A “Shot” at Ending the Pandemic? #93

Deepnews Digest #93

A “Shot” at Ending the Pandemic?

Editor: Christopher Brennan
With cases soaring in many countries in recent weeks, the world received what appeared to be a jab of good news with the announcement of 90% effectiveness in trials of the vaccine developed by American pharma giant Pfizer and German BioNTech. The results are welcome, though what happens now, including more trials and issues of distribution, is more complicated. That makes vaccines a good subject for this week’s Digest, which gathered quality, in-depth articles from around the world on issues such as ultra-cold storage, “science by press release” and more.

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Published every Friday


Why the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is a cause for optimism — and skepticism

On Monday morning, my mom sent me a text message: “Black cloud is lifting … Pfizer has a 90 percent effective vaccine.” She was one of the many people buoyed by the announcement from the drugmaker that early data suggests its Covid-19 vaccine — developed with the German biotech firm BioNTech — can prevent infection with the deadly disease.

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MedPage Today

Largest-to-Date COVID Mortality Study Released

With vaccines coming but in limited supply, sorting out priority becomes the priority

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New Orleans Times-Picayune

A promising coronavirus vaccine is on the horizon. Who will get it first in Louisiana?

The announcement from drug manufacturer Pfizer Inc. Monday that its coronavirus vaccine could soon be ready for federal approval has placed a renewed focus on the next challenge of the global pandemic: distributing the billions of vaccine doses needed to eventually return life to normal.

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USA Today

‘Like watching a train wreck’: Experts say America is behind on COVID-19 vaccine messaging, call for honest, straight talk

President-elect Joe Biden’s first major transition announcement is the formation of a COVID-19 advisory board that includes a Trump administration whistleblower.

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New York Times

The husband-and-wife team behind the leading vaccine to solve COVID-19

Two years ago, Dr. Ugur Sahin took the stage at a conference in Berlin and made a bold prediction. Speaking to a roomful of infectious disease experts, he said his company might be able to use its so-called messenger RNA technology to rapidly develop a vaccine in the event of a global pandemic.

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Pfizer’s ultra-cold vaccine, a ‘very complex’ distribution plan and an exploding head emoji

As Molly Howell, a state health official in North Dakota, watched a webinar on how to distribute what’s expected to be the first Covid-19 vaccine, her head began to spin. “How are we going to do this?” she texted a colleague who was also on the webinar. Her colleague responded with an exploding head emoji.

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The Daily Telegraph (UK) ($)

Imperial College team work out how to keep an RNA coronavirus vaccine in the fridge rather than -70C

The development raises hopes a number of leading coronavirus vaccine candidates may not need to be deep frozen, a major logistical headache

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Editor’s Note:

Several of the articles on this Digest discuss the logistics of vaccine distribution, particularly the cold requirements for the Pfizer vaccine that may make it difficult for rural hospitals. Here an article from Jennifer Rigby at the Telegraph digs into research in the UK about how to overcome those challenges. – Christopher Brennan, Editor


Fact check: No evidence supports Trump’s claim that COVID-19 vaccine result was suppressed to sway election

Initially, Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech suggested they might have preliminary trial results by late October—a timetable Pfizer’s CEO, Albert Bourla, projected as recently as 29 September. The timeline was based on a plan that called for an outside panel to take a first look at the efficacy data for the vaccine when a total of 32 cases of COVID-19 had accumulated in the vaccine and placebo groups. But the companies and FDA later agreed on a protocol change that nearly doubled that number and delayed that review.

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Rural hospitals can’t afford freezers to store a Covid-19 vaccine

Large urban hospitals across the U.S. are rushing to buy expensive ultra-cold freezers to store what’s likely to be the first approved Covid-19 vaccine. But most rural hospitals can’t afford these high-end units, meaning health workers and residents in those communities may have difficulty getting the shots.

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Exclusive: Europe to pay less than U.S. for Pfizer vaccine under initial deal – source

BRUSSELS – The European Union has struck a deal to initially pay less for Pfizer’s PFE.N COVID-19 vaccine candidate than the United States, an EU official told Reuters as the bloc announced on Wednesday it had secured an agreement for up to 300 million doses.

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Stuff NZ/AP

NZ expert weighs in as Pfizer says Covid-19 vaccine is looking 90 per cent effective

Pfizer says an early peek at the data on its coronavirus vaccine suggests the shots may be a surprisingly robust 90 per cent effective at preventing Covid-19, putting the company on track to apply later this month for emergency-use approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

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Westchester Journal News

Pfizer R&D exec answers questions about the company’s COVID vaccine

The Journal News/lohud spoke to Phil Dormitzer, Pfizer’s Chief Scientific Officer for Viral Vaccine R&D, a virus expert who is responsible for research and development:

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Kaiser Health News

Time to Discuss Potentially Unpleasant Side Effects of COVID Shots? Scientists Say Yes.

