Coronavirus Vaccine: Australia to receive first batch of AstraZeneca in Jan 2021

Australia will receive the first doses of an AstraZeneca and Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine in January 2021 if trials prove successful after Canberra agreed a deal to purchase a second potential vaccine, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

Australia said in August it had signed a preliminary agreement with AstraZeneca for enough doses for its population of nearly 26 million, which would be manufactured locally by pharmaceutical company CSL.

That deal appeared in some doubt when CSL said its priority was manufacturing an alternative potential vaccine developed with the University of Queensland (UQ).

Agreeing a deal to overcome the potential roadblock, Australia will now also buy 51 million doses of the UQ vaccine.

It will take possession of the first 3.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in January and February 2021, and then receive a further 30 million doses, Morrison will say in extracts from an announcement sent to Reuters.

AstraZeneca’s candidate is seen as a frontrunner in a global race to deliver an effective coronavirus vaccine.

“Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a safe and effective vaccine, should it pass late stage testing,” Morrison said.

Under the deal with UQ and CSL, Australia will buy 51 million doses of that tie-up’s vaccine. The UQ and CSL candidate is scheduled to begin phase two trials in late 2020 and if all trials are successful it could be rolled out to Australians in mid-2021.

Both deals will cost in total A$1.7 billion ($1.24 billion), Morrison explained. Should both vaccines prove successful, Australia has secured to right to donate or sell on without a mark-up.

Health officials are discussing who will receive the first doses if trials are successful, Morrison said. Vulnerable people, and front-line health care workers likely to be first in line, a source familiar with the details told Reuters.

The supply agreements come as Australia grapples with a second wave of infections in its second most populous state, Victoria. Australia has recorded more than 26,000 infections and 753 deaths.

Americans not happy with Russia’s claim on developing coronavirus vaccine

Two top U.S. health officials are expressing skepticism about Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russian scientists have come up with the world’s first safe and effective vaccine.

“I seriously doubt that they’ve done that,” infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said. But he added that he hopes Moscow has indeed “actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective.”

Fauci said a number of U.S. labs are working on a vaccine and could, if they wanted to, roll them out anytime.

“If we wanted to take the chance of hurting a lot of people or giving them something that doesn’t work, we could start doing this, you know, next week if we wanted to. But that’s not the way it works,” Fauci said in remarks to be broadcast Thursday by National Geographic.

Fauci has said he hopes to have millions of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine ready in the U.S. by early 2021 but has warned there is no way to guarantee the long-term effectiveness of a vaccine.

Meantime, U.S. Health and Human Services chief Alex Azar said during a visit to Taiwan on Wednesday that developing a COVID-19 vaccine is “not a race to be first.”

He said the Trump administration is working with the U.S. pharmaceutical industry to “deliver as quickly as we can for the benefit of the United States’ citizens, but also for the people of the world, safe and effective vaccines.”

The Food and Drug Administration must approve any vaccine of any kind before it is distributed to doctors and other health care professionals.

China on Wednesday called Azar’s performance in handling COVID-19 in the U.S. “the worst in the world” and said his trip to Taiwan was a stunt.

“He ignored millions of Americans suffering from the virus and went to Taiwan to put on a political show,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan said. “His behavior proves once again that in the eyes of U.S. politicians, American lives mean nothing when compared with their selfish political gains.”

The Trump administration has accused China of trying to cover up the outbreak of COVID-19 when it began in Wuhan in December and failing to contain the disease – allegations China denies.

Azar said if the coronavirus outbreak started in Taiwan or the U.S., it could have been “snuffed out easily.”

Spain’s Galicia region has banned cigarette smoking in the streets, in outdoor restaurants, and anywhere social distancing is impractical.

Although it’s unclear if cigarette smokers are more susceptible to COVID-19, smoking contributes to the underlying health problems that make recovery from the disease much more difficult. Second-hand cigarette smoke is also a health hazard.

Officials in Spain’s Aragon region have ordered a military field hospital, and testing in Catalonia, including its capital Barcelona, is being expanded after Spain reported 1,700 hundred new COVID cases in just 24 hours Wednesday.

Greece reported 262 new cases Wednesday – its highest one-day total since the outbreak began – and Italy is ordering visitors from Greece, Spain, Croatia and Malta to be tested for COVID-19 when they cross the border. Italy is a popular vacation spot for tourists from those four nations.

The pandemic continues to have an effect on the sporting world. Two major U.S. college athletic conferences – the Big Ten and the Pac-12 – announced Tuesday they are postponing their upcoming fall football seasons.

Now, one of the world’s top golf tournaments – The Masters – will be played this year with no spectators.

It’s the third major U.S. golf match to be fan-free this year. The PGA Championship was played last week with no one watching from the sidelines. The U.S. Open, which was moved from June to September, will also have no spectators.

The Masters is usually held every April at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. The club has been closed because of the coronavirus, and this year’s tournament has been postponed until November.

Pop singer and guitarist Trini Lopez, best known for his smash recordings of “If I Had a Hammer” and “Lemon Tree” in the 1960s, has died from COVID-19. He was 83 years old.

Along with his hit records, Lopez was also an actor, appearing on television and co-starring in the 1967 World War II film “The Dirty Dozen.”

