Brazil To Become Testing Ground For COVID-19 Vaccine

Researchers work at the special techniques laboratory where a genetic test was developed to diagnose the new coronavirus, COVID-19, at Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 28, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP.

 

Brazil may be struggling in its battle against the coronavirus, but it is on the cutting edge of vaccine development with large-scale trials and the production of millions of doses on the horizon.

Unlike Europe and China, COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly across the Latin American nation — the second-worst hit country in the world after the United States — creating the necessary conditions for testing a vaccine’s efficiency.

Brazil, which is the primary global producer for yellow fever vaccines, is renowned for its expertise in vaccines, which it produces on a large scale in public institutes.

The leaders for two of the most advanced vaccine projects — one from Oxford University, in partnership with AstraZeneca labs, and one from China’s Sinovac — will carry out Phase Three tests, the last one before the drug is approved, on thousands of Brazilian volunteers.

Only three vaccine projects in the world have reached Phase Three.

And Brazil won’t be short-changed either: both projects have technology transfer agreements that will enable the country to produce the vaccines themselves, should the tests prove conclusive.

READ ALSO: Brazil’s President Bolsonaro Tests Positive For COVID-19

With lockdown measures applied unevenly nationwide, Brazil — a country of continental proportions with 212 million inhabitants — has not managed to contain the pandemic, which is rapidly spreading inland.

– 100 million doses –

“Brazil is a good testing ground because the virus is still very present there, and there is a wide variety of epidemiological characteristics” throughout the country, Margareth Dalcomo, a researcher at FIOCRUZ, the research organization that will help produce the Oxford vaccine, told AFP.

“The more volunteers are exposed to the virus, the greater chance to quickly prove the vaccine’s efficiency,” said Sue Ann Costa Clemens, a researcher at the Federal University of Sao Paulo (UNIFESP), which is in charge of carrying out tests for Oxford’s project on 5,000 Brazilian volunteers.

“If we manage to recruit these volunteers while the curve is still rising, we hope to get results quickly, as early as November,” added Clemens, who is also the head of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Sienna, in Italy.

Phase Three tests for the vaccine began in June in Brazil, as well as in the UK and South Africa

“If the tests are conclusive, the vaccine could be registered in the United Kingdom by the end of the year and in other countries, including Brazil, in early 2021,” Clemens added, noting that registration in Brazil should be easier and faster due to on-site testing.

As part of the agreement with Oxford and AstraZeneca, the Brazilian government will invest $127 million to enable FIOCRUZ to acquire the technology and equipment to produce an initial quantity of 30.4 million doses during the experimentation phase.

If the vaccine passes the clinical trials, Brazil will be entitled to produce 70 million additional doses at an estimated cost of $2.30 each.

– Political rivalries –

Meanwhile, the government of Sao Paulo state will start on July 20 testing for the vaccine by the Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac on 9,000 volunteers.

The partnership also provides for technology transfer for “large-scale production” in the event of successful testing.

“This is a technology that we have mastered perfectly, we have already produced other vaccines in a similar way,” said Dimas Covas, the director of the Butantan Institute, which is in charge of producing the doses.

“We will have the autonomy necessary to meet the demand from Brazil, but also other Latin American countries,” he said.

With the two large-scale trials, “Brazil is the repository for the hopes of a large part of the world,” Covas added.

But the announcement three weeks ago of the partnership with Sinovac has drawn criticism, as well as dubious conspiracy theories, against the backdrop of a political rivalry between Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a noted coronavirus skeptic.

“A Chinese laboratory making a vaccine against a Chinese virus and research funded by a governor who is a major partner of China. I don’t want this vaccine, do you?” tweeted Roberto Jefferson, a former congressman who recently joined Bolsonaro’s camp.

AFP

South Africa To Start Africa’s First COVID-19 Vaccine Pilot

vaccines

 

South Africa rolls out the continent’s first coronavirus vaccine trial this week, the university leading the pilot said Tuesday, as the country grapples with the highest number of cases in Africa.

The vaccine, developed by the Oxford Jenner Institute, is already being evaluated in the United Kingdom, where 4,000 participants have signed up for the trial.

South Africa has set out to vaccinate 2,000 people with the vaccine known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. Fifty of the candidates have HIV.

“We began screening participants for the South African Oxford 1 Covid-19 vaccine trial last week, and the first participants will be vaccinated this week,” said University of Witwatersrand (Wits) vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi at a virtual press conference.

