Pakistan govt liaising with coronavirus vaccine manufacturers, NCOC told

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The federal government has informed the National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) that it is liaising with leading manufacturers of the novel coronavirus vaccines including those from China.

The officials said they are regularly reviewing developments including data from phase three of the COVID-19 vaccine trials. The final decision about the availability of the vaccine for Pakistan would be determined through these steps.

Coronavirus vaccines

It may be noted here that Pakistan signed up for the United Nation’s COVAX Facility, a global initiative aimed at equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.

There are also multiple local and China-made vaccine trials being conducting across the country. The human trials of a vaccine being developed by Chinese Company CanSino Biologics Inc started on September 22 and has over 13,000 volunteers across Pakistan.

In November, Federal Minister for Planning and Development and the NCOC chief Asad Umar said that the federal cabinet has approved procurement of the vaccines, which are expected to arrive sometime between January and March next year.

Since the start of December, Pakistan has reported 62,332 coronavirus infections with a daily average of 2,883.27. The national tally has surged to 462,814 with at least 37,905 active cases.

Government data showed 1,466 people have died of COVID-19 in the past 22 days with an estimated 66.63 deaths per day, bringing the national death toll to 9,557.

Pakistan has one of the highest recovery rates in the world as 89.74% of the patients have survived coronavirus. A total of 415,352 recoveries have been reported so far.


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BioNTech says can make vaccine for new coronavirus variant detected in UK within 6 weeks

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The co-founder of BioNTech said Tuesday it was “highly likely” that its vaccine against the coronavirus works against the mutated strain detected in Britain, but it could also adapt the vaccine if necessary in six weeks.

“Scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant,” said Ugur Sahin.

But if needed, “in principle the beauty of the messenger technology is that we can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation — we could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks.”

Sahin said the variant detected in Britain has nine mutations, rather than just one as is usually common.

Nevertheless, he voiced confidence that the vaccine developed with Pfizer would be efficient because it “contains more than 1,000 amino acids, and only nine of them have changed, so that means 99 percent of the protein is still the same”.

He said tests are being run on the variant, with results expected in two weeks.

“We have scientific confidence that the vaccine might protect but we will only know it if the experiment is done […] we will publish the data as soon as possible,” he added.

New virus variant

The World Health Organisation tweeted late on Saturday that it was “in close contact with UK officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant” and promised to update governments and the public as more is learned.

The new strain was identified in southeastern England in September and has been spreading in the area ever since, a WHO official told the BBC on Sunday.

“What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19.

Studies are underway to better understand how fast it spreads and whether “it’s related to the variant itself, or a combination of factors with behaviour,” she added.

She said the strain had also been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, where there was one case that didn’t spread further.

“The longer this virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change,” she said. “So we really need to do everything we can right now to prevent spread.”

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands of different mutations among samples of the virus causing Covid-19. Many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.


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Australia confirms two cases of new fast-spreading coronavirus strain

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Australia confirmed on Monday it has detected two cases of a fast-spreading new coronavirus strain that has forced Britain to reverse plans to ease curbs over Christmas, the first confirmed cases of the strain in the Asia-Pacific region.

Australia’s most populous state on Sunday reported six new cases of the novel coronavirus in people returning from overseas and in quarantine, and authorities said among them were two cases of the fast-spreading new strain.

However, New South Wales officials stressed that no people infected with the new strain were believed to be circulating in the community.

“We’ve had a couple of UK returned travellers with the particular mutations,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant told reporters.

Australia, which has since March closed its borders to all non-citizens and permanent residents, said it was not considering suspending flights with Britain.

“Everyone coming from the UK is going into 14 days of hotel quarantine and they are of no risk as that quarantine works so successfully,” Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told reporters.

Authorities were also hopeful they were getting to grips with a flare-up of the virus in Sydney after New South Wales reported its lowest one-day rise in new infections in three days.

The state said 15 people had tested positive for the virus in the past 24 hours, down from the 30 the previous day, bringing the total number of cases in a new outbreak centred on Sydney’s northern beaches to 83.

