Connect with us

Health

The Omicron variant – a wake up call for vaccine equity?

Published

on

The Omicron variant a wake up call for vaccine equity

As the world has been preparing to gear up to bid adieu to 2021, the last week of November brought much-dreaded news after an arduous but brave fight with the pandemic. The emergence of the new B.1.1.529 SARS-CoV-2 variant left global leaders and scientists perplexed and tense. The variant, which was subsequently named the Omicron variant after the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, was rapidly declared a Variant of Concern (VOC) by the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). 

The Omicron variant, which was first reported on 24th November in South Africa, presented evidence of a staggering 32 mutations in the spike protein, an enormous leap from its preceding Delta variant (nine mutations in the spike protein). The whirlwind of infection surges and accelerated spread is indicative of these mutations being in favour of the virus. These characteristics are only inferential and have yet to be corroborated by conclusive scientific evidence. 

The past waves of Covid-19 infections sent ripples of havoc around the world, and they only further underscored the unpreparedness of countries to deal with the raging number of cases. In this situation, one might wonder what value the vaccination efforts have to provide and why, despite the large number of doses administered globally, there are still new variants emerging. 

While there are many questions being raised about the credibility of vaccines, the truth of the matter lies somewhere else. Viruses are one-of-a-kind organisms that quickly adapt to changes in order to increase their chances of survival. Covid isn’t any different. The selective allocation of vaccines in some populations while others remain largely unvaccinated has left a giant loophole in the system, allowing the viral replication to not just escalate, but also change the way it interacts with antibodies, letting it thrive. 

The consequences of vaccine inequity can hardly be overstated. It goes much beyond a failure to provide essential protective measures fairly. The current vaccine distribution structure is distinctly skewed, with only 6% of the population in low-income countries (LICs) having received the first dose so far, while some of the high-income countries (HICs) have already started rolling out booster doses to the masses. This heavy imbalance has dampened the global efforts to fight Covid and left countries that have not been able to procure sufficient doses vulnerable. 

“More than 80% of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries; low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6% of all vaccines.” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly. 

Lack of equity in global vaccine manufacturing and distribution is not a new concept. But with a pandemic like Covid, the monopolization of vaccine production by certain countries or companies is a dangerous tactic, threatening the overturning of the progress made towards recovery. 

This phenomenon has broadly been reflected in the reluctance to recognising vaccines produced locally in LICs. The case in point is Covishield, the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Individuals who received both doses of the vaccine in the country or other countries in the region were not considered fully vaccinated and thus weren’t allowed to travel freely to many countries where the primary vaccine was of other brands. It was only in late September, after incessant uproar and backlash, that the United Kingdom included it in the accepted list of vaccines

Advocates for global vaccine equity strongly condemn the obscuring of vaccine designs and call for the open exchange of valuable information that will allow countries to produce the vaccines locally instead of offering it to them as donations or charity. 

Experts believe that even if pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reveal their vaccine designs, manufacturing plants will be unable to produce the vaccines on a large scale while maintaining their integrity. A major reason behind that is the absence of the tightly controlled production line that many plants will not be able to execute due to a lack of highly specialised resources and personnel. 

However, these points are counteracted by the advocates as they are of the opinion that the points raised by the companies and their spokespersons are just a way of exempting themselves from “…relinquish[ing] their control over their patents and technology, even at the cost of millions of lives,” says Achal Prabhala, coordinator at AccessIBSA, a medicine-access initiative in Bengaluru, India. 

In his opening remarks at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly, Dr. Ghebreyesus reiterated the importance of transparency in sharing vital information regarding the virus. “The time has come for countries to agree on a common, binding approach to a common threat that we cannot fully control nor prevent – a threat that comes from our relationship with nature itself.” He went ahead to commend South Africa and Botswana to report the detection of the new variant in a swift manner, and expressed his concern about the relaxation of regulations in countries that have already vaccinated the majority of their population. 

