A Viral Epidemic Splintering into Deadly Pieces

Once again, the coronavirus is ascendant. As infections mount across the country, it is dawning on Americans that the epidemic is now unstoppable, and that no corner of the nation will be left untouched.

As of Wednesday, the pathogen had infected at least 4.3 million Americans, killing more than 150,000. Many experts fear the virus could kill 200,000 or even 300,000 by year’s end. Even President Trump has donned a mask, after resisting for months, and has canceled the Republican National Convention celebrations in Florida.

Each state, each city has its own crisis driven by its own risk factors: vacation crowds in one, bars reopened too soon in another, a revolt against masks in a third.

“We are in a worse place than we were in March,” when the virus coursed through New York, said Dr. Leana S. Wen, a former Baltimore health commissioner. “Back then we had one epicenter. Now we have lots.”

To assess where the country is heading now, The New York Times interviewed 20 public health experts — not just clinicians and epidemiologists, but also historians and sociologists, because the spread of the virus is now influenced as much by human behavior as it is by the pathogen itself.

Not only are American cities in the South and West facing deadly outbreaks like those that struck Northeastern cities in the spring, but rural areas are being hurt, too. In every region, people of color will continue to suffer disproportionately, experts said.

While there may be no appetite for a national lockdown, local restrictions must be tightened when required, the researchers said, and governors and mayors must have identical goals. Testing must become more targeted.

In most states, contact tracing is now moot — there are simply too many cases to track. And while progress has been made on vaccines, none is expected to arrive this winter in time to stave off what many fear will be a new wave of deaths.

Overall, the scientists conveyed a pervasive sense of sadness and exhaustion. Where once there was defianceand then a growing sense of dread, now there seems to be sorrow and frustration, a feeling that so many funerals never had to happen and that nothing is going well. The United States is a wounded giant, while much of Europe, which was hit first, is recovering and reopening — although not to us.

“We’re all incredibly depressed and in shock at how out of control the virus is in the U.S.,” said Dr. Michele Barry, the director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University.

With so much wealth and medical talent, they asked, how could we have done so poorly? How did we fare not just worse than autocratic China and isolated New Zealand, but also worse than tiny, much poorer nations like Vietnam and Rwanda?

“National hubris and belief in American exceptionalism have served us badly,” said Martha L. Lincoln, a medical anthropologist and historian at San Francisco State University. “We were not prepared to see the risk of failure.”

Since the coronavirus was first found to be the cause of lethal pneumonias in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, scientists have gained a better understanding of the enemy.

It is extremely transmissible, through not just coughed droplets but also a fine aerosol mist that is expelled when people talk loudly, laugh or sing and that can linger in indoor air. As a result, masks are far more effective than scientists once believed.

Virus carriers with mild or no symptoms can be infectious, and there may be 10 times as many people spreading the illness as have tested positive for it.

The infection may start in the lungs, but it is very different from influenza, a respiratory virus. In severely ill patients, the coronavirus may attach to receptors inside the veins and arteries, and move on to attack the kidneys, the heart, the gut and even the brain, choking off these organs with hundreds of tiny blood clots.

Most of the virus’s victims are elderly, but it has not spared young adults, especially those with obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes. Adults aged 18 to 49 now account for more hospitalized cases than people aged 50 to 64 or those 65 and older.

Children are usually not harmed by the virus, although clinicians were dismayed to discover a few who were struck by a rare but dangerous inflammatory versionYoung children appear to transmit the virus less often than teenagers, which may affect how schools can be opened.

Among adults, a very different picture has emerged. Growing evidence suggests that perhaps 10 percent of the infected account for 80 percent of new transmissions. Unpredictable superspreading events in nursing homes, meatpacking plants, churches, prisons and bars are major drivers of the epidemic.

Thus far, none of the medicines for which hopes were once high — repurposed malaria drugs, AIDS drugs and antivirals — have proved to be rapid cures. One antiviral, remdesivir, has been shown to shorten hospital stays, while a common steroid, dexamethasone, has helped save some severely ill patients.

One or even several vaccines may be available by year’s end, which would be a spectacular achievement. But by then the virus may have in its grip virtually every village and city on the globe.

Some experts, like Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, argue that only a nationwide lockdown can completely contain the virus now. Other researchers think that is politically impossible, but emphasize that localities must be free to act quickly and enforce strong measures with support from their state legislators.

Danielle Allen, the director of Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, which has issued pandemic response plans, said that finding less than one case per 100,000 people means a community should continue testing, contact tracing and isolating cases — with financial support for those who need it.

Up to 25 cases per 100,000 requires greater restrictions, like closing bars and limiting gatherings. Above that number, authorities should issue stay-at-home orders, she said.

Testing must be focused, not just offered at convenient parking lots, experts said, and it should be most intense in institutions like nursing homes, prisons, factories or other places at risk of superspreading events.

Testing must be free in places where people are poor or uninsured, such as public housing projects, Native American reservations and churches and grocery stores in impoverished neighborhoods.

None of this will be possible unless the nation’s capacity for testing, a continuing disaster, is greatly expanded. By the end of summer, the administration hopes to start using “pooling,” in which tests are combined in batches to speed up the process.

But the method only works in communities with lower infection rates, where large numbers of pooled tests turn up relatively few positive results. It fails where the virus has spread everywhere, because too many batches turn up positive results that require retesting.

At the moment, the United States tests roughly 800,000 people per day, about 38 percent of the number some experts think is needed.

Above all, researchers said, mask use should be universal indoors — including airplanes, subway cars and every other enclosed space — and outdoors anywhere people are less than six feet apart.

Dr. Emily Landon, an infection control specialist at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, said it was “sad that something as simple as a mask got politicized.”

“It’s not a statement, it’s a piece of clothing,” she added. “You get used to it the way you got used to wearing pants.”

Arguments that masks infringe on personal rights must be countered both by legal orders and by persuasion. “We need more credible messengers endorsing masks,” Dr. Wen said — just before the president himself became a messenger.

“They could include C.E.O.s or celebrities or religious leaders. Different people are influencers to different demographics.”

Although this feels like a new debate, it is actually an old one. Masks were common in some Western cities during the 1918 flu pandemic and mandatory in San Francisco. There was even a jingle: “Obey the laws, wear the gauze. Protect your jaws from septic paws.”

“A libertarian movement, the Anti-Mask League, emerged,” Dr. Lincoln of San Francisco State said. “There were fistfights with police officers over it.” Ultimately, city officials “waffled” and compliance faded.

“I wonder what this issue would be like today,” she mused, “if that hadn’t happened.”

Images of Americans disregarding social distancing requirements have become a daily news staple. But the pictures are deceptive: Americans are more accepting of social distancing than the media sometimes portrays, said Beth Redbird, a Northwestern University sociologist who since March has conducted regular surveys of 8,000 adults about the impact of the virus.

“About 70 percent of Americans report using all forms of it,” she said. “And when we give them adjective choices, they describe people who won’t distance as mean, selfish or unintelligent, not as generous, open-minded or patriotic.”

The key predictor, she said in early July, was whether or not the poll respondent trusted Mr. Trump. Those who trusted him were less likely to practice social distancing. That was true of Republicans and independents, “and there’s no such thing as a Democrat who trusts Donald Trump,” she added.

Whether or not people support coercive measures like stay-at-home orders or bar closures depended on how scared the respondent was.

“When rising case numbers make people more afraid, they have more taste for liberty-constraining actions,” Dr. Redbird said. And no economic recovery will occur, she added, “until people aren’t afraid. If they are, they won’t go out and spend money even if they’re allowed to.”

As of Wednesday, new infections were rising in 33 states, and in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, according to a database maintained by The Times.

Weeks ago, experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, were advising states where the virus was surging to pull back from reopening by closing down bars, forbidding large gatherings and requiring mask usage.

Many of those states are finally taking that advice, but it is not yet clear whether this national change of heart has happened in time to stop the newest wave of deaths from ultimately exceeding the 2,750-a-day peak of mid-April. Now, the daily average is 1,106 virus deaths nationwide.

Deaths may surge even higher, experts warned, when cold weather, rain and snow force Americans to meet indoors, eat indoors and crowd into public transit.

