Covid-19: What you need to know today
The world is pinning its hopes on a vaccine. Sure, cases are down in the US and Brazil, two of the top three countries in terms of case count (both have seen a slight spike upwards in the past week, though), but they continue to rise in India (which is #2 in terms of cases).Updated: Sep 19, 2020, 00:59 IST
By October or November, Moderna will, on the basis of an ongoing study of tens of thousands of people, decide whether its vaccine is safe and effective – with the only thing holding it back at this time being the fewer infections the US is seeing (the study is comparing rates of infection in vaccinated and unvaccinated people). The company’s chief executive Stephane Bancel, who said this in an interview to The Wall Street Journal, added that if the results are positive, Moderna could seek emergency authorisation for its vaccine from the FDA. Interestingly, Bancel’s estimate seems aggressive, even when compared to details in the 135 page-long protocol his company released on Thursday on the clinical testing of its vaccine. The protocol also contained a timeline, which differed from Bancel’s own estimates; it expects initial data to become available for analysis only in December, and the final study (not the Year 2 study) to be ready only by the middle of next year.
Pfizer, which is developing a vaccine with BioNTech, is also testing it on tens of thousands of people, and it too expects initial data to come in by late October. In an interview to The Washington Post, Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla dramatically said that in October “the truth will be revealed”. On Thursday, Pfizer too released a detailed note on the protocol being followed in its clinical tests.
The world is pinning its hopes on a vaccine. Sure, cases are down in the US and Brazil, two of the top three countries in terms of case count (both have seen a slight spike upwards in the past week, though), but they continue to rise in India (which is #2 in terms of cases). Worse, Europe is seeing a roaring second wave. France’s current seven-day average of new daily cases, at around 8,800 according to the New York Times database, is twice that seen in the peak of its first wave (in early April). Things aren’t as bad in the UK, although they are still worse than they were through much of the past three months. Daily new cases, at a seven-day average of around 3,400 cases, are at levels not seen since mid-May. The situation in Spain is as bad as in France, though – a seven-day average of almost 10,000 new cases a day, around 2,000 more than the peak of the first wave (in early April). Germany and Italy are better off, although both are seeing a second wave (Germany is where it was in late April; Italy, early May).
Hardly any country, not the US, not France, and not even India, is talking about lockdowns though. It’s almost as if they were one-time-use-only weapons (and the jury is out on whether the timing of their use was right). Now everyone is talking about living with the virus – something that’s possible with strict adherence to the wearing of masks and social distancing. It’s probably the main reason cases are continuing to rise in India. If everyone wore masks outside their homes, and practised strict social distancing and hand hygiene, the number of daily cases in the country would drop drastically in perhaps the next four to five weeks. By how much? My guess (and it is that, not a scientific assessment; but remember, this is Dispatch 162) is to between a fifth and a tenth of the current number of daily new cases.
And, of course, a vaccine is the perfect solution.
India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan told Parliament on Thursday that a vaccine may be available by early next year, although he caveated that one may not be available in large-enough quantities immediately, and that people should continue to wear masks, follow social distancing rules, and wash their hands often. His estimate on vaccine availability is similar to the one offered by Robert R Redfield, the head of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, who said this week that he expects a vaccine to be widely available only by the middle of 2021. In late July, White House coronavirus adviser Dr Anthony Fauci offered a similar timeline – that a vaccine won’t be widely available till “several months” into 2021.
It has always been clear that a vaccine for Covid-19 will be found. Dispatch 111 on July 22 cited research, and indulged in a bit of extrapolation, to arrive at a 50% probability that a vaccine candidate in Phase 2/3 trials will be found efficacious and safe. There are now 18 candidates in Phase 2 trials; six in Phase 3; and five approved for emergency or limited use (according to HT’s vaccine tracker).
The challenge has always been wide availability. And it could take till late 2021, perhaps early 2022, for at least half of India’s population to be vaccinated.