Newswire: COVID-19 vaccines finally arrive in Africa, but at what price

Health Ministry at Dakar, Senegal with vaccine

Mar. 1, 2021 (GIN) – Long-awaited deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccine are finally reaching the shores of Africa, bringing relief to a continent that appeared abandoned by the giant pharma companies and the rich nations that snapped up early supplies.  Ghana, with a population of over 30 million, just received 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the World Health Organization’s vaccine-sharing initiative known as Covax. The Covax project purchases vaccines with the help of wealthier countries and distributes them equitably to all countries. President Joe Biden pledged $4 billion to the Covax program last week. But what an African country will end up paying for the vaccine outside of Covax is “meant for confidential discussion,” Afreximbank told Reuters. The AU also declined to comment.  Now, a document provided to Reuters by two sources provides the first glimpse at the prices that manufacturers are offering African nations outside of the COVAX global vaccine sharing scheme.  Pfizer will provide 50 million doses of its two-shot vaccine at $6.75 each (or $650 million), the document showed. J&J will provide 120 million doses of its single-shot vaccine at $10 each ($1.2 billion). Population size will determine how much of each vaccine various African countries will be offered.  Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, stands to pay roughly $283 million if it takes its full allocation of 42 million doses. Cash-strapped copper producer Zambia would have to find $25 million for its allocation of less than 4 million doses, according to the document.  While little controversy has been raised over western prices, a bellow of outrage appeared on the front page of the British Financial Times, attacking the “African price for the Russia vaccine” as being triple the cost of rivals – and accusing Moscow with offering unaffordable jabs to countries priced out of deals with western drug sellers. Western drug prices for Africa may be heavily discounted compared to what wealthier nations are paying, but some experts worry about countries already struggling to manage the economic fallout of the pandemic having to borrow more money to protect their people. “No country should have to take on debt to pay for the vaccine,” said Tim Jones, head of policy at the Jubilee Debt Campaign, a British charity working to end poverty.   Professor Joseph Benie, head of the National Institute of Public Hygiene in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, defended their choice of the Russian Sputnik – also the pick of Zimbabwe, the Central African Republic and Guinea. “We’re not in a position where we can say no to any vaccine. We’ve opted for the Pfizer vaccine, but we’re looking at other vaccines as well,” Benie said. “There’s an urgency now to start inoculating.”   

Newswire: Drug companies scooping super profits from the ‘people’s vaccine’

Moderna drug company headquarters


Feb. 1, 2021 (TriceEdneyWire.com/GIN) – Protected by undisclosed trade secrets and exclusive patents, a small group of drug companies has ensured that rich countries can lay claim to most of their miracle drugs while limiting the number of companies that can also produce the vital vaccines.
 
Now, opposition is building to the patent holders who use taxpayer dollars to fund research and development (R&D) but refuse to share their drug formulas with manufacturers in developing countries that could make their vaccines free and available to all.
 
Moderna, for example, through its COVID-19 vaccine partnership with the U.S. government, scored $2.48 billion in R&D (research and development) and supply funding from taxpayers for its program, sparking outcry from consumer watchdogs and others.
 
“This is the people’s vaccine,” objected consumer advocate Public Citizen. “It is not merely Moderna’s. Federal scientists helped invent it and taxpayers are funding its development. We all have played a role. It should belong to humanity.”
 
“We paid for the drugs,” echoed Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “and one of the things we would have liked is full transparency on all of the research results.”
 
“There’s no good argument for keeping (test) data secret,” he said. “But most of the drug companies insist on that. Maybe they want to misrepresent the safety or effectiveness of their drugs,” he surmised.
 
Finally, in an open letter to major drug companies from Doctors without Borders, the group wrote in part: “Clearly neither yours nor any other company can produce all the doses needed to vaccinate the whole world’s population.
 
“Your company faces a choice. Either you can defend business as usual and deny hundreds of millions rapid access to the vaccine in defense of your monopoly power. Or you can instead rise to the challenge and commit to a Peoples Vaccine, by pledging to do what is right for all people in all countries.”
 