Brazil is planning its own pilot, while the United States is preparing to test another vaccine in a mass trial of up to 30,000 participants.

Wits is collaborating with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the South African trial.

South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped to over 100,000 on Monday, while the number of deaths inched towards 2,000.

READ ALSO: EU Leaders Summit July 17-18 On Virus Recovery Package

Officials implemented a strict nationwide lockdown on March 27, just weeks after the virus first hit South Africa.

But confinement measures are being gradually phased out to allow business to pick up and limit damage to an already ailing economy.

“As we enter winter in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by COVID-19,” Madhi said, describing the vaccine trial as a “landmark moment”.

South African health officials have also placed high hopes on dexamethasone, a generic anti-inflammatory drug found to reduce mortality among ventilated patients.

“This is one of those medicines where we do have excellent local capacity,” said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize in a statement last week.

South African pharmaceutical giant Aspen Pharmacare has said it was ready to scale up production of the steroid.

AFP

Sanofi Expands US Vaccine Venture In COVID-19 Race

Paul Hudson, Chief Executive Officer of Sanofi, delivers a speech after a visit of the French President to the drugmaker’s vaccine unit Sanofi Pasteur plant in Marcy-l’Etoile, near Lyon, central France, on June 16, 2020. – The visit comes after rival pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca this weekend announced a deal to supply 400 million vaccine doses to EU countries, including France. GONZALO FUENTES / POOL / AFP.

 

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said Tuesday that it would invest $425 million to expand its vaccine development venture with US start-up Translate Bio as they aim to find a COVID-19 vaccine by next year.

The companies have been working together since 2018, hoping to leverage Translate Bio’s work on new messenger RNA (mRNA) drugs that cause cells to create a specific protein for treating a range of diseases.

Their work has taken on greater urgency with the coronavirus pandemic, as pharma groups race to be the first to offer a vaccine to halt an outbreak that has killed nearly 470,000 people worldwide since December.

In a statement, Sanofi said they have “multiple COVID-19 vaccine candidates” in the works and hope to start a clinical trial with humans in the fourth quarter of this year.

READ ALSO: South Africa To Start Africa’s First COVID-19 Vaccine Pilot

“We believe that adding this mRNA platform to our vaccines development capabilities will help us advance prevention against current and future infectious diseases,” said Thomas Triomphe, executive vice president at Sanofi Pasteur, the firm’s vaccines unit.

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson told journalists on Monday that his firm’s most promising COVID-19 treatment is “the only vaccine in the race which is offering a proven platform which works at scale.”

READ ALSO: South Africa To Start Africa’s First COVID-19 Vaccine Pilot

“We are a little bit slower but we are much more likely to have success,” he said at a briefing ahead of Sanofi’s investor day Tuesday.

Hudson drew the ire of French officials last month when he suggested that any COVID-19 vaccine would be offered first to the US government, which has invested millions in its development by the company.

Under pressure, he later indicated that it would be available to everyone at the same time and he announced a new 490 million euro vaccine production site in France last week while touring a facility with President Emmanuel Macron.

“We’re making vaccines in Europe and we’re making vaccines in the US, so we anticipate having vaccines simultaneously available in many markets,” Hudson said Monday.

AFP

No Students In School Without COVID-19 Vaccine, Philippines Govt Says

 

Tens of millions of children in the Philippines will not be allowed back to school until a coronavirus vaccine is available, officials announced Monday, saying they may have to broadcast lessons on TV.

Nations like France and South Korea began resuming face-to-face classes as they got their outbreaks under control, but Philippine authorities see the risk as too great.

President Rodrigo Duterte said last month that even if students could not graduate, they needed to stay out of school to fight the spread of the disease.

“We will comply with the president’s directive to postpone face-to-face classes until a vaccine is available,” education secretary Leonor Briones said in a statement on Monday.

Classes are to resume at the end of August and teachers will use distance learning methods via the internet or TV broadcasts where needed, Briones added.

Millions live in deep poverty in the Philippines and do not have access to computers at home, which is key to the viability of online classes.

READ ALSO: Lockdowns Averted Three Million Deaths In 11 European Nations – Study

“The teacher and the school will have to adjust… depending on the availability of communication,” Briones said in a press briefing.

There has been little public opposition to the postponement of face-to-face classes in the Philippines, where hundreds of new infections are being detected daily despite early and strict lockdown measures.

