News in South Africa 23rd September:
1. US approves booster shots:
The US has approved the Pfizer vaccine as booster shots for vaccinated individuals.
The United States on Wednesday authorized the use of boosters of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for people aged over 65, as well as adults at high risk of severe disease and those in high-exposure jobs.
The announcement means a significant part of the population — amounting to tens of millions of Americans — are now eligible for a third shot six months after their second.
“Today’s action demonstrates that science and the currently available data continue to guide the FDA’s decision-making for COVID-19 vaccines during this pandemic,” said Janet Woodcock, acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, in a statement.
The decision was expected and came after an independent expert panel convened by the regulatory agency last week voted in favor of recommending the move.
The panel, however, rejected an initial plan by the White House to fully approve Pfizer boosters to everyone aged 16 and over, in what amounted to a rare rebuke of President Joe Biden’s administration.
The group of vaccinologists, infectious disease specialists and epidemiologists concluded that the benefit-risk balance differed for younger people, especially young males who are more susceptible to myocarditis.
Pfizer COVID-19 boosters are currently being debated by a separate body of experts convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which may recommend further specifics about recipients.
For example, if obesity is considered as putting a person “at high risk of severe COVID,” that definition would cover more than 42 percent of the US population aged over 20.
The CDC may also have to define which workplaces and other settings might lead to “frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2.”
In South Africa, medical experts are investigating potential booster processes, which could see those who have already been fully vaccinated getting a different type of vaccine.
The South African Medical Research Council says it’s trying to source Johnson & Johnson doses for trial purposes.
2. Massive debt data leak:
The personal data of 1.4 million South Africans – including details of outstanding debt – has leaked online.
If you know just where to look, you can now find the personal information of 1.4 million South Africans online, including such details as employer and salary date, alongside ID number and contact details.
The cache of data also includes details of how much money those people owed, how much they repaid, and “voice recordings of calls between Debt-IN debt recovery agents and financial services customers”, says the company from which the information was stolen.
Debt-IN was breached in April, but only found out in September, when one of its partners discovered the information online in what it described in a statement as a “highly-focused ‘sweep’ of data posted on a the [sic] hidden collection of websites that can only be accessed by specialised browsers”, more commonly known as the dark web.
It was “able to definitively confirm that the data was the personal information of some 1.4 million consumers on 17 September 2021,” said Debt-IN on Wednesday.
Debt-IN has not provided details of how it was looted, beyond references to a “ransomware attack”, or who was responsible, beyond broad references to “highly sophisticated cyber criminals and their proxies.”
Getting the data dump removed is a “very complex challenge”, the company said, and it can not speak of efforts to do so “given the highly sensitive nature of the case.”
3. UCT in favor of mandatory vaccines:
The University of Cape Town (UCT) Senate has voted on a proposed policy to make vaccines mandatory from next year, with a majority finding in favour of such a move.
However, the final decision on whether to adopt this policy still lies with the university’s council.
The vote took place on Wednesday afternoon, with 183 votes in support, 32 against, and five abstentions. The motion is expected to go to council after stakeholder engagements.
University spokesperson Elijah Moholola said: “The voting process was concluded on Wednesday 22 September, with the outcome being that the motion on mandatory vaccination has been adopted by Senate with 83% of respondents in the ballot indicating support.”
He said the next steps included an engagement process across campus with all the relevant stakeholders whose voices were key to the process.
“UCT emphasises that no decision or position has been taken yet by the university on mandatory vaccination on campus. Any final decision on a matter of policy for the university will have to be a decision of the university council,” Moholola stressed.
4. DSTV against TV licence changes:
DStv-owner MultiChoice has opposed proposed changes to TV licences in South Africa which would see it take a more active role in levy collections, News24 reports.
The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) wants to ‘redefine’ TV licences in South Africa and has recommended the introduction of a household levy to help stabilise its finances.
This levy would be imposed on all households and is based on the possibility of access to SABC services, rather than the actual usage of its services.
The national broadcaster said that dominant subscription broadcasters – such as MultiChoice’s DStv – should be required to collect the public broadcasting household levy from its subscribers on the state-owned broadcaster’s behalf.
However, MultiChoice has warned that it is not its role to collect TV licences for the national broadcaster, and that other bodies are much better placed to collect the household levy.
MultiChoice’s head of policy analysis, research, and regulatory affairs, Aynon Doyle said that an effective revenue collector such as the South African Revenue Service (SARS) would be best placed to assist the SABC with collecting TV licence fees.
“No changes globally have attempted to shift revenue collection to the private sector on the part of public service broadcasters. If SARS collected in 2019 there would have been a significant difference in what would have been collected,” said Doyle.
The SABC expects to face continued issues around TV licence collections for the near future, as South Africans refuse to pay their fees.
In an August presentation, the national broadcaster said that the TV Licence cash revenue collected during Q4 20/21 was R200.7 million against a budget of R293.7 million – resulting in a R92.9 million (32%) shortfall against budget.
5. Nersa on approval of power ships:
Activists and critics are questioning why the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) ‘rushed’ to approve Turkey-based Karpowership generating licences for three controversial floating power plants.
Speaking to Clement Manyathela on Wednesday, Liz McDaid from Green Connection said there were several red flags that could be grounds for legal action to stop the process.
She also said the granting of the licenses was not in the public’s interest.
In March, the company won a government tender to supplement South Africa’s fragile electricity supply with gas-to-power projects at three ports.
However, Karpowership’s permit application was blocked over environmental concerns by the environmental ministry.
Regulator member, responsible for electricity regulation at Nersa Nhlanhla Gumede says the reasons will be published.
He says there are different regulators which have their own mandates and Nersa has a specific mandate in terms of granting operating licenses.
“We can only act inside those mandates and environmental considerations are outside our mandate.” Nhlanhla Gumede, Regulator member of Nersa.