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Newswire: 1 in 5 prisoners has tested positive for COVID-19, 1,700 Have Died

By: Associated Press
One in every five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate more than four times higher than the general population. In some states, more than half of prisoners have been infected, according to data collected by The Associated Press and The Marshall Project.
As the pandemic enters its 10th month — and as the first Americans begin to receive a long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine — at least 275,000 prisoners have been infected, more than 1,700 have died and the spread of the virus behind bars shows no sign of slowing. New cases in prisons this week reached their highest level since testing began in the spring, far outstripping previous peaks in April and August.
“That number is a vast undercount,” said Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer at New York’s Rikers Island jail complex.
Venters has conducted more than a dozen court-ordered COVID-19 prison inspections around the country. “I still encounter prisons and jails where, when people get sick, not only are they not tested but they don’t receive care. So they get much sicker than need be,” he said.
Now the rollout of vaccines poses difficult decisions for politicians and policymakers. As the virus spreads largely unchecked behind bars, prisoners can’t social distance and are dependent on the state for their safety and well-being.
This story is a collaboration between The Associated Press and The Marshall Project exploring the state of the prison system in the coronavirus pandemic.
Donte Westmoreland, 26, was recently released from Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas, where he caught the virus while serving time on a marijuana charge. Some 5,100 prisoners have become infected in Kansas prisons, the third-highest COVID-19 rate in the country, behind only South Dakota and Arkansas.
“It was like I was sentenced to death,” Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland lived with more than 100 virus-infected men in an open dorm, where he woke up regularly to find men sick on the floor, unable to get up on their own, he said.
“People are actually dying in front of me off of this virus,” he said. “It’s the scariest sight.” Westmoreland said he sweated it out, shivering in his bunk until, six weeks later, he finally recovered.
Half of the prisoners in Kansas have been infected with COVID-19 — eight times the rate of cases among the state’s overall population. Eleven prisoners have died, including five at the prison where Westmoreland was held. Of the three prison employees who have died in Kansas, two worked at Lansing Correctional Facility.
In Arkansas, where more than 9,700 prisoners have tested positive and 50 have died, four of every seven have had the virus, the second-highest prison infection rate in the U.S.
Among the dead was 29-year-old Derick Coley, who was serving a 20-year sentence at the Cummins Unit maximum security prison. Cece Tate, Coley’s girlfriend, said she last talked with him on April 10 when he said he was sick and showing symptoms of the virus.
“It took forever for me to get information,” she said. The prison finally told her on April 20 that Coley had tested positive for the virus. Less than two weeks later, a prison chaplain called on May 2 to tell her Coley had died.
The couple had a daughter who turned 9 in July. “She cried and was like, ‘My daddy can’t send me a birthday card,’” Tate said. “She was like, ‘Momma, my Christmas ain’t going to be the same.’”
Nearly every prison system in the country has seen infection rates significantly higher than the communities around them. In facilities run by the federal Bureau of Prisons, one of every five prisoners has had coronavirus. Twenty-four state prison systems have had even higher rates.
Prison workers have also been disproportionately affected. In North Dakota, four of every five prison staff has gotten coronavirus. Nationwide, it’s one in five.
Not all states release how many prisoners they’ve tested, but states that test prisoners broadly and regularly may appear to have higher case rates than states that don’t.
Infection rates as of Tuesday were calculated by the AP and The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the criminal justice system, based on data collected weekly in prisons since March. Infection and mortality rates may be even higher, since nearly every prison system has significantly fewer prisoners today than when the pandemic began, so rates represent a conservative estimate based on the largest known population.
Yet, as vaccine campaigns get underway, there has been pushback in some states against giving the shots to people in prisons early.
“There’s no way it’s going to go to prisoners … before it goes to the people who haven’t committed any crime,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told reporters earlier this month after his state’s initial vaccine priority plans put prisoners before the general public.
Like more than a dozen states, Kansas’s vaccination plan does not mention prisoners or corrections staff, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-partisan prison data think tank. Seven states put prisoners near the front of the line, along with others living in crowded settings like nursing homes and long-term care facilities. An additional 19 states have placed prisoners in the second phase of their vaccine rollouts.
Racial disparities in the nation’s criminal justice system compound the disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on communities of color. Black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of whites. They are also disproportionately likely to be infected and hospitalized with COVID-19, and are more likely than other races to have a family member or close friend who has died of the virus.
The pandemic “increases risk for those who are already at risk,” said David J. Harris, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School.
This week, a Council on Criminal Justice task force headed by former attorneys general Alberto Gonzalez and Loretta Lynch released a report calling for scaling back prison populations, improving communication with public health departments and reporting better data.
Prison facilities are often overcrowded and poorly ventilated. Dormitory-style housing, cafeterias and open-bar cell doors make it nearly impossible to quarantine. Prison populations are sicker, on average, than the general population and health care behind bars is notoriously substandard. Nationwide, the mortality rate for COVID-19 among prisoners is 45% higher than the overall rate.
From the earliest days of the pandemic, public health experts called for widespread prison releases as the best way to curb virus spread behind bars. In October, the National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering released a report urging states to empty their prisons of anyone who was medically vulnerable, nearing the end of their sentence or of low risk to public safety.
But releases have been slow and uneven. In the first three months of the pandemic, more than 10,000 federal prisoners applied for compassionate release. Wardens denied or did not respond to almost all those requests, approving only 156 — less than 2%.
A plan to thin the state prison population in New Jersey, first introduced in June, was held up in the Legislature because of inadequate funding to help those who were released. About 2,200 prisoners with less than a year left to serve were ultimately released in November, eight months after the pandemic began.
California used a similar strategy to release 11,000 people since March. But state prisons stopped accepting new prisoners from county jails at several points during the pandemic, which simply shifted the burden to the jails. According to the state corrections agency, more than 8,000 people are now waiting in California’s county jails, which are also coronavirus hot spots.
“We call that ‘screwing county,’” said John Wetzel, Pennsylvania’s secretary of corrections, whose prison system has one of the lower COVID-19 case rates in the country, with one in every seven prisoners infected. But that’s still more than three times the statewide rate.
Prison walls are porous even during a pandemic, with corrections officers and other employees traveling in and out each day.
“The interchange between communities and prisons and jails has always been there, but in the context of COVID-19 it’s never been more clear,” said Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein, a professor of social medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill who studies incarceration and health. “We have to stop thinking about them as a place apart.”
Wetzel said Pennsylvania’s prisons have kept virus rates relatively low by widely distributing masks in mid-March — weeks before even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending them for everyday use in public — and demanding that staff and prisoners use them properly and consistently. But prisoners and advocates say prevention measures on the ground are uneven, regardless of Wetzel’s good intentions.
As the country heads into winter with virus infections on the rise, experts caution that unless COVID-19 is brought under control behind bars, the country will not get it under control in the population at large.
“If we are going to end this pandemic — bring down infection rates, bring down death rates, bring down ICU occupancy rates — we have to address infection rates in correctional facilities,” said Emily Wang, professor at Yale School of Medicine and co-author of the recent National Academies report.
“Infections and deaths are extraordinarily high. These are wards of the state, and we have to contend with it.”