The future of global health and the course of the pandemic still remain uncertain. The current circumstances must be taken into consideration when re-evaluating protective measures against Covid. Increased access to vaccines, through responsibly allocated manufacturing, should take precedence amongst other mitigation efforts. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Daily Brief

Children Under 5 to get Covid-19 Vaccine by Next Week

Published

on

A child gets the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID 19 vaccine
  • The FDA’s outside vaccine advisers finally approved Moderna’s two-shot vaccine for children under age 5. The panel is also set to vote on whether Pfizer’s three-shot series is suitable and safe for this age group.
  • This is the last remaining group in the US to get vaccinated and many outside experts agree that the benefits of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks for children under 5.  If all the regulatory steps are cleared, vaccines can be available by next week.
  • Dr. Joy Portnoy of Children’s Hospital in Kansas City, MO, also a  panel member, stated “there are so many parents who are absolutely desperate to get this vaccine and I think we owe it to them to give them a choice to have the vaccine if they want to.”
  • FDA reviewers stated that both brands appear to be effective and safe for children as young as 6 months, and the most common side effects, which are fever and fatigue, appear to be less common than seen in adults. 
  • Although the two vaccines use the same technology, the shots have not been tested against one another.
  • Once the FDA approves the shots, the CDC will decide on a formal recommendation. Pfizer’s vaccine will be available to children 6 months to 4 years, while Moderna’s vaccine will be for 6 months to 5 years. 
  • Pfizer’s shots are 1/10 of the adult dose, while Moderna’s shots are ¼ of the adult dose. 
  • Moderna is also seeking regulatory approval outside the US for younger children as well. 12 countries already vaccinate children under 5 with other brands.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Continue Reading

Society

Monkeypox could be sexually transmitted disease – WHO

Monkeypox virus is caused by skin to skin contact and may be a sexually transmitted disease, warns the World Health Organisation.

Published

on

monkeypox

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has started its research on the reports that the monkeypox virus is present in the semen of patients. 

This presents a possibility that monkeypox could be sexually transmitted from one patient to their partners.

It is reported that most cases are in men who have sexual relations with men. 

The WHO has said that the main transmission of the rare disease is through close interpersonal contact.

In Italy and Germany, scientists say that they have detected viral DNA in semen for a small number of monkeypox patients. The virus found in the semen was capable of infecting another person. 

The WHO monkeypox incident manager in Europe, Catherine Smallwood said during a press briefing “this may have been something that we were unaware of in this disease before.”

“We really need to focus on the most frequent mode of transmission and we clearly see that to be associated with skin to skin contact,” she added.

The monkeypox outbreak is now considered a global outbreak. In more than 30 countries there have been more than 1,600 with over 500 cases in the UK. 

A vaccine of monkeypox is available and the WHO has recommended that close contacts and healthcare workers should be vaccinated first. 

WHO’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge said “Europe remains the epicentre of this escalating outbreak, with 25 countries reporting more than 1,500 cases, or 85% of the global total.”

Regarding the race to stockpile vaccines, he added “once again, a ‘me first’ approach could lead to damaging consequences down the road.”

“I beseech governments to tackle monkeypox without repeating the mistakes of the pandemic – and keeping equity at the heart of all we do.”

In the current outbreak, so far no deaths have been reported. But experts warn that every year monkeypox causes deaths in some countries, where the disease exists as endemic. 

The WHO is also considering changing the name of the Monkeypox virus. Consideration came after 30 scientists wrote letters to the WHO that it is not correct but rather discriminatory to give the name of the rare disease as African. 

Some of the Scientists has suggested hMPXV as new name of the virus to address the “urgent need” for a “non-discriminatory and non-stigmatising” name for the virus.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Continue Reading

Health

Monkeypox: Something To Be ‘Concerned About’ Says Biden

Published

on

On Sunday, President Joe Biden, in his first public comments on the disease, said that recent cases of monkeypox that have been identified in Europe and the United States were something “to be concerned about. It is a concern in that if it were to spread it would be consequential.”

During the President’s first trip to Asia he was asked about the disease as he spoke to reporters at Osan Air Base in South Korea – “They haven’t told me the level of exposure yet but it is something that everybody should be concerned about,” Biden said. As for the vaccine, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters that the United States has a supply of “vaccine that is relevant to treating monkeypox. We have vaccines available to be deployed for that purpose,” he said. 

Monkeypox is a virus that originates in wild animals like rodents and primates, and occasionally jumps to people. Most human cases have been in central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic. 

