Pasteur Institute, Merck abandon Covid-19 vaccine

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France’s Pasteur Institute said on Monday it was ending development of a Covid-19 vaccine with US pharmaceutical company Merck after clinical trial results proved disappointing.

The partners announced a tie-up last May to develop a jab based on an existing measles vaccine, which was put into Phase 1 clinical trials in August.

The announcement is a further blow for hopes of a French-led vaccine following recent news that leading national pharmaceutical company Sanofi is also struggling to bring its vaccine candidate to market.

Sanofi announced in December that its jab would be ready by the end of 2021 at best, and the group is now being encouraged by the government to help produce rival vaccines that have already been authorised for use in Europe.

These include products from German-American tie-up BioNTech/Pfizer and US pharma group Moderna.

Britain has also authorised the use of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, which is being assessed by European Union regulators.

The Pasteur Institute, named after pioneering scientist Louis Pasteur who developed a rabies vaccine in 1885, said it was working on two other Covid-19 vaccines which are not yet ready for clinical trials.

The decision to abandon the Covid vaccine based on a measles jab “does not have any impact on the continuation of research by the Pasteur Institute into two other vaccine candidates which use different methodologies”, it said.

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New Zealand probes first ‘probable’ community COVID-19 case in months

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New Zealand health officials said on Sunday they were investigating what they said was probably the country’s first community coronavirus case, in months in a woman who recently returned from overseas.

The 56-year-old, who returned to New Zealand on Dec. 30, tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 days after leaving a two-week mandatory quarantine at the border where she had twice tested negative.

“We are working under the assumptions that this is a positive case and that it is a more transmissible variant, either the one identified first in South Africa or the UK, or potentially Brazil – or another transmissible variant,” Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a news conference.

It is not known how the woman was infected or whether the infection is new, Bloomfield said. But since the woman tested positive several days after being released from quarantine and has been at home, the authorities are treating it as a “probable community case”.

New Zealand, one of the most successful developed nations in controlling the spread of the pandemic, last recorded a community coronavirus transmission on Nov. 18, according to the Health Ministry website.

A tough lockdown and geographical isolation helped New Zealand virtually eliminate the novel coronavirus within its borders.

The country of 5 million people has had only 1,927 confirmed cases. But with the pandemic raging globally, more people are returning to New Zealand with infections, including the new variants, raising concerns the virus may spread in the community again.

The woman, who lives in Northland on New Zealand’s North Island, quarantined upon arrival in a managed isolation facility in Auckland where several the highly virulent COVID-19 cases have been recorded in recent weeks, Bloomfield said.

“This is a reminder to all of us that the pandemic continues and that this is a tricky virus,” he said.

Social media users rushed to express concern and frustration about the new case, with one user describing the reactions on Twitter as a “collective groan”.

On Sunday, there were eight new infections, all returning travellers quarantined at the border, bringing active cases among those quarantined to 79, the ministry said in a statement.

Pressure has been mounting on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government to vaccinate the population, but New Zealand has said the majority of its population would only be vaccinated in the second half of the year.

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Countrywide COVID-19 tests positivity ratio stands at 3.96pc

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The countrywide COVID-19 tests positivity ratio stands at 3.96pc, as the number of critically ill patients stands 2,273, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) stated on Sunday.

The highest positivity rate of Covid-19 cases was recorded in Hyderabad at 11.57 per cent in the past 24 hours.

Province-wise, Sindh recorded the highest Covid-19 positivity ratio at 10.23, followed by Azad Jammu and Kashmir 5.97pc, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 5.25pc, Balochistan 3.52pc, Punjab 2.54pc, Islamabad 1.18pc and Gilgit Baltistan 0.56pc.

The second highest positivity ratio was witnessed in Peshawar, which is 11.29pc, according to the NCOC statement.

The positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in Karachi was recorded 10.68pc, Lahore 4.23pc, Bahawalpur 4.46pc, Swat 3.41pc, Faisalabad 3.21pc, Quetta 2.41pc, Mirpur 5.04pc and Muzaffarabad 2.50pc.