Oddly, states that are now hard-hit might become safer, some experts suggested. In the South and Southwest, summers are so hot that diners seek air-conditioning indoors, but eating outdoors in December can be pleasant.

Several studies have confirmed transmission in air-conditioned rooms. In one well-known case cluster in a restaurant in Guangzhou, China, researchers concluded that air-conditioners blew around a viral cloud, infecting patrons as far as 10 feet from a sick diner.

Rural areas face another risk. Almost 80 percent of the country’s counties lack even one infectious disease specialist, according to a study led by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

At the moment, the crisis is most acute in Southern and Southwestern states. But websites that track transmission rates show that hot spots can turn up anywhere. For three weeks, for example, Alaska’s small outbreak has been one of the country’s fastest-spreading, while transmission in Texas and Arizona has dramatically slowed.

Deaths now may rise more slowly than they did in spring, because hospitalized patients are, on average, younger this time. But overwhelmed hospitals can lead to excess deaths from many causes all over a community, as ambulances are delayed and people having health crises avoid hospitals out of fear.

The experts were divided as to what role influenza will play in the fall. A harsh flu season could flood hospitals with pneumonia patients needing ventilators. But some said the flu season could be mild or almost nonexistent this year.

Normally, the flu virus migrates from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere in the spring — presumably in air travelers — and then returns in the fall, with new mutations that may make it a poor match for the annual vaccine.

But this year, the national lockdown abruptly ended flu transmission in late April, according to weekly Fluview reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. International air travel has been sharply curtailed, and there has been almost no flu activity in the whole southern hemisphere this year.

Assuming there is still little air travel to the United States this fall, there may be little “reseeding” of the flu virus here. But in case that prediction turns out be wrong, all the researchers advised getting flu shots anyway.

“There’s no reason to be caught unprepared for two respiratory viruses,” said Tara C. Smith, an epidemiologist at Kent State University’s School of Public Health.

Experts familiar with vaccine and drug manufacturing were disappointed that, thus far, only dexamethasone and remdesivir have proved to be effective treatments, and then only partially.

Most felt that monoclonal antibodies — cloned human proteins that can be grown in cell culture — represented the best hope until vaccines arrive. Regeneron, Eli Lilly and other drugmakers are working on candidates.

“They’re promising both for treatment and for prophylaxis, and there are companies with track records and manufacturing platforms,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, a former director of medical and biodefense preparedness at the National Security Council. “But manufacturing capacity is limited.”

According to a database compiled by The Times, researchers worldwide are developing more than 165 vaccine candidates, and 27 are in human trials.

New announcements are pouring in, and the pressure to hurry is intense: The Trump administration just awarded nearly $2 billion to a Pfizer-led consortium that promised 100 million doses by December, assuming trials succeed.

Because the virus is still spreading rapidly, most experts said “challenge trials,” in which a small number of volunteers are vaccinated and then deliberately infected, would probably not be needed.

Absent a known cure, “challenges” can be ethically fraught, and some doctors oppose doing them for this virus. “They don’t tell you anything about safety,” Dr. Borio said.

And when a virus is circulating unchecked, a typical placebo-controlled trial with up to 30,000 participants can be done efficiently, she added. Moderna and Pfizer have already begun such trials.

The Food and Drug Administration has said a vaccine will pass muster even if it is only 50 percent effective. Experts said they could accept that, at least initially, because the first vaccine approved could save lives while testing continued on better alternatives.

“A vaccine doesn’t have to work perfectly to be useful,” Dr. Walensky said. “Even with measles vaccine, you can sometimes still get measles — but it’s mild, and you aren’t infectious.”

“We don’t know if a vaccine will work in older folks. We don’t know exactly what level of herd immunity we’ll need to stop the epidemic. But anything safe and fairly effective should help.”

Still, haste is risky, experts warned, especially when opponents of vaccines are spreading fear. If a vaccine is rushed to market without thorough safety testing and recipients are hurt by it, all vaccines could be set back for years.

No matter what state the virus reaches, one risk remains constant. Even in states with few Black and Hispanic residents, they are usually hit hardest, experts said.

People of color are more likely to have jobs that require physical presence and sometimes close contact, such as construction work, store clerking and nursing. They are more likely to rely on public transit and to live in neighborhoods where grocery stores are scarce and crowded.

They are more likely to live in crowded housing and multigenerational homes, some with only one bathroom, making safe home isolation impossible when sickness strikes. They have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma.

Federal data gathered through May 28 shows that Black and Hispanic Americans were three times as likely to get infected as their white neighbors, and twice as likely to die, even if they lived in remote rural counties with few Black or Hispanic residents.

“By the time that minority patient sets foot in a hospital, he is already on an unequal footing,” said Elaine Hernandez, a sociologist at Indiana University.

The differences persist even though Black and Hispanic adults drastically altered their behavior. One study found that through the beginning of May, the average Black American practiced more social distancing than the average white American.

Officials in ChicagoBaltimore and other communities faced another threat: rumors flying about social media that Black people were somehow immune.

The top factor making people adopt self-protective behavior is personally knowing someone who fell ill, said Dr. Redbird. By the end of spring, Black and Hispanic Americans were 50 percent more likely than white Americans to know someone who had been sickened by the virus, her surveys found.

Dr. Hernandez, whose parents live in Arizona, said their neighbors who had not been scared in June had since changed their attitudes.

Her father, a physician, had set an example. Early on, he wore a mask with a silly mustache when he and his wife took walks, and they would decline friends’ invitations, saying, “No, we’re staying in our bubble.”

Now, she said, their neighbors are wearing masks, “and people are telling my father, ‘You were right,’” Dr. Hernandez said.

There was no widespread agreement among experts about what is likely to happen in the years after the pandemic. Some scientists expected a quick economic recovery; others thought the damage could persist for years.

Working at home will become more common, some predicted, while crowded, open-plan offices may be changed. The just-in-time supply chains on which many businesses depend will need fixing because the processes failed to deliver adequate protective gear, ventilators and test materials.

A disease-modeling system like that used by the National Weather Service to predict storms is needed, said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Right now, the country has surveillance for seasonal flu but no national map tracking all disease outbreaks. As Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, a former C.D.C. director, recently pointed out, states are not even required to track the same data.

Several experts said they assumed that millions of Americans who have been left without health insurance or forced to line up at food banks would vote for politicians favoring universal health care, paid sick leave, greater income equality and other changes.

But given the country’s deep political divisions, no researcher was certain what the outcome of the coming election would be.

Dr. Redbird said her polling of Americans showed “little faith in institutions across the board — we’re not seeing an increase in trust in science or an appetite for universal health care or workers equity.”

The Trump administration did little to earn trust. More than six months into the worst health crisis in a century, Mr. Trump only last week urged Americans to wear masks and canceled the Republican convention in Florida, the kind of high-risk indoor event that states have been banning since mid-March.

“It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” Mr. Trump said at the first of the resurrected coronavirus task force briefings earlier this month, which included no scientists or health officials. The briefings were discontinued in April amid his rosy predications that the epidemic would soon be over.

Mr. Trump has ignoredcontradicted or disparaged his scientific advisers, repeatedly saying that the virus simply would go away, touting unproven drugs like hydroxychloroquine even after they were shown to be ineffective and sometimes dangerous, and suggesting that disinfectants or lethal ultraviolet light might be used inside the body.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and their health insurance, and are in danger of losing their homes, even as they find themselves in the path of a lethal disease. The Trump presidency “is the symptom of the denigration of science and the gutting of the public contract about what we owe each other as citizens,” said Dr. Joia S. Mukherjee, the chief medical officer of Partners in Health in Boston.

One lesson that will surely be learned is that the country needs to be better prepared for microbial assaults, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, a former director of the C.D.C.

“This is not a once-in-a-century event. It’s a harbinger of things to come.”

 

 

 

The state of the global race for a coronavirus vaccine

https://www.axios.com/race-for-coronavirus-vaccine-us-china-oxford-eace8d13-59b6-404f-9dd9-569d00e01f58.html

The state of the global race for a coronavirus vaccine - Axios

Vaccines from the U.K., U.S. and China are sprinting ahead in a global race that involves at least 197 vaccine candidates and is producing geopolitical clashes even as it promises a possible pandemic escape route.

