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CORONA VIRUS

She Was Demoted, Doubted And Rejected. Now, Her Work Is The Basis Of The Covid-19 Vaccine

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(CNN)Covid-19 vaccines are starting to roll out in several countries, a momentous breakthrough that hopefully signals a light at the end of this dark pandemic. For Katalin Karikó, the moment is particularly special.

Karikó has spent decades of her career researching the therapeutic possibilities of mRNA, a component of DNA that is considered to be one of the main building blocks of life.

Through multiple setbacks, job losses, doubt and a transatlantic move, Karikó stood by her conviction: That mRNA could be used for something truly groundbreaking. Now, that work is the basis of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Karikó, 65, began her career in her native Hungary in the 1970s, when mRNA research was new and the possibilities seemed endless. But the call of the American dream (and more researching and funding opportunities) took root.

In 1985, she and her husband and young daughter left Hungary for the US after she got an invitation from Temple University in Philadelphia.

They sold their car, Karikó told The Guardian, and stuffed the money — an equivalent of about $1,200 — in their daughter’s teddy bear for safekeeping.

“We had just moved into our new apartment, our daughter was 2 years old, everything was so good, we were happy,” Karikó told the Hungarian news site G7 of her family’s departure. “But we had to go.”

She continued her research at Temple, and then at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine. But by then, the bloom was off the rose of mRNA research, and Karikó’s idea that it could be used to fight disease was deemed too radical, too financially risky to fund. She applied for grant after grant, but kept getting rejections, and in 1995, she was demoted from her position at UPenn. She also was diagnosed with cancer around the same time.

“Usually, at that point, people just say goodbye and leave because it’s so horrible,” she told Stat, a health news site, in November. “I thought of going somewhere else, or doing something else. I also thought maybe I’m not good enough, not smart enough.”

From doubt to breakthrough

But she stuck with it.

Eventually, Karikó and her former colleague at the University of Pennsylvania, Drew Weissman, developed a method of utilizing synthetic mRNA to fight disease that involves changing the way the body produces virus-fighting material, she explained on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time.”

That discovery is now the basis of the Covid-19 vaccine, and some have said both Weissman and Karikó, now a senior vice president of the Germany-based BioNTech, deserve a Nobel Prize.

“If anyone asks me whom to vote for some day down the line, I would put them front and center,” Derek Rossi, one of the founders of pharmaceutical giant Moderna, told Stat. “That fundamental discovery is going to go into medicines that help the world.”

While recognition, after all of this time, must be nice, Karikó says scientific glory isn’t what’s on her mind right now.

“Really, we will celebrate when this human suffering is over, when the hardship and all of this terrible time will end, and hopefully in the summer when we will forget about virus and vaccine. And then I will be really celebrating,” she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

Karikó said she plans to get the vaccine soon, along with Weissman, and she said she’s “very, very confident” it will work. After all, it was their discoveries that contributed to it.

In the meantime, Karikó said she allowed herself a little treat to celebrate the vaccine news: a bag of Goobers, her favorite candy.

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CHOGM

Commonwealth SG Predicts More Deaths From Covid-19 In Poorer Countries

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Poorer countries will most likely ‘bear the brunt of hundreds of thousands of needles deaths’ from inequality in access to COVID-19 vaccines, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland warned.

This dire warning was given in a video address to the High Level Segment at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 23 February.

Scotland said COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on health inequalities within and between countries and nowhere is this more evident that in access t vaccines.

“Although vaccines are a vital lifeline, they remain out of the grasp of far too many and crucially this means that citizens of the poorest nations may bear the brunt of hundreds of thousands of needles deaths, therefore we must not allow this and leaders of our world must come together to ensure that this does not happen,” she added.

She warned inequitable vaccine access could derail the global economic recovery and make wealthier nations lose money and we have learned that in order for us to be safe, we must work together.