Children are generally not allowed outside their homes unless they are out getting essentials or headed to work.

Online enrolment for over 25 million primary and secondary students started earlier this month for a delayed start to the school year, which normally runs from June to April in the Philippines.

Scientists around the world are racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine, but it is not clear when a viable candidate will be proven and distributed on a large scale.

One of the contenders is from British pharma giant AstraZeneca, which said last week that it is “on track” to begin rolling out a vaccine in September if ongoing trials prove successful.

AFP

UK PM Johnson Urges Global Effort At Vaccine Summit

In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas' Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP
In this file photo taken on April 12, 2020 A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020. Pippa FOWLES / 10 Downing Street / AFP.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for a “new era of global health co-operation” as he prepared to host a vaccine fundraising summit on Thursday under the shadow of coronavirus.

The virtual meeting aims to raise $7.4 billion for immunisation programmes stalled by the pandemic, and will see the launch of a new fundraising drive to support potential COVID-19 vaccines.

“I hope this summit will be the moment when the world comes together to unite humanity in the fight against disease,” Johnson said in a statement.

The British leader added he hoped it would “inaugurate a new era of global health co-operation, which I believe is now the most essential shared endeavour of our lifetimes”.

More than 50 countries are taking part in Thursday’s meeting, as well as individuals such as philanthropist Bill Gates, and will raise funds for Gavi, the vaccine alliance.

Over the next five years, it wants to reboot halted programmes and provide vaccines at a much-reduced cost to some 300 million children.

READ ALSO: Armenia Hospitals Overwhelmed As COVID-19 Cases Surge

Gavi and its partners will also launch a financing drive to purchase potential COVID-19 vaccines, scale-up their production and support delivery to developing nations.

The pandemic has exposed new ruptures in international cooperation, notably with US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the World Health Organization (WHO).

But Johnson said helping developing countries would benefit places such as Britain, which has suffered the worst coronavirus death toll in Europe.

“This support for routine immunisations will shore up poorer countries’ healthcare systems to deal with coronavirus — and so help to stop the global spread,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“This virus has shown how connected we are. We’re fighting an invisible enemy. And no one is safe frankly until we are all safe.”

– All at risk –

Gates said that pharmaceutical companies had been working together to try and secure the required production capacity.

“It’s been amazing, the pharmaceutical companies stepping up to say ‘yes, even if our vaccine is not the best, we will make our factories available’,” he told BBC Radio 4.

“If you only have one factory, and it’s only making say 300 million doses a year, then the scramble for that would be very difficult.

“If you can get 10 of those factories and get three billion a year, then it’s not nearly as difficult.”

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 380,000 people since it emerged in China last December, according to an AFP tally of official sources.

Stay-at-home orders were imposed across the world, causing huge economic disruption and the suspension of many routine immunisation services.

The WHO, UN children’s agency UNICEF and Gavi warned last month that vaccine services were disrupted in nearly 70 countries, affecting some 80 million children under the age of one.

Polio eradication drives were suspended in dozens of countries, while measles vaccination campaigns were also put on hold in 27 countries, UNICEF said.

Recent Gavi-supported modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimated that for every coronavirus death prevented by halting vaccination campaigns in Africa, up to 140 people could die from vaccine-preventable diseases.

“More children in more countries are now protected against more diseases than at any point in history,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi.

“However, these historic advances in global health are now at risk of unravelling as COVID-19 causes unprecedented disruption to vaccine programmes worldwide.

“We face the very real prospect of a global resurgence of diseases like measles, polio and yellow fever, which would put us all at risk.”

AFP

Global Vaccine Group Urges COVID-19 Solidarity Ahead Of Summit

Scientists are at work in the VirPath university laboratory, classified as “P3” level of safety, on February 5, 2020 as they try to find an effective treatment against the new SARS-like coronavirus, which has already caused more than 560 deaths. JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

 

The head of the global vaccine alliance has warned “nobody is safe unless everybody is safe” from the new coronavirus, urging international solidarity ahead of a fundraising summit as the pandemic threatens to trigger a resurgence of preventable diseases.

Scientists are racing to identify and test possible vaccines for COVID-19 as nations grapple with the economic and societal consequences of the virus lockdowns.

Seth Berkley of Gavi, the vaccine alliance, said the international community must ensure all countries will have access to any potential vaccines, regardless of their wealth.

