A group of wealthy nations representing 13 per cent of the global population have already bought up more than half of the promised doses of future Covid-19 vaccines, according to a report by Oxfam on Wednesday.
The non-governmental organization analyzed deals struck by pharmaceuticals and vaccine producers for the five leading vaccine candidates currently in late-stage trials, based on data collected by the analytics company Airfinity.
“Access to a life-saving vaccine shouldn’t depend on where you live or how much money you have,” said Robert Silverman of Oxfam America.
“The development and approval of a safe and effective vaccine is crucial but equally important is making sure the vaccines are available and affordable to everyone. Covid-19 anywhere is Covid-19 everywhere.”
The five vaccines analyzed were from AstraZeneca, Gamaleya/Sputnik, Moderna, Pfizer and Sinovac.
Oxfam calculated the combined production capacity of these five vaccine candidates at 5.9 billion doses, enough for three billion people given that all five future vaccines will or are highly likely to require two doses.
Supply deals have so far been agreed for 5.3 billion doses, of which 2.7 billion (51 per cent) have been bought by developed countries, territories and regions, including the US, UK, European Union, Australia, Hong Kong and Macau, Japan, Switzerland and Israel.
The remaining 2.6 billion doses have been bought by or promised to develop countries including India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, among others.
The non-profit added that one of the leading candidates, developed by Moderna, has received $2.5 billion in committed taxpayers’ money, but has said it intends to make a profit and has sold the options for all its supply to rich nations.
Oxfam and other organizations are therefore calling for a “people’s vaccine” free of charge, distributed fairly based on need.
“This will only be possible if pharmaceutical corporations allow vaccines to be produced as widely as possible by freely sharing their knowledge free of patents, instead of protecting their monopolies and selling to the highest bidder,” Oxfam said.
It added that the estimated cost of providing a vaccine for everyone on Earth was less than one per cent of the projected cost of Covid-19 to the global economy.
Pharma giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Saturday said they had resumed a Covid-19 vaccine trial after getting the all-clear from British regulators, following a pause caused by a UK volunteer falling ill.
“Clinical trials for the AstraZeneca Oxford coronavirus vaccine, AZD1222, have resumed in the UK following confirmation by the Medicines Health Regulatory Authority (MHRA) that it was safe to do so,” the company said in a statement.
AstraZeneca announced on Wednesday it had “voluntarily paused” its trial of the vaccine developed alongside Oxford University after the volunteer developed an unexplained illness.
An independent committee was drafted in to review safety, in what the company and the World Health Organization described as a routine step.
The committee “has concluded its investigations and recommended to the MHRA that trials in the UK are safe to resume”, AstraZeneca said.
Oxford University confirmed the resumption and said: “In large trials such as this, it is expected that some participants will become unwell and every case must be carefully evaluated to ensure careful assessment of safety.”
After the pause, AstraZeneca had said it remained hopeful that the vaccine could still be available “by the end of this year, early next year”.
But pharma companies including AstraZeneca and scientists have expressed concern about political pressure to rush a vaccine out, not least from US President Donald Trump.
Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for president, has accused Trump of “undermining public confidence” by regularly raising the possibility a vaccine will be ready before the election on November 3.
Charlotte Summers, lecturer in intensive care medicine at Cambridge University, welcomed the resumption of the Oxford trial and said the researchers had shown their commitment “to putting safety at the heart of their development programme.”
“To tackle the global Covid-19 pandemic, we need to develop vaccines and therapies that people feel comfortable using, therefore it is vital to maintaining public trust that we stick to the evidence and do not draw conclusions before information is available,” she said.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate is one of nine around the world currently in late-stage Phase 3 human trials.
In the United States, the company began enrolling 30,000 volunteers across dozens of sites on August 31, and the inoculation is being tested on smaller groups in Britain, Brazil and South Africa. Trials are also planned in Japan and Russia.
The AZD1222 vaccine uses a weakened version of a common cold-causing adenovirus engineered to code for the spike protein that the Covid-19 coronavirus uses to invade cells.
After vaccination, this protein is produced inside the human body, which primes the immune system to attack the coronavirus if the person is later infected.
“AstraZeneca is committed to the safety of trial participants and the highest standards of conduct in clinical trials,” Saturday’s statement read.
“The company will continue to work with health authorities across the world and be guided as to when other clinical trials can resume to provide the vaccine broadly, equitably and at no profit during this pandemic.”
The disease has killed more than 900,000 people worldwide since surfacing in China late last year, according to an AFP count. More than 28.5 million cases have been confirmed, and the United States has the most deaths, with more than 193,000.
