The race against virus variants

Newsletter Edition #29 [The Weekly Primer]


The variants of SARS-CoV-2 have upended not only assumptions of epidemiologists but also of investment managers.

Coming weeks will show how governments and health authorities will cope with the mutating virus and how this will actively shape research and investment efforts for COVID-19 medical products. If you want to share your perspectives on this, get in touch with us.

On the trade front, we join the rest of the world to celebrate the progress towards the appointment of WTO’s first woman director-general: Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

As usual, there are more numerous events of competing importance that are collectively shaping global health in these crucial weeks. We hope you enjoy this edition which tries to bring you key issues you must look out for.

I love putting together this curated edition, it helps us draw connections between many different developments and ways of thinking. We want to know if you like it too, just hit reply to this email and share your thoughts.

We are happy to participate in this webinar organized by Third World Network later this week on COVID-19 Vaccines: Understanding Issues of Access and Intellectual Property. You can register here.

Look out for our analysis of the week on Friday.



Feel free to write to us: or; Follow us on Twitter: @filesgeneva

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EU-led Draft Resolution on Strengthening WHO Preparedness and Response to Health Emergencies: Published by Geneva Global Health Hub

Image credit: Photo by Gabby K from Pexels


  • What we know about the most troublesome Covid mutations: Financial Times

    “During the first phase of the pandemic in the first half of 2020 Sars-Cov-2 was spreading through a previously unexposed population, so there was little Darwinian pressure on the virus to evolve mutations to evade the attentions of the immune system. This has now changed...”

    “..Moderna’s vaccine, which like the BioNTech/Pfizer shot relies on mRNA technology, will be easier to adapt to new variants than adenovirus and protein-based vaccines, which require cell cultures to be grown for weeks, such as the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot. Mene Pangalos, executive vice-president of biopharmaceutical R&D at AstraZeneca, conceded that mRNA vaccines “probably have a 4-6 week advantage” for this reason.”

    Financial Times

  • The Coronavirus Is a Master of Mixing Its Genome, Worrying Scientists: New York Times

    “…Unlike small mutations, which are like typos in the sequence, a phenomenon called recombination resembles a major copy-and-paste error in which the second half of a sentence is completely overwritten with a slightly different version.

    A flurry of new studies suggests that recombination may allow the virus to shapeshift in dangerous ways. But in the long term, this biological machinery may offer a silver lining, helping researchers find drugs to stop the virus in its tracks…”

    New York Times

  • The Brazil Variant Is Exposing the World’s Vulnerability: The Atlantic

    Why you must read this. Here is the first sentence.

    “Even in a year of horrendous suffering, what is unfolding in Brazil stands out....”

    “…The situation defies expert expectations about how immunity would help protect the hardest-hit populations. By estimates of leading infectious-disease specialists, such as Anthony Fauci, when roughly 70 to 75 percent of the population is immune, there can still be clusters of cases, but sustaining a large-scale outbreak becomes mathematically impossible. Still somehow, according to The Washington Post, hospitals in Manaus that had thought they were well prepared are now overwhelmed…”

    The Atlantic

  • This wildlife vet tracks deadly microbes in the African jungle. Now, he’s on the trail of COVID-19: Science Magazine

    Brilliant reporting and great narration by Kai Kupferschmidt. Eye-opening photographs. Making science accessible.

  • How consultants like McKinsey took over France: Politico

    We want to follow up on this. Get in touch with us if you have information to share.

    “New figures seen by POLITICO show that McKinsey obtained the lion's share of a raft of recent contracts signed with six consulting firms for COVID-19 related projects, with €4 million out of a total of €11.2 million going to the leading consulting firm alone.”

  • Could understanding the history of anti-vaccine sentiment help us to overcome it?: The Guardian

    Useful reading. Might help us negotiate disagreements with those around us.

  • Thank you for posting: Smoking’s lessons for regulating social media: MIT Technology Review

    A brilliant read. The importance of interdisciplinary solutions.

    “…Online deception is now a multimillion-dollar global industry, and the emerging economy of misinformation is growing quickly. Silicon Valley corporations are largely profiting from it, while key political and social institutions are struggling to win back the public’s trust. If we aren’t prepared to confront the direct costs to democracy, understanding who pays what price for unchecked misinformation is one way to increase accountability.”

    MIT Technology Review


  • Financing Global Common Goods for Health: When the World is a Country: Health Systems and Reform

    A must read to understanding financing and governance challenges of “global functions”.

  • Patent Capital in the Covid-19 Pandemic: Critical Intellectual Property Law

    On vaccine nationalism:

    It combines biopolitical governance that leaves individuals to their own risk calculations, whilst simultaneously asserting the power of juridico-sovereign nation states that disregards the social and racialised nature of risk. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccine nationalism may be better thought through with the granularity of Luhmann’s social theory of risk and Desrosières’ history of statistics rather than by recourse to juridico-sovereign understandings of governmentality that overlooks non-juridical knowledges and their power.  An analysis of vaccine nationalism also ought to take into account the history of international capitalisation of knowledge via intellectual property. 

    Hyo Yoon Kang

  • The new WHO Foundation — global health deserves better: BMJ Global Health

    “Considering past failed initiatives, and how many global health challenges, including non-communicable diseases and climate change, are driven by powerful transnational companies, the WHO cannot afford to be seen to sacrifice independence or impartiality to the commercial determinants of health in pursuit of funding.”

    BMJ Global Health




We look forward to reading this. Like many others, we owe our initiation into reading global health politics to the late Dr Amit Sengupta.


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