“This is a global problem that needs a global solution and we have to all work together,” he said.

He spoke ahead of a virtual summit hosted by Britain on Thursday, where Gavi hopes to raise at least $7.4 billion to continue vaccination programmes against diseases like measles, polio and typhoid that have been severely disrupted by the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Italy Reopens To Tourists From Europe

The meeting will also see Gavi and its partners launch a financing drive to purchase potential COVID-19 vaccines, scale up their production, and support delivery to developing nations.

The fundraising goal for COVID-19 is $2 billion, although Berkley said it was an initial sum as they kickstart negotiations with manufacturers and could go up “substantially”.

The meeting comes as the pandemic exposes new ruptures in international cooperation.

US President Donald Trump last week announced he would pull out of the World Health Organization and there are fears America may use its economic clout to buy up vaccines.

Berkley said that countries needed a “different mindset”, adding that sharing access to drugs was not just a humanitarian and equality issue, but a global health security one.

“Nobody is safe unless everybody is safe. We saw the virus move from somewhere around Wuhan to 180 countries in less than three months, including islands and isolated areas,” he said.

– ‘Perfect storm’ –

The World Health Organization, UN children’s agency UNICEF and Gavi warned last month that the pandemic had hindered routine immunisation services in nearly 70 countries, affecting around 80 million children under the age of one.

Polio eradication drives were suspended in dozens of countries, including those still struggling with the debilitating illness, while measles vaccination campaigns were also put on hold in 27 countries, UNICEF said.

Recent Gavi-supported modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine estimated that for every COVID-19 death prevented by halting vaccination campaigns in Africa, up to 140 people could die from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Berkley said the situation was improving, with new guidance on how to carry out immunisation campaigns safely.

But he said locating all the children who missed out on vaccines before new outbreaks emerge will be a “real challenge”.

Thursday’s funding drive is for a five-year period in which the organisation aims to reboot halted programmes in the countries it supports — allowing them to access vaccines at a much reduced cost — with the goal of reaching some 300 million children.

Berkley said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the target would be reached, with more new countries pledging donations despite the economic strains of the pandemic.

Recalling past episodes when vaccine work was stalled by the outbreak of diseases such as Ebola and SARS, another coronavirus, he urged nations to move beyond “boom and bust” cycles of crisis planning.

“I don’t think this coronavirus is going to go away like SARS did,” he said.

He also warned of an “unprecedented” level of rumour and conspiracy theory around vaccinations, particularly from the northern hemisphere.

“Distrust between people in their government, the rumours and the intentional spread of false information is not only at an all time high, but it also is being amplified by social media tools that didn’t exist 20 years ago,” he said.

“So we have almost a perfect storm of problems.”

AFP

COVID-19: Bill Gates Conspiracy Theories Echo Through Africa

In this file photo US Microsoft founder, Co-Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, poses for a picture on October 9, 2019, in Lyon, central eastern France, during the funding conference of Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. JEFF PACHOUD / AFP
In this file photo US Microsoft founder, Co-Chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, poses for a picture on October 9, 2019, in Lyon, central eastern France, during the funding conference of Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. JEFF PACHOUD / AFP.

 

As the novel coronavirus wreaks global havoc, Bill Gates is the new bete noire for conspiracy theorists worldwide including in Africa where a Kenyan politician’s false online post has added major fuel to the spread of misinformation.

While Gates’s vaccine programmes on the continent have long provided ample fodder for speculation, the bogus claims have gained new traction amid the pandemic.

On March 15, Nairobi governor Mike Sonko published an old video of Gates warning about the consequences of a future pandemic, with the caption “Bill Gates told us about the coronavirus 2015 (sic)”.

While the clip shows the philanthropist telling an audience that the world was unprepared for global outbreaks in his TED talk five years ago, he made no mention of the coronavirus.

Sonko’s post generated so many interactions among his two-million plus Facebook followers that it remains the most prolific global post about Gates in the COVID-19 era, according to social media analysis tool CrowdTangle.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Do Not Cut Health Spending During Downturn, WHO Warns

So far, it has been shared more than one million times and has garnered 38 million views on social media.

The post highlights the role played by local public figures in spreading false or misleading claims in different parts of the world, according to the Washington-based Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), which studies disinformation globally.

“They typically travel beyond… niche communities when an influencer, such as a prominent celebrity, or even mainstream media source, amplifies them,” DFRLab’s Zarine Kharazian told AFP.

