Covid Chronicles XIII

By lockdown_exit - 3rd Nov 2020, 12:00 am - Covid Chronicles

Photo via whitehouse.gov

The White House included ending the coronavirus pandemic on a list of the Trump administration's science and technology accomplishments, despite nearly half a million Americans testing positive for Covid-19 in just the last week. A White House Office of Science and Technology Policy news release made the claim in a document highlighting the administration's science and technology achievements over the past four years. The news release sent to reporters read, "From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the administration has taken decisive actions to engage scientists and health professionals in academia, industry and government to understand, treat and defeat the disease."

A senior aide to President Donald Trump has conceded that the US is "not going to control the pandemic." Instead, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Covid-19 could only be defeated by 'mitigation areas' like vaccines and therapeutics. His remarks come as cases surge in the US, days before the presidential election. Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden said the White House was waving the "white flag of defeat." He added that Meadows' comments showed that the Trump administration had "given up on their basic duty to protect the American people." In an interview with CNN, Meadows said control of the virus was not a realistic goal because "it is a contagious virus just like the flu."

As the first coronavirus vaccines arrive in the coming year, government researchers will face a monumental challenge: monitoring the health of hundreds of millions of Americans to ensure the vaccines don't cause harm. Purely due to extraneous reasons, thousands of vaccinated people are likely to have heart attacks, strokes and other illnesses shortly after the shots. Sorting out whether the vaccines had anything to do with their ailments will be a thorny problem, requiring a vast, coordinated effort by state and federal agencies, hospitals, drug-makers and insurers, to discern patterns in a flood of data. The findings will need to be clearly communicated to a distrustful public swamped with disinformation. 

President Donald Trump has urged states to shun lockdowns as his Democratic rival Joe Biden said the pandemic could not be stopped "by flipping a switch." Continuing a whirlwind schedule of rallies in battleground states, Trump also mocked mask mandates. Biden said Trump's handling of America's worsening coronavirus crisis was an "insult" to its victims.  The Democrat has a solid national lead over the Republican president days before the 3rd November election. But Biden's advantage is narrower in the handful of US states that could vote either way and ultimately decide who will win the White House.

The World Health Organization's Europe director said Thursday that the 53-country region has again reached a new weekly record for confirmed cases, with more than 1.5 million confirmed last week and more than 10 million since the start of the pandemic. During a meeting with European health ministers, WHO European regional director Dr. Hans Kluge said, "hospitalisations have risen to levels unseen since the spring" and that deaths have risen by more than 30% in the last week. "Europe is at the epicenter of this pandemic once again," Kluge said. "At the risk of sounding alarmist, I must express our very real concern."

Swiss pharma giant Roche has partnered with Atea Pharmaceuticals to develop an antiviral oral treatment for Covid-19. The two companies will jointly develop, manufacture and distribute AT-527, Atea's investigational oral antiviral for the potential treatment of Covid-19. According to Roche, AT-527 blocks the viral RNA polymerase enzyme required for viral replication. It is currently being studied in a phase 2 study for the treatment of patients hospitalised with moderate Covid-19.

Daewoong Pharmaceuticals, a South Korean pharmaceutical giant, announced that its Covid-19 treatment of sustained-released niclosamide (DWRX2003) also showed promising study results for a fight against the upcoming 'Twindemic' involving Covid-19 and seasonal flu. According to Daewoong, niclosamide successfully reduced the mortality rate in an animal efficacy test alongside its previous success in a Covid-19 ferret model. While 40% of the placebo-treated subjects died, both the preventive and therapeutic treatment groups injected with DWRX2003 12 hours before or 7 days after the infection resulted in full survivability. 

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) has submitted applications to the World Health Organization for an Emergency Use Listing (EUL) and pre-qualification of its coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, Russia's sovereign wealth fund announced last Tuesday. Russia was the first country to grant regulatory approval for a novel coronavirus vaccine, and did so before large-scale trials were complete, stirring concerns among scientists and doctors about the safety and efficacy of the shot. An EUL is meant to make a vaccine available globally faster, while a WHO pre-qualification is a global quality tag that ensures vaccines are safe and effective.

The University of Cambridge has received multi-million-pound funding from the British government for a clinical trial of its Covid-19 vaccine. Trial preparations are underway for the vaccine, which will be delivered via an innovative needle-free injection technology developed by US firm PharmaJet. It is hoped that a successful trial will result in the widespread availability of a low-cost vaccine.

The pandemic has shown that elderly people are particularly susceptible to Covid-19 and its associated health issues, but results coming from the University of Oxford vaccine trial have shown that there is hope for them yet. Preliminary results show that the vaccine triggers protective antibodies and T-cells in elderly people that may protect them from serious illness or death from the virus.

Novavax on Tuesday delayed the start of a late-stage US trial of its experimental coronavirus vaccine by roughly a month to the end of November, citing delays in scaling up the manufacturing process. Early-stage data had shown the vaccine produced high levels of antibodies against the coronavirus. Johnson & Johnson's first batches of its Covid-19 vaccine could be available for emergency use as soon as January, Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, the company's head of public health research and development, said in a presentation at the World Health Summit. 

Moderna has completed enrolment of its late-stage phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine study, with 30,000 participants enrolled. According to the company, 25,654 participants have now received their second vaccination with Moderna's vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, in the phase 3 study. The biotech company also highlighted the diversity of its trial population, with participants from minority groups represented in the overall group. In total, 37% of the trial groups consist of participants from minority ethnic groups, representing 11,000 volunteers. In addition, Moderna has included participants with higher risks of contracting Covid-19 or developing severe disease, with 25% of the trial population being over 65 years. 

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