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South Africa Suspends AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

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AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

By Ahmed Rahma

The government of South Africa has suspended the use of AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine on its citizens over an issue concerning the protection of users.

About a million doses of the vaccine from the United Kingdom have already been delivered to the former Apartheid country by the manufacturer.

However, South Africa claimed test results showed that the vaccine did not protect clinical-trial participants from mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious COVID-19 virus variant ( B.1.351) that was first seen there.

It was not clear from the studies whether the vaccine protected against severe disease from the B.1.351 variant.

The clinical trial participants, who were evaluated, were relatively young and unlikely to become severely ill, making it impossible for the scientists to determine if the variant interfered with the vaccine’s ability to protect against severe COVID-19, hospitalisations or deaths.

Based on the immune responses detected in blood samples from people who were given the vaccine, the scientists said they believed that the vaccine could yet protect against more severe cases.

South African health officials said they will consider resuming use of the vaccine if further studies show that it could yet protect against more severe cases.

Already, the vaccine showed minimal efficacy in preventing mild and moderate cases of the new variant, added to the mounting evidence that B.1.351 makes current vaccines less effective.

The B.1.351 is also known to cause lower efficacy with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines though the vaccines are still protective, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson have also sequenced test samples from their clinical trial participants in South Africa, where B.1.351 caused the vast majority of cases and both reported lower efficacy there than in the US.

The pause in the country’s rollout of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine may not stop vaccination drive, as South African health officials plan to vaccinate health workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has strong efficacy in preventing severe cases and hospitalisations caused by the new variant.

In the AstraZeneca-Oxford trial in South Africa, roughly 2,000 participants were given either two doses of the vaccine or placebo shots.

There was no difference in the numbers of people in the vaccine and placebo groups who were infected with B.1.351, suggesting that the vaccine did little to protect against the new variant.

Nineteen of the 748 people in the group that was given the vaccine were infected with the new variant, compared to 20 out of 714 people in the group that was given a placebo.

According to reports, the B.1.351 variant has already spread to at least 32 countries.

Ahmed Rahma is a journalist with great interest in arts and craft. She is also a foodie who loves new ideas. She loves to travel and would love to visit other African countries someday. She is a sucker for historical movies and afrobeat.

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New US Travel Rules Excludes Foreigners Vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V

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Sputnik V

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Local and foreign media have stepped up reports about rising COVID-19 infections in Russia. While the reports indicated high deaths in the country, the other highlighted new trends that are noticeably appearing there.

Interestingly, directors at the Russian tourism and travel agencies say that many Russians are lining up for vaccine tourism in Serbia, Bulgaria and Germany and a few other foreign countries.

These Russians aim at getting foreign vaccines including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

Here are a few facts about Russian vaccines.

Russia’s Sputnik V was the first officially registered coronavirus vaccine on August 11, 2020. Russia is using four vaccines for mass vaccination for COVID-19. These are Sputnik V and Sputnik Light developed by the Russian Health Ministry’s Gamaleya Center.

EpiVacCorona developed by the Vector Center of the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor), and CoviVac developed by the Chumakov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Clinical trials of the EpiVacCorona vaccine on teens aged from 15 to 17 might begin in the near future.

China has a 1.3 billion population and has given the two billionth vaccine by the end of August, the United States has 380 million and has vaccinated 60% of its population. In Europe, the vaccination rate is high at an appreciable level.

Overall, Russia with an estimated 146 million people has Europe’s highest death toll from the pandemic, nearly 210,000 people as of September 30, according to various authentic sources including the National Coronavirus Task Force.

More than 42 million Russians have received both components of a coronavirus vaccine, according to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova.

“The number of citizens who have received the first component of a vaccine has topped 44 million, and more than 37 million people have completed a full vaccination course,” Golikova said.

She gave an assurance back in July that once the population have been immunized with at least the first component of a two-shot vaccine, herd immunity to COVID-19, or at least an 80% vaccination rate, should be reached by November 1.

Even though Russia boasted of creating the world’s first coronavirus vaccines, vaccination is very low. Critics have principally blamed a botched vaccine rollout and mixed messages the authorities have been sending about the outbreak.

In addition, coronavirus antibody tests are popular in Russia and some observers suggest this contributes to the low vaccination numbers.

Western health experts say the antibody tests are unreliable either for diagnosing COVID-19 or assessing immunity to it. The antibodies that these tests look for can only serve as evidence of a past infection. Scientists say it’s still unclear what level of antibodies indicates that a person has protection from the virus and for how long.

Russia has registered Sputnik V in more than 150 foreign countries. The World Health Organization is yet to register this vaccine. For its registration, it must necessarily pass through approved procedures, so far Russia has ignored them, according to reports.

There have also been several debates after the World Health Organization paused its review process of the Sputnik V vaccine over concerns about its manufacturing process, and few other technical reasons. While some talked about politicizing the vaccine registration, others have faced facts of observing recognized international rules for certifying medical products as such vaccines.

During the first week of October, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko has reiterated or repeated assertively that a certain package of documents was needed to continue the process for the approval of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V by the World Health Organization. The final approval is expected towards the end of 2021.

Still, one of the problems with registration is unfair competition in the global market. For instance, Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov said in an interview with the Rossiya-24 television channel on October 5: “I think it is an element of competition. Until Pfizer covers a certain part of the market, it is pure economics.”

On the other side, Pyotr Ilyichev, Director for International Organization at the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, told Interfax News Agency, for instance, that World Health Organization has been playing politics around Russian vaccine especially when it is needed in most parts of the world.