“Once they’ve achieved this level of spread, they migrate across languages.”

– ‘All-powerful elites’ –

Rumours about links between Gates and the current pandemic have enjoyed particularly broad appeal among different conspiracy communities worldwide since the virus erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

Since January, more than 683,000 posts globally from public Facebook pages and groups mentioned Gates, producing nearly 53 million likes, shares and views.

“One commonality of conspiracy theories that seems to span borders, languages, and cultures is a mistrust in ‘all-powerful elites’ and institutions,” Kharazian said.

“Gates’s prominent profile, outspokenness and active engagement in international public health work has made him a prime target for this particular strain of conspiracy.”

Among the most popular claims in Africa is the idea that Gates wants to control mankind with the use of microchip implants or digital tattoos.

Conspiracy theorists have also alleged that Gates stands to profit handsomely from an eventual vaccine and that his foundation patented a treatment years ago before unleashing the novel coronavirus.

Others again believe he created the virus for population control — a sensitive point in Africa where much of the visible push-back online has focused on the issue of a COVID-19 vaccine and experimental trials on local test subjects.

– Past controversies fuel suspicion –

A history of Western medical abuses in Africa explains some of the backlash, said Sara Cooper, senior scientist at the South African Medical Research Council’s Cochrane Centre.

“Over the last few decades, there have been various incidents of medical research conducted in Africa which have involved gross human rights abuses,” she told AFP.

They range from forced sterilisation experiments carried out in Namibia when it was part of Germany’s colonies in the late 1800s, to controversial drug trials conducted by Western pharmaceutical giants in various African nations in the 1990s.

The distrust of Western vaccines was evidenced by a recent viral post, which claimed that French maverick scientist Didier Raoult had warned Africans against using “the Bill Gates vaccine” because it contained “poison”.

AFP Fact Check debunked the claim — Raoult never made the comments and a vaccine does not yet exist.

But it struck a chord: the French version of the post was shared more than 47,000 times before it was taken down.

Politicians in Nigeria have also pushed similar narratives including Femi Fani-Kayode, a former aviation minister notorious for sharing misinformation along political and religious lines.

Fani-Kayode, who has a strong following among Christians from southern Nigeria, has shared multiple posts claiming Gates was part of a secretive power elite, which wanted to achieve world domination using the coronavirus and 5G technology among other things.

– WHO fights back –

As the virus numbers and rumours spiralled, agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) raced to stem the spread of misinformation by running online campaigns and helping governments to set up dedicated web portals.

The WHO also held a workshop with more than 50 journalists in Nigeria in February.

“Journalists and media are critical to getting the right messages to the community,” emergency officer Dhamari Naidoo said.

“We want you to transmit the right information to the people, and to contribute in stopping the spread of rumours.”

AFP

Global Stocks Rise On Hopes For Economic Rebound, Vaccine

 

Further easing of coronavirus lockdowns pushed global equities higher on Tuesday, with optimism stoked by the reopening of bars, cafes, pools and beaches outweighing China-US tensions that have hurt the dollar.

While countries including Brazil, Chile and Russia are enduring rising death tolls and infection rates from COVID-19, an increasing number of governments are seeing figures tail off.

“Once again, the markets embraced an optimistic outlook… setting aside fears over the long-term economic impact of the pandemic and the ever-growing tensions between the US and China to focus on another round of global easing measures,” said Connor Campbell, analyst at trading group Spreadex.

Adding to the broadly positive outlook was optimism about progress on a possible vaccine, which would allow the shattered global economy to start bouncing back.

But Chris Iggo at AXA Investment Managers warned, “That does not mean we should ignore the risk of second waves, prolonged weak growth and geopolitical issues.”

Wall Street, where the New York Stock Exchange trading floor reopened after two months of closure, finished higher, with the Dow gaining 2.2 percent to 24,995.11.

READ ALSO: Pandemic Creating ‘Lockdown Generation’ As One In Six Youths Stop Work – UN

“US stock markets are gearing up for a strong start to the week as further lockdown easing and some more promising vaccine news lifted sentiment after the bank holiday weekend,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA Europe.

Key European markets were all one percent or more higher at the closing bell, with London playing catch-up after a strong eurozone performance on Monday, though its gains were capped by a rising pound.

Earlier, Asian markets had closed higher, with Tokyo rising more than two percent, and Hong Kong up 1.9 percent as city leader Carrie Lam sought to reassure investors.