In Britain, infection rates are again surging in line with the rising trend seen of late in the rest of Europe, forcing the government to tighten public restrictions from Monday and impose local lockdowns.
“I think one would have to say that we’re on the edge of losing control,” Mark Walport, the British government’s former chief scientific adviser, told BBC radio.
“We are exploring all knowledge in terms of therapeutics and vaccines,” the Ministry quoted Ehanire as saying.
“We are expressing our interest in the COVID-19 vaccine so that we will have the opportunity to work elaborately.”
He explained that the country has been taking part in a series of knowledge exchange and contact with several research bodies and nations in a bid to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ehanire noted that the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Nigeria for the right of access, immediately the Russian COVID-19 vaccine was announced.
The Director of Hospital Services Department in the Ministry, Dr Adepimpe Adebiyi who was also present at the event said it is an opportunity to expand Nigeria’s vaccine production.
“The technical officers will interphase with the #Russian team in order to strengthen the relationship between Nigeria and Russia,” he said.
‘No Serious Adverse Events’
Russia had on August 11th, 2020, announced that it had developed the vaccine which has now shown some signs of success in early trials.
Patients involved in early tests of the vaccine developed antibodies with “no serious adverse events”, according to research published in The Lancet Friday, but experts said the trials were too small to prove safety and effectiveness.
Russia announced last month that its vaccine, named “Sputnik V” after the Soviet-era satellite that was the first launched into space in 1957, had already received approval.
This raised concerns among Western scientists over a lack of safety data, with some warning that moving too quickly on a vaccine could be dangerous.
Russia denounced criticism as an attempt to undermine Moscow’s research.
Nigeria is working with the World Health Organisation to finalise enrollment with ACT Accelerator, a global mechanism tracking and sponsoring research organisations working on covid19 vaccine development.
Minister of Health Dr Osagie Ehanire said this on Thursday during a briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
“We are also interested in the COVAX facility, a GAVI supported global initiative to procure and assure equitable access to vaccines, as soon as they are available, especially for lower and lower middle-Income Countries (LMIC),” the minister said.
“This will prioritise Nigeria for allocation of a part of two billion vaccines doses that will be secured, in a special plan to protect the interests of poorer countries.”
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria crossed the 50,000 mark on Wednesday with the death toll at 985, despite efforts to halt the spread of the pandemic.
Dr Ehanire who noted the data, including the fact 37,304 people have recovered from the virus, warned that the continued emergence of new cases is evidence that “COVID-19 has not abated”.
With the race for a vaccine still on and deaths being reported from across the world amid fears of a second wave of the pandemic, the health minister once again called for concerted efforts from all Nigerians to halt the spread of the disease.
“I shall end my speech today by reminding us all to take responsibility together, not only for today but also for the days ahead, when the imperative to open our economy will demand great sacrifice and discipline from us all,” he said.
“The new normal may be demanding, but we all – government and citizens- must collaborate to halt the spread of this disease for each other’s sake.
“Global experience so far has proved that by following advisories and adhering to all the prescribed measures including the appropriate wearing of face masks, physical distancing, and respiratory hygiene, we can control the spread of this disease.”
As people play their parts, Dr Ehanire gave the assurance that the Health sector, on its part, is being strengthened and new coping measures are being developed to counter the challenges ahead, “from developing ambulance networks for patient transportation in case of emergency to improving treatment options for COVID-19. Our objective remains to depress the case fatality rate.”
Germany on Tuesday raised doubts over the quality and safety of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine, stressing that drug approval is granted in the European Union only after full clinical trials.
“Patient safety is of the highest priority,” a health ministry spokeswoman told German newspaper network RND. “There is no known data on the quality, efficacy and safety of the Russian vaccine.”
Russia claimed Tuesday it has developed the world’s first vaccine offering “sustainable immunity” against the coronavirus, despite mounting scepticism about its effectiveness as fears grow over a second wave of infections across the globe.
President Vladimir Putin said the vaccine was safe and that one of his own daughters had received the inoculation, dubbed “Sputnik” after the pioneering 1950s Soviet satellite.
“I know that it is quite effective, that it gives sustainable immunity,” Putin said of the vaccine developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with Moscow’s defence ministry.
Russia’s health ministry said though clinical trials were not yet complete and final stage testing involving more than 2,000 people was to start only on Wednesday.
Western scientists have previously raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners.
The World Health Organization’s spokesman in Geneva Tarik Jasarevic said it was in “close contact” with Russian health authorities but that it was too soon for any WHO stamp of approval.
“Pre-qualification of any vaccine includes the rigorous review and assessment of all the required safety and efficacy data,” he said.