Driving the news: The first two candidates to reach phase three trials — one from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, the other from China — both appear safe and produce immune responses, according to preliminary results published today in The Lancet.

  • A vaccine from Moderna, the U.S. biotech firm, is heading into phase three trials after similarly encouraging initial results.
  • There are at least 16 other vaccines currently in clinical trials in Australia, France, Germany, India, Russia, South Korea, the U.K., the U.S. and China, which is experimenting with a variety of vaccine types and has five candidates already in trials.

What they’re saying: Experts are increasingly confident that it’s no longer a question of if but when vaccines will be available.

  • “Absolutely, for sure, we will get more than one vaccine,” Barry Bloom, a professor of public health at Harvard, told reporters today.
  • He cautioned that it’s not yet clear which vaccines will win the race and that we won’t know how effective they are in protecting against COVID-19 — and for how long — until after phase three trials.

Pressed on when a vaccine could be approved, Bloom said that while it seemed “utterly crazy seven months ago,” January was looking increasingly realistic.

  • Richard Horton, The Lancet‘s editor-in-chief, is more cautious: “If we have a vaccine by the end of 2021, we will have done incredibly well.”
  • Zeke Emanuel, chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, splits the difference: “Seven months after we got the genome, to have three vaccines in phase three is literally unprecedented. If in six to eight months we get a license, that will be, again, totally unprecedented in world history.”

But, but, but: “Getting something approved doesn’t protect you from COVID,” Emanuel warns.

  • The challenges of producing, distributing and delivering a vaccine (particularly in two doses, as the Oxford vaccine requires) around the entire world are hard to even fathom.
  • Even distributing a vaccine in one country will require an unprecedented buildup of facilities, materials (like glass vials), personnel and protocols, assuming enough people are even willing to take it.

Illustration of syringe in the earth

The global picture is even murkier. Several countries and pharmaceutical companies have committed to “fair and equitable” distribution.

  • In principle, that would suggest a vulnerable front-line worker in Uganda, say, should get the vaccine before a young, healthy person in the United States.
  • In practice, well … no one really knows.

The bottom line: “It’s very fragmented, and in some ways that’s understandable,” Horton says. “But the danger of that is that many countries will lose out and only the strongest country, the country with the most money, will win.”

  • If countries hoard supplies rather than prioritizing at-risk people elsewhere, Bloom says, “that should be a cause not just of global concern but of global shame.”

For now, governments are prioritizing their own populations.

  • The Trump administration is pouring at least $3.5 billion into the development and manufacture of three leading vaccine candidates, with the promise of hundreds of millions of doses should they prove safe and effective.
  • Even as the homegrown Oxford vaccine takes a global lead, the U.K. is hedging its bets by purchasing 90 million doses being developed by German and French companies.
  • The U.K. and U.S. have both also put in large pre-orders of the Oxford vaccine, though AstraZeneca says 1 billion doses will also be manufactured in India and distributed mainly to other low- and middle-income countries.
  • The WHO and EU are attempting to create a framework for distributing the vaccine globally, though the U.S. has declined to take part.

Illustration of syringes forming a health plus/cross

What to watch: Managing the largest vaccination project in history will clearly require global collaboration — but it’s also becoming a competition between rival powers.

  • Six months from now, we will be in a situation where a few countries will have vaccines, and we believe those countries will be the UK, Russia, China and the US,” Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, told the FT.

Between the lines: Others are less certain Russia will be in that group, though Dmitriev says a vaccine bankrolled by his fund and developed by the state-run Gamaleya Institute will move into phase three trials next month.

“Basically other countries will decide, you know, which vaccine to buy … and who do you trust?”

— Kirill Dmitriev

State of play: There’s a clear lack of trust among the competitors.

  • According to the U.S, U.K. and Canada, hackers linked to Russian military intelligence have attempted to steal vaccine research in order to aid their own efforts.
  • The U.S. has also accused China of pilfering American research.
  • House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy will introduce a bill on Tuesday that would sanction foreign hackers attempting to steal U.S. vaccine research, according to a copy of the bill obtained by Axios’ Alayna Treene.

Zoom out: It will be a victory for humanity when the first coronavirus vaccines are approved. But the competition to obtain one early goes beyond national pride.

  • Vaccines will save countless lives, drive economic recoveries, and could provide rare opportunities to generate goodwill and influence abroad.
  • “There’s a huge soft power advantage to the U.S. ensuring that other countries can get the vaccine and protect themselves,” Emanuel says. The same would, of course, be true for China.

The bottom line: The race is on, but it won’t end when the first vaccine is approved.

 

 

 

We’re still in the early stages of the vaccine race

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-a91eb4fb-e10d-46cf-b919-96e1e6e08b22.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Oxford and CanSino released coronavirus vaccine data. It's still ...

New clinical trial data from two experimental coronavirus vaccines — one from Oxford University and AstraZeneca in the U.K., and the other from CanSino Biologics in China — are providing cautious optimism in the race to combat the pandemic, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

The big picture: Science has never moved this fast to develop a vaccine. And researchers are still several months away from a clearer idea of whether the leading candidates help people generate robust immune responses to this virus.

Driving the news: The Oxford and CanSino vaccines didn’t lead to any severe adverse reactions or hospitalizations, according to the results released yesterday.

  • Safety — not efficacy — was the main thing these studies were supposed to be testing. And they performed well enough to move on to further trials.
  • Competing candidates from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have also performed well in safety trials.

Yes, but: Future trials will be the ones that tell us whether any of these potential vaccines actually trigger patients’ immune systems to respond to the virus.

  • In the results released yesterday, Oxford researchers gave their vaccine to 543 people but only tested 35 for “neutralizing antibodies.” A separate, nonrandomized group of 10 people got a booster dose of the Oxford vaccine a month after the initial dose.
  • Preliminary antibody responses from CanSino’s vaccine were “disappointing” to several experts.

The bottom line: There are 23 coronavirus vaccines in clinical testing right now, according to the World Health Organization.

  • We now have data on the first four, but the studies mostly are confirming that the vaccines aren’t severely harmful and that large-scale studies are warranted — not that they definitely work yet.
  • “It is good and hopeful news indeed, but we’ll only know when the large trials are done,” tweeted Robert Califf, a former FDA commissioner under President Obama.

 

 

 

A coronavirus vaccine: Where does it stand?

https://www.politifact.com/article/2020/jul/13/coronavirus-vaccine-where-does-it-stand/?fbclid=IwAR3hk04P0N3AuJXsKCr_JqV8vu0qZ6njsHE3if6xX6E2AxsllV1m81LjtX4

Coronavirus vaccines get a biotech boost

IF YOUR TIME IS SHORT

Scientists are expressing cautious optimism that a vaccine can be ready to go by the late spring of 2021, although it’s unclear how much longer it would take to distribute the vaccine widely.

Two possible vaccines are in phase 3 clinical trials; once those trials are completed, they would be candidates for approval. Another eight vaccines have begun phase 2 trials. And more than 100 other vaccines that haven’t begun clinical trials are in the pipeline.

• The Food and Drug Administration recently produced guidelines for the minimum effectiveness of vaccines seeking the agency’s approval. Vaccine officials say these guidelines are important to ensure public confidence in vaccines.

 

More than four months into the coronavirus pandemic, how close is the U.S. and the world to a safe and effective vaccine? Scientists say they see steady progress and are expressing cautious optimism that a vaccine could be ready by spring of 2021.

As of early July, there were roughly 160 vaccine projects under way worldwide, according to the World Health Organization

Generally, a vaccine trial has several phases. In an initial phase, the vaccine is given to 20 to 100 healthy volunteers. The focus in this phase is to make sure the vaccine is safe, and to note any side effects.

In the second phase, there are hundreds of volunteers. In addition to monitoring safety, researchers try to determine whether shots produce an immune-system response.

The third phase involves thousands of patients. This phase continues the goals of the first two, but adds a focus on how effective the vaccine is. This phase also collects data on more unusual negative side effects.

In ordinary circumstances, these phases take years to complete. But for coronavirus, the timeline is being shortened. This has spurred more public-private partnerships and significantly increased funding.

