Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Gates Foundation to still fund COVID-19 vaccines despite SA Variant news

By Esther Nakkazi

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has expressed disappointment at the news of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca which appears to provide no measurable effect on mild or moderate disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 variant of the virus first identified in South Africa, known as B.1.351. But has promised to fund vaccinations in poor countries.

“This is deeply disappointing news. We’ve all been spoiled lately by how good the news on vaccine science has been,” says Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, which is running a trial of the vaccine in South Africa, released early data from a study of 2,000 patients aged between 18 and 65 years showing a substantial drop in the vaccine’s neutralizing activity against the South African variant following the administration of two doses. The vaccine demonstrated high efficacy against wild-type SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers noted that the study did not assess the vaccine’s efficacy against severe disease from the variant. So at the moment, there is no data if this vaccine could protect against severe or fatal disease caused by the variant.

Several safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 have been developed within the space of only 10 months—the fastest humans have ever gone from identifying a novel virus to inoculating against it. With several additional vaccines coming through the final phases of clinical trials, including those from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, we are still on a trajectory to get everyone protected against COVID-19. It will take time for doses of those vaccines to become available, following regulatory approvals and manufacturing and scale-up.

“The World Health Organization and national health authorities will determine the potential public health
value of this vaccine in South Africa and other countries and make decisions about where and how it
can be used,” says Suzman.

However, the Foundation credits the South African researchers for generating valuable new knowledge that will enable more targeted interventions, helping governments make important decisions about vaccine rollouts and better protect their people. A version of this vaccine is being rolled out in India, where B.1.351 hasn’t yet been detected.

The philanthropy, promises to continue to do our part to keep up the momentum. Building on our
longstanding partnerships, we are working with governments, multilateral organizations, and private
companies to determine how to respond to the latest data said the Gates Foundation.

“We will use our funding commitments of more than $1.75 billion to help accelerate the development and distribution of vaccines that are optimized for lower- and middle-income countries and are effective against the variants.”

The Foundation committed to making new investments in treatments and diagnostics because we’ve learned that research and development on these important tools must accelerate as additional variants emerge.

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