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Covid Chronicles V

By lockdown_exit - 30th Aug 2020, 12:00 am - Covid Chronicles

In its virtually untrammeled rampage through the world, Covid-19 continues to reveal its contrarian nature. The race for a vaccine and a therapeutic treatment rises to a feverish pitch even as it becomes evident that a few of those who've been infected and survived can be infected again. This raises a doubt about the efficacy of plasma treatment. It may not, after all, be the ultimate answer.

Two patients in Europe catch Covid-19 for a second time with scientists admitting it is 'not good news.' And tests showed that a Hong Kong man was twice infected by different strains of Covid-19 months apart, a discovery that could have major implications for any virus vaccine development.

Another factor likely to impact the efforts to find an effective vaccine against Covid-19 comes from a new study published in the journal "Nature" that suggests that women may mount a stronger immune system response than men against Covid-19. This many explain why women only account for about 40% of deaths globally from the virus. Researchers found that women's immune systems produced T-lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that can recognise viruses and eliminate them, while men had weaker T-cell activity and a weaker response the older they were.

Meanwhile, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said that trials for the vaccine, called 'Sputnik V,' will also be held in five other countries - something Russia should have done before clearing the vaccine for use, but then these are Covid-driven topsy turvy times in which as 'Lewis Carroll's the Red Queen says' let's have 'sentence first and verdict afterwards.' Over 40,000 people will be part of the trial in Moscow.

Sinovac Biotech Ltd said on Tuesday it would help Indonesia's state-owned drugmaker Bio Farma produce at least 40 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine before March 2021. The U.S.-listed Chinese drugmaker has signed two agreements with Bio Farma for supply, local production and technology licensing of its vaccine candidate CoronaVac.

Argentina joined Peru, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates in approving Phase 3 clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine developed by China National Biotec Group (CNBG), the company said last Friday. As China forges ahead in the global race to develop a vaccine to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, and as cases within China dwindle, CNBG needs research participants from other countries for testing.

China's coronavirus vaccine will be available to buy in December, the company developing it has said. The state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group Corporation said the vaccine is currently undergoing its third and final trial. Two shots of the vaccine will cost less than 1,000 Yuan (about £110) and will be completely effective, company president Liu Jingzhen said.

AstraZeneca says it has begun a UK-based trial on a potential antibody-based treatment for tackling the Covid-19 virus. The Phase 1 trial, which includes up to 48 healthy participants from the UK aged between 18 and 55, will evaluate the safety and tolerability of the treatment. It is being aimed at people who may not be able to have a vaccination or for high-risk populations where additional protection from the virus may be needed.

Pfizer and BioNTech have revealed additional data from a Phase 1 study of two Covid-19 vaccine candidates, as well as their plans to seek regulatory approval by October this year. At the beginning of July, Pfizer.BioNTech revealed early positive data from their mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccine progamme. Those results demonstrated that one of the candidates, BNT162b1, generated promising dose-dependent immunogenicity. However, the companies somewhat surprised commentators when they announced that another candidate, BNT162b2, had been selected for a large-scale, Phase 3 clinical trial. Pfizer/Bio/NTech posted the results from all 332 participants tested with the two mRNA-based candidates, BNT162b1 or BNT162b2, to clarify their decision.

Novavax Inc said on Monday it has begun enrolling volunteers for the second phase of an ongoing trial of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate, with interim data expected in the fourth quarter of 2020. In the new phase, the age range has been expanded, with adults between 60 and 84 years, accounting for nearly 50% of the trial's population. The vaccine candidate is one of nearly 30 being tested in human clinical trials globally.

The European pharmaceutical industry's vaccines lobby has pushed the EU for exemptions that would protect its members from lawsuits if there are problems with any new coronavirus vaccines. The pandemic has compressed into months vaccine research and development that can take years. Some potential vaccines are already at the Phase 3 testing stage - the last step before they come to regulators for approval. At the same time, governments around the world have poured cash into research and development to try to save lives and prevent economically crippling lockdowns.

The European Commission has signed a contract with British drug manufacturer, AstraZeneca, to secure at least 300 million doses of the potential Covid-19 vaccine being developed by the company. The 336 million Euro contract will allow member states to purchase a further 100 million doses, to be distributed on a population-based pro-rata basis and also involved a donation to lower and middle income countries.

And governments the world over continue to act as if an effective vaccine, or more than one, is already in place. European Union nations, Britain and EU partners have agreed on a blueprint for a Covid-19 vaccination plan envisaging innoculation of at least 40% of their populations, a step that may set back the World Health Organisation's own vaccine blueprint. The EU target for early vaccinations is twice as high as the goal set by WHO, which is aiming to buy vaccines initially for 20% of the world's most vulnerable people through a global procurement scheme.

Pharmaceutical companies around the world are going head-to-head, while governments scramble to get priority access to the most promising candidates. But a richest-takes-all approach in the fight against the deadliest pandemic in living memory is bound to be counter-productive, especially for the recovery of low and middle-income countries. If governments cannot come together to agree a global strategy, then the Global South may need to pin its hopes on the manufacturing might of India. 

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