BioNTech's Modular African Vax Factory Plan Gets Mixed Reaction – Kaiser Health News

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Stat says BioNTech's plan for making covid and other shots in Africa, shipping preconstructed factory elements in shipping containers, snubs efforts by the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, the WHO is also cautioning that a global slide in covid cases may be linked to lower testing rates.
Stat: BioNTech Plan For Covid Vaccine Production In Africa Met With Skepticism
Amid escalating concern over global access to Covid-19 vaccines, BioNTech (BNTX) disclosed details about its plans to boost production in Africa. But the effort was met with a mixed reaction because the approach snubs a parallel effort by the World Health Organization. The plan calls for shipping versions of a vaccine factory in sea containers from Europe to be established in Rwanda, Senegal, and potentially, South Africa. These modules will be equipped to manufacture vaccines based on mRNA technology, including shots to protect against Covid-19, tuberculosis, and malaria, which BioNTech is in the process of developing. (Silverman, 2/16)
In other global covid news —
The Washington Post: WHO Says Global Case Decline Affected By Drop In Testing, Deaths Still Alarmingly High
Newly reported coronavirus cases are dropping worldwide, but World Health Organization officials urged caution Wednesday, saying that a drop in testing may be contributing to that decline and that covid deaths remain alarmingly high. During the week starting Feb. 7, health officials reported 16.3 million new infections globally, an 18.2 percent drop from the prior week, according to WHO figures. Deaths, though, inched higher in the same period, to above 73,000, an increase of 0.5 percent from the previous week. (Jeong, Hassan and Timsit, 2/17)
AP: Israel To Scrap COVID Passport System As Omicron Wanes 
Israel’s prime minister says the country’s coronavirus vaccination “green pass” system will be suspended as new daily cases of COVID-19 continue to decline. Naftali Bennett said Thursday after meeting with health officials that Israel’s omicron wave “has been broken” and that additional reductions in coronavirus restrictions were forthcoming. (2/17)
The Washington Post: Malaysia, South Korea Face Record Coronavirus Cases Amid Asia-Pacific Omicron Surge 
As coronavirus cases and restrictions fall in the United States and Europe, parts of Asia and the Pacific are in the thick of a surge driven by the omicron variant, with Malaysia and South Korea reporting new daily records Thursday. Malaysia logged 27,831 new cases on Thursday, the country’s highest tally of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization. South Korea reported 93,135 new infections on the same day, also its daily record. Indonesia and New Zealand marked new daily records Wednesday, while Vietnam, Singapore, Japan and Thailand all remain in the grasp of omicron with high case counts. (Jeong, 2/17)
Bloomberg: Hong Kong Plans Mass Testing Of The Entire City To Control Covid Outbreak
Hong Kong is planning a testing blitz of the entire city, deploying a tactic used to root out Covid-19 cases on the mainland as the financial hub struggles to get control over its most challenging outbreak of the pandemic. Chinese medical experts will likely be brought in to assist in the effort, according to people familiar with the administration’s thinking, and government vans currently used for vaccinations will be converted to mete out tests, one of the people said. Officials are still deciding whether to make the mass testing compulsory, the people said, with Sing Tao Daily reporting those who refuse may be subject to a HK$10,000 ($1,280) fine. The push will begin in early March and be conducted over weeks, other local media said. (Lui Siu and Marlow, 2/16)
NBC News: Chinese Students Stranded In U.S. By Coronavirus
Tim Fan was so close to getting home. For the first time since before the pandemic, he was on a plane to China, looking forward to seeing his family and celebrating his recent graduation from a college in Washington state. But halfway into the 12-hour flight from Seattle to Shanghai in late December, the Delta Air Lines plane made a sudden U-turn back to the United States. The airline cited burdensome new disinfection procedures at the airport in Shanghai, which Chinese officials disputed. Almost two months later, Fan is still in Seattle, his journey home hindered by a lack of flights, exorbitant ticket prices and his own Covid-19 infection. Chinese rules prevent him from entering the country until well after he is recovered. (Chen and Yang, 2/16)
In other news from around the world —
Stat: Toxic Levels Of Pharmaceuticals Threaten The Health Of The World's Rivers
In one of the first attempts to examine pharmaceutical pollution in rivers around the world, a new study found numerous medicines at potentially toxic levels in more than one-quarter of the waterways, indicating the contaminants pose a global threat to environmental and human health. Moreover, the most contaminated sites were located in low-to-middle-income countries. In particular, the most troubling pollution was seen in areas with pharmaceutical manufacturing, poor wastewater, and inadequate infrastructure for waste management, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. (Silverman, 2/16)
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