Coronavirus morning recap: 2021 could see multiple vaccines, what could change if Level 2 returns

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Global experts cautiously welcome news of top Covid-19 vaccine candidate's effectiveness

There have been more than 50 million Covid-19 cases recorded worldwide, but Monday saw some positive news on the vaccine front.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said its experimental Covid-19 vaccine was more than 90% effective, as the drugmaker and German partner BioNTech SE were the first to release successful data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

The companies said they have so far found no serious safety concerns, Reuters reported.

"Today is a great day for science and humanity," Albert Bourla, Pfizer's chairperson and chief executive, said.

"We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen."

"I'm near ecstatic," Bill Gruber, one of Pfizer's top vaccine scientists, said in an interview. "This is a great day for public health and for the potential to get us all out of the circumstances we're now in."

But what did other experts think of the news?

Reuters reached out to a number of global expects for their reaction.

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton:

"This cautiously sounds like an excellent result from the phase 3 trials, but we should remain a little cautious. The provisional findings are made available in a press release, and the study is ongoing.

"However, if the final results show an effectiveness of anywhere near 90% with response in elderly and ethnic minority populations, that is an excellent result for a first generation vaccine.

"This has been seen before – the rapidly-produced Ebola vaccine generated very high levels of effectiveness and exceeded all expectations.

READ | UK expert sees multiple virus vaccines early next year

A leading scientific adviser to the British government said on Tuesday he expects several coronavirus vaccines to have been approved by early 2021, allowing life to begin to return to normal.

John Bell, professor of medicine at Oxford University, told lawmakers that Monday's announcement by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer that its vaccine candidate was effective in treating patients was likely just the start.

Bell, a member of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said the news signalled other leading potential vaccines in late-stage trials could prove similarly effective.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we hit the new year with two or three vaccines all of which could be distributed," he told a parliamentary hearing.

"I'm quite optimistic of getting enough vaccinations done in the first quarter of next year that by spring things will start to look much more normal than they do now."Bell added he believed there was a 70 to 80 percent chance of that scenario unfolding.

Pfizer said on Monday tests of its vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech involving more than 40 000 people had been 90 percent effective and was a "critical milestone" in the bid to counter the virus.

It is one of 10 in late-stage trials around the world, which have so far shown promising results.The British government has reserved 40 million doses of the drug, which Bell expects could receive regulatory approval within three weeks.

READ | Pfizer's Covid vaccine is 90% effective. Here's how that compares to shots for flu, measles and more

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced Monday that their coronavirus vaccine candidate works to prevent COVID-19.

The partnership is first to report positive results from the final stage of clinical trials: The shot was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19, based on 94 cases of the disease observed in an interim study.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called that high percentage "just extraordinary."

The Food and Drug Administration has said any coronavirus shot must be at least 50% effective to get authorization. Most experts had hoped for 70% efficacy or higher.

Not all vaccines are equally effective. Some, like the seasonal flu vaccine, hover below 60%. Others, like the polio vaccine, are almost 100% effective. Here's how Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine candidate compares to four existing vaccines.

The polio vaccine has been distributed for 65 years — plenty of time for scientists to build a thorough understanding of the vaccine's effectiveness.

By constrast, Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine candidate — and others from drugmakers like AstraZeneca and Moderna — have only been tested in clinical trials. So the preliminary results from the trial show how effective the vaccine could be given ideal circumstances in which everyone is given the shot. That measure is known as vaccine efficacy.

Pfizer's vaccine requires two doses: two shots three weeks apart.

Many established vaccines also require back-to-back doses to be most effective, including the shots for measles and varicella. Two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine are 97% effective at protecting someone from measles, whereas a single dose is 93% effective.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 740 254.

According to the latest update, 19 951 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 683 194 recoveries.

So far, more than 5 million tests have been conducted, with 17 269 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Early on Wednesday morning, positive cases worldwide exceeded 50.9 million, while deaths were more than 1.2 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - over 10.1 million as well as the most deaths - close to 239 000.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | No more Friday booze runs, and no tourists: Here’s what could change if SA goes Level 2 again

President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned that South Africa could face a second wave of coronavirus infections, if citizens are insufficiently vigilant.

Now government officials have confirmed – anonymously – to Bloomberg that tougher restrictions are on the cards again in discussions this week.

On Tuesday the Business for South Africa (B4SA) group asked for "certainty that there will not be another hard economic lockdown (Alert levels 3 to 5) in the country in the event of a second wave of Covid-19 infection" – but did not ask for any promise about Level 2.