“The world is facing an acute shortage of vaccines for the novel coronavirus infection. In certain regions, for instance in African countries, less than 2% of the population has been vaccinated. The Russian vaccine is in demand, and the UN stands ready to buy it,” he told Interfax.

“However, certification in the WHO is a complex, multi-step process, which was developed in the past in line with Western countries’ standards. It requires time and serious efforts from our producers. We hope that this process will be successfully finalized in the near future,” Ilyichev said.

Chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Leonid Slutsky has described as discriminatory a decision reported by foreign media that the United States, under its new consular rules, would deny entry for foreigners immunized with the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V.

“Thus, the U.S. will blatantly embark on a path of ‘vaccine discrimination.’ There are absolutely no grounds for such decisions. The efficacy and safety of the Sputnik V vaccine have been confirmed not only by specialists but also by its use in practice,” Slutsky said on Telegram.

He cited an article in The Washington Post saying that from November the United States may begin denying entry to foreigners vaccinated with Sputnik V.

It means that if such additional border measures are adopted, foreigners seeking entry to the United States will have to be immunized with vaccines approved for use either by American authorities or the World Health Organization.

According to an article published in The Washington Post, for the first time since the pandemic began, the United States intends to loosen entry restrictions for foreigners vaccinated against COVID-19.

The new rules, which enter into force in November, will not apply to Russians vaccinated with Sputnik V and citizens of other countries using this Russian vaccine.

Under the new rules, foreigners will enter the United States only if they are immunized with vaccines approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the World Health Organization. Russia’s Sputnik V is yet to be approved by the World Health Organization and is not recognized by the United States.

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Airtel Money, Flutterwave to Explore East African Markets

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Airtel Money Flutterwave East African Markets

By Adedapo Adesanya

Airtel Money has announced a partnership with an African payments company, Flutterwave, to expand the former’s services to East African markets.

Through the partnership, businesses integrating Flutterwave in Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda will be able to receive payments from Airtel Money customers and make bulk payments into Airtel Money wallets, thanks to Airtel Money’s proprietary fintech platforms.

The new services will go live subject to regulatory approvals in the respective countries and reach Airtel Money’s 19.2 million customers in East Africa.

This is coming after a month after the fintech company announced a mobile money partnership with MTN Group to integrate Flutterwave in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia to receive payments via MTN Mobile Money (MoMo).

According to the company in a statement, the partnership will positively increase mobile money usage and penetration in Africa and improve local economies and livelihoods, as well as create opportunities for individuals and businesses across the continent.

Speaking on the development, Airtel Mobile Commerce BV CEO, Mr Vimal Kumar Ambat commented: “Airtel Money is committed to bridging the digital divide and enhancing financial and digital inclusion for millions of businesses across sub-Saharan Africa. Our partnership with Flutterwave will help to empower even more customers through simple and accessible payments services, using the latest technologies, that support business innovation and boost local economies.”

On his part, Flutterwave founder and CEO, Mr Olugbenga Agboola, stated that, “Our business goal is to continue to support African businesses digitise their payments methods and introduce them to a world of opportunities that come with digitisation.

“We are excited to have partnered with Airtel Money to further advance local businesses payment methods which will allow them to increasingly provide more services to their customers, grow their customer base and revenue.”

The development of Mobile Money in Africa has been nothing but remarkable and commendable with approximately 144 mobile money providers operating in Africa, with M-Pesa having over 50 million users and MTN MoMo having over 48.9 million users.

Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates show that Africa has more digital financial services users than any other region in the world, accounting for nearly half of the 700 million individual users globally.

COVID-19 has also triggered a widespread shift in the adoption of mobile money services, with the GSMA reporting a 12.7 per cent increase in the number of registered global mobile money accounts in 2020.

As the trend continues its upward spike, this partnership further responds to the growing dominance of cashless societies across the sub-Saharan region and the need to penetrate digital innovation deeper into communities across Africa.

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Libya Finally Kicks Off Construction of Oil Refinery Project

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libya oil refinery

By Sodeinde Temidayo David

Libya, one of Africa top crude oil exporters, has announced the commencement of the construction of a refinery in the south zone of the country.

This was revealed after a cabinet meeting in the country where it was revealed that the refinery project was originally planned in 1980.

The refinery is aimed to produce cooking gas and also produce 8,000 cylinders per day, jet fuel and other products, including 1.4 million litres of petrol per day and 1.1 million litres of diesel in a day.

Libyan Prime Minister, Mr Abdelhamid Dbeibah, announcing in the ceremony at the country’s capital, Tripoli, noted that the project is in association with the country’s oil company, National Oil Corp (NOC).

He further disclosed the importance of the project to the country’s growth, adding that the financial coverage was ready, with specifications and technical designs also ready with Libya’s state oil company.

According to the Chairman of NOC, Mr Mustafa Sanalla, the project will cost between $500 million and $600 million and become operational within three years, with an expected annual income of $75 million.

The refinery will be built near Al-Charara, a major oil field in the Oubari region of Libya, which produces an average of 300,000 barrels of oil a day.

First announced in the early 1980s, the project for a refinery in southern Libya had been put on hold for years before being revived in 2017.

Libya, which has the most abundant oil reserves in Africa, has been trying to emerge from a decade of chaos since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s government in 2011.

Libya was gripped by violence and political turmoil in the aftermath of the NATO-backed uprising against Kadhafi.

In recent years, the country has been split between two rival administrations backed by foreign powers and myriad militias but the recent ceasefire has helped return some level of peace to the country which has allowed its export crude.

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