She said fears that Hong Kong’s business-friendly freedoms were at risk from a planned Chinese national security law were “totally groundless”.

But OANDA’s Erlam warned that whatever good news may be looming on the COVID-19 front stood to be undermined by worsening relations between Washington and Beijing, which he said “will be a constant headwind for stock markets”.

US President Donald Trump warned that Hong Kong could lose its status as a global financial center if the proposed Chinese crackdown goes ahead.

Critics fear the law could be a death blow to the city’s treasured liberties, which are crucial to making it an international financial center on a par with New York and London.

Oil prices pushed on with their recovery, having suffered a spectacularly bad April when WTI crashed below zero.

The reopening of economies and a massive cut in output by some of the world’s top producers has helped the US benchmark WTI virtually double in value this month.

– Key figures at around 2040 GMT –

New York – Dow: UP 2.2 percent at 24,995.11 (close)

New York – S&P 500: UP 1.2 percent at 2,991.77 (close)

New York – Nasdaq: UP 0.2 percent at 9,340.22 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 1.2 percent at 6,067.76 (close)

Frankfurt – DAX 30: UP 1.0 percent at 11,504.65 (close)

Paris – CAC 40: UP 1.5 percent at 4,606.24 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.9 percent at 2,999.22 (close)

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 2.6 percent at 21,271.17 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 1.9 percent at 23,384.66 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: UP 1.0 percent at 2,846.55 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: UP 3.3 percent at $34.35 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: UP 1.8 percent at $36.17 per barrel

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0984 from $1.0898 at 2100 GMT Friday

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 107.54 yen from 107.71 yen

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2335 from $1.2191

Euro/pound: DOWN at 89.04 pence from 89.39 pence.

AFP

COVID-19: Philippines’ Duterte Says No School Until There Is A Vaccine

(FILES) Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech/ AFP.

 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he will not allow students to go back to school until a coronavirus vaccine is available, even as some countries resume in-person classes.

Children were due to return to school at the end of August after classes for more than 25 million primary and secondary students were shut down in March as the contagion took off in the Philippines.

But in a speech aired late Monday, Duterte said the risk was too great, even if it held students back academically.

“Unless I am sure that they are really safe it’s useless to be talking about opening of classes,” the president said.

“For me, vaccine first. If the vaccine is already there, then it’s okay,” he added. “If no one graduates, then so be it.”

Though researchers have launched an unprecedented global effort to quickly develop a vaccine, it is not clear when a viable candidate will be proven and distributed on a large scale.

Public school normally runs from June to April in the Philippines, but authorities pushed back the start as cases rose and a strict lockdown brought most of the nation to a halt.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Heightens Heatwave Health Risks, UN Warns

In order to ease classroom crowding, the education ministry had already announced a mix of distance-learning measures, including online classes, would be used for the coming school year.

Millions live in deep poverty in the Philippines and do not have access to computers at home, which would be key for the viability of online classes.

The pandemic has kept children around the globe home for months, but in-person classes have begun to resume in countries including South Korea and France.

The Philippines’ coronavirus case count reached more than 14,300 on Monday, including 873 deaths.

AFP

COVID-19: Thailand Enters Global Race For Vaccine With Trials On Monkeys

This picture taken on May 23, 2020 shows a laboratory monkey interacting with an employee in the breeding centre for cynomolgus macaques (longtail macaques) at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand at Chulalongkorn University in Saraburi. Mladen ANTONOV / AFP.

 

Thailand is conducting tests on macaque monkeys as it races to produce a cheaper, alternative coronavirus vaccine it hopes will be ready by 2021, a top researcher said Monday.

More than 100 candidate vaccines are currently in various stages of development around the world, at least eight of which are in clinical trials with humans, according to the World Health Organization.

Oxford University researchers are considered the frontrunners in the race, starting clinical trials last month on a version based on a different virus that causes infections in chimpanzees.

Dr. Suchinda Malaivitjitnond, director of the National Primate Research Center of Thailand who oversaw Saturday’s vaccine injections to an initial group of 13 monkeys, said she hoped a “Made in Thailand” vaccine would be cheaper than a European or American drug.

The testing phase on the macaque monkeys came after trials on mice were successful, researchers said.

They are working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania in the US using a new technology based on mRNA, a type of genetic material never before used to make a vaccine.

