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Excitement as oil prices soar on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine success

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  • Trump, Biden, Buhari, WHO laud American manufacturer
  • Nigeria may wait longer to get vaccine — PSN

The world reacted with undisguised joy on Monday to Pfizer’s announcement of its COVID-19 vaccine recording 90 per cent success and almost an instantaneous jump in global oil price and stocks.

Oil prices jumped by almost 10 per cent, its biggest daily gain, in more than six months.

Pfizer and BioNTech said Monday that a vaccine they jointly developed was 90 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in ongoing phase three trials.

The message of hope drew applause from the world audience, bringing the United States President, Donald Trump, and the President-elect, Joe Biden, to their first convergence in recent months, as both congratulated Pfizer on its scientific trial.

President Muhammadu Buhari also welcomed the development and expressed the hope that the vaccine would be available for all when it finally hit the market.

America’s Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, promised to make 50 million doses of the vaccine available before the end of the year.

It also said it would produce 1.3 billion doses of the vaccine for 650 million people by the end of 2021.

The Chief Executive Officer, BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, said, “With effectiveness for the first vaccines previously expected to be in the range of 60 per cent to seven per cent, more than 90 per cent is extraordinary. It shows that COVID-19 can be controlled. At the end of the day, it’s really a victory of science.

“The data do have limits. For now, a few details on the vaccine’s efficacy are available. It is not known how well the shot works in key subgroups, such as the elderly. Those analyses haven’t been conducted. And it isn’t known whether the vaccine prevents severe disease, as none of the participants who got COVID-19 in this round of analysis had severe cases.”

While the global benchmark, Brent crude, was up $3.37, or 8.5 per cent, to $42.82 a barrel, the US West Texas Intermediate crude was up $3.54, or 9.5 per cent at $40.68.

Both contracts rose by more than $4 earlier in the session.

Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, also said the OPEC+ deal on oil output cuts could be adjusted if there was consensus among members of the group.

The Saudi minister was commenting after being asked whether OPEC+ – which groups OPEC states, Russia and other producers – would stick to existing cuts of 7.7 million barrels per day (bpd) rather than easing them to 5.7 million bpd from January.

Key members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are wary of the US.

Reacting to the vaccine discovery, Trump on his Twitter page, said, “Stock market up big. Vaccine coming soon. The report shows 90 per cent effectiveness. Such great news.”

Biden, who inaugurated a COVID-19 taskforce Monday said, “I congratulate the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope.”

But he cautioned it is “important to understand that the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away.”

The president-elect said the announcement was “part of a previously announced timeline by industry officials” and that it does not alter the fact that “Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year.”

In Nigeria, President Buhari Monday night hailed the delivery of the first COVID-19 vaccine after a period of a successful trial.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement, said the President, in his reaction to the news that the vaccine had completed 90 per cent trial, described the feat as a milestone in medical advancement.

The statement read, “President Muhammadu Buhari has welcomed the arrival of first effective coronavirus vaccine after a successful human trial phase.

“Reacting to the news that the vaccine has recorded 90 per cent effectiveness against the disease, the president described the development as a major milestone in medical advancement but warned that the world must unite in facilitating the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries.

“President Buhari reiterated his earlier call that ‘only a people’s vaccine with equality and solidarity at its core can protect all of humanity and get our societies safely running again. A bold international agreement cannot wait.”

However, renewed European lockdown measures to contain rising COVID-19 cases still appear set to weigh on the outlook for global oil demand, an International Energy Agency (IEA) official said.

Eight months into the worst pandemic in a century, the Pfizer vaccine development represents the most encouraging scientific advancement so far in the battle against COVID-19.

And its preliminary results pave the way for the companies to seek an emergency-use authorisation from regulators if further research shows the shot is also safe.

The vaccine findings are based on an interim analysis conducted after 94 participants, split between those who got a placebo and those who were vaccinated contracted COVID-19.

Pfizer Senior Vice President, Mr. William Gruber, said, “The trial will continue until 164 cases have occurred. If the data hold up and a key safety read-out also looks good, it could mean that the world has a vital new tool to control a pandemic that has killed more than 1.2 million people worldwide. This is about the best news for the world, the United States and for public health. It was better than even the best result we had hoped for.”

The vaccine is being tested in a two-dose regimen. The trial started in July and since most participants only received their second dose much more recently, nobody knows how long any protection will last.

However, the strong reading from the first large-scale trial to post efficacy results holds well for other experimental vaccines, in particular, one being developed by Moderna Inc. that uses similar technology.

Pfizer expects to get two months of safety follow-up data, a key metric required by US regulators before an emergency authorisation is granted in the third week in November.

If those findings raise no problems, Pfizer could apply for authorisation in the US this month.

