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IHRM provides a summary of the healthcare related articles in the press on a weekly basis to help you stay updated. 

08 November 2021
Oxford scientists find gene that doubles risk of dying from Covid-19 

Business Day 08 November 2021 - Scientists have identified a specific gene that doubles the risk of respiratory failure from Covid-19 and may go some way to explaining why some ethnic groups are more susceptible to severe disease than others. 

Researchers from the University of Oxford found that a higher-risk version of the gene most likely prevents the cells lining airways and the lungs from responding to the virus properly. About 60% of people with South Asian ancestry carry this version of the gene, compared with 15% of people with European heritage, according to the study published last week. The findings help explain why higher rates of hospitalisation and death may have been seen in certain communities and on the Indian subcontinent. The authors cautioned that the gene cannot be used as a sole explanation as many other factors, such as socioeconomic conditions, play a role. People with the gene, known as LZTFL1, would particularly benefit from vaccination, which remains the best method of protection, the authors said. 

Doctors take a stand against low bar for culpable homicide charges 

Business Day 08 November 2021 - Medical Protection Society says doctors are increasingly worried about rise in criminal sanctions if a patient dies 

It is too easy to charge medical practitioners with culpable homicide if a patient dies, say doctors in nine professional organisations, which have written a letter to justice minister Ronald Lamola asking for a review of the law. The letter is signed by the biggest state and private doctors’ societies and is being driven by the Medical Protection Society (MPS), a not-for-profit provider of legal advice and financial indemnity against medical complaints. Its head of medical services Africa, Dr Graham Howarth, said there is an increasing tendency to charge doctors with criminal sanction if a patient dies, and concerns among doctors in SA about the practice have been growing. 

Test results open door to new chapter for oral Covid drug 

Business Day 08 November 2021 - The world needs an easy-to-take Covid-19 treatment. Pfizer’s and Merck’s Covid pills may be just that. 

But questions remain about how well they will work in the real world, how safe they are and whether they will need to be taken in drug cocktails rather than alone. Pfizer’s Covid pill results were hailed as remarkable on Friday, the drug reduced the risk of hospital admission or death by 89% in patients. It follows a successful Covid pill trial from rival Merck in October and both drugmakers are working to get regulatory authorisation. That has left even the most sceptical doctors and scientists cheering the moment as a feat for drug development and a possible turning point in the pandemic. 

SA data shows vaccinated adults have a 94% lower risk of death from Covid-19 

Business Day 04 November 2021 - Discovery Health study finds people who had received both Pfizer shots at lower risk of hospitalisation and death 

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduced the risk of being hospitalised or dying from Covid-19 in SA by more than 90%, according to a real-world study by SA medical scheme administrator Discovery Health. It found people who had received both shots of the two-dose jab had a 92% lower risk of hospitalisation and 94% lower risk of death from Covid-19 than those who had not been vaccinated, up to three months after immunisation. Even a single shot offered significant protection, reducing the risk of hospitalisation by 73% and the risk of death by 79% after 14 days. The local findings are consistent with a US study published in The Lancet in October, which found the effectiveness of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine against hospitalisation remained high even at six months, at 93%. The findings emphasise the importance for SA of rapidly scaling up coverage. 

Stamp out Covid-19 hotspots to prevent next peak, urges Africa CDC chief 

Business Day 04 November 2021 - The days of “very severe” lockdowns as the solution to Covid-19 in Africa are over and countries should rather vaccinate against the virus and scale up rapid testing to identify hotspots and prevent them spreading, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr John Nkengasong, said on Thursday. 

Covid-19 cases have been dropping on the continent, which is in a lull between wave peaks. More than 8.5-million cases have been reported in Africa and at least 218,972 deaths to date. “We are now in the trough [usually two to three months] between the peaks,” Nkengasong said. “This is a period to expand testing and vaccination as much as possible so as not to go back to the peak and the resulting health and economic damage.” In the past week, North Africa reported a slight increase (1%) in new cases and Central Africa reported a 2% increase in new cases from October 4 to 31. New deaths decreased across all countries on average by 35% over the past week, and by 16% on average in October. But three populous countries are struggling with rising numbers of deaths: Nigeria (27%), Egypt (10%) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1%). 

WHO grants emergency approval to India’s Covaxin vaccine 

Business Day 03 November 2021 - The vaccine is extremely suitable for low- and middle-income countries, says UN health agency 

The World Health Organization (WHO) granted emergency authorisation to a Covid-19 vaccine co-developed by India’s medical-research agency and local manufacturer Bharat Biotech International, ending a months-long wait that added to controversy around the home-grown shot. The WHO approved the vaccine’s use in people aged 18 and older on a two-dose schedule with four weeks between shots, according to a statement on Wednesday Bharat Biotech said in July that the vaccine was 77.8% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19, but that phase 3 data was yet to be peer reviewed. In the course of its analysis, the WHO repeatedly asked the company for further information, delaying its addition to the body’s pre-qualified list. 

 Vaccination 5x more effective against hospitalisation than prior COVID infection — CDC analysis 

Medical Brief 03 November 2021 - A nationwide analysis from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are associated with significantly more immunity than a prior COVID-19 infection 

Among adults over 65, vaccines were nearly 20 times more effective at preventing hospitalisations than prior infection alone. A detailed analysis from the CDC, reviewing scores of research studies and its own unpublished data, found that both infection-induced and vaccine-induced immunity are durable for at least six months. However, vaccines are more consistent in their protection and offer a substantial boost in antibodies for people previously infected. Consequently, the CDC recommends that people who have been infected with the virus should still get vaccinated. 

Infection + vaccination delivers better protection than immunisation only — Large US study 

Medical brief 03 November 2021 - In what is believed to be one of the largest studies of its kind, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers have shown that antibody levels against SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 virus) stay more durable, that is, remain higher over an extended period of time, in people who were infected by the virus and then received protection from two doses of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine compared with those who only got immunised. 

“This finding adds to our understanding of how immunity against SARS- CoV-2 works, and builds upon an earlier study by our team that showed the mRNA vaccines yielded a robust antibody response, even if a person did not develop significant symptoms following vaccination or did not have a prior SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said study senior author Dr Aaron Milstone, professor of paediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and paediatric epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre.