LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH
Drug maker Pfizer said on Monday data from their Phase 3 experimental Covid-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, showed it was 90% effective in preventing infections in volunteers.
The company and its collaborator, BioNTech, stated no serious safety concerns were found during their large-scale global clinical trials, and they expected to seek US authorisation this month for emergency use of the vaccine.
The data released was based on global data that included the trial site in South Africa, a Pfizer spokesperson told Health24.
"We are pleased to share that the trial in South Africa is going as planned, having already completed recruitment of participants across four sites in Gauteng, Limpopo and the Western Cape," the company said.
While there are still some unanswered questions, such as how long the vaccine will provide protection, international scientists have welcomed the news saying it "is an excellent result for a first generation vaccine".
Health24 asked two local experts, Professor Wolfgang Preiser, head of the division of medical virology at the University of Stellenbosch, and Professor Thomas Scriba, deputy director of immunology and laboratory director at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town, whether this was finally a light at the end of the tunnel of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The head of the South African arm of a key Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial, Dr Essak Mitha is “full of pride” for the teams’ part in the research which has shown the vaccine candidate to be more than 90% effective according to early findings released in a media statement this week.
“This is a massive development. It’s very exciting, and the interim results are very promising. It leaves me with lots of hope as this could pave the way for a vaccine to be developed before the end of the year,” says Mitha, who is a clinical trial specialist and owner of Newtown Clinical Research in Johannesburg.
Pfizer and BioNTech, a German company, announced this week that their vaccine candidate was successful in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 disease in the first interim analysis from the Phase 3 trial that includes 44 000 people across a range of countries.
While the news has been largely well received and global stock markets surged after the announcement, there has been some caution and criticism. There is consensus that more data is needed and some commentators have said the companies’ announcement via press release (and not peer reviewed publication) is neither good scientific practice nor does it help to build public trust in vaccines.
Pfizer and BioNtech have said they will have 500 million doses of the vaccine available by end December and 1.3 billion doses by 2021. Several countries have already entered into deals with the manufacturers for access to the vaccine.
South Africa thus far, has not secured any doses of candidate vaccines from Pfizer or any other manufacturer.
CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST
The latest number of confirmed cases is 742 394.
According to the latest update, 20 011 deaths have been recorded in the country.
There have been 686 458 recoveries.
So far, 5 037 782 tests have been conducted, with 27 432 new tests reported.
Global cases update:
For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.
Early on Thursday morning, positive cases worldwide were 51 857 776, while deaths were 1 278 086.
The United States had the most cases in the world - 10 339 570, as well as the most deaths - more than 240 000.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA
South Africa will see a relaxation of at least two Alert Level 1 lockdown rules, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Wednesday – after officials had privately suggested stricter rules may be on the cards.
Ramaphosa expressed the government's concern about rapid spread of the coronavirus in the Eastern Cape, and flagged the upcoming festive season as worrying too, with a strong call for South Africans to wear masks and take other common-sense measures long advised to help fight the pandemic.
But the announcement of a promising vaccine candidate had changed government's perspective, he also said.
"As South Africans we have endured what we hope is the worst of the storm", he said, after noting the spiralling Covid-19 numbers in other parts of the world, and warning against "coronavirus fatigue".
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday warned the nation that, although the country has endured a lot, the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over.
Citizens, he said, should remain cautious.
"What we are seeing brings home a difficult truth - Covid-19 is far from over. It is very much still here and it will remain with us for some time to come," he said in addressing the nation on Wednesday.
The president was providing an update on South Africa's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ramaphosa said the country had endured the worst of the storm.
SA is now seeing a relatively stable number of new infections and a declining rate of deaths and people needing hospitalisation.
"We owe this to the decisive measures that we took early on in the pandemic, and to the contribution that every South African has made in fighting this virus."We owe this also to the frontline workers, who have selflessly and courageously staffed our medical facilities, gone out into communities to screen and to test, who have maintained peace and stability, and who have kept essential services working," he added.
The Covid-19 UIF Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme, which has paid out nearly R53 billion to over 4.7 million workers, will eventually have to come to an end, said President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The president on Wednesday addressed the nation on developments on the Covid-19 response. The National State of Disaster has been extended by another month to .
"As the economy starts to recover, many of the measures in the relief package are steadily being wound down. We are trying – within our limited resources – to ensure this is a gradual transition," said Ramaphosa.
He said that government recognises some industries are still not able to operate fully - and that it would take time for many jobs to return. This is why government extended the Special Covid-19 Grant for a further three months, until January 2021. The special grant supports around six million people.
Government had also extended the TERS relief by another month to 15 October, 2020.
"These relief measures were necessary to protect those who are most vulnerable in a time of great distress, but they will have to come to an end," he said.
WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD
Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine candidate is now leading the pack, with emergency authorization expected from the Food and Drug Administration within weeks.
On Monday, the pharma giant and its German partner BioNTech announced that their vaccine was more than 90% effective, based on 94 cases of the disease observed in an interim study.
Pfizer's vaccine requires two doses to achieve that high effectiveness, though. The two shots are administered three weeks apart.
In July, Pfizer said its researchers observed the highest level of virus-neutralizing antibodies one week after the participants' second dose.
Many other vaccines also require back-to-back doses to be most effective, including the one that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.
Other coronavirus vaccine candidates still in trials also involve double shots: Participants in Moderna's clinical trial get two shots four weeks apart, and AstraZeneca's ongoing trial is testing outcomes from both a single vaccine dose and two shots given one month apart.
But a two-dose vaccine comes with supply-chain challenges and the possibility that not everyone will return to a doctor's office for the critical second dose.
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.
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