"Certainty that South Africa will not return to a hard lockdown – irrespective of infection rates – would stimulate economic activity by unlocking business investment projects and consumer spending plans, which are currently on hold due to concerns about government’s response to a potential second wave of infections in South Africa," the organisation said in a statement.

Just what that would look like is not clear. South Africa's tiered system of lockdown restrictions, set out as Alert Levels ranging from 5 (hard lockdown) to 1 (the current level) was set up to move both up and down, so that the previously-used rules for Alert Level 2 could simply be reimposed.

But since March, lockdown rules have constantly changed within what became the alert levels, growing less strict even before the formal ramping-down between stages.

A similar dilution may come into play if SA were to step back up to Level 2.

As the rules stand, though, here's what would change if South Africa were to go back to Level 2.

The biggest change Level 1 brought was the reopening of South Africa's borders for leisure tourism (for some countries), allowing foreigners to visit, and South Africans to travel abroad for more than just business.

The Level 2 framework bans international air travel for leisure. Still allowed is repatriation flights – including inbound ones for South African citizens, who are always allowed entry into the country if they can reach a border – and "the return of a South African national or permanent resident to his or her place of employment, study or residence, outside the Republic".

READ | Brace for 200 000 more job losses if SA moves back to lockdown level 3 - business lobby

Another hard lockdown would be detrimental to the SA economy, a shift to lockdown Level 3 in particular would result in 200 000 more job losses, warned Business for South Africa.

The business lobby, representing the majority of SA businesses partnering in their response to Covid-19, on Tuesday issued a statement calling for certainty that government would not implement another hard lockdown amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

In the second quarter 2.2 million jobs were shed, as a result of the hard lockdown (lockdown level 5) which lasted five weeks.

Economists expect these job figures to recover during the third quarter, coinciding with the easing of lockdown restrictions.

The South African economy is expected to contract anywhere between 7% and 13% this year- its worst performance in 90 years.

B4SA warned that bankruptcies of small and medium enterprises, which increased from 4% last year to 6.5%, could reach over 10% - this as credit extensions and tax relief expire.

"If all nine provinces remain on Alert Level 1 – the lowest alert level – B4SA estimates a 9.3%decline in GDP for 2020," the statement read.

This figure accounts for the fiscal and monetary policy interventions as well as the Temporary Employee Relief Scheme benefit.

One of its downside scenarios which considers SA moving to lockdown Level 3 from mid November and December – sees a further 200 000 job losses and a 10.6% decline in GDP for the year.

"We estimate that formal job losses have already reached 1.4 -1.6 million, with a further one million lost in the informal sector, and that it will take until 2024 for formal employment levels to return to the pre-Covid level of employment assuming that we pivot the economy onto a sustainable inclusive growth path," said B4SA's steering committee chair Martin Kingston.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Covid-19 wrap | Brazil halts Chinese vaccine trials, almost 59 000 patients in hospitals across US

Brazil halts trials of Chinese Covid-19 vaccine

Brazil's health regulator said Monday it had suspended clinical trials of a Chinese-developed Covid-19 vaccine after an "adverse incident" involving a volunteer recipient, a blow for one of the most advanced vaccine candidates.

The setback for CoronaVac, developed by Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac Biotech, came on the same day US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said its own vaccine candidate had shown 90p ercent effectiveness, sending global markets soaring and raising hopes of an end to the pandemic.

The Brazilian regulator, Anvisa, said in a statement it had "ruled to interrupt the clinical study of the CoronaVac vaccine after a serious adverse incident" on October 29.

It said it could not give details on what happened because of privacy regulations, but that such incidents included death, potentially fatal side effects, serious disability, hospitalization, birth defects and other "clinically significant events."

US Covid-19 hospitalisations surge to record of almost 59 000 patients - Reuters tally

There were almost 59 000 Covid-19 patients in hospitals across the United States on Monday,the country's highest number ever of in-patients being treated for the disease.

The number of people with the virus being hospitalised has surged around 73% over the past 30 days to at least 58 982 - a record level that surpasses the previous high of 58 370 on July 22.

The United States also recorded more than 100 000 cases for the sixth consecutive day on Monday, cementing its position as the nation worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Spain to get first Pfizer vaccines in early 2021, health minister says

Spain would get the first vaccines developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in early 2021, Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Tuesday.

The country would initially get 20 million vaccine doses, enough to immunize 10 million people, Illa said in an interview with state broadcaster TVE.

The vaccination would be free, Illa added.

HEALTH TIPS (as recommended by the NICD and WHO)

• Maintain physical distancing – stay at least one metre away from somebody who is coughing or sneezing

• Practise frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as your hands touch many surfaces and could potentially transfer the virus

• Practise respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dispose the tissue immediately after use.

Image credit: Getty Images

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