WTO chief: COVID-19 vaccine rights waiver within reach

Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on May 25, 2022. (FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

KAMPALA / GABORONE / LOS ANGELES / GENEVA – An international agreement on waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines is within reach ahead of a global trade meeting next week, the head of the World Trade Organization said on Wednesday.

Since Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was appointed more than a year ago, she has prioritized a long-sought deal on a waiver for intellectual property rights for COVID-19 shots

In a telephone interview, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also said an agreement could be reached on fishing subsidies in time for the meeting, when 120 trade ministers from around the world gather at the body's Geneva headquarters. 

"If we get one or two deliverables that will be good," Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters in a telephone interview. "I think we are within shouting distance of that."

Days before the meeting starts, none of the agreements in the three major negotiating areas of agriculture, fish subsidies or intellectual property rights for vaccines have been finalized for ministers to rubber-stamp, trade sources say.

ALSO READ: Virus: J&J informs Emergent to end jab manufacturing deal

Instead, Okonjo-Iweala described a "hectic" atmosphere in Geneva where negotiators had been working late nights and weekends in order to try to resolve outstanding differences.

Since she was appointed more than a year ago, Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian minister and chair of the GAVI vaccine alliance board, has prioritized a long-sought deal on a waiver for intellectual property rights for COVID-19 shots.

A health worker receives a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Francistown, Botswana, on March 26, 2021. (MONIRUL BHUIYAN / AFP)

Botswana

Botswana is likely to enter its fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, health authorities warned Monday, as the numbers of the cases have been on the rise.

Pamela Smith-Lawrence, health services director in Botswana's Ministry of Health, revealed this when appearing before the southern African country's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana.

"The country was seemingly entering a fifth wave," Smith-Lawrence stated to the PAC, the body made up of Botswana's legislators, as a measure to ensure public financial accountability.

Grace Muzila, the permanent secretary in Botswana's Ministry of Health, also told the PAC that health authorities were seriously concerned about the numbers of cases and admissions in recent weeks.

According to the Ministry of Health, 635 new cases were reported during May 22 to May 25 with 2 deaths. As of May 31, Botswana has reported 30,126 cases.

A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from an incoming passenger for COVID-19 testing at the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport in Santiago, Chile, Dec 21, 2020. (ESTEBAN FELIX / AP)

Chile

Chile will face another peak of COVID-19 infections in the next two weeks, a local epidemics monitoring group predicted on Tuesday.

Chile has been experiencing a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases for several weeks and "we could be approaching the peak in two or three weeks," Felipe Elorrieta, head of the Mathematical Epidemiological Group for the Surveillance of Epidemics and Pandemics at the University of Santiago, Chile, said in a press release.

The team of specialists analyzed data from the Chilean Ministry of Health, which indicated a 58-percent increase in COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days.

This file photo taken on Nov 17, 2020 shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US biotech company Novavax. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Novavax

Advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the agency authorize Novavax Inc's COVID-19 vaccine for use in adults, which the drugmaker hopes can become the shot of choice among some American vaccine skeptics.

The US FDA experts voted 21-0 with one abstention in favor of Novavax's vaccine for those 18 and older after discussing whether the shot's benefits outweigh risks

The panel of outside vaccine experts voted 21-0 with one abstention in favor of the vaccine for those 18 and older after discussing whether the shot's benefits outweigh risks, including rare occurrences of heart inflammation that may be associated with the vaccine.

If the FDA follows the recommendation and authorizes the shot, it will be the fourth COVID-19 vaccine available for use in adults in the United States. The FDA has approved previous COVID-19 shots within days of panel votes, with distribution quickly following.

The timeline for Novavax is not clear.

Novavax Chief Commercial Officer John Trizzino said the agency is still reviewing documents detailing its manufacturing processes submitted last week.

"We hopefully expect to have product in the US in our warehouse by the end of June," he said in an interview, adding that the company plans to ship millions of doses made by its partner, the Serum Institute of India, soon after authorization.

ALSO READ: Uganda warns of resurgence of COVID-19 cases

Novavax's shot, which is already available in over 40 countries, is a more traditional type of vaccine employing technology that has been used for decades to combat diseases like influenza.

Maryland-based Novavax is hoping to gain a foothold within the roughly 27 million US adults who are yet to be vaccinated, particularly those who do not want to receive a vaccine like the Pfizer / BioNTech or Moderna Inc shots based on groundbreaking messenger RNA technology.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni speaks during the Uganda-Turkey Investment summit at the Munyonyo Speke Resort in Kampala, Uganda, on May 12, 2022. (BADRU KATUMBA / AFP)

Uganda

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday urged the public to adhere to the COVID-19 prevention measures, saying the country has started registering an increase in the number of COVID-19 infection cases.

Museveni in his State of Nation Address to the parliament said the country registers an average of two deaths per week due to COVID-19.

"We (are) now, again, getting two deaths per week from Corona. Be alert, again, please," the president said.

He said he has observed some huge public gatherings where prevention measures are not adhered to.

Museveni's warning comes days after the ministry of health warned that it is experiencing an increase in the daily number of COVID-19 cases compared to the stable trends it observed since January 2022.

Minister of Health Ruth Aceng in a tweet Sunday said the increase is similar to the rise the country faced in June 2021 when the Delta variant was prevalent.

In this file photo taken on Dec 1, 2021, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) stands with Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak during a meeting with Small Business Saturday entrepreneurs in Downing Street in central London.
(DANIEL LEAL / AFP)

UK

A leading airline industry official on Tuesday blasted British politicians for criticizing long airport lines and canceled flights once COVID-19 cases eased and in turn assailed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's own response to the pandemic.

“You look at the UK, Boris Johnson, he highlights one of the reasons why he should continue to be prime minister as being the way he handled the pandemic. What a joke. They should have done a hell of a lot better,” Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told the Paris Air Forum.

In response, a British Department for Transport spokesperson said the UK was the first country in the G7 to remove all travel restrictions, but its priority was protecting public health and the measures it introduced "bought vital time for the rollout of our successful vaccine program."

US

Over 400,000 child COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States in the past 4 weeks, according to the latest report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

Children represent 18.9 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the latest report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association

Almost 13.5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic in the country, and about 5.6 million reported cases have been added in 2022, according to the report published late Monday.

For the week ending June 2, over 87,000 child COVID-19 cases were reported.

Children represent 18.9 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the report.

There is an urgent need to collect more age-specific data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as potential longer-term effects, said the AAP.

"It is important to recognize there are immediate effects of the pandemic on children's health, but importantly we need to identify and address the long-lasting impacts on the physical, mental, and social well-being of this generation of children and youth," it said.