Here’s a rundown of the 13 vaccine candidates that are furthest along in the clinical phases:

Coronavirus vaccines that are the furthest along:

A Coronavirus Vaccine: Where Does It Stand? – Corridor News

The three vaccine candidates that are furthest along are both in phase 3. 

One is being developed by researchers at Oxford University in the U.K. It uses a weakened version of a virus that causes common colds in chimpanzees. Researchers then added proteins, known as antigens, from the novel coronavirus, in the hope that these could prime the human immune system to fight the virus once it encounters it.

Another candidate in a phase 3 trial is being developed in China. It uses a killed, and thus safe, version of the novel coronavirus to spur an immune reaction.

And on July 15, the biotech company Moderna, which is partnering with the National Institutes of Health, announced that it would be moving to phase 3 within two weeks.

Two others have made it as far as phase 2, while eight others are finishing their phase 1 trials while also beginning phase 2 trials.

These candidates are being developed by a mix of corporations and institutions in several countries. These efforts seek to leverage a range of different technologies.

One uses RNA material that provides the instructions for a body to produce the needed antigens itself. This is a relatively untested approach to vaccination, but if it works, it has aspects that could make it easier to manufacture. Another approach is similar, but uses DNA instead of RNA.

One U.S. biotech firm, Novavax, is receiving federal funding to produce a vaccine that uses a lab-made protein to inspire an immune response.

Beyond these, another 10 vaccine candidates are in phase 1 clinical trials, while another 140 haven’t reached the clinical phase yet.

Having so many potential vaccines this far along is impressive, experts say, given the short time scientists have known about the novel coronavirus. 

“Overall, the pace of development and advancement to Phase 3 trials is impressive,” said Matthew B. Laurens, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health. “The public-private partnerships have been highly successful and are achieving goals for rapid vaccine development.”

In addition, the fact that several types of vaccine approaches are being tested means we aren’t putting all of our eggs in one basket.

“We will need several candidates should any one of these experience difficulties in manufacturing or show a safety signal when implemented in larger numbers of people,” Laurens said.

Meanwhile, at a time of rising public skepticism of government and vaccines, the Food and Drug Administration recently released additional guidelines on vaccine effectiveness. The new guidance requires vaccines to prevent or decrease the severity of the disease at least 50% of the time if they are to win the agency’s approval.

The FDA guidelines “reaffirmed the very rigorous FDA process for approving any vaccine. That gives a great deal of reassurance that this was going to be handled by the book,” said William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “The more we talk about doing things fast, the more the public thinks, ‘They’re probably cutting corners.’”

How fast will we have access to a workable vaccine?

In early April, Kathleen M. Neuzil, director of the University of Maryland’s vaccine center, told PolitiFact that if all went well, there might be five or six vaccines in trials within six months. Now, three and a half months later, there are two to three times that number.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other officials have remained consistent in their estimation of the timeline: 12 to 18 months from the start of the pandemic, or roughly the late spring of 2021.

Schaffner told PolitiFact that he continues to see the first quarter of 2021 as a reasonable target. “I think that’s where the needle is pointing,” he said.

It remains to be seen how fast vaccines can be manufactured and distributed once approved for general use. Officials are also grappling with which Americans will get access first. So it’s unclear how long a person would have to wait to get vaccinated.

Laurens said he is not overly concerned about the distribution, because that is something that officials have long experience with. “Well-established programs exist for vaccine distribution, including for seasonal vaccination of large numbers of individuals,” he said.

Another hopeful sign, Schaffner said, is that the coronavirus itself seems to be relatively stable. There had been concern that the novel coronavirus, like many other viruses, is mutating over time. If the virus changes enough, that could become a problem that bedevils vaccine researchers.

But so far, that hasn’t happened. Even if evidence emerges that mutations are making the virus more transmissible, or that a new variant is making people sicker, that shouldn’t affect the vaccine process. “The central core of the virus would remain the same,” Schaffner said.

During the past month, there has been relatively little news about how much progress is being made on particular vaccines. Schaffner is not worried by the relative quiet.

“In a vaccine trial, if there’s an adverse safety finding, the guillotine comes down and that trial is stopped,” he said. “So quiet is good, because we’d know if something bad happens.”

 

 

 

Op-Ed: We Still Don’t Know the Risk Posed by COVID-19

https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/87629?xid=fb_o&trw=no&fbclid=IwAR2V6CbOCIXDf2K9sJCcRb0PhbqM4inXixe_poOFYudOcoUFZCmU2JzyrDg

Op-Ed: We Still Don't Know the Risk Posed by COVID-19 | MedPage Today

The need for a coordinated national research strategy

Confused about the risks of dying from the coronavirus or of catching it from someone who seems healthy? We all are, and the dizzying differences in scientific opinion are now linked to political perspectives. Progressives cite evidence that loosening restrictions would cost lives and offer little benefit to the economy, while conservatives embrace evidence that the risks are low. We offer a guide to help navigate the tangle of numbers and suggest a way forward.

Google and many others display the number of cases and deaths (3.6 million and 138,840, respectively, by July 17). This invites a simple calculation for understanding the risk: divide the number who have died by the number who have been diagnosed. So, the chance of dying if infected is about 3.9%. Right? Well, not so fast. Six months into the pandemic, neither the number of deaths nor the number of people infected is known.

Some argue that deaths have been overemphasized since people who die of COVID are mostly older and sicker. Others suggest deaths have been overcounted since if a patient tests positive for COVID-19, it will likely be listed as the cause of death even if the person succumbs to another illness or, in some jurisdictions, dies due to an accident or suicide. Others argue that deaths have been undercounted.

Missing from the tally on any given day are those who died before testing was available, those who died shortly before or after but whose death has not yet been reported, or who died as an indirect result of the epidemic such as failing to seek medical care for fear of going to the hospital.

One carefully designed recent analysis compared deaths this year to the number of people who die during a “normal” year. The analysis concluded that through May, almost 100,000 people died from COVID-19 in addition to 30,000 who died from other causes related to the pandemic.

In short, uncertainty remains about the number of deaths due to COVID-19, which is supposed to be the easy part.

Estimating the number of people who have been infected is harder still. Most infected people are never formally diagnosed and never become one of the “cases” in the news. The limitations of the tests and the difficulty of attracting a representative population to be tested make it hard to estimate the true number of infections. The preferred test (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction-based tests) uses RNA technology to see if the virus is present in nasal or oral swabs. It is a good test, but still may miss infections in up to 30% of cases.

A second type of test uses blood samples to look for an antibody called immunoglobulin (Ig)G that implies the person was previously infected. Based on IgG test results, the CDC assumes that 5% to 8% of the population has been infected. That would mean 24 million Americans have already had COVID-19 or a very similar illness. That is more than 10 times the number of confirmed cases.

The number is consequential: a higher infection rate for the same number of deaths implies that the virus is less deadly.review by a prominent epidemiologist considered 23 population studies with sample sizes of at least 500 people and found the percentage who have positive antibodies ranged from 0.1% to 48% — a 480-fold difference. Although the study was robustly criticized and at odds with highly citedpeer-reviewed research, it has appeared in over 30 news outlets, and the range of estimates allows people to pick a number that justifies their political position.

Contributing to this uncertainty is the FDA decision to, in a hurry to catch up for lost time, temporarily relax its standards for approving tests. Among over 300 antibody tests currently on the market, data on only a handful are publicly available, and some are being recalled.

The other number we need to know is how many people are spreading the infection without knowing it. Estimates are all over the place. Some major employers, including Stanford Healthcare, have systematically tested all of their employees and found very few infected people who do not have symptoms. In contrast, a CDC study of young, healthy adults working on an aircraft carrier found that 20% of those infected reported no symptoms.

So here we are, months into the epidemic without consensus on the basic information about how many people are infected, the risk of death for those infected, or the risk of asymptomatic transmission. In contrast to official agencies that use transparent methods to report the weather or the unemployment rate, trust in our official health statistics agencies has broken down as reports continue to emerge form myriad sources with conflicting methodologies and motivations.

The time has come to activate impartial groups, like the National Academy of Medicine, to build consensus on how to monitor the epidemic. We know the risks are serious. As cases have started to rise, whether or not the number of U.S. deaths is higher or lower than 130,000, the risk of inaction is too high.