Ireland spends 18 million euros to support coronavirus researchers

The Irish government has pledged €18 million to a joint global effort to defeat the coronavirus.

The funds will go to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, to support it’s work in procuring vaccines and distributing them to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, including a vaccine for COVID-19 when it becomes available.

Monday’s pledge brings the total that Ireland has already committed to combat Covid-19 to €78 million. This will support the work of multilateral institutions including the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, and will assist NGOs and bilateral partners, including Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Ethiopia.

Joining world leaders by video for the ‘Coronavirus Global Response International Pledging Event’, co-hosted by the EU, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Monday:

“The only way we can defeat a global threat is by working together on a multilateral basis. Ireland and the European Union are committed to doing exactly that.

Working together we can develop an effective vaccine, effective treatments, testing systems that work, diagnostics and therapeutics. Ireland wants to play its part in this effort.

Sooner or later we will defeat this virus. We will develop the vaccine that prevents it and the medicines that treat the disease. It is really important that nobody in the world is left out when that happens.”

Monday’s conference was about trying to close the €7.5 billion funding gap identified by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board to rapidly develop solutions to test, treat and protect people against COVID-19.

Trump: Expect coronavirus vaccine before the end of 2020

President Donald Trump on Sunday said he expects to see a vaccine for the coronavirus by the end of the year.

“We are pushing it really hard,” Trump said during a virtual town hall on Fox News Channel. “We’re also pushing something. We are very confident that we’re going to have a vaccine at the end of the year.”

“We’re building supply lines,” Trump said, “We even have the final vaccine. Johnson & Johnson, if you look at Johnson & Johnson is doing it. We have many companies, I think close. I meet with the heads of them, and I find it a very interesting subject.”

Trump said fast approval is being pushed by the Food and Drug Administration.

“The doctors,” Trump said, have said he shouldn’t make such promises, but added, “I’ll say what I think. I met with the heads of the big companies, these are great companies. I think we’ll have a vaccine sooner than later.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, last week said the U.S. could have a viable coronavirus vaccine by January.

“We want to go quickly, but we want to make sure it’s safe and it’s effective,” Fauci said. “I think that is doable if things fall in the right place.

“Remember, go back in time, I was saying in January and February that it would be a year to 18 months (to develop a vaccine), so January is a year, so it isn’t that much from what I had originally said.”

And if a vaccine isn’t found that quickly, at least a therapeutic can be found, he said he believes.

Asked by hosts Brett Baier and Martha McCallum whether he is concerned another country might beat the United States to a vaccine, Trump said that doesn’t concern him.

“I just want to get a vaccine that works,” he said. “If it’s another country I’ll take my hat off to them.”

Pharmaceutical companies developing vaccine for COVID-19

The Trump administration said on Monday it had secured commitments from top pharmaceutical companies to work together to develop a vaccine and treatments to fight the coronavirus.

At a meeting with industry executives at the White House, President Donald Trump exhorted the companies to collaborate to speed the process of getting a vaccine and therapeutics to victims of the virus.

The company leaders indicated a willingness to cooperate with one another, but did not lay out how that would happen.

The White House, which has clashed previously with the pharmaceutical industry over high drug prices and has been struggling in recent weeks to show it is on top of the virus response, saw the meeting as a victory.

“This is all hands on deck. And the news out of this meeting that you’ve already formed a consortia … now we know they will be working together to create therapeutics and ultimately a new vaccine,” Vice President Mike Pence said as the session drew to a close.

The global death toll from the illness caused by the new coronavirus now exceeds 3,000, with more than 60 countries affected. In the United States, there have been more than 90 cases, with six deaths.

Trump pressed the representatives at the table about their timeframes for getting a vaccine ready and took upbeat comments from some of the company leaders to mean that it could be ready to deploy within months.

“You seem to know what the answer is to this,” Trump said. “Get it done. We need it.”

Pressed on whether the vaccine would be ready in the short timeframe he desired, Trump said he had heard from the leaders at the table a range of three to four months to a year. But Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, stepped in and urged those at the table to correct the president’s impression.

“He’s asking the question: When is it going to be deployable? And that is going to be at the earliest a year to a year and a half,” Fauci said.

Trump, who has sought to suggest a vaccine would be ready before health professionals have indicated, followed up after Fauci’s comments: “You think that’s right?”

Attendees assured him that treatments, rather than a vaccine itself, could be ready before that.

Attendees included the chief executives of Gilead Sciences Inc, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc, Moderna Inc and GlaxoSmithKline Plc as well as research and development executives from Pfizer Inc, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi SA, all of which are working on vaccines or treatments for the virus.

Even with Trump voicing hope that the companies can accelerate their development as much as possible, executives and other experts have suggested that clinical trials to guarantee a vaccine is safe and effective could mean that it could take a minimum of 12 to 18 months to hit the market.

Antiviral treatments could possibly move faster toward approval.

Pfizer’s chief scientific officer, Mikael Dolsten, told Trump the company had identified compounds that had a high probability of being effective against the virus.

After the meeting, Pfizer said in a statement it had identified some antiviral compounds it owns as potential treatments for coronaviruses and was working with a third party to evaluate them.

It said if they proved to be good candidates and passed toxicology studies, it hoped to start testing them clinically by the end of the year.