Good afternoon, readers. I’m David Meyer, a senior writer on Fortune‘s Europe team, filling in for Sy today.
My native country, South Africa, has been having a terrible pandemic due to a mix of mismanagement, low vaccine supply and, most recently, regional violence that was partly rooted in the economic effects of lockdown. We’ll take good news where we find it—and luckily, some has arrived.
Pfizer and BioNTech have signed up Cape Town’s Biovac Institute to fill-and-finish doses of their COVID-19 vaccine. The substance itself will come from Europe, but this is nonetheless the first production deal for an mRNA vaccine in Africa. And its output—apparently more than 100 million doses annually, starting next year—will only be distributed on the continent.
Bear in mind that, with the vast majority of vaccine doses going to rich countries, Africa overall has administered only 4.5 doses per 100 people (Europe and the U.S. are on 80 or so.) As South African President Cyril Ramaphosa put it yesterday: “The partnership between Biovac and Pfizer is a breakthrough in our effort to overcome global vaccine inequity. The protection of Africans is a necessary and critical contribution to the protection of humanity as a whole.”
See also: Ramaphosa’s announcement earlier this month that J&J, which already uses a fill-and-finish contractor in South Africa, had agreed to “adapt the current arrangement so that we can produce the vaccine in South Africa under license rather than under contract, resulting in our country and the continent having control over the vaccines.”
“We are negotiating that in time the drug substance itself would be produced here in South Africa, so that we have a fully-owned African vaccine manufactured on African soil in a number of countries on our continent,” the president said. The U.S., it should be noted, is reportedly putting $200 million into J&J’s South African vaccine production. The EU is also investing $8 million in a Senegalese plant that should be producing vaccines late next year, again with the aim of reducing African dependence on imports.
Vaccine equity activists are still pushing for activation of the TRIPS waiver mechanism at the World Trade Organization, so vaccine makers have to share their intellectual property—a step they say would unlock the investment needed to drastically expand production. As the Health Justice Initiative’s Fatima Hassan put it to the Daily Maverick: “We have heard arguments that there was no capacity. This [Pfizer] announcement disproves that argument.”
But the Pfizer/BioNTech/Biovac and J&J announcements are unarguably steps in the right direction. Now let’s have more, please—and soon.
Pingdemic threatens British food supply. The onslaught of the coronavirus's Delta variant has led to a "pingdemic" in the U.K., where people using the National Health Service's contact-tracing app get notifications telling them to isolate for 10 days if they've been in contact with an infected person. Cases are nearing 50,000 a day now and so many people have been pinged that, the food industry warns, supply chains are "right on the edge of failing." (Reuters)
Why breakthrough infections happen. Seems by this point everyone knows someone who has contracted COVID despite being vaccinated. Here's a comprehensive guide to why that happens, how often it happens, and what the implications might be. (Fortune)
Long-COVID data. The U.K.'s Office for National Statistics is one of the best sources of data (there's not much competition) on the emerging, poorly-understood phenomenon of long COVID. The ONS already released data on persisting physical symptoms, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, earlier this month. Now it's also detailing long COVID's apparent effect on wellbeing and mental health and, while it must be stressed that this is non-comprehensive, self-reported data, the indications are not good. (Fortune)
THE BIG PICTURE
$26 billion opioid settlement is official. Drug manufacturer J&J and distributors Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, have secured a long-awaited settlement with state attorneys general over the opioid epidemic. The $26 billion deal still needs to be finalized, but it would free these companies from the specter of future opioid lawsuits, as well as settling those already underway against them. That doesn't mean all opioid-related suits are over, though—and the addiction crisis continues to spiral. (Fortune)
The Delta variant causes 83% of U.S. COVID cases. See the states where it’s most prevalent, by Erika Fry and Nicolas Rapp
3 big takeaways from Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, and Cathie Wood’s Bitcoin showdown, by Rey Mashayekhi
Tech can’t solve death. But startups increasingly want to help with what comes after, by Stav Dimitropoulos
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