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Covid Chronicles VIII

By lockdown_exit - 26th Sep 2020, 12:00 am - Covid Chronicles

Never lacking in chutzpah, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, has gone ahead and offered to provide the United Nations staff in New York, and indeed around the world, Russia's new coronavirus vaccine for free. He made the offer in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly marking the 75th anniversary of the world body. Only results from small early studies on the Russian vaccine, Sputnik-V, have been published, raising concerns among some scientists that the vaccine isn't ready yet for widespread use - and prompting worldwide memes about potential bizarre side effects. "Any one of us could face this dangerous virus. The virus has not spared the staff of the United Nations, its headquarters and regional entitites," Putin said in a pre-recorded speech from Moscow. The coronavirus pandemic means this year's General Assembly is a work-from-home production, for the first time in its history.

China and Russia are ahead in the global coronavirus vaccine race, bending long-standing rules as they go. Both have begun a mass roll-out of their coronavirus vaccines before clinical tests are complete. China's Sinopharm announced this week that it would provide emergency doses of one of its two trial vaccines to the United Arab Emirates, prioritizing the U.A. ally over the vast majority of Chinese citizens. China is now the sole supplier of the vaccine to the Middle East. Meanwhile, Russia's sovereign wealth fund signed a deal this week to supply India with 100 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.

A month after Russia fast-tracked the world's first coronavirus vaccine, the country has struck preminary deals to sell the 'as yet unproven' vaccine to more than 10 nations in Asia, South America and the Middle East. Countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and India, are all still battling the pandemic and have placed expressions of interest in purchasing up to 1.2 billion doses of the Sputnik vaccine. In addition, Russia says it is in various stages of talks with roughly 10 other countries to buy the vaccine. All told, it has received requests or expressions of interest in the vaccine for a total of 1.2 billion doses. The vaccines will be manufactured abroad and distributed worldwide from there, as early as November. The shot will require local regulatory approval before being distributed, officials say.

Meanwhile, much of the better-off world rallied round ready with a helping hand for those less fortunate than themselves. According to a statement from GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a $18-billion initiative to provide Covid-19 vaccines to the most vulnerable populations around the world, is moving into the next phase, with 156 countries having agreed to the landmark deal. The project entitled Covax is also co-led by the GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi). China and the USA have opted out of the deal.

Just one in 10 of the word's population is likely to be protected against Covid-19 in the first year of a vaccine being made available, experts have told Sky News. Analysis of global manufacturing capacity shows just two billion doses could be made in 20201, even if a vaccine was given the green light by saftey regulators at the start of the year. but with seven of the nine prototype vaccines in late-stage clinical trials requiring two doses, that's likely to be enough to immunise only a little over 12% of the 7.8 billion people who need it. 

Italian biotech ReiThera is in early talks with the European Union about supplying the bloc with its potential Covid-19 vaccine, a source close to the company said, the latest attempt by Brussels to secure shots as the fight against the pandemic intensifies. The discussions come as Brussels seeks to raise more money to shore up supplies of potential inoculations amid concerns that demand next year might exceed supply. The talks with ReiThera, which is developing a vaccine together with Germany's Leukocare and Belgium's Univercells, means the European Commission is now speaking with seven vaccine makers including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer and CureVac about possible supply deals.

The Phase-III human clinical trial of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, will begin at the Sassoon General Hospital in Pune next week.

The Indian trial of a vaccine candidate being developed by American company Novavax is likely to begin late October, the government said in the Indian Parliament on Friday. The Novavax vaccine candidate is currently undergoing Phase-II clinical trials in South Africa. Global Phase-3 trials are expected to begin next month. In India, Novavax has entered into an agreement with Pune-based Serum Institute of India for the production of 100 million doses of the vaccine. It is expected that at least 50% of this would be meant for supplies within India "The trial will be initiated in the second half of October after the vaccine is manufactured by the Serum Institute. The trial is led by the ICMR-National AIDS Research Institute," Health Minister Harsh Vardan said in Parliament.

Moderna and Pfizer revealed their complete blueprints for late stage clinical trials for a Covid-19 vaccine last Thursday. The move added pressure on other companies developing a vaccine to do the same. In its 135-page document, Moderna estimated they could find a successful vaccine by the end of the year. The blueprints were released in the hope that these companies might win over the trust of the public. Concerns have been raised that the race to quickly discover a vaccine has become too much of a political issue to be deemed safe. 

In total there are more than 300 vaccine candidates, according to the World Health Organization: roughly 40 are being tested on humans, and only nine of those have reached the final stage before possible implementation - Phase-3 trials. One of the nine vaccines is being developed by AstraZeneca at Oxford University; two of the most advanced U.S. candidates come from Pfizer, in partnership with Germany's BioNTech and Moderna; four vaccines are being produced in China by Sinovac Biotech, CanSino Biologics and Sinopharm, which has two different shots in development; and one is being led by U.S. multinational Johnson & Johnson. A Russian vaccine produced by the Gamaleya Research Institute entered Phase-3 trials this month. All nine have signed purchase agreements with governments around the world.

Four Covid-19 sniffer dogs have begun work at Helsinki airport in a state-funded pilot scheme that Finnish researchers hope will provide a cheap, fast and effective alternative method to testing people for the virus. A dog is capable of detecting the presence of coronavirus within 10 seconds and the entire process takes less than a minute to complete, according to Anna Hielm-Bjorkman of the University of Helsinki, who is overseeing the trial. "It's very promising," said Hielm-Bjorkman. "If it works it could prove to be a good screening method in other places, " such as hospitals , care homes and at sporting and cultural events. Who said it's a dog's life?

Lalita Panicker is Consulting Editor, Views, the Hindustan Times, New Delhi