We are staying near home, wearing masks, and treating COVID-19 as a serious threat to public health.

 

 

Democrats align around a health policy platform

https://mailchi.mp/86e2f0f0290d/the-weekly-gist-july-10-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

Abstract Word Cloud For Health Policy With Related Tags And Terms ...

 

Promising that “we are going to at last build the health care system the American people have always deserved”, a joint task force of health policy advisors from the Biden and Sanders campaigns this week released a unified set of proposals that will serve as part of the former Vice President’s campaign platform for the November election.

While the document does not include Sanders’ signature “Medicare for All” proposal, it does support a government-run public insurance option that would be available to all Americans, at income-adjusted, subsidized rates—including free coverage for those with low incomes. It also promises to expand Medicare benefits to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage, and to extend Medicare eligibility to those age 60 and above.

For those who lose their health coverage due to the COVID pandemic, the unity document endorses having the government pick up the tab for COBRA benefits and shifting enrollees into premium-free coverage on the Obamacare exchanges when their COBRA eligibility expires.

It also promises greater investment in public health resources, including increased funding for the CDC, and funding to recruit 100,000 contact tracers nationwide.

Other key components of the proposal include eliminating “surprise billing”, reducing drug costs, addressing racial and gender-based health inequities, and bolstering investment in scientific research.

This week’s document represents an important step in unifying the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party around key health policy principles. Should Biden win in November, and if Democrats gain control of the Senate, we’d expect quick action on many of these proposals.

Clearly the most difficult would be the public option and Medicare expansion, which would require lengthy negotiation with various industry groups to garner sufficient political support. Similar to the 2009 process that led to the Affordable Care Act, we would likely see a year’s worth of political horse-trading, leading to passage of some compromise legislation before the midterm elections in 2022.

All of that in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and likely prolonged economic downturn—both of which will probably allow for the passage of more far-reaching legislation than might otherwise be possible.

 

 

Whistleblower alleges Trump administration ignored coronavirus warnings

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-rick-bright-whistleblower-f48cc9c6-8e6e-4662-a127-03e51f323288.html?stream=health-care&utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alerts_healthcare

Whistleblower alleges Trump administration ignored coronavirus ...

Rick Bright, the former director of the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), filed a whistleblower complaint Tuesday alleging that the Department of Health and Human Services failed to take early action to mitigate the threat of the novel coronavirus.

Flashback: Bright said last month he believes he was ousted after clashing with HHS leadership over his attempts to limit the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus.

What’s new: In his complaint, Bright claims he was excluded from an HHS meeting on the coronavirus in late January after he “pressed for urgent access to funding, personnel, and clinical specimens, including viruses” to develop treatments for the coronavirus should it spread outside of Asia.

  • Bright alleges it “became increasingly clear” in late January that “HHS leadership was doing nothing to prepare for the imminent mask shortage.”
  • Bright claims he “resisted efforts to fall into line with the Administration’s directive to promote the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine and to award lucrative contracts for these and other drugs even though they lacked scientific merit and had not received prior scientific vetting.”
  • He adds that “even as HHS leadership began to acknowledge the imminent shortages in critical medical supplies, they failed to recognize the magnitude of the problem, and they failed to take the necessary urgent action.”

The White House declined to comment. HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

 

 

 

The world came together for a virtual vaccine summit. The U.S. was conspicuously absent.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/the-world-comes-together-for-a-virtual-vaccine-summit-the-us-is-conspicuously-absent/2020/05/04/ac5b6754-8a5c-11ea-80df-d24b35a568ae_story.html?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTkdRelpUWXlNV1k0TW1WaSIsInQiOiJXSHJqUW1UV042bmt0Q1A5TUhJQ2dZOWFucFNYbmxtdTRsZUV2c0ltYzJmZkl5aU43NGJqbDdCZnB4Y0sxK0hJaXRzWjZmajAxN3V5aGZCbGQrS1wvcm1id2dVaGRZdld1TFpXMEt0VUkrMWtrMGJ6cko3VW5jVUZwZlpKR1d0eHEifQ%3D%3D

The world comes together for a virtual vaccine summit. The U.S. is ...

World leaders came together in a virtual summit Monday to pledge billions of dollars to quickly develop vaccines and drugs to fight the coronavirus.

Missing from the roster was the Trump administration, which declined to participate but highlighted from Washington what one official called its “whole-of-America” efforts in the United States and its generosity to global health efforts.

The online conference, led by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and a half-dozen countries, was set to raise $8.2 billion from governments, philanthropies and the private sector to fund research and mass-produce drugs, vaccines and testing kits to combat the virus, which has killed more than 250,000 people worldwide.

With the money came soaring rhetoric about international solidarity and a good bit of boasting about each country’s efforts and achievements, live and prerecorded, by Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Boris Johnson, Japan’s Shinzo Abe — alongside Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“The more we pull together and share our expertise, the faster our scientists will succeed,” said Johnson, who was so stricken by the virus that he thought he might never leave the intensive care unit alive last month. “The race to discover the vaccine to defeat this virus is not a competition between countries but the most urgent shared endeavor of our lifetimes.”

A senior Trump administration official said Monday the United States “welcomes” the efforts of the conference participants. He did not explain why the United States did not join them.

“Many of the organizations and programs this pledging conference seeks to support already receive very significant funding and support from the U.S. government and private sector,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under White House rules for briefing reporters.

Public health officials and researchers expressed surprise.

“It’s the first time that I can think of where you have had a major international pledging conference for a global crisis of this kind of importance, and the U.S. is just absent,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, who worked on the Ebola response in the Obama administration.

Given that no one knows which vaccines will succeed, he said, it’s crucial to back multiple efforts working in parallel.

“Against that kind of uncertainty we should be trying to position ourselves to be supporting — and potentially benefiting from — all of them,” said Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. “And instead we seem to be just focused on trying to win the race, in the hopes we happen to get one of the successful ones.”

Conference participants expressed a need for unity.

“We can’t just have the wealthiest countries have a vaccine and not share it with the world,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

“Let us in the international community unite to overcome this crisis,” Abe said.

Russia and India also did not participate. Chinese premier Li Keqiang was replaced at the last minute by Zhang Ming, Beijing’s ambassador to the European Union.

The U.S. official said the United States “is the single largest health and humanitarian donor in world. And the American people have continued that legacy of generosity in the global fight against covid-19.”

“And we would welcome additional high-quality, transparent contributions from others,” he said.

Asked three more times to explain why the United States did not attend, the official said he already had given an answer.

The U.S. government has provided $775 million in emergency health, humanitarian, economic and development aid for governments, international organizations and charities fighting the pandemic. The official said the United States is in the process of giving about twice that amount in additional funding.

There was one major American player at the virtual summit: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which promised to spend $125 million in the fight.

“This virus doesn’t care what nationality you are,” Melinda Gates told the gathering. As long as the virus is somewhere, she said, it’s everywhere.

Scientists are working around-the-clock to find a cure or treatment for the coronavirus. The World Health Organization says eight vaccines have entered human trials and another 94 are in development.

But finding an effective vaccine is only part of the challenge. When it’s discovered, infectious disease experts are predicting a scramble for limited doses, because there won’t be enough to vaccinate everyone on Day One. And deploying it could be difficult, particularly in countries that lack robust medical infrastructure.

Those that have begun human trials include a research project at Oxford University in England, which hopes to have its vaccine ready in the fall. The university started human trials on April 23. “In normal times,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “reaching this stage would take years.”

Other scientists are sprinting to create antiviral drugs or repurposing existing drugs such as remdesivir, which U.S. infectious diseases chief Anthony S. Fauci said he expected would be the new “standard of care.”

Other approaches now in trial include treatments such as convalescent plasma, which involves taking blood plasma from people who have recovered from covid-19 to patients who are fighting the virus, in the hope that the antibody-rich fluid will give the infected a helping hand.

Conference participants expressed hope that by working together, the world will find solutions more quickly — and they can then be dispersed to all countries, not only the wealthy, or those that developed vaccines first.

Many of the leaders stressed their support for the WHO. President Trump announced last month he was cutting off U.S. funding for the WHO because he said it had sided too closely with China, where the coronavirus arose. Trump says Chinese leaders underplayed the threat and hid crucial facts.