The process entails injecting a short sequence of viral genetic material to trigger an immune response by producing proteins acting against the virus.

READ ALSO: Italy Proposes 60,000 Volunteers For Post-virus Vigilance

At least two other companies — pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and US-based Moderna — are developing vaccines using the same technology, with the latter reporting positive preliminary results last week from clinical trials.

Thailand was the first country outside of China to detect an infection in mid-January but has so far reported just over 3,000 cases and 57 deaths.

If the tests on the macaques go well, human trials should start in October, said Dr. Kiat Ruxrungtham, chair of the Chula Vaccine Research Center at Chulalongkorn University.

“Our dream is that low- and middle-income countries should not stay a buyer for our whole lives.”

AFP

Scientists In China Believe New Drug Can Stop Pandemic ‘Without Vaccine’

This photo taken on February 6, 2020 shows a laboratory technician working on samples from people to be tested for the new coronavirus at “Fire Eye” laboratory in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province. STR / AFP.

 

A Chinese laboratory has been developing a drug it believes has the power to bring the coronavirus pandemic to a halt.

The outbreak first emerged in China late last year before spreading across the world, prompting an international race to find treatments and vaccines.

A drug being tested by scientists at China’s prestigious Peking University could not only shorten the recovery time for those infected, but even offer short-term immunity from the virus, researchers say.

Sunney Xie, director of the university’s Beijing Advanced Innovation Center for Genomics, told AFP that the drug has been successful at the animal testing stage.

“When we injected neutralising antibodies into infected mice, after five days the viral load was reduced by a factor of 2,500,” said Xie.

“That means this potential drug has (a) therapeutic effect.”

The drug uses neutralising antibodies — produced by the human immune system to prevent the virus infecting cells — which Xie’s team isolated from the blood of 60 recovered patients.

A study on the team’s research, published Sunday in the scientific journal Cell, suggests that using the antibodies provides a potential “cure” for the disease and shortens recovery time.

READ ALSO: ‘We Can Get It Done Here’: Africa’s Tech Scene Tackles COVID-19

Xie said his team had been working “day and night” searching for the antibody.

“Our expertise is single-cell genomics rather than immunology or virology. When we realised that the single-cell genomic approach can effectively find the neutralising antibody we were thrilled.”

He added that the drug should be ready for use later this year and in time for any potential winter outbreak of the virus, which has infected 4.8 million people around the world and killed more than 315,000.

“Planning for the clinical trial is underway,” said Xie, adding it will be carried out in Australia and other countries since cases have dwindled in China, offering fewer human guinea pigs for testing.

“The hope is these neutralised antibodies can become a specialised drug that would stop the pandemic,” he said.

China already has five potential coronavirus vaccines at the human trial stage, a health official said last week.

But the World Health Organization has warned that developing a vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.

Scientists have also pointed to the potential benefits of plasma — a blood fluid — from recovered individuals who have developed antibodies to the virus enabling the body’s defences to attack it.

More than 700 patients have received plasma therapy in China, a process which authorities said showed “very good therapeutic effects”.

“However, it (plasma) is limited in supply,” Xie said, noting that the 14 neutralising antibodies used in their drug could be put into mass production quickly.

– Prevention and cure –

Using antibodies in drug treatments is not a new approach, and it has been successful in treating several other viruses such as HIV, Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Xie said his researchers had “an early start” since the outbreak started in China before spreading to other countries.

Ebola drug Remdesivir was considered a hopeful early treatment for COVID-19 — clinical trials in the US showed it shortened the recovery time in some patients by a third — but the difference in mortality rate was not significant.

The new drug could even offer short-term protection against the virus.

The study showed that if the neutralising antibody was injected before the mice were infected with the virus, the mice stayed free of infection and no virus was detected.

This may offer temporary protection for medical workers for a few weeks, which Xie said they are hoping to “extend to a few months”.

More than 100 vaccines for COVID-19 are in the works globally, but as the process of vaccine development is more demanding, Xie is hoping that the new drug could be a faster and more efficient way to stop the global march of the coronavirus.

“We would be able to stop the pandemic with an effective drug, even without a vaccine,” he said.

AFP

EU Offers Vaccine Hope As WHO Warns Virus Here To Stay

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union’s medicines agency suggested Thursday that a vaccine for the coronavirus could be ready in year, even as the World Health Organization warned that the disease may never go away.

