vaccines, has shipped over 17 million vaccine doses to more than two dozen countries — including around 6 million as gifts to partners such as Bangladesh and Nepal. For its own campaign, New Delhi has so far only ordered 31 million doses.
The cost of vaccinating 60% of Africa’s 1.3 billion people would be between US$10 billion and US$15 billion, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control. The continent has secured 36% of its vaccine needs, with 25% of the doses to come from the Covax initiative and 11% from a separate African Union program, Africa’s CDC said.
Africa really needs the developed world, as it has no vaccine of its own. It’s far behind the rest of the world in terms of acquisition and inoculations, with richer nations having secured the scarce shots early. Africa, however, remains resolute at ensuring the welfare of the entire population, while the African Union, regional blocs and individual governments make frantic efforts to acquire adequate vaccines through bilateral and multilateral agencies.
WHO has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic since March 11, 2020. South Africa accounts for the biggest number of Africa’s coronavirus cases. Egypt and Morocco in the north have increasing rates of infection, and in countries such as Ethiopia, Nigeria and Kenya in Sub-Saharan Africa. The overall number of Covid-19 cases in Africa currently stands more than 3.8 million in late February, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.
This article first and originally published by InDepthNews.
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