Public health analysts have shared some of those criticisms but have also criticized Trump for cutting off funding.

Peter Jay Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said the United States has always been the primary funder of new products for global health. The country invested $1.8 billion in neglected diseases in 2018, according to Policy Cures Research, more than two-thirds of the worldwide total.

Hotez said the United States shoulders the burden of investing in global health technologies, while countries such as China do not step up.

“More than one mechanism for supporting global health technologies — that may not be such as a bad thing,” he said. “If it was all under one umbrella, you risk that some strong-willed opinions would carry the day and you might not fund the best technology.”

Hotez is working on a coronavirus vaccine that uses an existing, low-cost technology, previously used for the hepatitis B vaccine, precisely because he is worried about equitable distribution of the vaccine.

“I’m not very confident that some of the cutting-edge technologies going into clinical trials, which have never led to a licensed vaccine before, are going to filter down to low- and middle-income countries anytime soon,” Hotez said. “I’m really worried.”

 

 

 

 

How Long Will a Vaccine Really Take?

Health - Digg

A vaccine would be the ultimate weapon against the coronavirus and the best route back to normal life. Officials like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious disease expert on the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, estimate a vaccine could arrive in at least 12 to 18 months.

The grim truth behind this rosy forecast is that a vaccine probably won’t arrive any time soon. Clinical trials almost never succeed. We’ve never released a coronavirus vaccine for humans before. Our record for developing an entirely new vaccine is at least four years — more time than the public or the economy can tolerate social-distancing orders.

But if there was any time to fast-track a vaccine, it is now. So Times Opinion asked vaccine experts how we could condense the timeline and get a vaccine in the next few months instead of years.

Here’s how we might achieve the impossible.

Normally, researchers need years to secure funding, get approvals and study results piece by piece. But these are not normal times.

There are already at least 254 therapies and 95 vaccines related to Covid-19 being explored.

“If you want to make that 18-month timeframe, one way to do that is put as many horses in the race as you can,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Despite the unprecedented push for a vaccine, researchers caution that less than 10 percent of drugs that enter clinical trials are ever approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The rest fail in one way or another: They are not effective, don’t perform better than existing drugs or have too many side effects.

Fortunately, we already have a head start on the first phase of vaccine development: research. The outbreaks of SARS and MERS, which are also caused by coronaviruses, spurred lots of research. SARS and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, are roughly 80 percent identical, and both use so-called spike proteins to grab onto a specific receptor found on cells in human lungs. This helps explain how scientists developed a test for Covid-19 so quickly.

There’s a cost to moving so quickly, however. The potential Covid-19 vaccines now in the pipeline might be more likely to fail because of the swift march through the research phase, said Robert van Exan, a cell biologist who has worked in the vaccine industry for decades. He predicts we won’t see a vaccine approved until at least 2021 or 2022, and even then, “this is very optimistic and of relatively low probability.”

And yet, he said, this kind of fast-tracking is “worth the try — maybe we will get lucky.”

The next step in the process is pre-clinical and preparation work, where a pilot factory is readied to produce enough vaccine for trials. Researchers relying on groundwork from the SARS and MERS outbreaks could theoretically move through planning steps swiftly.

Sanofi, a French biopharmaceutical company, expects to begin clinical trials late this year for a Covid-19 vaccine that it repurposed from work on a SARS vaccine. If successful, the vaccine could be ready by late 2021.

As a rule, researchers don’t begin jabbing people with experimental vaccines until after rigorous safety checks.

They test the vaccine first on small batches of people — a few dozen during Phase 1, then a few hundred in Phase 2, then thousands in Phase 3. Months normally pass between phases so that researchers can review the findings and get approvals for subsequent phases.

But “if we do it the conventional way, there’s no way we’re going to be reaching that timeline of 18 months,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

There are ways to slash time off this process by combining several phases and testing vaccines on more people without as much waiting.

Last week the National Academy of Sciences showed an overlapping timeline, describing it as moving at “pandemic speed.”

It’s here that talk of fast-tracking the timeline meets the messiness of real life: What if a promising vaccine actually makes it easier to catch the virus, or makes the disease worse after someone’s infected?

That’s been the case for a few H.I.V. drugs and vaccines for dengue fever, because of a process called vaccine-induced enhancement, in which the body reacts unexpectedly and makes the disease more dangerous.

Researchers can’t easily infect vaccinated participants with the coronavirus to see how the body behaves. They normally wait until some volunteers contract the virus naturally. That means dosing people in regions hit hardest by the virus, like New York, or vaccinating family members of an infected person to see if they get the virus next. If the pandemic subsides, this step could be slowed.

“That’s why vaccines take such a long time,” said Dr. Iwasaki. “But we’re making everything very short. Hopefully we can evaluate these risks as they occur, as soon as possible.”

This is where the vaccine timelines start to diverge depending on who you are, and where some people might get left behind.

If a vaccine proves successful in early trials, regulators could issue an emergency-use provision so that doctors, nurses and other essential workers could get vaccinated right away — even before the end of the year. Researchers at Oxford announced this week that their coronavirus vaccine could be ready for emergency use by September if trials prove successful.

So researchers might produce a viable vaccine in just 12 to 18 months, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. Millions of people could be in line before you. And that’s only if the United States finds a vaccine first. If another country, like China, beats us to it, we could wait even longer while it doses its citizens first.

You might be glad of that, though, if it turned out that the fast-tracked vaccine caused unexpected problems. Only after hundreds or thousands are vaccinated would researchers be able to see if a fast-tracked vaccine led to problems like vaccine-induced enhancement.

“It’s true that any new technology comes with a learning curve,” said Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “And sometimes that learning curve has a human price.”

Once we have a working vaccine in hand, companies will need to start producing millions — perhaps billions — of doses, in addition to the millions of vaccine doses that are already made each year for mumps, measles and other illnesses. It’s an undertaking almost unimaginable in scope.

Companies normally build new facilities perfectly tailored to any given vaccine because each vaccine requires different equipment. Some flu vaccines are produced using chicken eggs, using large facilities where a version of the virus is incubated and harvested. Other vaccines require vats in which a virus is cultured in a broth of animal cells and later inactivated and purified.

Those factories follow strict guidelines governing biological facilities and usually take around five years to build, costing at least three times more than conventional pharmaceutical factories. Manufacturers may be able to speed this up by creating or repurposing existing facilities in the middle of clinical trials, long before the vaccine in question receives F.D.A. approval.

“They just can’t wait,” said Dr. Iwasaki. “If it turns out to be a terrible vaccine, they won’t distribute it. But at least they’ll have the capability” to do so if the vaccine is successful.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says it will build factories for seven different vaccines. “Even though we’ll end up picking at most two of them, we’re going to fund factories for all seven, just so that we don’t waste time,” Bill Gates said during an appearance on “The Daily Show.”

In the end, the United States will have the capacity to mass-produce only two or three vaccines, said Vijay Samant, the former head of vaccine manufacturing at Merck.

“The manufacturing task is insurmountable,” Mr. Samant said. “I get sleepless nights thinking about it.”

Consider just one seemingly simple step: putting the vaccine into vials. Manufacturers need to procure billions of vials, and billions of stoppers to seal them. Sophisticated machines are needed to fill them precisely, and each vial is inspected on a high-speed line. Then vials are stored, shipped and released to the public using a chain of temperature-controlled facilities and trucks. At each of these stages, producers are already stretched to meet existing demands, Mr. Samant said.

It’s a bottleneck similar to the one that caused a dearth of ventilators, masks and other personal protective equipment just as Covid-19 surged across America.

If you talk about vaccines long enough, a new type of vaccine, called Messenger RNA (or mRNA for short), inevitably comes up. There are hopes it could be manufactured at a record clip. Mr. Gates even included it on his Time magazine list of six innovations that could change the world. Is it the miracle we’re waiting for?

Rather than injecting subjects with disease-specific antigens to stimulate antibody production, mRNA vaccines give the body instructions to create those antigens itself. Because mRNA vaccines don’t need to be cultured in large quantities and then purified, they are much faster to produce. They could change the course of the fight against Covid-19.