World leaders past and present have insisted that any eventual vaccines and treatments should be made available to everyone free of charge, with the global death toll from the disease nearing 300,000.

The pandemic has caused massive social and economic upheaval across the planet and while some nations have begun easing punishing lockdowns, fears of a second wave have kept many businesses shuttered and people confined to their homes.

Washington ratcheted up tensions over the crisis by accusing China of trying to steal research, and US President Donald Trump upped the rhetoric with a colourful phrase that was likely to infuriate Beijing.

“We just made a great Trade Deal, the ink was barely dry, and the World was hit by the Plague from China. 100 Trade Deals wouldn’t make up the difference — and all those innocent lives lost!” Trump tweeted.

– ‘Best-case scenario’ –

With the race to find a vaccine gathering pace, the European Medicines Agency said one could possibly be ready in a year based on data from trials under way.

Announcing the forecast at a video news conference, Marco Cavaleri, the EMA’s head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, stressed that it was a “best-case scenario”.

“We know also that there may be delays,” he said, voicing scepticism over reports a vaccine could be ready as early as September.

And world leaders were among 140 signatories to a letter published Thursday saying any vaccine should not be patented and that the science should be shared among nations.

READ ALSO: UN ‘Deeply’ Regrets Burundi Expulsion Of WHO Team

“Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge,” it said.

A vaccine could allow countries to fully reopen from shutdowns that have battered economies and thrown millions of people out of work.

But the WHO cautioned Wednesday that the virus may never be wiped out entirely.

“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away,” said Michael Ryan, the global health body’s emergencies director.

“HIV has not gone away — but we have come to terms with the virus.”

The UN also warned that the outbreak risked a major mental health crisis and called for urgent action to address psychological suffering.

– ‘Smearing’ –

The prospect of the disease hanging around leaves governments facing a delicate balancing act between suppressing the pathogen and getting economies up and running.

And with more gloomy forecasts emerging from the US, Trump has increasingly looked to pin the blame on China, where the virus first emerged in December.

US security agencies accused Chinese hackers of attempting to steal intellectual property related to treatments.

“China’s efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation’s response to COVID-19,” the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said, without giving evidence to support the allegations.

Beijing reacted with fury to the “smearing” and claimed China was leading the world in COVID-19 vaccine research and treatment so had no need to conduct cyber espionage.

Trump has been pushing for a swift resumption of economic activity in the US, often against the advice of health officials, as he tries to jumpstart the world’s largest economy before a November election.

The United States is the country hardest-hit by COVID-19, logging a total of more than 84,000 deaths.

– ‘Wave of bankruptcies’ –

Top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci has said reopening too soon risks triggering uncontrollable outbreaks, but Trump dismissed the call for caution as “not acceptable”.

The tensions between health and the economy were thrown into sharp relief Wednesday when Federal Reserve chief Jay Powell warned of a potential “wave of bankruptcies” that could cause lasting harm.

Further signs of the damage to businesses emerged Thursday when Lloyd’s of London forecast the pandemic will cost the global insurance industry about $203 billion.

And Australia released figures showing almost 600,000 people lost their jobs as the country’s virus shutdown took hold in April, the steepest monthly drop in employment since records began more than 40 years ago.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the number “terribly shocking”.

But the reopening of economies continued in earnest across Europe, where the EU has set out proposals for a phased restart of travel and the eventual lifting of border controls.

Elsewhere, Japan — the world’s third largest economy — lifted a state of emergency across most of the country except for Tokyo and Osaka.

New Zealanders mingled with friends and hit the shopping malls for the first time in seven weeks as a national lockdown ended and businesses faced a “new normal” minimising the constant threat of coronavirus.

Children were back to school in Finland, while in France some beaches reopened — but only for fishing and swimming, and people in England were allowed to leave their homes more freely.

However, in Latin America the virus continued to surge, with a 60 percent leap in cases in the Chilean capital of Santiago, prompting authorities to impose a total lockdown on the city.

“It should have come a month before, about 20 days before, because there are many infected people,” said Juana Vergara, a retiree.

In Argentina, officials were watching Buenos Aires warily after one of its poorest and most densely populated neighbourhoods showed a spike in infections.

But there were also bright spots. Mauritius declared temporary victory against the virus, saying it had “zero” patients and had not documented a single new case in 17 days.

“We have won the battle thanks to the cooperation of the public,” said Health minister Kailesh Jagutpal. “But we have not yet won the war.”

AFP