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‘The virus respects no borders’: Global COVID vaccine progress gains momentum


Matt Woodley


23/11/2020 2:15:02 PM

Amid more promising trial results, G20 leaders – including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – have vowed to ‘spare no effort to protect lives’ and ensure affordable access to vaccines.

All GP20 leaders
G20 leaders say they are ‘committed to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic’. (Image: GP20 Saudi Arabia)

Almost 60 million cases and 1.4 million deaths, devastated economies, untold mental health effects, a frighteningly uncertain future.
 
International leaders are acutely aware of the world-shattering impacts of the coronavirus.
 
And speaking after this weekend’s Group of 20 (G20) summit – hosted in Saudi Arabia and held virtually across the globe – the world’s most powerful nations were clear in their intent for tackling the global pandemic.
 
‘Combatting this pandemic calls for a transparent, robust, coordinated, large-scale and science-based global response in the spirit of solidarity. We are strongly committed to presenting a united front against this common threat,’ the G20 leaders said in a statement.
 
‘The G20 is committed to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic.’
 
The G20 nations, which consist of the world’s 20 biggest economies, including Australia, pledged to pay for a fair global distribution of COVID vaccines, drugs and tests to ensure poorer countries do not miss out, according to a draft communique.
 
‘We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivise innovation,’ the leaders said in the draft statement.
 
‘We recognise the role of extensive immunisation as a global public good.’
 
As the world inches closer to a successful vaccine, a number of candidates have shown strong results in recent days and weeks.

AstraZeneca said on Monday its vaccine could be up to 90% effective without any serious side effects. 

Developed by Oxford University, the vaccine was 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 when administered as a half dose followed by a full dose at least one month apart, according to data from late-stage trials in Britain and Brazil.

However, another dosing regimen showed 62% efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart.

The combined analysis from both dosing regimens resulted in an average efficacy of 70%.

‘This vaccine’s efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against COVID-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency,’ AstraZeneca Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot said. 

AstraZeneca will have 200 million doses of its candidate by the end of 2020, with 700 million doses ready globally by the end of the first quarter of 2021, according to operations executive Pam Cheng.

‘This means we have a vaccine for the world,’ Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford University vaccine group that developed the drug, said. 

This latest news comes after phase 2 trial results for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca AZD1222 candidate (also known as ChAdOx1) have shown it produces a ‘robust’ immune response in old and young adults, but is better tolerated in older people.

If ultimately successful, 3.8 million doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine will be delivered to Australia in early 2021, and 30 million doses will be manufactured in Australia from early 2021 through to September 2021.
 
Pfizer/BioNtech last week sought emergency government approval for their coronavirus vaccine candidate, with the US aiming to begin administering doses by the end of this year. Their vaccine candidate had demonstrated greater than 90% efficacy, which rose to 95% with analysis of full trial data.
 
The application and clinical trial data will be reviewed by an independent board of scientists before approval is granted, but US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said ‘hope and help are on the way’.
 
Australia recently announced a supply deal to access 10 million vials of Pfizer/BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine.
 
Moderna, which released positive preliminary efficacy and safety results last week, is also expected to seek an emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks. The company said its experimental vaccine proved to be 94.5% effective, based on early data analysis.

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Australia has secured 30 million doses of AZD1222, enough to vaccinate 15 million people against COVID-19. (Image: AAP)

Experts have noted that while the AstraZeneca vaccine seems to offer a lower efficacy than candidates from Pfizer and Moderna, it may come with other advantages.

‘Importantly, from what we have heard the vaccine seems to prevent infection not just disease,’ Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, said. ‘This is important as the vaccine could reduce the spread of the virus as well as protect the vulnerable from severe disease.’

In addition, AstraZeneca’s vaccine can be distributed more easily because it can be kept at refrigerator temperature, while candidates from Pfizer and Moderna have to be stored frozen. That would make the AstraZeneca vaccine easier to transport and store globally, particularly in lower- and middle-income countries.

‘The vaccine’s simple supply chain and our no-profit pledge and commitment to broad, equitable and timely access means it will be affordable and globally available supplying hundreds of millions of doses on approval,’ Mr Soriot said of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
 
Results from phase 1 and 2 trials of the Chinese-led CoronaVac candidate – for which Australia does not have a purchase agreement – were also released last week, showing that the vaccine is safe and induces an antibody response in healthy people.
 
It was tested on 700 volunteers aged 18–59 and found to produce antibody responses after two injections 14 days apart, in addition to being safe and tolerated at all tested doses.
 
While the study was not designed to see if the vaccine could prevent infection – and the antibodies produced were lower than those seen in people who have been infected and recovered from COVID-19 – the researchers say they still expect the vaccine to offer some protection from the virus.

With AAP
 
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