According to CDC’s website, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in colonies of monkeys kept for research, hence the name ‘monkeypox.’ The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a period of intensified effort to eliminate smallpox. Since then monkeypox has been reported in humans in other central and western African countries.

A detailed investigation of the outbreak in Europe, including determining who the first patients were, is now critical, says Shabir Mahdi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

“We need to really understand how this first started and why the virus is now gaining traction. In Africa, there have been very controlled and infrequent outbreaks of monkeypox. If that’s now changing, we really need to understand why.”

WHO reports about 3,000 monkeypox cases a year in Nigeria. Oyewale Tomori, a virologist who formerly headed the Nigerian Academy of Science, said that outbreaks are usually in rural areas when people have close contact with infected rats and squirrels.

Monkeypox typically causes fever, chills, rash and lesions on the face or genitals. Luckily, to date, no one has died in the outbreak. The estimation by WHO suggests that the disease is fatal for up to one in 10 people. The infection typically lasts two to four weeks and usually clears up on its own.

Britain’s Health Security Agency reported 11 new monkeypox cases on Friday, saying “a notable proportion” of the infections in the U.K. and Europe have been in young men with no history of travel to Africa and who were gay, bisexual or had sex with men.

Dr Susan Hopkins, the Chief Medical Adviser for the U.K.’s Health Security Agency stated that “the evidence suggests that there may be transmission of the monkeypox virus in the community, spread by close contact. We are particularly urging men who are gay and bisexual to be aware of any unusual rashes or lesions and to contact a sexual health service without delay.”

Monkeypox spreads when someone comes into close contact with another person, animal or material infected with the virus. The virus can enter the body through broken skin, the respiratory tract or through the eyes, nose and mouth. Monkeypox is not generally considered a sexually transmitted disease, though it can be passed on during sex. Health authorities stress that we are not on the brink of a serious outbreak and the risks to the general public remain very low.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Continue Reading

Health

Oklahoma’s Anti-Abortion Bill: The Newest Development in the United States’ Abortion Controversy

Published

on

Supreme Court 2 scaled

This Thursday, Oklahoma legislators passed what many have deemed as the most restrictive bill banning abortions in the U.S. The bill prohibits all abortions, except those that are required to save the mother’s life or are the result of rape/incest. The draft law is likely to be ratified by the state governor, Kevin Stitt, and further limit abortion access in the state.

Oklahoma’s measure has garnered national attention for a multitude of reasons. For one, the bill bans abortions immediately after fertilization; this is in stark contrast to pro-abortion laws across the U.S., which permit abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. In September 2021, Texas passed a similarly restrictive abortion law, but even that measure enables abortions up to six weeks of pregnancy. Moreover, the Oklahoma measure comes right after the recent Supreme Court leak draft, which shows that the majority of the court is in favor of overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. If Roe v. Wade is overturned — which could happen as soon as late June or early July — many U.S. states (including Oklahoma) stand poised to immediately prohibit access to abortions. 
Oklahoma’s bill, along with the SCOTUS leak, highlights how abortion rights in the U.S. are contingent upon the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and subject to change suddenly. Indeed, the recent discussions surrounding abortion shed light on the American judicial system and how volatile landmark rulings can be. Looking ahead, Americans must see whether or not the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. If so, abortion laws across the country will change drastically, and Americans will have to familiarize themselves with dozens of new laws and restrictions. If not, the legal systems of the U.S. will have been examined and questioned nonetheless.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Continue Reading