Pakistan has recorded as many as 1,594 new cases of the novel coronavirus in a single day with 48 more fatalities today.

According to the latest update released by the NCOC, 1,594 new cases emerged after 40,285 samples were tested.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the country has soared to 532,412 with addition of the fresh infections while the countrywide death toll jumped to 11,295. The total number of recovered patients stands at 486,489.

Thus far, Sindh has reported a total of 240,570 infections, Punjab 153,410, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 65,287, Balochistan 18,736, Islamabad 40,713, Azad Jammu and Kashmir 8,795, and Gilgit Baltistan 4,901.

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British PM says new variant may carry higher risk of death

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new English variant of COVID-19 may be associated with a higher level of mortality although he said evidence showed that both vaccines being used in the country are effective against it.

“We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant – the variant that was first discovered in London and the southeast (of England) – may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” he told a news briefing.

The warning about the higher risk of death from the new variant, which was identified in England late last year, came as a fresh blow after the country had earlier been buoyed by news the number of new COVID-19 infections was estimated to be shrinking by as much as 4% a day.

Johnson said however that all the current evidence showed both vaccines remained effective against old and new variants.

Data published earlier on Friday showed that 5.38 million people had been given their first dose of a vaccine, with 409,855 receiving it in the past 24 hours, a record high so far.

England and Scotland announced new restrictions on Jan. 4 to stem a surge in the disease fuelled by the highly transmissible new variant of the coronavirus, which has led to record numbers of daily deaths and infections this month.

The latest estimates from the health ministry suggest that the number of new infections was shrinking by between 1% and 4% a day. Last week, it was thought cases were growing by much as 5%, and the turnaround gave hope that the spread of the virus was being curbed, although the ministry urged caution.

The closely watched reproduction “R” number was estimated to be between 0.8 and 1, down from a range of 1.2 to 1.3 last week, meaning that on average, every 10 people infected will infect between eight and 10 other people.

But the Office for National Statistics estimated that the prevalence overall remained high, with about one in 55 people having the virus.

“Cases remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control,” the health ministry said. “It is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, whether they have had the vaccine or not.”

Britain has recorded more than 3.5 million infections and nearly 96,000 deaths – the world’s fifth-highest toll – while the economy has been hammered. Figures on Friday showed public debt at its highest level as a proportion of GDP since 1962, and retailers had their worst year on record.

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Govt to provide free COVID-19 vaccine to people: Sultan

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Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Health Dr Faisal Sultan on Wednesday announced that the government will provide COVID-19 vaccines free of charge to the general public across the country.

Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Dr Faisal Sultan said that they were devising a mechanism for the provision of the vaccine to the people.

After clinical trial, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) approved AstraZeneca and Sinopharm’s vaccines for emergency use in the country, he said, adding that Pakistan would initially procure over 20 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines.

Dr Faisal Sultan, however, said that Sinopharm’s efficiency was 80 per cent. He further said that the government will provide 1 million doses of the vaccine to the general public during the first quarter of the current year.

In the first phase, the coronavirus vaccine will be provided to healthcare workers and people over 60 years of age, he added.

Earlier on January 19, Prime Minister Imran Khan had chaired a meeting on the coronavirus situation in Pakistan and the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines.

The cabinet committee, formed on the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines, had briefed the prime minister about the recently approved Covid vaccines in the country.

The committee had briefed the meeting that the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) had approved two Covid-19 vaccines – China’s Sinopharm and Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in Pakistan.

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Britain reports record 1,610 daily COVID-19 deaths

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Britain reported a record number of deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday with 1,610 people dying within 28 days of positive coronavirus test, exceeding the previous peak set last week.

The number was steeply up from the 599 deaths reported in Monday’s official figures. There is often a lag in reporting new deaths after the weekend.

There were 33,355 new cases recorded, down from the 37,535 reported on Monday.

England and Scotland announced new national lockdowns on Jan. 4 in a bid to stem a surge in cases after the discovery of a more transmissible UK variant of the coronavirus late last year.