Moscow has dubbed its new coronavirus vaccine “Sputnik V” after the Soviet satellite, the head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund said Tuesday, after Russia declared itself the first country to develop a vaccine.
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund which finances the vaccine project, said Phase 3 trials would start on Wednesday, industrial production was expected from September and that 20 countries had pre-ordered more than a billion doses.
Russia said Monday it aims to launch mass production of a coronavirus vaccine next month and turn out “several million” doses per month by next year.
The country is pushing ahead with several vaccine prototypes and one trialled by the Gamaleya institute in Moscow has reached advanced stages of development and is about to pass state registration, officials said.
“We are very much counting on starting mass production in September,” Industry Minister Denis Manturov said in an interview published by state news agency TASS.
“We will be able to ensure production volumes of several hundred thousand a month, with an eventual increase to several million by the start of next year,” he said, adding that one developer is preparing production technology at three locations in central Russia.
The head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which finances the trials, said he expects official registration of the vaccine to be complete “within ten days.”
“If this happens in the next ten days, we will be ahead not just of the United States but other countries too, it will be the first registered coronavirus vaccine,” RDIF chief Kirill Dmitriev said in televised remarks.
Another vaccine, developed by Siberia-based Vektor lab, is currently undergoing clinical trials and two more will begin human testing within the next two months, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Saturday.
Gamaleya’s vaccine is a so-called viral vector vaccine, meaning it employs another virus to carry the DNA encoding the needed immune response into cells.
Gamaleya’s vaccine is based on the adenovirus, a similar technology to the coronavirus vaccine prototype developed by China’s CanSino, currently in the advanced stage of clinical trials.
– ‘Who will buy it?’ –
The state-run Gamaleya institute came under fire after researchers and its director injected themselves with the prototype several months ago, with specialists criticising the move as an unorthodox and rushed way of starting human trials.
Vitaly Zverev, laboratory chief at the Mechnikov Research Institute of Vaccines and Sera, said it was too early to register a vaccine.
“I believe a vaccine that is not properly checked must not be registered, no matter in what country,” he said.
“It is impossible to ensure the vaccine’s safety in the time that has passed since the beginning of this pandemic,” he told AFP.
“You can make anything, but who is going to buy it?”
Zverev added that the three firms named as future producers of Russia’s vaccines are well-known pharmaceutical firms that do not normally make vaccines, let alone high-tech ones using DNA technology.
“No adenovirus-based vaccine has been proven effective before,” he said. “How are they going to grow it? Nobody explains this.”
Moscow has dismissed allegations from the UK, the United States and Canada that a hacking group linked to Russian intelligence services tried to steal information about a coronavirus vaccine from labs in the West.
At more than 850,000 infections, Russia’s coronavirus caseload is currently fourth in the world after the United States, Brazil and India.
The EU announced Friday that it had struck a deal with French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi for 300 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm which negotiated the agreement, said it would allow all 27 member countries to purchase the vaccine once it was proven to be safe and effective.
The announcement comes on the same day the US government said it would provide up to $2.1 billion to Sanofi and GSK for the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, as the world continues to battle the pandemic.
As official data revealed coronavirus lockdowns had caused a devastating 12 percent economic contraction in the EU in the second quarter of 2020, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc was doing everything it could to help find a vaccine.
“We are in advanced discussions with several other companies,” she said in a statement, adding that Europe was investing in a “diversified portfolio of promising vaccines”.
“This increases our chances to obtain rapidly an effective remedy against the virus.”
Sanofi hopes to seek marketing authorisation from the European Medicines Agency for a vaccine in June next year.
The French government welcomed Friday’s announcement as a “decisive step”.
“This future contract will allow each EU member state to order the vaccine under good conditions once it has shown enough proof of its effectiveness and safety,” the French government said in a statement.
Six months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency, the novel coronavirus has infected more than 17 million people, with global daily cases now approaching the 300,000 mark.
Europe overall has nearly 210,000 deaths from 3.2 million cases, and with infections rising again in several countries there are fears a “second wave” of the pandemic could be on the way.
The highly restrictive lockdowns enforced to deal with the pandemic earlier this year has caused economic turmoil and an effective vaccine may be the only long-term solution to the highly contagious respiratory disease.
In Brazil, health care workers are on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic in more ways than one, treating patients but also volunteering to test some of the most promising experimental vaccines.
Brazil is the country with the second-highest number of infections and deaths in the pandemic, after the United States, and the virus is still spreading quickly here.
That is bad news in every way but one: it makes the South American country an ideal testing ground for potential vaccines against the virus.
