This morning UK drugs giant AstraZeneca’s so-called “Oxford Vaccine” published data from large scale trials which demonstrated 70% overall protection. While this represents efficacy which certainly meets the threshold of population protection, it is significantly lower than that offered by three other candidates, from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna Inc, and the Russian Sputnik V candidate, all of which offer efficacy over 90%.
While the efficacy looks disappointing to the lay person, Oxford was upbeat. Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said: “The announcement today takes us another step closer to the time when we can use vaccines to bring an end to the devastation (of COVID-19).
“We will continue to work to provide the detailed information to regulators. It has been a privilege to be part of this multi-national effort, which will reap benefits for the whole world.”
With people around the world desperate to connect with families and friends after this grim year, winter festivities are still facing large-scale restrictions in many areas. In the US, it is Thanksgiving this Thursday but health officials have urged families not to travel. In the UK and Ireland, there may be a brief respite for Christmas week but that is it for now.
Vaccines cannot come soon enough. Dr Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser for Operation Warp Speed, the US government’s vaccine programme, said on Sunday he expected US regulators to approve the vaccine candidates from Pfizer and BioNTech in mid-December.
Dr Slaoui appeared on a number of US talk shows over the weekend, talking about the timeline for getting the initial doses of the candidate to the people who need it most.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s experimental vaccine was filed for approval with the US Food & Drug Administration on Friday. The extraordinarily strong efficacy data combined with the pressing need means approval is likely to be extremely fast.
“I would expect, maybe on day two after approval on December 11 or 12, hopefully the first people will be immunized across the United States,” Dr Slaoui said on CNN’s “State of the Union” programme on Sunday.
A report in the UK suggested that Britain could get regulatory approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech candidate as early as this week, and that the NHS was on notice to be ready to administer the jab from the beginning of December. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said at a press conference on the fringes of the G20 summit that it plans to begin its vaccination programme in January.
Despite the promising vaccine news, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance advising Americans to stay at home for Thanksgiving. “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with members of your household,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, the head of the CDC’s community intervention and critical population task force.
The US recorded a dip in newly-reported COVID-19 infections on Saturday, but also record hospitalisations for a 12th straight day.
177,552 new cases were reported on Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. That was down 17,990 from a daily record set Friday, when the US reported 195,542 new cases. The country has now recorded more than 12 million cases in total. Over 83,000 people were hospitalised with the disease as of Saturday.
The Texas National Guard on Saturday sent troops to El Paso to support the city’s morgues as they cope with a surge in the number of deaths from COVID-19.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to outline the next phase in the government’s plan to limit the spread of the virus while supporting economic normalisation.
The Prime Minister is expected to detail a three-tier system of restrictions which is expected to come into force on December 3 after the latest national lockdown ends, which will include the return of non-essential retail sales in England. Gyms will also reopen.
Subject to discussions with the devolved governments around the UK, families will be able to get together for a five-day period over Christmas, but with some areas of the country remaining in high-restriction areas.
In an important shift, the Prime Minister is expected to announce the end of self-isolation for contacts of people with a COVID-19 case. Those identified to have come into contact with someone with the virus will instead have to undergo daily tests.
A nationwide lockdown in England is starting to have an impact on virus numbers, with the infection rate flattening off, Johnson is expected to say. The UK recorded another 18,662 coronavirus cases yesterday, down by 19% in the past two weeks.
Asian markets were on the rise again into the new week, spurred by optimism around the timetable for vaccine rollout.
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