Drugmaker Pfizer is expected to seek federal permission to release its COVID-19 vaccine by the end of November, a move that holds promise for quelling the pandemic, but also sets up a tight time frame for making sure consumers understand what it will mean to actually get the shots.

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Editor’s Note:

Part of upcoming vaccination campaigns is messaging, and that includes messaging on side effects. Here the team at KHN discusses how to make sure that patients come back for a crucial second dose, even if they feel lousy after the first. – Christopher Brennan, Editor


Scientists cautious as Russia says early data shows Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine is 92% effective

Russia’s sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday that an early analysis of data from its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine suggests it is 92% effective. However, some scientists are urging caution, noting that the data is far from conclusive.

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Wall Street Journal ($)

Pfizer CEO Joins Host of Executives at Covid-19 Vaccine Makers in Big Stock Sale

Albert Bourla sold about 60% of his personal shares after positive vaccine news this week; sale’s price and volume had been authorized in a February planning move

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No, your ice cream supply won’t be jeopardized by ultra-cold COVID-19 vaccines

AUSTIN — The news of a Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine candidate making progress has got many people thinking about the logistical hurdles of distributing this vaccine, including the requirements to keep the vaccine at its ultra-low temperature.

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Associated Press

Backers blast halt to Brazil trials of Chinese-made vaccine

SAO PAULO — Brazil’s health regulator has halted clinical trials of the potential coronavirus vaccine CoronaVac, citing an “adverse, serious event.”

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Vaccine Trial Raises Hopes, But Distribution Will Challenge States

States have worked vigorously for months on their COVID-19 vaccine plans but still face a long list of substantial uncertainties, even as hopes rise that the first vaccines could receive federal approval before the end of the year.

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HHS Released More Coronavirus Vaccine Contracts As Election Results Unfolded

While the country was focused on the outcome of the election Saturday, the Department of Health and Human Services released a trove of new Operation Warp Speed documents. The newly released contracts include the crash program’s $1 billion agreement with Johnson & Johnson, which was issued through a third-party firm and lacks some customary protections against potential future price-gouging.

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Editor’s Note:

The urgency of a vaccine has also led to important collaboration between governments and private companies. Here NPR looks into contracts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including taxpayer protections. – Christopher Brennan, Editor

Cincinnati Enquirer

COVID-19: Thousands across Cincinnati area signed up to try potential vaccines

Nearly 10,000 local residents have already signed up to participate in clinical testing of at least eight potential candidate vaccines through hospital systems and private companies. Of those volunteers, at least 678 have so far gotten one of three possible vaccines, including 500 enrolled through Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to test the candidate from the drug company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

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Is Pfizer’s vaccine the answer to Pakistan’s Covid-19 problem?

With tropical heat, remote island communities, a dearth of ultra-cold freezers and a limited quantity available, many Asian countries and developing nations aren’t betting on Pfizer’s experimental vaccine solving their Covid-19 crisis any time soon.

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Most States Aren’t Ready to Distribute the Leading COVID-19 Vaccine

ProPublica obtained full preliminary plans for 47 states (Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Minnesota say they’re still working on theirs). Many struggled with how to handle a Pfizer-like vaccine. Washington state’s Health Department does not have its own warehouse that can store the Pfizer vaccine at a cold enough temperature. Arizona expects the Pfizer vaccine cannot be handled by the state’s rural communities and tribal lands. North Dakota and Oregon aren’t sure how to take care of migrant workers. Kansas’ plan appears to mistakenly assume shipments will be far smaller than 1,000 doses. Georgia’s Public Health Department is relying on local districts and counties to work out their own details.

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Press Association

Fever, ache, ‘a hangover’ Covid vaccine trial side effects revealed

Volunteers in a trial for the promising Pfizer coronavirus vaccine have revealed what it was like, and how it may cause symptoms similar to a ‘severe hangover’.

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Detroit Free Press

Another COVID-19 vaccine trial comes to Michigan as Beaumont announces study

Pfizer and BioNTech released early study results indicating that their vaccine prevented more than 90% of infections with the virus that causes COVID-19.

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The Independent (Zimbabwe)

No time for complacency: Zim, Africa not yet safe from corona

Africa has worryingly remained highly complacent in the face of a new coronavirus wave while other regions are making significant headway in the search for vaccines, a situation which the Africa Centre for Disease Control (Africa CDC) warns could have catastrophic consequences.

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Editor’s Note:

While leaders in developed countries are now forecasting when their citizens will be able to be vaccinated, it is a different story in other parts of the world. Here an article from Zimbabwe looks at the African nation’s prospects including speculation that its vaccines will come from China and not Europe or the U.S. – Christopher Brennan, Editor