COVID-19 vaccine Latest Update: Early results on Pfizer, China’s vaccines assessed by WHO for emergency use
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China’s Sinopharm, Sinovac Covid-19 vaccines assessed by WHO for emergency use

Coronavirus vaccines developed by Chinese firms Sinovac and Sinopharm are being reviewed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, potentially opening the door to their increased international acceptance. The UN agency is also in contact with another Chinese vaccine developer, CanSino, whose jab is undergoing phase 3 trials, it said.

The WHO’s advisory group makes recommendations about whether, how, and for whom vaccines should be used. Its “emergency use listing” procedure allows unlicensed vaccines and treatments to be assessed to potentially expedite their approval by individual countries or jurisdictions in public health emergencies. A decision on the Chinese vaccines was not expected until March at the earliest, South China Morning Post quoted the agency.

China has given nearly 23 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, according to the latest figures from the National Health Commission. The country launched its mass vaccination campaign this month as it grapples with fresh coronavirus outbreaks. China reported 75 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday. It aims to have 50 million people immunized before the Lunar New Year holiday in mid-February when an estimated 1.7 billion trips are expected to be made as people cross the country to see relatives – about 40 percent fewer than usual after the authorities urged people not to travel.

COVID-19 vaccine Latest Update: Early results on Pfizer, China’s vaccines assessed by WHO for emergency use
Photo: TASS

UN Secretary-General hopes WHO will approve Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hopes that the World Health Organization (WHO) will certify Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. "I know that there are contacts at the present moment between the Russian authorities and WHO, I hope that those contacts lead in the quickest possible way to the approval or recognition by the WHO," he said in an exclusive interview with TASS.

Russia’s COVID-19 vaccine can be used by UN missions and it can play a very important role in the fight against the pandemic, Guterres said. "We believe that the Russian vaccine can play a very important role in that battle that I mentioned. We need to make sure that we have vaccines available and affordable to everybody everywhere," he noted. "It can be used in many of the UN operations in some vulnerable areas of the world where we will need vaccines for our staff and population which we support in our peacekeeping operations in fragile countries. So we hope that the Russian vaccine will play an important role in that regard," Guterres added.

In September 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his speech at the UN General Assembly that Russia is ready to supply its Sputnik V vaccine to the UN for free.

*Read More: Can Pregnant Women Get a COVID-19 Vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccine Latest Update: Early results on Pfizer, China’s vaccines assessed by WHO for emergency use
Photo: Reuters

Early results on Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine encouraging

Fewer than 0.01% of people who received Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine have contracted the virus more than a week after receiving the second dose, a leading Israeli healthcare provider said. The preliminary results shared by Israeli HMO Maccabi showed that only 20 people out of some 128,600 who received both shots have since been infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Israel is a world leader with its rapid vaccine rollout, though the data also comes during a nationwide lockdown that has been helping to stem contagion. Israelis began receiving the first shots of Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 19. The country is providing Pfizer with weekly data updates on its vaccine campaign under a collaboration agreement that may help other countries fine-tune their own inoculation drives.

“According to Maccabi’s experts this is preliminary data but the numbers are very encouraging,” Maccabi said in a statement. Maccabi reports that out of the 20 people infected, 50% suffer from chronic illnesses. All patients experienced a mild illness with symptoms including headaches, cough, weakness, or fatigue. No-one was hospitalized or suffered from a fever above 38.5C. Most patients tested for COVID-19 due to exposure to a verified patient,” it said. Anat Ekka Zohar, Maccabi’s Information and Digital Health Division director, said, “the fact that the infected patients came from different profiles is consistent with Pfizer’s trial results.”

More than 2.6 million Israelis have received a single dose of the vaccine and about 1.2 million have been given both shots, out of a population of about 9 million. Israel has reported about 600,000 virus infections and 4,478 deaths during the pandemic, according to Reuters.

COVID-19 vaccine Latest Update: Early results on Pfizer, China’s vaccines assessed by WHO for emergency use
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Experts fear Chinese and India "vaccine diplomacy"

Wealthy nations have been accused of hoarding vaccines, mostly from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. That has created room for India, China, and to an extent Russia, to develop, produce and supply vaccines to the developing world. Experts say those efforts can potentially bolster those countries’ influence and deepen their ties with other nations. “While it serves their foreign policy objectives, it serves their ... commercial interest to expand the market share of their vaccine products,” Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNBC by phone.

India has already sent 1 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to Nepal, 2 million to Bangladesh, 150,000 to Bhutan, 100,000 to the Maldives, and 1.5 million to Myanmar, per media reports. Beijing is also giving priority access to its vaccines in places like Southeast Asia, which is of strategic importance to China. In other places, the country is offering loans to fund vaccine procurement.

Vaccine diplomacy can be an effective use of soft power that can help New Delhi win friends and generate goodwill, according to Akhil Bery, South Asia analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. Given the nature of Sino-Indian ties, experts said it was inevitable that New Delhi and Beijing’s efforts in providing vaccines to other countries would be viewed through a competitive lens. “Both would be hoping that their outreach would give them some political goodwill and influence as well, said Harsh Pant, head of the strategic studies program at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

COVID-19 vaccine Latest Update: Early results on Pfizer, China’s vaccines assessed by WHO for emergency use
Photo: CNBC

As virus grows stealthier, vaccine makers reconsider battle plans

Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech both said their vaccines were effective against new variants of the coronavirus discovered in Britain and South Africa. But they are slightly less protective against the variant in South Africa, which may be more adept at dodging antibodies in the bloodstream. The news from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech underscored a realization by scientists that the virus is changing more quickly than once thought, and may well continue to develop in ways that help it elude the vaccines being deployed worldwide.

Moderna said it also planned to begin testing whether giving patients a third shot of its original vaccine as a booster could help fend off newly emerging forms of the virus. BioNTech could develop a newly adjusted vaccine against the variants in about six weeks, said NYT. The Food and Drug Administration has not commented on what its policy will be for authorizing vaccines that have been updated to work better against new variants.

Scientists had predicted that the coronavirus would evolve and might acquire new mutations that would thwart vaccines, but few researchers expected it to happen so soon. Part of the problem is the sheer ubiquity of the pathogen. There have been nearly 100 million cases worldwide since the pandemic began, and each new infection gives the coronavirus more chances to mutate. Its uncontrolled spread has fueled the development of new forms that challenge human hosts in various ways.

It is far from certain that these are the only worrying variants out there. Few countries, including the United States, have invested in the kind of genetic surveillance needed to detect emerging variants. Britain leads the world in these efforts, sequencing about 10 percent of its virus samples. The United States has analyzed less than 1 percent of its samples; officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this month that they expect to swiftly ramp up those efforts.

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