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Explainer: When will COVID-19 vaccines be generally available in the US?
18 September 2020, 11:48 PM
US President Donald Trump and the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week disagreed about when a COVID-19 vaccine would become widely available.
What does it mean for  a vaccine to be generally available?
General availability is when every American who wants the vaccine can get it. There are currently no COVID-19 vaccines approved by US regulators, although a handful are in late-stage trials to prove they are safe and effective.

Experts estimate that at least 70% of roughly 330 million Americans would need to be immune through a vaccine or prior infection to achieve what is known as herd immunity, which occurs when enough people are immune to prevent the spread of the virus to those unable to get a vaccine.

How long before vaccine production is fully ramped up? 

Most vaccines in development will require two doses per person.

The CDC anticipates that 35 million to 45 million doses of vaccines from the first two companies to receive authorization will be available in the United States by the end of this year. The current front runners are Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc.

Drug-makers have been more ambitious with their calculations. AstraZeneca Plc has said it could deliver as many as 300 million doses of its experimental vaccine in the United States by as early as October.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE have said they expect to have 100 million doses available worldwide by the end of 2020, but did not specify how much of that was earmarked for the United States.

Moderna on Friday said it is on track to make around 20 million doses by the end of the year and between 500 million and 1 billion doses a year beginning in 2021.

Obtaining enough doses to inoculate everyone in the United States will likely take until later in 2021. CDC Director Robert Redfield told a congressional hearing on Wednesday that vaccines may not be widely available to everyone in the United States until the second or third quarter of next year.

Who would get an approved vaccine first? 

The CDC decision will likely broadly follow recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The CDC has said the earliest inoculations may go to healthcare workers, people at increased risk for severe COVID-19, and essential workers.

It is unclear when a vaccine will be available for children as major drug-makers have yet to include them in late-stage trials. Pfizer and BioNTech have filed with regulators seeking to start recruiting volunteers as young as 16 for vaccine studies.

Which companies will likely roll out a vaccine quickly? 

Pfizer has said it could have compelling evidence that its vaccine works by the end of October. Moderna says it could have similar evidence in November. The vaccines would first need to be approved or authorized for emergency use by US regulators.

Drug-makers have already started manufacturing supplies of their vaccine candidates to be ready as soon as they get the go ahead.

The US Department of Defense and the CDC plan to start distribution of vaccines within 24 hours of regulatory authorization.

Several drug-makers including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc have all said they expect to produce at least 1 billion doses of their vaccines next year if they get regulatory authorization.

Sanofi SA and GlaxoSmithKline Plc are also working on developing a vaccine they say could be authorized next year.

Biden rejects Trump claim that COVID-19 vaccine is imminent
18 September 2020, 6:01 AM

US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Thursday bluntly contradicted President Donald Trump’s suggestion that a coronavirus vaccine may be only weeks away, warning Americans they cannot trust the president’s word.

“The idea that there’s going to be a vaccine and everything’s gonna be fine tomorrow – it’s just not rational,” Biden said during a CNN town hall in Moosic, Pennsylvania.

Trump again said on Wednesday that a vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, could be ready for distribution ahead of the November 3 election.

Most health experts, including Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said a vaccine will likely not be widely available until mid-2021.

Trump has accused Biden of spreading “anti-vaccine rhetoric,” while Biden has emphasised that he will listen to scientists, not the president, regarding a vaccine’s safety.

The broadcast was the first town hall-style event for Biden since he accepted the Democratic nomination last month, giving viewers a rare chance to see him answer live questions from people whose votes he hopes to win in November.

The cable network described the event as a “drive-in town hall”: participants remained at their parked cars outdoors to ensure they stayed safely distanced from one another.

Biden spent much of the evening attacking Trump for his handling of the pandemic, including the president’s own admission to the journalist Bob Woodward that he deliberately downplayed the disease’s deadliness.

“He knew it and did nothing,” Biden said. “It’s close to criminal.”

Trump has subsequently said he was trying to avoid panic.

Biden said he did not have the power to enforce a national mask mandate, walking back remarks he made on Wednesday in which he suggested the president could legally require masks amid a national emergency. But he vowed to encourage every governor to do so while criticizing Trump for questioning the efficacy of masks.Biden also took advantage of the event’s setting near his birthplace of Scranton, comparing his working-class upbringing with what he derided as Trump’s “Park Avenue” background.

“Guys like me who were the first of my family to go to college… We are as good as anybody,” he said. “And guys like Trump, who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited, are the people that I’ve always had a problem with – not the people who are busting their neck.”

He said he would accept the results of the election, a stance that Trump has declined to adopt amid his unfounded claims that the widespread use of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic will cause massive fraud.

