Covid Chronicles XVI

By lockdown_exit - 20th Nov 2020, 12:00 am - Covid Chronicles

The search for an immediate, effective and safe vaccine seemed to have reached the last stretch in the week just ended. Pfizer and BioNTech said final trial results of the coronavirus vaccine being developed by them indicated a 95% success rate with the vaccine's efficacy found to be consistent across different ages and ethnicities with no serious side effects. The drug makers could secure emergency U.S. and European authorisation from both markets as early as next month. Experts have welcomed the news that the promising Covid vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer is effective among the elderly. Data from Pfizer and BioNTech's phase 3 trial show their vaccine is 94% effective in those aged 65 and older. One expert said that the findings among the elderly "surpass expectations"

The scientist behind the first potential Covid-19 vaccine to clear interim clinical trials says he is "very confident" the jab will reduce transmission of the disease, perhaps by 50%, resulting in a "dramatic" reduction in cases. Ugur Sahin, the chief executive of BioNTech, said he expected that further analysis would show that the jab is also effective in stopping spread of the disease, but probably not by as much as 90%. Certainty around its impact will not come until next year, he added. 

A few days after Pfizer announced an over 90% success rate of its potential coronavirus vaccine, Moderna has said its own Covid-19 vaccine appeared to be about 95% effective, boosting hopes globally that a successful vaccine will be out soon. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said that the UK had ordered five million doses of the Moderna vaccine already, and that the vaccine can be rolled out across the nation by spring 2021, if proven safe.

Moderna said its vaccine appeared to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from the company's ongoing study. In the Moderna study there were 30,000 volunteers. A week ago, competitor Pfizer announced its own Covid-19 vaccine appeared similarly effective - news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S. Dr Stephen Hoge, Moderna's president, welcomed the "really important milestone" and said that having similar results from two different companies was what was most reassuring. 

The United States's top infectious disease scientist has hailed early trial results from Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine as "stunningly impressive" and says the findings are an emphatic validation of experimental mRNA technology that some had doubted. In an interview with AFP news agency on Monday, Dr Anthony Fauci said he would have settled for injections that protected 70-75% of people from falling sick.

The Oxford coronavirus vaccine shows a strong immune response in adults in their 60s and 70s, raising hopes that it can protect age groups most at risk from the virus. Researchers say phase two findings, based on 560 healthy adult volunteers, are "encouraging". They are also testing whether the vaccine stops people developing Covid-19 in larger, phase three trials. Early results from this crucial stage are expected in the coming weeks. Three vaccines - Pfizer-BioNTech, Sputnik and Moderna - have already reported good preliminary data from phase three trials, with one suggesting 94% of over-65s could be protected from Covid-19. 

Meanwhile, Sinovac Biotech's experimental Covid-19 vaccine CoronaVac was found to have triggered a quick immune response but the level of antibodies produced was lower than in people who had recovered from the disease, preliminary trial results showed on Wednesday.

Johnson & Johnson's chief scientist has said the drug maker is recruiting over 1,000 people per day for the late-stage trial of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine and expects to have all the data needed to seek U.S. authorisation by February or earlier. "By the end of the year or thereabouts, we should have 60,000 people in the study," Dr Paul Stoffels, J&J's chief scientific officer, said in an interview ahead of this week's Reuters Total Health conference. "And efficacy endpoint should be there in the first few weeks or months, January or February, of the new year," he added.

Phase three trials of India's first vaccine against Covid-19 has started with about 26,000 participants, Bharat Biotech announced on Monday. The Hyderabad-based company has been developing the vaccine, Covaxin, in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) - India's premier medical research body. The first doses of the vaccine were administered to volunteers at the Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS) in Hyderabad on Monday as part of the trial which will be monitored over the next year. Covaxin has shown promising safety and immunogenicity data in trials done during phase one and phase two, the company said.

Moving from preventive vaccines to treatment and cure, Roche Holding AG has completed early tests of its ability to produce large quantities of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc's Covid-19 antibody treatment, putting it on track to begin manufacturing the drug once it is authorised by regulators, Regeneron's president said on Tuesday. The experimental therapy was used to treat United States President Donald Trump in October. The companies aim to be able to make two million doses of the antibody cocktail next year but are awaiting clearance from regulators. 

Walking on the dark side, France has the dubious distinction of being the first country in Europe to top two million coronavirus cases even as the lockdown imposed on October 30 has led to a sharp decline in new infections. More than 45,000 people have died of the coronavirus in France alone, and the nation stands fourth in the list of countries with the most infections after the U.S., India and Brazil.

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