“On the other hand,” said Dr. van Exan, “no one has ever made an RNA vaccine for humans.”

Researchers conducting dozens of trials hope to change that, including one by the pharmaceutical company Moderna. Backed by investor capital and spurred by federal funding of up to $483 million to tackle Covid-19, Moderna has already fast-tracked an mRNA vaccine. It’s entering Phase 1 trials this year and the company says it could have a vaccine ready for front-line workers later this year.

“Could it work? Yeah, it could work,” said Dr. Fred Ledley, a professor of natural biology and applied sciences at Bentley University. “But in terms of the probability of success, what our data says is that there’s a lower chance of approval and the trials take longer.”

The technology is decades old, yet mRNA is not very stable and can break down inside the body.

“At this point, I’m hoping for anything to work,” said Dr. Iwasaki. “If it does work, wonderful, that’s great. We just don’t know.”

The fixation on mRNA shows the allure of new and untested treatments during a medical crisis. Faced with the unsatisfying reality that our standard arsenal takes years to progress, the mRNA vaccine offers an enticing story mixed with hope and a hint of mystery. But it’s riskier than other established approaches.

Imagine that the fateful day arrives. Scientists have created a successful vaccine. They’ve manufactured huge quantities of it. People are dying. The economy is crumbling. It’s time to start injecting people.

But first, the federal government wants to take a peek.

That might seem like a bureaucratic nightmare, a rubber stamp that could cost lives. There’s even a common gripe among researchers: For every scientist employed by the F.D.A., there are three lawyers. And all they care about is liability.

Yet F.D.A. approvals are no mere formality. Approvals typically take a full year, during which time scientists and advisory committees review the studies to make sure that the vaccine is as safe and effective as drug makers say it is.

While some steps in the vaccine timeline can be fast-tracked or skipped entirely, approvals aren’t one of them. There are horror stories from the past where vaccines were not properly tested. In the 1950s, for example, a poorly produced batch of a polio vaccine was approved in a few hours. It contained a version of the virus that wasn’t quite dead, so patients who got it actually contracted polio. Several children died.

The same scenario playing out today could be devastating for Covid-19, with the anti-vaccination movement and online conspiracy theorists eager to disrupt the public health response. So while the F.D.A. might do this as fast as possible, expect months to pass before any vaccine gets a green light for mass public use.

At this point you might be asking: Why are all these research teams announcing such optimistic forecasts when so many experts are skeptical about even an 18-month timeline? Perhaps because it’s not just the public listening — it’s investors, too.

“These biotechs are putting out all these press announcements,” said Dr. Hotez. “You just need to recognize they’re writing this for their shareholders, not for the purposes of public health.”

What if It Takes Even Longer Than the Pessimists Predict?

Covid-19 lives in the shadow of the most vexing virus we’ve ever faced: H.I.V. After nearly 40 years of work, here is what we have to show for our vaccine efforts: a few Phase 3 clinical trials, one of which actually made the disease worse, and another with a success rate of just 30 percent.

Researchers say they don’t expect a successful H.I.V. vaccine until 2030 or later, putting the timeline at around 50 years.

That’s unlikely to be the case for Covid-19, because, as opposed to H.I.V., it doesn’t appear to mutate significantly and exists within a family of familiar respiratory viruses. Even still, any delay will be difficult to bear.

But the history of H.I.V. offers a glimmer of hope for how life could continue even without a vaccine. Researchers developed a litany of antiviral drugs that lowered the death rate and improved health outcomes for people living with AIDS. Today’s drugs can lower the viral load in an H.I.V.-positive person so the virus can’t be transmitted through sex.

Therapeutic drugs, rather than vaccines, might likewise change the fight against Covid-19. The World Health Organization began a global search for drugs to treat Covid-19 patients in March. If successful, those drugs could lower the number of hospital admissions and help people recover faster from home while narrowing the infection window so fewer people catch the virus.

Combine that with rigorous testing and contact tracing — where infected patients are identified and their recent contacts notified and quarantined — and the future starts looking a little brighter. So far, the United States is conducting fewer than half the number of tests required and we need to recruit more than 300,000 contact-tracers. But other countries have started reopening following exactly these steps.

If all those things come together, life might return to normal long before a vaccine is ready to shoot into your arm.

 

 

 

 

 

What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

https://www.gatesnotes.com/Health/What-you-need-to-know-about-the-COVID-19-vaccine?WT.mc_id=20200430164943_COVID-19-vaccine_BG-FB&WT.tsrc=BGFB&linkId=87665504&fbclid=IwAR0SsBGe1GTcy-fOIXz86kImkScsdCGlRVgmDcPOgXMcaU7kdO39SyNpRSs

What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine | Bill Gates

Humankind has never had a more urgent task than creating broad immunity for coronavirus.

One of the questions I get asked the most these days is when the world will be able to go back to the way things were in December before the coronavirus pandemic. My answer is always the same: when we have an almost perfect drug to treat COVID-19, or when almost every person on the planet has been vaccinated against coronavirus.

The former is unlikely to happen anytime soon. We’d need a miracle treatment that was at least 95 percent effective to stop the outbreak. Most of the drug candidates right now are nowhere near that powerful. They could save a lot of lives, but they aren’t enough to get us back to normal.

Which leaves us with a vaccine.

Humankind has never had a more urgent task than creating broad immunity for coronavirus. Realistically, if we’re going to return to normal, we need to develop a safe, effective vaccine. We need to make billions of doses, we need to get them out to every part of the world, and we need all of this happen as quickly as possible.

That sounds daunting, because it is. Our foundation is the biggest funder of vaccines in the world, and this effort dwarfs anything we’ve ever worked on before. It’s going to require a global cooperative effort like the world has never seen. But I know it’ll get done. There’s simply no alternative.

Here’s what you need to know about the race to create a COVID-19 vaccine.

The world is creating this vaccine on a historically fast timeline.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has said he thinks it’ll take around eighteen months to develop a coronavirus vaccine. I agree with him, though it could be as little as 9 months or as long as two years.

Although eighteen months might sound like a long time, this would be the fastest scientists have created a new vaccine. Development usually takes around five years. Once you pick a disease to target, you have to create the vaccine and test it on animals. Then you begin testing for safety and efficacy in humans.

Safety and efficacy are the two most important goals for every vaccineSafety is exactly what it sounds like: is the vaccine safe to give to people? Some minor side effects (like a mild fever or injection site pain) can be acceptable, but you don’t want to inoculate people with something that makes them sick.

Efficacy measures how well the vaccine protects you from getting sick. Although you’d ideally want a vaccine to have 100 percent efficacy, many don’t. For example, this year’s flu vaccine is around 45 percent effective.

To test for safety and efficacy, every vaccine goes through three phases of trials:

  • Phase one is the safety trial. A small group of healthy volunteers gets the vaccine candidate. You try out different dosages to create the strongest immune response at the lowest effective dose without serious side effects.
  • Once you’ve settled on a formula, you move onto phase two, which tells you how well the vaccine works in the people who are intended to get it. This time, hundreds of people get the vaccine. This cohort should include people of different ages and health statuses.
  • Then, in phase three, you give it to thousands of people. This is usually the longest phase, because it occurs in what’s called “natural disease conditions.” You introduce it to a large group of people who are likely already at the risk of infection by the target pathogen, and then wait and see if the vaccine reduces how many people get sick.

After the vaccine passes all three trial phases, you start building the factories to manufacture it, and it gets submitted to the WHO and various government agencies for approval.

This process works well for most vaccines, but the normal development timeline isn’t good enough right now. Every day we can cut from this process will make a huge difference to the world in terms of saving lives and reducing trillions of dollars in economic damage.

So, to speed up the process, vaccine developers are compressing the timeline. This graphic shows how:

In the traditional process, the steps are sequential to address key questions and unknowns. This can help mitigate financial risk, since creating a new vaccine is expensive. Many candidates fail, which is why companies wait to invest in the next step until they know the previous step was successful.

For COVID-19, financing development is not an issue. Governments and other organizations (including our foundation and an amazing alliance called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) have made it clear they will support whatever it takes to find a vaccine. So, scientists are able to save time by doing several of the development steps at once. For example, the private sector, governments, and our foundation are going to start identifying facilities to manufacture different potential vaccines. If some of those facilities end up going unused, that’s okay. It’s a small price to pay for getting ahead on production.