Newswire: Black woman, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, developed the scientific approach to the coronavirus vaccine

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett


Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading infectious disease doctor and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addressed the African American community’s fears of accepting the new coronavirus vaccine.
“To my African American brothers and sisters … this vaccine that you’re gonna be taking was developed by an African American woman. And that is just a fact,” Dr. Fauci proclaimed during a recent National Urban League event.
Dr. Fauci noted that Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Black woman, has been at the forefront of the vaccine process. He added that it is vital to recognize the U.S.’s history of racism that’s led to great mistrust from the Black community.
Dr. Fauci exclaimed that the vaccine is safe. “The very vaccine that’s one of the two that has absolutely exquisite levels – 94 to 95 percent efficacy against clinical disease and almost 100 percent efficacy against serious disease that are shown to be clearly safe – that vaccine was actually developed in my institute’s vaccine research center by a team of scientists led by Dr. Barney Graham and his close colleague, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, or Kizzy Corbett,” Dr. Fauci stated.
Dr. Corbett, 34, is an accomplished research fellow and the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC).
According to her biography, Dr. Corbett received a B.S. in Biological Sciences, with a secondary major in Sociology, in 2008 from the University of Maryland – Baltimore County, where she was a Meyerhoff Scholar and an NIH undergraduate scholar.
She then enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014.
A viral immunologist by training, Dr. Corbett is known for using her expertise to propel novel vaccine development for pandemic preparedness.
Appointed to the VRC in 2014, her work focuses on developing novel coronavirus vaccines. Dr. Corbett has 15 years of expertise studying dengue virus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, and coronaviruses.
Along with her research activities, Dr. Corbett is an active member of the NIH Fellows Committee and an avid advocator of STEM education and vaccine awareness in the community.
“History books will celebrate the name and achievements of Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, the Black Woman who was the leader in developing the COVID-19 Vaccine,” Barbara Arnwine, president and founder of Transformative Justice Coalition, wrote on Twitter.
“She developed the specific scientific approach to mitigating the coronavirus.”
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected African Americans, who make up a large percentage of the more than 290,000 U.S. residents to die from the virus.
One study released by the COVID Collaborative, the NAACP and UnidosUS revealed that 14 percent of Black Americans trust a vaccine will be safe, and 18 percent trust it will be effective.
Much of the concern stems from pervasive racism in medical research and healthcare, notably the 1932 Tuskegee syphilis experiment. “I would say to people who are vaccine-hesitant that you’ve earned the right to ask the questions that you have around these vaccines and this vaccine development process,” Dr. Corbett told CNN.
“Trust, especially when it has been stripped from people, has to be rebuilt in a brick-by-brick fashion. And so, what I say to people first is that I empathize, and then secondly is that I’m going to do my part in laying those bricks. And I think that if everyone on our side, as physicians and scientists, went about it that way, then the trust would start to be rebuilt.”