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Covid Chronicles XV

By lockdown_exit - 13th Nov 2020, 12:00 am - Covid Chronicles

After eight long months and still counting, the Covid-19 pandemic drags on bringing misery in its wake. Although, now it looks as if a ray of good news is breaking through the clouds. Pfizer, which is developing a new coronavirus vaccine along with German biotechnology company BioNTech, reported encouraging results and said that early indications show that the vaccine is more than 90% effective. The company said that 38,955 people have received two doses of either the vaccine or a placebo with only 94 confirmed coronavirus cases among them. Health officials around the world rejoiced at the news, with Chris Whitty, the UK's chief medical officer, saying that the news was 'reason for optimism for 2021.'

However, every silver lining has a cloud over it these days. Distribution of the vaccine may be the most challenging part with its specific cold-storage requirements. Health officials in the U.S. are concerned about the very specific requirements of the vaccine which state that doses must be stored at minus 94 degrees F and be used within five days. In the USA, while distribution is being handled on a federal level, state and local healthcare providers are responsible for storing and administering vaccines once delivered. Officials say they've had just weeks to prepare large-scale efforts after recently learning of specific storage requirements for vaccines. Pfizer's vaccine poses the biggest logistical issues so far given doses must be stored at -94F. Other vaccines currently being developed do not need to be stored at such a low temperature. The US government plans to start vaccinating Americans next month if Pfizer has its Covid-19 vaccine approved by the FDA. 

The European Union has struck a deal to initially pay less for Pfizer's PFE.N COVID-19 vaccine candidate than the United States, an EU official told Reuters, as the bloc announced on Wednesday it had secured an agreement for up to 300 million. Under the EU deal, 27 European countries could buy 200 million doses, and have an option to purchase another 100 million. The bloc will pay less than $19.50 per shot, a senior EU official involved in talks with vaccine makers told Reuters, adding that partly reflected the financial support given by the EU and Germany for the drug's development. 

While the news is being hailed as a significant milestone in the race to deliver a vaccine that can help bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic, there are still huge challenges ahead for the development of a vaccine, but as hopes rise worldwide, CNBC takes a look at BioNTech's history, run by a husband and wife duo of Turkish immigrants

And Moderna Inc's snapping at Pfizer's heels. The same U.S. explosion of Covid-19 cases that helped Pfizer get results for its vaccine trial earlier this week is helping speed along Moderna's trial. Moderna said Wednesday its study has accumulated more than 53 infections, allowing a preliminary analysis of the shot's effectiveness to begin. The shares jumped. Moderna didn't predict how long it could take an independent monitoring committee to analyse the data but said that the company could get the data to the committee within days. 

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective at protecting people from Covid-19 according to interim trial results, the country's sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday, as Moscow rushes to keep pace with Western drug makers in the race for a shot. Uzbekistan will carry out a phase III trial of a coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by China's Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical Co., the Central Asian nation's ministry of innovative development told Reuters on Wednesday. The deal makes the Zhifei Longcom vaccine the fifth Covid-19 candidate in China to enter late-stage, large-scale human tests overseas. "The third phase of the pilot process will be conducted in Uzbekistan for 5,000 volunteers and the process will continue for a year," the ministry said, adding that volunteers were aged between 18 and 59 and would undergo eight medical examinations within a year. 

Brazil's health regulator has halted clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine being made by Chinese drug firm Sinovac after a "serious adverse effect".  The regulator, Anvisa, did not provide any further details but said the incident took place on 29 October. "With the interruption of the study, no new volunteer can be vaccinated," a statement on its website read.

An Indian government-backed Covid-19 vaccine could be launched as early as February - months earlier than expected - as last-stage trials begin this month and studies have so far showed it is safe and effective, a senior government scientist told Reuters. Bharat Biotech, a private company that is developing COVAXIN with the government-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), had earlier hoped to launch it only in the second quarter of next year. "The vaccine has shown good efficacy," senior ICMR scientist Rajni Kant, who is also a member of its Covid-19 taskforce, said at the research body's New Delhi headquarters on Thursday. "It is expected that by the beginning of next year, February or March, something would be available."

The US Food and Drug Administration has given Eli Lilly the first emergency use authorisation for a Covid-19 antibody treatment, which the drug maker hopes will help vulnerable people avoid hospitalisation. Eli Lilly's bamlanivimab therapy has been authorised for mild-to-moderate patients, who are at risk for developing a more serious condition, such as the elderly, or those with chronic illnesses. The treatment - designed to boost the immune system of patients with artificially engineered antibodies - is the first drug developed for use this early in the disease. David Ricks, Eli Lilly's chief executive, said it was a "valuable tool for doctors fighting the now-increasing burden of this global pandemic".

And with the UK going in for lockdown 2 after France, others are contemplating similar measures with a growing spike in cases. Michael Osterholm, a senior health adviser to President-elect Joe Biden, said that the U.S. is well-positioned financially to withstand a lockdown of a month to combat a steep increase in Covid-19 cases in the country. Osterholm said that the federal government had the capacity currently to pay for a package to cover for individual workers, medium sized companies and institutions even as the country is on track to hit 150,000 cases a day very shortly. 

As coronavirus cases are continuing to spike significantly in the country, there are a lot of rumours doing the rounds that the Indian government might impose another lockdown in the country in December. Recently, the director of Delhi's highly rated All India Institute of Medical Sciences Dr Randeep Guleria warned that the second wave of coronavirus in India has begun. People should not leave the house unless absolutely necessary, he added. Guleria's statement came at a time when the number of corona patients is increasing significantly across the country.

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