She stated that the past year has enhanced lingering existential threats, including the climate emergency and reaffirmed that the Commonwealth’s resolve to support small states and other vulnerable countries to protect the environment and tackle climate change.

She called for inclusive development and multilateral co-operation, stressing that re-commitment to human rights must be central to Covid-19 recovery efforts.

“Human rights are not the panacea to all challenges brought about by the pandemic, by climate change or by the never ending list of conflicts across the world, but the last 12 months have taught a painful less to humanity therefore we must learn from experience,” she emphasised.

“We have to make human rights central to building back better, without human rights, humanity is not a sustainable project and we cannot afford to fail,” she concluded.

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CORONA VIRUS

Kagame Calls Rich Nations “Hypocrits”

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There is almost no COVID-19 vaccine left in stock for poor countries after wealthy nations ordered for billions of shots from the manufactures, World Health Organisation (WHO), said.

Reports say that wealthy nations ordered “enough shots to vaccinate their populations more than once” yet poor countries have not received enough or anything all.

President Kagame criticised the behaviour of rich countries and described it as a double standard.

“This is hypocrisy and double standards we have always talked about,” he said on Tuesday evening after WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed concerns that rich nations are undermining efforts to deal with the oandemic. This is, Kagame added, “Just one of the many and consequential examples.”

Manufacturers had signed a deal with the UN under a US$7.5 billion program funded by the G7 to extend jabs to vulnerable communities in the spirit of “affordable and equitable access to vaccines” and treatments for COVID-19.

However, it turns out, wealth nations, not yet mentioned, have purchased almost all the available vaccines in stock, and are hording the shots while the test of the world remain exposed to the virus.

Dr. Tedros has continues to rally world leaders to check their moral compass and insisted that the world faces a “catastrophic moral failure” if COVID-19 vaccines are not distributed fairly.”

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CORONA VIRUS

Africa Surpasses 100,000 Confirmed Covid-19 Deaths

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Africa has more than 100,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths as the continent praised for its early response to the pandemic now struggles with a dangerous resurgence and medical oxygen often runs desperately short.

“We are more vulnerable than we thought,” the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told press in an interview reflecting on the pandemic and a milestone he called “remarkably painful.”

He worried that “we are beginning to normalize deaths,” while health workers are overwhelmed.

The Africa CDC on Friday said overall deaths are at 100,294.

A continent of some 1.3 billion people has barely seen the arrival of large-scale supplies of Covid-19 vaccines, but a variant of the virus dominant in South Africa is already posing a challenge to vaccination efforts.

Still, if doses are available, the continent should be able to vaccinate 35% to 40% of its population before the end of 2021 and 60% by the end of 2022, Nkengasong said.

In a significant development on Friday, an African Union-created task force said Russia has offered 300 million doses of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine, to be available in May.

The AU previously secured 270 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

Since most countries in Africa lack the means to track mortality data, it is not clear how many excess deaths have occurred across the continent since the pandemic began.

“We are definitely not counting all the deaths, especially in the second wave,” the Africa CDC’s Nkengasong told reporters last week.

While the continent is not seeing a “massive” number of deaths, he asserted that most people in Africa now know someone who has died of Covid-19. “People are dying because of a lack of basic care,” he said, citing medical oxygen as a critical need.

Deaths from Covid-19 increased by 40% in Africa in the past month compared to the previous month, the World Health Organization’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters last week. That’s more than 22,000 people dying in the past four weeks.

The increase is a “tragic warning that health workers and health systems in many countries in Africa are dangerously overstretched,” she said, and preventing severe cases and hospitalizations is crucial.

But the latest trend shows a slowdown. In the week ending on Sunday, the continent saw a 28% decrease in deaths, the Africa CDC said Thursday.

Africa has reached 100,000 confirmed deaths shortly after marking a year since the first coronavirus infection was confirmed on the continent, in Egypt on Feb. 14, 2020.

But many more people across Africa have died of Covid-19, even though they are not included in the official toll.

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