The lockdown has seen new cases come down from a seven-day average peak of around 60,000 new daily cases on January 7, though health officials have warned that the numbers of deaths will rise even as reported cases start to come down.

“Whilst there are some early signs that show our sacrifices are working, we must continue to strictly abide by the measures in place,” said Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England.

“By reducing our contacts and staying at home we will see a fall in the number of infections over time.”

Government figures showed that 4,266,577 people had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The UK is hoping to vaccinate 15 million high-risk people by the middle of February.

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Pakistan approves China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

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The Drug Regulatory Authority (DRAP) on Monday authorised China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in Pakistan, making it the second vaccine to get local approval.

The permission was given in the DRAP registration board meeting after China’s Sinopharm sought permission from Pakistan for the emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine in the country.

Sinopharm, a state-run Chinese firm, is developing two COVID-19 vaccines. Pakistan will purchase 1.2 million doses of the corona vaccine from China.

Pakistan is also running phase III clinical trials of another Chinese vaccine from CanSino Biologics’, led by the National Institute of Health.

Pakistan, which is seeing rising numbers of coronavirus infections, granted permission on Saturday to use Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine (AZD1222) in an emergency situation.

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) had given the approval for urgent-use of the British COVID-19 vaccine.

AstraZeneca has been a British-Sweden joint multinational pharma company, which has produced the vaccine in collaboration with Oxford University.

The vaccine, approved by the British Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority, is said to be effective for people of all age groups and could be stored in home refrigerators.

Pakistan Covid cases

Pakistan has reported 46 more coronavirus-related deaths in past 24 hours, surging the overall death toll to 10,977.

According to the latest statistics of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) the COVID-19 has claimed 46 more lives and 1,920 fresh infections were reported.

In the past 24 hours, as many as 1,589 patients have recovered from the virus in a day and 2,348 patients are in critical condition.

The total count of active cases is 34,986.

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Three Karachi patients of UK COVID-19 variant recover health

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Three patients who were contaminated by the new strain of Covid in UK have recuperated their wellbeing, affirmed the Sindh Health Department on Saturday.

As per details, the three patients were isolated at a private hospital in Karachi after arrival in Karachi on December 29 from the UK. The relatives of the infected persons were tested negative for the new strain of the virus.

On December 29, three UK returnees were confirmed with the new strain of coronavirus by the Sindh Health Department.

In a Twitter post, the department had said: “Samples of 3 UK returnees show a 95% match to the new Corona Virus variant from UK in the first phase of Genotyping.”

Health officials had said they took samples of twelve people upon their return from the UK for genotyping, out of which six turned out to be positive while three showed the new strain of the virus in the first phase.

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Coronavirus vaccine trial in Pakistan to end this week

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The phase III clinical trials for a Chinese coronavirus vaccine candidate at the Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad will end this week.

The lead physician of the clinical trial, Dr Ejaz A Khan said that the Ad5-nCoV vaccine is developed by CanSino Biologics and a research unit backed by the Chinese military.

“The trials began in September last year with a target of 17,500 volunteers.”

The physician, who is also the chairman of infection control at the hospital, said the sample will be reviewed by Dalhousie University in Canada. “The university will determine the efficacy of the vaccine.”

The trial will then enter phase IV which is when a vaccine is green-lighted for manufacturing, marketing, and distribution, he added.

A health official told that the data of Chinese vaccines, Sinopharm and Ad5-nCoV, has been submitted to the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) for grant of emergency use.

“First limited supply [of vaccine] likely to start in February,” the official added.

The first-ever large-scale trial in Pakistan was conducted at five centres; two in Karachi and Lahore each and, one in Islamabad.

In the federal capital, the Shifa International Hospital repurposed a building previously used for COVID-19 testing for the trial where volunteers, recruited through NGOs, hospitals and corporations, arrived by appointment to get the jab.

To volunteer, the individual must be 18 and above, not have tested positive for COVID-19, not have immune deficiencies, and not be pregnant for the trial duration.

The hospital also provided a one-time Rs2,000 compensation for travel and food expenses.

The clinical trial is being supervised by the National Institute of Health.

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