Electoral experts have said voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States, where voting by mail is a longstanding practice in many states.

For much of the summer, Biden held mostly virtual events from his home in Delaware, drawing criticism from Trump that he was “hiding.” But Biden maintained an advantage in national opinion polls throughout, as the pandemic battered Trump’s standing among voters.

In recent weeks, Biden has begun to hold campaign events again in other states, but they have been largely devoid of attendees aside from reporters and invited guests in a nod to the coronavirus.

Trump, who has returned to holding large-scale rallies, participated in an ABC town hall with undecided voters earlier this week, where he defended his administration’s response to the outbreak.

At an outdoor rally in Mosinee, Wisconsin, on Thursday night, Trump told supporters that Biden “would absolutely eradicate your state’s economy” and mocked the CNN event for keeping attendees apart in cars.

COVID-19 has killed more than 195 000 people in the United States, the most of any country.

Biden and Trump will both travel to Minnesota on Friday, the first day of early voting there.

Mainland China reports 32 new COVID-19 cases, highest since August 10
18 September 2020, 3:44 AM

Mainland China reported 32 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, marking the highest daily increase in more than a month and up sharply from nine cases reported a day earlier, the Chinese health authority said on Friday.

Although the latest increase still remains well below the peaks seen at the height of the outbreak in China early this year, it is the biggest since Aug. 10 and suggests continued COVID-19 risks stemming from overseas travellers coming into the country as the pandemic rages on in other parts of the world.

The National Health Commission (NHC) said in a statement that all new cases were imported infections, 13 of which were in the northwestern Shaanxi province and another 12 in Shanghai.

Mainland China has not reported any local COVID-19 infections since mid-August.

The commission did not offer further breakdowns, but Shanghai’s city government said on Friday that nine of the 12 new patients – all Chinese nationals – flew into the city on a flight from Manila on September 16.

Shanghai did not specify which airline operated the flight with those nine patients, but it said in a separate statement that two China Eastern flights connecting Shanghai and Manila has been suspended due to COVID-19 risks. Carriers are ordered to suspend international routes when passengers on one of the flights are confirmed as COVID-19 patients.

The NHC also reported 20 new asymptomatic cases, also up for 14 a day earlier, though China does not classify these symptomless patients as confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The total number of COVID-19 cases for mainland China now stands at 85 255, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4 634.

Should South Africa be more publicly critical of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe? Minister Pandor elaborates
18 September 2020, 2:54 AM

International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor says South Africa’s intervention in Zimbabwe can only happen at the request of the Government of Zimbabwe.

She was speaking in an exclusive interview with the SABC’s Sherwin Bryce-Pease ahead of the United Nations General Assembly’s High Level meeting which begins on Monday next week.

Pandor was responding to a question about why South Africa was comfortable speaking up about the human rights situations in places like Western Sahara or Palestine – but not Zimbabwe.

Minister Pandor weighs in on SA’s intervention in Zimbabwe:

Meanwhile, the Public Protector’s Office has confirmed that it will go ahead with an investigation into the use of state funds and resources for party interests – after an ANC delegation travelled to Zimbabwe last week. This is despite the ANC apologising and agreeing to pay back the costs incurred on the trip – including the delegation’s use of an SANDF plane to transport its officials to a meeting with the ruling Zanu-PF in Harare.

Spokesperson for the Public Protector, Oupa Segalwe says: “The PP will be investigating on the basis of 3 complaints from AfriForum, FF-Plus and the ATM – the last two complainants are from political parties represented in parliament. They want her to investigate different aspects of the matter. It does not matter whether any of the players in the matter has decided to make amends, it is important for the PP to establish what happened, who did what and whether what they did was in compliance with the law.”

Africa CDC aims to conduct 7 million COVID-19 tests by November
18 September 2020, 1:49 AM
The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says it aims to conduct seven million COVID-19 tests between now and November. To achieve this target, CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong says member states will receive 3.2 million test kits in the coming months.
Africa has 215 600 active coronavirus cases and more than 33 000 people have died from the disease:

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is increasing evidence that Africans living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension and diabetes are more likely to suffer severe cases of COVID-19 and die.

In South Africa, which accounts for nearly half of all cases and deaths on the continent, 61% of the COVID-19 patients in hospitals had hypertension and 52% had diabetes, and 45% of people aged 60–69 who died from COVID-19 also had hypertension.

In Kenya, around half of COVID-19 deaths occurred in people with NCDs, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, such patients accounted for 85% of all COVID-19 deaths.

According to a WHO preliminary analysis of 14 countries in the African region, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma are the co-morbidities most associated with COVID-19 patients.

These chronic conditions require continuous treatment, but as governments address the ongoing pandemic, health services for NCDs have been severely disrupted.

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