Flash Briefing: US govt donates 5.7m vaccines to SA; R38.9bn riots relief package; SA-born Soon-Shiong’s universal booster shot

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  • SA-born biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong is backing a Covid-19 vaccine candidate that he sees as having potential as a universal booster of other pandemic shots. ImmunityBio Inc., of which the 68-year-old holds about 13%, is developing a vaccine called hAd5 that’s intended to specifically activate T-cells that scientists believe are a key part of the immune response against Covid. This quarter, the South African-born biotech tycoon will begin trials in the country, the scene of what he calls a Covid-19 “firestorm” as the delta variant drives a third wave of infections, the peak of which has surpassed two earlier waves. Most vaccines work to elicit immune proteins called antibodies blocking the spike protein that the coronavirus uses to enter cells. Culver City-based ImmunityBio is trying to raise T-cells against both the spike and another viral protein, called the nucleocapsid, Soon-Shiong said. This could make it ideal for use as a booster for different types of vaccines, he said in an interview.
  • The US government will begin shipping a donation of 5.66-million Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines to SA on Wednesday, with the first consignment expected to land on Saturday, a senior US government official has told Business Day. The donation will provide a significant boost to SA’s immunisation programme, which after a series of delays got off to a slower than anticipated start in mid-May due to supply constraints. As of Tuesday evening, a total of 6.8-million vaccine doses had been administered, but only 2.58-million people were fully immunised with either the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the double-shot Pfizer jab. Half the vaccines will arrive on Saturday, and the rest on August 2, said Dana Banks, special Assistant to US President Joe Biden and senior director for Africa at the National Security Council.
  • South Africa Treasury expects a relief package for businesses and individuals affected by this month’s deadly riots to cost R38.9bn ($2.6bn). Additional spending will amount to R36.2bn, while R2.65bn will be reallocated from within the budget, Edgar Sishi, the acting head of the budget office, said in an online briefing on Wednesday. At least 330 people died and thousands of businesses in the commercial hub of Gauteng and the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province were looted or burned down in unrest that erupted on July 10. The turmoil could cost the country more than R48bn in lost output, South African Revenue Service Commissioner Edward Kieswetter said at the briefing. Tax collections have exceeded expectations this year, especially from the mining and financial services industries, and the additional revenue will be sufficient to fund the relief package, Kieswetter said.
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