The job of guinea pig falls to medical staff who work in facilities treating patients infected by the virus, because they are the most likely to come into contact with it, enabling researchers to run a controlled experiment to see how well it works.
“I want to contribute, and this is my contribution — through science,” said pediatrician Monica Levi, one of 5,000 volunteers in Brazil helping test one of the most promising vaccines so far, developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
Levi, 53, works at the Specialized Clinic for Infectious and Parasitic Diseases and Immunizations (Cedipi) in Sao Paulo, the epicenter of the outbreak in Brazil, where more than 2.5 million people have been infected so far, with more than 90,000 deaths.
“Vaccination is my cause. So I have to act on my beliefs,” she told AFP.
Last week, Brazil also became the first country carrying out Phase 3 trials of Chinese vaccine CoronaVac, developed by pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech.
Phase 3 clinical trials involve large-scale testing on humans, the last step before vaccines seek regulatory approval.
Medical workers play the starring role in testing that vaccine, too.
“They pick health care professionals because we are constantly at risk,” Levi said.
Volunteers must be between 18 and 55 years old, work in a patient care role and have no underlying medical conditions.
Half the volunteers in the Oxford trial are receiving the vaccine and the other half a placebo.
But they will only know which a year from now.
Levi got her shot on July 21, and had a headache and chills the first day, she said.
“But I don’t even know if they gave me the vaccine or the placebo,” she added.
While she waits to find out — and to learn whether the vaccine is the exit from the pandemic that the whole world is hoping for — she goes to regular check-ups where researchers monitor her health.
Scientists worldwide are racing to develop and test a vaccine for the virus. There are more than 150 projects so far.
But there are no guarantees in the high-stakes race.
Brazil has a deal to make up to 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine if it proves effective.
But if it doesn’t, said Levi, “it will all go in the garbage.”
The US government has agreed to pay almost $2 billion for 100 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine, German firm BioNTech said on Wednesday.
BioNTech, which is developing the drug with US pharma giant Pfizer, said in a statement that American people would receive the future vaccine “for free” in line with the Trump administration’s “commitment for free access for COVID-19 vaccines”.
Under the agreement, the US government has placed an initial order for 100 million doses to be delivered if regulatory approval is granted.
The US government also has an option to purchase as many as 500 million additional doses, BioNTech added.
Labs around the world are racing to produce a vaccine to help end the worst health crisis in over a century.
More than 200 candidate vaccines are currently being developed with roughly two dozen at the stage of clinical trials with human volunteers.
BioNTech and Pfizer have narrowed their vaccine candidates down to two frontrunners and waiting for the green light to begin a mass trial involving 30,000 healthy volunteers, which may happen later this month.
Subject to successful outcomes and regulatory approvals, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to manufacture up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020, and “potentially more than 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021”.
Their vaccine method relies on using messenger RNA, genetic code that slips into human cells to make them generate antibodies that are specifically tailored to the coronavirus.
Trials so far have shown that their treatment triggers “robust” antibody and T cell immune responses against the novel coronavirus, according to BioNTech.
The agreement between the US, Pfizer and BioNTech “increases the odds that we will have a safe, effective vaccine as soon as the end of this year”, said US health official Alex Azar.
A BioNTech spokeswoman told AFP that two injections would probably be needed for maximum protection, with the booster shot following seven days after the first injection.
Based on the price paid by the US government, it would therefore cost $39 to immunise a person against the deadly virus.
Oxford University and AstraZeneca are also working on a vaccine, which they have vowed to make available “at cost price”, amounting to roughly $2.90 per unit.
A Chinese-made vaccine against the new coronavirus entered the final stage of testing on Tuesday in Brazil, where volunteers received the first doses of what officials hope will be a game-changer in the pandemic.
The vaccine, developed by private Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac, became the third in the world to enter Phase 3 clinical trials, or large-scale testing on humans — the last step before regulatory approval.
“We’re living in unique and historic times, and that’s why I wanted to be part of this trial,” said the 27-year-old doctor who received the first dose at the Clinical Hospital of Sao Paulo.
Her name was withheld for confidentiality.
Around 9,000 health workers across six Brazilian states will receive the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, in two doses over the next three months under the study.
Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said on Monday that initial results were expected within 90 days.
Sinovac is partnering with a Brazilian public health research center, the Butantan Institute, on the trials.
If the vaccine proves safe and effective, the institute will have the right to produce 120 million doses under the deal, according to officials.
Brazil is the second-hardest-hit country in the coronavirus pandemic, after the United States.
Its death toll surpassed 80,000 Monday, and it has registered 2.1 million infections.
