Thirteen million people in Australia — about half the country’s population — woke up on Wednesday under some form of lockdown as the country struggles to contain outbreaks of the Delta variant across three states.
On Tuesday, the state of South Australia was placed under a seven-day lockdown after recording five coronavirus cases. The state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne, extended its lockdown for another week as its case total surpassed 100.
New infections show no sign of slowing in the largest city, Sydney, which is now in its fourth week of lockdown and has recorded over 1,000 cases. Sydney reported 110 new local cases on Wednesday, the third highest daily total since this outbreak began.
Although the case numbers are relatively small, Australia has used a strategy of swift local lockdowns to keep the virus under control since last year. But because of the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, and Australia’s slow vaccination campaign, infectious disease experts are concerned that it might be impossible to completely stamp out these outbreaks.
“With the vaccination rates the way they are, we won’t be able to live freely and safely unless we’re able to quash this current outbreak,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales state, which includes Sydney, said on Wednesday.
About 29 percent of Australia’s population has received at least one vaccine dose and 11 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that the country had administered a million doses in the past seven days, the first time it had reached that weekly mark. If that rate continues, he added, all Australians who wanted a vaccine would be able to get one by the end of the year.
Pfizer and BioNTech said on Wednesday that they have reached an agreement with a South African vaccine manufacturer, starting next year, to handle the final stages of manufacturing for doses of their Covid shot that will be supplied exclusively to African nations.
The deal represents the first time Pfizer’s Covid vaccine will be partly produced in Africa and it could eventually help increase supply to a continent where months of severe vaccine shortages have resulted in only about 1.5 percent of people being fully immunized.
But the agreement comes with caveats that will significantly limit its impact at a time when the fast-spreading Delta variant has driven a surge in infections and hospitalizations and sent the continent into the most devastating phase of its pandemic.
Crucially, the South African producer, Biovac, will only be handling distribution and “fill-finish” — the final phase of the manufacturing process, during which the vaccine is placed in vials and packaged for shipping. It will rely on Pfizer facilities in Europe to make the vaccine substance and ship it to its Cape Town facility.
Public health activists have called on Pfizer and other major vaccine manufacturers to transfer their technology to local producers in poorer parts of the world so as to ramp up production and alleviate shortages. Sharing recipes in this way can either be voluntary or forced.
Matthew Kavanagh, director of the Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative at Georgetown University, called Wednesday’s agreement “deeply disappointing.”
“What we have seen from all of these licensing agreements that only are fill-finish and keep the full production capacity to high-income-country producers is that they continue to just perpetuate the inequalities in distribution,” Mr. Kavanagh said.
A company spokeswoman, Pamela Eisele, said that in trying to rapidly scale up Covid vaccine manufacturing, Pfizer is “primarily focusing on multiple existing sites, looking to external contract manufacturers to support the important fill-and-finish and distribution steps.”
Michelle Viljoen, a spokeswoman for Biovac, said that starting with fill-finish is “the quickest manufacturing step to making vaccines accessible.” Ms. Viljoen added: “We will continue to pursue our vision of drug substance manufacture. We view this initiative as a stepping stone towards the realization of that vision.”
Pfizer has pledged that it will supply two billion doses of its vaccine to low- and middle-income countries through various channels by the end of 2022, but so far, only a small fraction of those doses have been delivered.
Pfizer said that efforts would begin immediately to transfer technology and install the necessary equipment at Biovac’s facility. Pfizer said the plant would be able to fill-finish more than 100 million doses annually at full capacity, though it did not say when…
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