Inside Covid-19: Pay-as-you go private medical care; Why SA is at back of Covid-19 vaccine queue – and what’s next

A week ago, Bloomberg reported that SA was only likely to get a Covid-19 vaccine rolled out in earnest by mid-2021 and even then only for a select few. That created an outcry from the medical fraternity. In this episode of Inside Covid-19, we speak to Professor Francois Venter, a professor of medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, who has been pushing the government to share detailed plans for who will get vaccines. A former advisor on the government advisory panel, Professor Venter warns that the vaccine may not be administered en masse next year at all. We hear from one of the founders of the Great Barrington Declaration how we should manage Covid-19 until vaccines arrive. Dr Jay Battacharya spoke to BizNews in November. He is opposed to strict lockdown but is in favour of focused protection. He says lockdown is the single-biggest mistake in health policy in his life time but we should take protective measures – and this can include wearing masks, particularly if we are in vulnerable groups. And, we hear from Discovery Health Executive Associate Maria Makhabane-Leke about an innovation in the provision of private medical care. You will now be able to pay-as-you-go for GPs, with the offering set to be rolled out to dentists and specialists soon. – Jackie Cameron & Jarryd Neves

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Inside Covid-19 headlines

  • The fight against Covid-19 took a historic leap forward this week after the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was given to someone outside a clinical trial for the first time, reported the British media. Grandmother-of-four Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first person in the world to receive the jab as part of a vaccination programme. Mrs Keenan, who worked as a jewellery shop assistant until only four years ago, will receive a booster jab in 21 days to ensure she has the best chance of being protected against the virus. The UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine last week. At the weekend it began arriving in batches at a hospital in south London ahead of the UK-wide rollout. Vaccinations are being given at dozens of hospital hubs, with Tuesday called “V-Day” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock – with people aged 80 and over and care home workers among the first to receive the jab.
  • The New York Times  reports that the coronavirus vaccine, made by Pfizer and BioNTech, provides strong protection against Covid-19 within about 10 days of the first dose, according to documents published on Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration before a meeting of its vaccine advisory group. The finding is one of several significant new results featured in the briefing materials, which include more than 100 pages of data analyses from the agency and from Pfizer. Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their two-dose vaccine had an efficacy rate of 95 percent after two doses administered three weeks apart. The new analyses show that the protection starts kicking in far earlier. What’s more, the vaccine worked well regardless of a volunteer’s race, weight or age. While the trial did not find any serious adverse events caused by the vaccine, many participants did experience aches, fevers and other side effects. On Thursday, FDA’s vaccine advisory panel will discuss these materials in advance of a vote on whether to recommend authorization of Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine.
  • William and Kate have been in the headlines for breaking cross-border travel restrictions. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suggested the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge travelled to Edinburgh despite their office being made aware of restrictions on cross-border movement. Ms Sturgeon appeared to give a frosty reception to the royal couple who brought Christmas cheer north of the border as they thanked frontline workers for persevering during the pandemic. Later, just across the border at Holy Trinity First School in Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, the couple arranged for a special treat for pupils – a visit from three reindeer, Chaz, Crackers and her six-month-old calf Echols. During her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon was asked about claims that the duke and duchess’s visit to Edinburgh was in breach of cross-border travel restrictions. She said: “The royal visit is a matter for the royal household and the arrangements around it, and any questions about those arrangements, should be directed to the royal household. “The Scottish Government was advised about the intention to visit, and we made sure that the royal household were aware, as you would expect, of all of the restrictions in place in Scotland, so that could inform both the decision and the planning of the visit. “But I think any questions about that should be directed to the royal household.” (Source: X)
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that hospitals in the United States are rushing to firm up plans for deciding which health-care workers can receive the Covid-19 vaccine first, with initial supplies widely expected to fall short of the amount needed to vaccinate all high-priority workers. December vaccine deliveries are expected to be enough for about 20 million people, according to federal officials. That is slightly less than what is needed to vaccinate all front-line medical professionals and long-term care residents—the groups that a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel has recommended should be first in line. Federal estimates show there are about 24 million people in these high-priority groups—21 million health-care workers and three million residents of long-term care facilities. That leaves hospitals with the task of deciding who among their high-priority employees should go first. Nebraska Medicine, the hospitals and clinics affiliated with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, will likely use a lottery. The Mayo Clinic is combing through data on occupational risks to decide who to put at the top of the list. Mass General Brigham in Boston is prioritizing the hospital units where workers have most exposure to those with Covid-19. The CDC has said priority should go to health-care workers who come into direct contact with Covid-19 patients and patients’ families, and with infectious materials. Workers who have had Covid-19 could wait 90 days from infection before seeking vaccination, a period during which research suggests little risk of reinfection, the CDC said.
  • Federal regulators could soon authorize vaccines for emergency use, with Food and Drug Administration meetings scheduled in coming weeks to consider two vaccines, from Moderna Inc. and from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, reports The Wall Street Journal.
  • London is on course to be placed in the toughest tier of coronavirus restrictions next week after new data revealed the UK capital has the highest rate of cases in England, reports Bloomberg. Lawmakers were told in a government briefing that Covid-19 rates in the city are rising and compare badly with other regions currently in Tier 3, the top level of curbs, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The UK capital had a rate of 191.8 cases per 100,000 population in the week ending Dec. 6, Public Health England said Thursday. That compared to 158.4 in the West Midlands region, where case rates have fallen the most.
  • Stockholm has almost run out of ICU beds. Sweden is trying to figure out how to expand capacity in its health-care system after almost running out of intensive care beds in Stockholm. Stockholm’s ICU capacity reached 99% this week, as infection rates in the largest Nordic capital soar. Across Sweden, there were only 148 ICU beds left as of Thursday. Efforts to expand capacity are being complicated by a shortage of trained staff, with many on sick leave after months of overtime. Others quit their jobs after the first wave of the pandemic in the spring.
  • US Airline Pilots Seek Priority. The largest union of US airline pilots is asking the government to give cockpit crews preference for receiving the coronavirus vaccine to ensure its shipment by air cargo isn’t interrupted. Cargo-airline pilots “have experienced an alarming increase in Covid-19 exposure and infections,” Joseph DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said in a letter to Senate lawmakers dated Wednesday.
  • Authorities in Germany are discussing tighter nationwide restrictions before Christmas, and some regions are already acting. Berlin is set to join Bavaria and Saxony with stricter measures. The capital plans to close all non-essential shops and extend school breaks until Jan. 10, Mayor Michael Mueller said Thursday. “At the moment, it’s the worst of three worlds” with too many infections, high costs to support affected businesses and public fatigue from weeks of pandemic curbs, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.
  • The South African government declared a second wave of coronavirus infections as the number of cases surged. The wave is being driven by the provinces of Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the economic hub Gauteng, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement Wednesday. A seven-day moving average graph shows that the increases in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are exponential, he said. South Africa registered a record 6,709 infections on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 828,598, with 22,574 deaths.

Discovery Health Executive Associate Maria Makhabane-Leke about an innovation in the provision of private medical care. we speak to Professor Francois Venter, a professor of medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand, who has been pushing the government to share detailed plans for who will get vaccines. We hear from Dr Jay Battacharya, one of the medical experts behind the Great Barrington Declaration, who is opposed to strict lockdown but is in favour of focused protection. He explains where masks and social distancing fit in to the campaign to stop governments from imposing strict lockdown.

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