Fortunately, compressing the trial timeline isn’t the only way to take a process that usually takes five years and get it done in 18 months. Another way we’re going to do that is by testing lots of different approaches at the same time.

There are dozens of candidates in the pipeline.

As of April 9, there are 115 different COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the development pipeline. I think that eight to ten of those look particularly promising. (Our foundation is going to keep an eye on all the others to see if we missed any that have some positive characteristics, though.)

The most promising candidates take a variety of approaches to protecting the body against COVID-19. To understand what exactly that means, it’s helpful to remember how the human immune system works.

When a disease pathogen gets into your system, your immune system responds by producing antibodies. These antibodies attach themselves to substances called antigens on the surface of the microbe, which sends a signal to your body to attack. Your immune system keeps a record of every microbe it has ever defeated, so that it can quickly recognize and destroy invaders before they make you ill.

Vaccines circumvent this whole process by teaching your body how to defeat a pathogen without ever getting sick. The two most common types—and the ones you’re probably most familiar with—are inactivated and live vaccines. Inactivated vaccines contain pathogens that have been killed. Live vaccines, on the other hand, are made of living pathogens that have been weakened (or “attenuated”). They’re highly effective but more prone to side effects than their inactivated counterparts.

Inactivated and live vaccines are what we consider “traditional” approaches. There are a number of COVID-19 vaccine candidates of both types, and for good reason: they’re well-established. We know how to test and manufacture them.

The downside is that they’re time-consuming to make. There’s a ton of material in each dose of a vaccine. Most of that material is biological, which means you have to grow it. That takes time, unfortunately.

That’s why I’m particularly excited by two new approaches that some of the candidates are taking: RNA and DNA vaccines. If one of these new approaches pans out, we’ll likely be able to get vaccines out to the whole world much faster. (For the sake of simplicity, I’m only going to explain RNA vaccines. DNA vaccines are similar, just with a different type of genetic material and method of administration.)

Our foundation—both through our own funding and through CEPI—has been supporting the development of an RNA vaccine platform for nearly a decade. We were planning to use it to make vaccines for diseases that affect the poor like malaria, but now it’s looking like one of the most promising options for COVID. The first candidate to start human trials was an RNA vaccine created by a company called Moderna.

Here’s how an RNA vaccine works: rather than injecting a pathogen’s antigen into your body, you instead give the body the genetic code needed to produce that antigen itself. When the antigens appear on the outside of your cells, your immune system attacks them—and learns how to defeat future intruders in the process. You essentially turn your body into its own vaccine manufacturing unit.

Because RNA vaccines let your body do most of the work, they don’t require much material. That makes them much faster to manufacture. There’s a catch, though: we don’t know for sure yet if RNA is a viable platform for vaccines. Since COVID would be the first RNA vaccine out of the gate, we have to prove both that the platform itself works and that it creates immunity. It’s a bit like building your computer system and your first piece of software at the same time.

Even if an RNA vaccine continues to show promise, we still must continue pursuing the other options. We don’t know yet what the COVID-19 vaccine will look like. Until we do, we have to go full steam ahead on as many approaches as possible.

It might not be a perfect vaccine yet—and that’s okay.

The smallpox vaccine is the only vaccine that’s wiped an entire disease off the face of the earth, but it’s also pretty brutal to receive. It left a scar on the arm of anyone who got it. One out of every three people had side effects bad enough to keep them home from school or work. A small—but not insignificant—number developed more serious reactions.

The smallpox vaccine was far from perfect, but it got the job done. The COVID-19 vaccine might be similar.

If we were designing the perfect vaccine, we’d want it to be completely safe and 100 percent effective. It should be a single dose that gives you lifelong protection, and it should be easy to store and transport. I hope the COVID-19 vaccine has all of those qualities, but given the timeline we’re on, it may not.

The two priorities, as I mentioned earlier, are safety and efficacy. Since we might not have time to do multi-year studies, we will have to conduct robust phase 1 safety trials and make sure we have good real-world evidence that the vaccine is completely safe to use.

We have a bit more wiggle room with efficacy. I suspect a vaccine that is at least 70 percent effective will be enough to stop the outbreak. A 60 percent effective vaccine is useable, but we might still see some localized outbreaks. Anything under 60 percent is unlikely to create enough herd immunity to stop the virus.

The big challenge will be making sure the vaccine works well in older people. The older you are, the less effective vaccines are. Your immune system—like the rest of your body—ages and is slower to recognize and attack invaders. That’s a big issue for a COVID-19 vaccine, since older people are the most vulnerable. We need to make sure they’re protected.

The shingles vaccine—which is also targeted to older people—combats this by amping up the strength of the vaccine. It’s possible we do something similar for COVID, although it might come with more side effects. Health authorities could also ask people over a certain age to get an additional dose.

Beyond safety and efficacy, there are a couple other factors to consider:

  • How many doses will it be? A vaccine you only get once is easier and quicker to deliver. But we may need a multi-dose vaccine to get enough efficacy.
  • How long does it last? Ideally, the vaccine will give you long-lasting protection. But we might end up with one that only stops you from getting sick for a couple months (like the seasonal flu vaccine, which protects you for about six months). If that happens, the short-term vaccine might be used while we work on a more durable one.
  • How do you store it? Many common vaccines are kept at 4 degrees C. That’s around the temperature of your average refrigerator, so storage and transportation is easy. But RNA vaccines need to be stored at much colder temperature—as low as -80 degrees C—which will make reaching certain parts of the world more difficult.

My hope is that the vaccine we have 18 months from now is as close to “perfect” as possible. Even if it isn’t, we will continue working to improve it. After that happens, I suspect the COVID-19 vaccine will become part of the routine newborn immunization schedule.

Once we have a vaccine, though, we still have huge problems to solve. That’s because…

We need to manufacture and distribute at least 7 billion doses of the vaccine.

In order to stop the pandemic, we need to make the vaccine available to almost every person on the planet. We’ve never delivered something to every corner of the world before. And, as I mentioned earlier, vaccines are particularly difficult to make and store.

There’s a lot we can’t figure out about manufacturing and distributing the vaccine until we know what exactly we’re working with. For example, will we be able to use existing vaccine factories to make the COVID-19 vaccine?

What we can do now is build different kinds of vaccine factories to prepare. Each vaccine type requires a different kind of factory. We need to be ready with facilities that can make each type, so that we can start manufacturing the final vaccine (or vaccines) as soon as we can. This will cost billions of dollars. Governments need to quickly find a mechanism for making the funding for this available. Our foundation is currently working with CEPI, the WHO, and governments to figure out the financing.

Part of those discussions center on who will get the vaccine when. The reality is that not everyone will be able to get the vaccine at the same time. It’ll take months—or even years—to create 7 billion doses (or possibly 14 billion, if it’s a multi-dose vaccine), and we should start distributing them as soon as the first batch is ready to go.

Most people agree that health workers should get the vaccine first. But who gets it next? Older people? Teachers? Workers in essential jobs?

I think that low-income countries should be some of the first to receive it, because people will be at a much higher risk of dying in those places. COVID-19 will spread much quicker in poor countries because measures like physical distancing are harder to enact. More people have poor underlying health that makes them more vulnerable to complications, and weak health systems will make it harder for them to receive the care they need. Getting the vaccine out in low-income countries could save millions of lives. The good news is we already have an organization with expertise about how to do this in Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

With most vaccines, manufacturers sign a deal with the country where their factories are located, so that country gets first crack at the vaccines. It’s unclear if that’s what will happen here. I hope we find a way to get it out on an equitable basis to the whole world. The WHO and national health authorities will need to develop a distribution plan once we have a better understanding of what we’re working with.

Eventually, though, we’re going to scale this thing up so that the vaccine is available to everyone. And then, we’ll be able to get back to normal—and to hopefully make decisions that prevent us from being in this situation ever again.

It might be a bit hard to see right now, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re doing the right things to get a vaccine as quickly as possible. In the meantime, I urge you to continue following the guidelines set by your local authorities. Our ability to get through this outbreak will depend on everyone doing their part to keep each other safe.