Covid vaccine: Russia announces treatment drug and China trials vaccines

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Digital Desk staff

Additional reporting from Reuters and PA

It has been just over seven months since Covid-19 was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the WHO, as of today there have been close to 30 million cases (29,987,026) worldwide and 942,735 deaths.

Talks of developing a vaccine have been floated around ever since the start of the pandemic, but it is still not clear when a potential vaccine might be available.

Ireland is part of a European wide agreement around access to vaccines so if one is developed the government will have it distributed to them by the EU.

Around the world though there have been some signs of a possible breakthrough when it comes to a vaccine as well as possible treatments.

According to the WHO, there are currently over 169 Covid-19 vaccine candidates under development, with 26 of these in the human trial phase.

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They said when a safe and effective vaccine is found, COVAX (led by WHO, GAVI and CEPI) will facilitate the equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect people in all countries. They also said people most at risk will be prioritized.

Russia

Today, Russia approved R-Pharm's Coronavir treatment for outpatients with mild to moderate Covid-19 infections and the antiviral drug could be rolled out to pharmacies in the country as soon as next week, the company said on Friday.

Coronavir's approval as a prescription drug follows the green light for another Russian COVID-19 drug, Avifavir, in May. Both are based on favipiravir, which was developed in Japan and is widely used there as the basis for viral treatments.

R-Pharm's announcement is another sign Russia is pushing hard to take a global lead in the race against the virus. It is already exporting its COVID-19 tests and has clinched several international deals for supplies of its Sputnik-V vaccine.

R-Pharm said it received approval for Coronavir after Phase III clinical trials involving 168 patients with COVID-19

They has started talks with pharmacies about orders, the company's spokeswoman said, with Coronavir supplies expected to be rolled out in the near future, possibly as soon as next week.

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Coronavir is made at R-Pharm's facility in Yaroslavl, about 300 km (186 miles) northeast of Moscow

China

Meanwhile, in Beijing around 350,000 people have taken experimental coronavirus vaccines developed by China National Biotec Group (CNBG), as part of the country's emergency inoculation programme.

China has been actively offering vaccines that are still undergoing late-stage trials to people facing high infection risk and considering expanding the programme to prepare against a potential resurgence, raising safety concerns from experts.

At least three vaccine candidates including two developed by CNBG, a unit of state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm), are offered in the emergency use programme.

So far, none of those who have taken the CNBG vaccines through the emergency use program or clinical trials have shown antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) effect, an adverse reaction where antibodies against the virus worsens the infection, CNBG Chairman Yang Xiaoming said.

He said further monitoring was needed.

"Not every one of the 1.4 billion people [in China] needs vaccination," Yang told a forum sponsored by China's science and technology ministry, saying that inoculating key groups of people could be sufficient to prevent outbreaks.

The company's two coronavirus vaccine factories are expected to be able to produce a combined 300 million doses of vaccines in a year, and CNBG plans to expand its annual capacity to 600-800 million doses, Yang said.

UK

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The UK meanwhile has joined Covax, the international initiative to support discovery, manufacture and fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines for one billion people by the end of 2021.

Covax is the vaccines pillar of the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a global collaboration to speed up the development, production, and equitable access to coronavirus tests, treatments, and vaccines.

It is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Covax is looking to invest six billion US dollars (£4.56 billion/€5million) to secure access to a diverse portfolio of vaccine candidates.

The UK is working with international partners to set up Covax as quickly as possible, which will support access to any coronavirus vaccine in the UK for millions of people.

On June 4 at the Global Vaccines Summit, the UK announced £48 million to finance Covax vaccines for lower income countries.

United States

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump and the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disagreed yesterday about when a COVID-19 vaccine would become widely available.

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Trump has said one could initially be available by the Nov. 3 election, while the CDC director said vaccines were likely to reach the general public around mid-2021, an assessment more in line with most experts

General availability is when every American who wants the vaccine can get it. There are currently no Covid-19 vaccines approved by U.S. regulators, although a handful are in late-stage trials to prove they are safe and effective.

Experts estimate that at least 70 per cent of roughly 330 million Americans would need to be immune through a vaccine or prior infection to achieve what is known as herd immunity, which occurs when enough people are immune to prevent the spread of the virus to those unable to get a vaccine..

The CDC anticipates that 35 million to 45 million doses of vaccines from the first two companies to receive authorization will be available in the United States by the end of this year. The current front runners are Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc.

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Drugmakers have been more ambitious with their calculations. AstraZeneca Plc has said it could deliver as many as 300 million doses of its experimental vaccine in the United States by as early as October.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE have said they expect to have 100 million doses available worldwide by the end of 2020, but did not specify how much of that was earmarked for the United States. Moderna has said it is on track to make between 500 million and 1 billion doses a year beginning in 2021.

Several drugmakers including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc have all said they expect to produce at least 1 billion doses of their vaccines next year if they get regulatory authorization.

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