A rolling review began in Europe last month and Sahin said regulators there were working with BioNTech to “further accelerate the process.”

So far, the trial’s data monitoring committee has identified no serious safety concerns, Pfizer and BioNTech said.

The positive preliminary data mean the US pharma giant and its German partner are on track to be first with a vaccine, after signing advance deals with governments worldwide for hundreds of thousands of doses.

However, Pfizer has found itself drawn into a contentious political debate about how quickly regulators in the US should allow a vaccine to be given to Americans.

President Donald Trump had pushed to have a shot approved before Election Day, but regulators put in place rigorous standards that largely pushed that goal out of reach.

On October 16, Pfizer Chief Executive Officer, Albert Bourla, had said the companies could seek an emergency use authorisation from US regulators by late November if the trial results were to show the shot is safe and effective.

Moderna is considered the next closest vaccine frontrunner. It has said it could get safety and efficacy data from its late-stage trial this month.

Johnson & Johnson, which has a one-shot vaccine using a different technology could get efficacy data from a final-stage trial by the end of this year. AstraZeneca Plc is also working on a vaccine using different technology, with results from studies in the UK and Brazil expected by year-end.

WHO, Canada hail vaccine progress

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Canadian government have hailed Pfizer and BioNTech’s announcement.

While the Director-General of WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, described the news as “encouraging,” the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, said the results were “promising.”

“We welcome the encouraging vaccine news from @Pfizer & @BioNTech Group & salute all scientists & partners around the world who are developing new safe, efficacious tools to beat #COVID19,” WHO’s director-general said in a tweet.

“The world is experiencing unprecedented scientific innovation & collaboration to end the pandemic,” he said.

As of mid-October, the WHO has identified 42 “candidate vaccines” at the stage of clinical trials, up from 11 in mid-June.

President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, who described the development as a success for the world, lamented that Nigerians might have to wait a little longer to have access to the vaccine because the Federal Government failed to make early financial commitments to the companies working on the vaccines.

According to him, even when the vaccine is ready, the companies will first satisfy countries and governments that have put down resources to complement their works.

He said, “There is a possibility that with this vaccine the country will be able to access it like any other country, however, our fear is that it will take time for Nigerian to be able to get the vaccine as you are aware that the American government has put down millions of dollars for the companies.

“All the companies that are producing vaccines would want to supply to those that put their money down to help them complete their work before selling to other countries.

“What is also worst is that the procurement especially in the area of this kind of infectious diseases is through donor funding. We are going to be waiting for those who put their money down. How I wish I am in the ministry of health.

“If I were the President, I will be looking at how we can put our money down like others did, no matter how small. We cannot be waiting until those who participated in the trail are satirised and we will now be getting crumbs.

“It is a good development and it shows that we have got to the point where we can have control over the infection. The vaccine is what is going to help us to control this pandemic.  I think the virus is going to stay with us for a long time just like those other reoccurring viruses like HIV.”

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Auto finance: CBN, NADDC discuss new options for vehicle buyers

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The Director General of the National Auotomotive Design and Development Council, Jelani Aliyu, says the agency has commenced discussions with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to design workable solutions for auto financing to make vehicle purchase affordable for Nigerians.

He stated this in a presentation made at the 9th Annual Transport Lecture organized by Transport Day Newspapers, with the theme, ‘Nigeria’s Transportation For Development: Sectoral Achievements, Prospects and Challenges’, held in Abuja.

“We had a meeting with the CBN yesterday on auto financing. We want to work out a solution that would enable Nigerians to buy new vehicles and pay over a period of six years,” he said.

The NADDC boss said the move was part of the agency’s efforts geared towards promoting and enhancing value addition in the transport cum automotive sector of the economy by creating a conducive business climate to further enhance investment inflow and industrialization.

Aliyu also said the NADDC was rapidly shifting attention to carbonless transport system in Nigeria in a bid to develop and promote advanced transport technology in the automotive industry.

He said, “This is because, vehicle electrification is inevitable, it is the future of automotive industry worldwide and we are working assiduously towards achieving its comprehensive and sustainable adoption in Nigeria.

“There is no gainsaying the fact that poor maintenance culture of vehicles in the transport sector contributes immensely to environmental pollution. The use of EVs that have advanced technology will not only curb these excesses but will also lead to more productivity in the industry.

“Currently, one of our top focus areas is scaling up production of applicable electric vehicles locally, to enable Nigeria meet its target for the Paris Accord and 2060 net zero commitment, both on reducing harmful gas emissions from vehicles” he said.

He further stated the NADDC recently set up a technical committee on electric vehicle development plan aimed at drawing up a comprehensive development programme for vehicle electrification in Nigeria.