Daily Brief

A Monkeypox Outbreak has Been Detected in Europe, Canada, and Now the US

Published

on

Monkeypox scaled
  • There is a monkeypox outbreak in Europe and North America, with 8 reported cases in England, 20 in Portugal, a few in Canada, and one case in the US. What’s concerning is that the virus is possibly spreading throughout the community undetected and no one knows exactly where and how people are acquiring the infection.
  • Monkeypox can cause fever, body aches, enlarged lymph nodes, and eventually painful and fluid-filled blisters called “pox” on the face and extremities. Although monkeypox can be deadly, the version of monkeypox currently in England is milder, with a fatality rate of 1%, and can usually resolve in  2-4 weeks. 
  • Person-to-person transmission is very uncommon, as it requires one to have close contact with bodily fluids, such as saliva or pus from lesions, and is more commonly transmitted from animals in Africa and then imported to other countries. However, 7 of the 8 cases in the UK did not involve recent travel to Africa, nor had they had contact with the 1 patient who had traveled to Nigeria. The one patient in Massachusetts hadn’t traveled to any countries that had an outbreak, but had traveled to Canada. 
  • Much evidence is suggesting that the disease is being transmitted through a new route, sexual contact, and particularly men who are gay or bisexual have been warned to be aware of any rashes or lesions, and to contact health service immediatley. 
  • Monkeypox is closely related to smallpox but isn’t as transmissible between people. The smallpox vaccine, which was approved in 2019 by the FDA, is about 85% effective, and after the world eradicated smallpox, countries stopped vaccinating children, and so now there’s a growing population of people who don’t have immunity to monkeypox, which means an outbreak could now involve dozens of people instead of just 1-2 cases. This virus can become more transmissible and there is a possible chance of a global threat, like COVID-19.

Tweet:

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Continue Reading

Health

Baby Formula Shortage: White House Announces it Will Try to Increase the Supply of Formula, But No Quick Relief in Sight

Published

on

Infant formula

After a voluntary recall of several lines of powdered formula in February, the country’s largest manufacturer of infant formula, Abbott Nutrition had to close its plant in Sturgis, Michigan, USA because of concerns about bacterial contamination after four infants became sick – of whom two died. 

The shortage has the potential to impact many children across the country. Only about a quarter of infants born in the U.S. in 2017 were fed exclusively through breastfeeding in their first six months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

On Thursday, The White House said it had taken steps to address the shortage, “including working with other infant formula manufacturers to increase production, expediting the import of infant formula from abroad, and calling on both online and in-store retailers to establish purchasing limits to prevent the possibility of hoarding.” 

The White House announced additional steps it will take to solve the issue of baby formula shortage. Listing Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands as the key sources of such imports, the administration said that in the coming days, the Food and Drug Administration will announce that the United States will begin importing more formula from these countries.

The President said that had they been “better mind readers,” they could have acted on the shortage earlier. Margaret Brennan from CBS pressed Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the ongoing baby formula shortage on Sunday quoting President Biden’s comments from May 13 – “I know the president said more action is coming, but this has been ongoing for months. There were supply chain issues already, then you have issues with this one plant, Abbott. Whistleblower in September, February the recall. It’s May, why has it taken so long and why did the president on Friday seem to say it was new information to him?” 

Buttegieg replied that America was a “capitalist country” and that “the government does not make baby formula, nor should it. Companies make formula.”

“This issue has been compounded by supply chain challenges, product recalls and historic inflation,” Datasembly CEO Ben Reich said in a statement. 

White House says they’re unsure when parents could see relief. For the past three months, Chloe Banks and her husband have been struggling to buy formula for their 11-month-old son, Teddy. “It’s incredibly stressful,” she told NPR. “It’s endless, where you don’t know where your next can of formula is going to come from.”

Perhaps, the benefits of breastfeeding need to be encouraged – albeit it’s a mother’s personal choice to do so, and in many cases formula remains the only option to feed the baby, but the long-term health benefits must be emphasized for those that are capable. The government should incentivize breastfeeding, especially at the current moment whilst facing a national shortage crisis on baby formula. 

“Breastfeeding provides unmatched health benefits for babies and mothers. It is the clinical gold standard for infant feeding and nutrition, with breast milk uniquely tailored to meet the health needs of a growing baby. We must do more to create supportive and safe environments for mothers who choose to breastfeed.”

Dr. Ruth Petersen, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity –

While Spain allows women medical leave who experience severe menstrual pain, in the United States women face a lot of stress returning back to work due to short-term maternity leave. The added burden on new mothers to go back into the workforce without fully bonding with their baby and the lack of healing from postpartum disorders, makes for a very regressive society – whereas European countries offer long-term maternity leave with medical benefits and mental health support. This shows how the American government is light years behind Europe’s maternity care. If a European country can progress into understanding the many challenges women face due to menstrual pain, then surely, the American government can perhaps get out of its capitalist mindset and start looking into more holistic approaches in bringing change to women’s health. 

Alas, that might take another era to resolve as right now we’re unfortunately trying to retrieve baby formula to help our babies survive.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Continue Reading

Recent Comments

Articles