Because the virus is still spreading quickly in the South American country, it is seen as an ideal testing ground for vaccine candidates.
Brazil is also helping carry out Phase 3 testing of another experimental vaccine, developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca.
It has a similar deal to produce that vaccine domestically if it is successful in tests, which are also being carried out in Britain and South Africa.
Another vaccine, developed by state-owned Chinese company Sinopharm, also entered Phase 3 trials this month in the United Arab Emirates.
Studies published Monday in British medical journal The Lancet found two vaccine candidates were safe and produced an immune response in Phase 2 trials: the Oxford vaccine and another Chinese-made vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical firm CanSino Biologics together with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology.
Two studies offered new hope of a potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus on Monday, as the World Health Organization warned about a possible acceleration of the disease in Africa.
Seven months after COVID-19 was first identified in China and has since killed more than 600,000 people worldwide and battered economies, there is growing alarm over fresh outbreaks of the disease.
Until recently, Africa had remained relatively unscathed by the pandemic compared to other parts of the world.
But the situation has become increasingly worrying, particularly in South Africa, where the death toll passed 5,000 mark and the number of infections reached 350,000 at the weekend.
The WHO’s emergencies chief Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference in Geneva that the situation in South Africa could be seen as “a warning” for what the rest of the continent might have in store.
“I am very concerned right now that we are beginning to see an acceleration of disease in Africa,” he said.
Meanwhile, as European leaders in Brussels struggled to salvage a 750-billion-euro (860 billion dollar) coronavirus aid package for the EU, two studies published in The Lancet medical journal appeared to show progress towards a vaccine.
One trial among more than 1,000 adults in Britain found that a vaccine induced “strong antibody and T cell immune responses” against the coronavirus.
A separate trial in China involving more than 500 people showed most had developed widespread antibody immune response.
“If our vaccine is effective it is a promising option as these types of vaccine can be manufactured at large scale,” said co-author Sarah Gilbert from the University of Oxford.
British biotech firm Synairgen also said on Monday a randomised trial of an aerosol-based treatment shows it could drastically reduce the number of new coronavirus patients dying of the disease or requiring intensive care.
Europe has been the worst-hit continent by the pandemic with more than 200,000 deaths, but European Union leaders remain bitterly split on how to help member countries like Italy and Spain, which have suffered the highest death tolls.
On a fourth day of a summit marked by furious rows between the 27 countries, EU Council chief Charles Michel said Monday he believed a deal was in reach.
“I know that the last steps are always the most difficult, but I’m confident,” Michel told reporters.
Trump U-turn on masks
In the United States, President Donald Trump, who for months refused to encourage mask wearing as a way to combat the novel coronavirus, tweeted a picture of himself with his face covered and touted his patriotism.
“We are United in our effort to defeat the Invisible China Virus, and many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance,” Trump wrote.
“There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!”
With close to 3.8 million cases and more than 140,000 deaths, US authorities are struggling to contain the surge, and Trump has been criticised for his response to the crisis.
The United States – the worst-hit country in the world — has recorded 60,000 new cases a day for more than a week.
Brazil, the country with the second highest death toll, on Monday reached the grim milestone of 80,000 deaths.
Many countries in Europe had largely brought their outbreaks under control and were considering further easing of restrictions before fresh clusters were detected.
Governments are struggling to balance public health concerns against the need to open up economies crippled by months of virus lockdowns.
France has made face masks compulsory in public indoor spaces, Spain asked millions to stay at home again, while the German state of Bavaria said it would soon offer free virus tests at airports.
Spain’s Catalan regional government has urged residents of Barcelona and its suburbs to leave their homes only for essential tasks in a bid to slow a new outbreak.
On Monday, Spain’s southeast Murcia region also closed bars and clubs without terraces, limited group gatherings and restricted visits to retirement homes.
French authorities have reported 400 to 500 active outbreak clusters but there are no signs of an imminent “second wave,” Health Minister Olivier Veran said Monday.
But an anti-mask demonstration in London on Sunday highlighted the challenge still facing governments and health experts, despite the mounting COVID-19 toll.
Dozens gathered to protest the face mask requirement in England’s shops and supermarkets, many of them holding banners with widely discredited conspiracy theories — such as coronavirus prevention measures being used for “mind control”.
Despite the vocal and stubborn opposition to lockdowns and face masks in some parts of the world, they remain among the few options for authorities to control new outbreaks in the absence of a vaccine.
There was grim evidence of how quickly the virus can spread over the weekend, with Iran’s president saying an estimated 25 million people in the country have already been infected.