According to the NADDC boss, this plan will also ensure that made-in Nigeria EVs are of world standards and compete favourably in the global market.

“As a pilot scheme project, the NADDC has established 100% Solar Powered EV Charging Stations at Usman Danfodio University Sokoto, University of Lagos and University of Nigeria Nsukka and also discussing with other stakeholders for collaboration in establishing more charging infrastructure all over the country.

“In conclusion, NADDC is committed to establishing and giving support to development programmes that will aid the Nigerian transport sector.

“I therefore urge all stakeholders to begin to think of a paradigm shift from the conventional vehicles to carbonless transportation system and key into the vehicle electrification projects of the Council with a view to achieving cleaner air in Nigeria.”

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Subscribers kick as FG slams N90.49bn new tax on phone calls

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…telcos meet govt this week over new tax, others

Telecommunication subscribers are kicking against a new Federal Government directive to impose a tax on telephone calls in the nation to fund free healthcare for the vulnerable.

The telecom tax in the equivalent of a minimum of one kobo per second for phone calls is a part of the sources of funds required to finance free healthcare for the Vulnerable Group in Nigeria, according to the National Health Insurance Authority Bill 2021 signed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), last week.

According to the Nigerian Communications Commission, Nigerians made 150.83 billion minutes of calls in 2020. This translates to 9.05 trillion seconds of calls, meaning the new tax will generate 9.05 trillion kobo, which converts to N90.49bn, yearly.

This new tax is coming despite moves by telecom companies to increase the price of calls, SMS, and data by 40 per cent as a result of an unfavourable operating environment.

According to the Health Insurance Act, the Vulnerable Group Fund is money budgeted to pay for healthcare services for vulnerable Nigerians who cannot pay for health insurance in a bid to subsidise the cost of provision of health care services to vulnerable people in the country.

It added that the Vulnerable Group Fund will subsidise the provision of healthcare to children under five, pregnant women, the aged, physically and mentally challenged, and the indigent as may be defined from time to time.

The Act includes a provision under Section 26 subsection 1c which states that one of the sources of money for the Vulnerable Group Fund shall include a telecommunications tax, not less than one kobo per second of GSM calls.

Other sources of funding outlined in the Act includes a basic healthcare provision fund to the authority; health insurance levy; telecommunications tax, not less than one kobo per second of GSM calls; money that may be allocated to the Vulnerable Group Fund by the government; motley that accrues to the Vulnerable Group Fund from investments made by the Council: and grants, donations, gifts, and any other voluntary contributions made to the Vulnerable Group Fund.

According to the new Act, every resident in Nigeria is expected to obtain health insurance.

However, telecom subscribers under the aegis of National Association of Telecoms Subscribers, have said they will reject this new move by the government.

The President of the association, Adeolu Ogunbanjo, said, “It is quite unfortunate that the government is viewing telecoms as a cash cow. We are saying. There is a lot of corruption in the system, and rather than curb that they want to focus on the telecoms sector.

“What do they mean by vulnerable? Vulnerable people in the nation are probably about 80 per cent of the population, we are all vulnerable. What has happened to the health budget? Why should it touch telecoms again? The government should look elsewhere for money. This new action is only likely to impoverish more Nigerians and they are masquerading as helping the vulnerable. This is not right.”

Recently, telecom companies wrote to the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Communications Commission, on the worsening conditions of the industry.

According to a source at the Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria, telecom companies cannot reject a directive of the government. The source said subscribers would pay more for calls once the tax is implemented.

He added that the NCC and ALTON would meet this week in order to discuss the issues disturbing the industry.

He said, “We are aware of the tax. We had been told before. It is the subscribers that would have to pay for this. This means subscribers will pay more for this service. Telcos cannot say no to this. It is a government directive; we can’t resist the government. I can’t say more about it.

“We are having a leadership summit with the NCC this week and we would discuss some of these issues with the NCC. Presently, telcos are paying more than 36 taxes. This is a law; we cannot reverse it. The president has signed it and before it can be changed, it must go back to the National Assembly.

“Also, we cannot give an implementation date, the government is to tell us that.”

Commenting on the act on his LinkedIn page, the Fiscal Policy Partner, and Africa Tax Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Taiwo Oyedele, said this new law would translate to a nine per cent tax on GSM calls.

Punch

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No Plan to Withdraw Naira Notes from Circulation, Says CBN

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The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Saturday dispelled rumours that it planned to replace the Naira notes in circulation with digital currency, otherwise known as the eNaira, in due course.
CBN Director, Corporate Communications Department, Mr. Osita Nwanisobi, said the statement purportedly made at  stakeholders’ engagement on eNaira adoption in Asaba, Delta was misconstrued and therefore called on the public to completely disregard it.

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