“I’m pleased with what we’ve seen overnight, but again, it’s volatile,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

The government would provide an update by Wednesday on “what Christmas and the next few days look like” in terms of containment measures, she said.

Other states and territories have moved quickly to close borders to all of Sydney’s 5 million residents, throwing Christmas travel plans into disarray.

“2020 is not done with us yet,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters.

BORDER BLOCKS

NSW imposed a lockdown on Friday in Sydney’s northern beaches area, home to more than 250,000 people, after the cluster emerged, centred on two dining and entertainment venues in the seaside suburb of Avalon.

About 90 locations including cafes, gyms, casinos and supermarkets across Sydney were identified as having been visited by infected people.

Authorities have urged anyone who visited the venues to immediately get tested and self-isolate, while dozens of domestic flights due to leave Sydney were cancelled.

With travel in chaos, states and territories warned their residents to leave NSW and return quickly if they wanted to avoid mandatory quarantine.

Concrete barriers will appear on the border between NSW and Queensland state, with police and military personnel deployed to enforce the rules, the Queensland state government said.

Desperate to contain the spread, NSW has opened dozens of new testing sites, some running 24-hours a day.

Health authorities said more than 38,000 tests had been conducted in the past 24 hours, a record.

The source of the Sydney cluster was not known although Berejiklian said tests showed the virus strain was almost identical to that found in an unidentified woman who arrived on Dec. 1 from the United States.

All arrivals have to go into quarantine, which Australia credits as central to its avoiding high coronavirus numbers compared with other developed nations.

Australia has recorded almost 28,200 cases and 908 deaths since the pandemic began.

Sydney’s outbreak has forced the abandonment of the annual Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race for the first time in 76 years, and other cities are on standby to host a cricket test between Australia and India scheduled to start at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Jan. 7.


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CDC issues guidelines on COVID-19 vaccination after allergic reactions

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Saturday said it was monitoring reports of allergic reactions to the COVID-19 vaccination and made recommendations on how people with histories of allergies should proceed.

Anyone who had a severe reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine should not get the second dose, the agency said, defining severe as needing the medication epinephrine or treatment in a hospital.

People who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in a COVID-19 vaccine should avoid the vaccine formulation containing the ingredient, CDC said. Two vaccines have been approved in the United States under emergency use authorizations.

Individuals with histories of severe allergic reaction to vaccines should consult their doctors about the COVID-19 shot. The CDC said people with severe allergies to food, pets, latex or environmental conditions as well as people with allergies to oral medication or a family history of severe allergic reactions could still get vaccinated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating around five allergic reactions that happened after people were administered Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States this week.

On Friday, the FDA said that the Moderna Inc vaccine, which received emergency use authorization, should not be given to individuals with a known history of a severe allergic reaction to any components of the shot.

Britain’s medical regulator has said that anyone with a history of anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reactions to a medicine or food, should not be given the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.


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US FDA decides to approve Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine on emergency basis: report

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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided on Thursday night to approve Moderna Inc’s coronavirus vaccine on an emergency basis, the Financial Times reported, citing people close to the process.

The report comes after the FDA said it informed Moderna that it would rapidly work towards the finalisation and issuance of emergency use authorisation for its Covid-19 vaccine candidate, according to commissioner Stephen Hahn.

On Thursday, a panel of external advisers to the FDA overwhelmingly endorsed emergency use of Moderna vaccine candidate, virtually assuring a second option for protecting against Covid-19 for a pandemic-ravaged nation.

Covid-19 surge pushes US hospitals to brink
Meanwhile, an unrelenting coronavirus surge has pushed besieged hospitals further to the brink as the United States pressed on with its immunization rollout on Thursday.

Covid-19 hospitalisations rose to record heights for a 19th straight day, with nearly 113,000 coronavirus patients counted in US medical facilities nationwide on Wednesday, while 3,580 more perished, the most yet in a single day.

The virus has claimed almost 308,000 lives in the United States to date, and health experts have warned of a deepening crisis this winter as intensive care units (ICUs) filled up and hospital beds overflowed into hallways.

“We expect to have more dead bodies that we have spaces for them,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said at a briefing on Thursday, adding that the country’s second largest city had fully exhausted its ICU capacity.

Some health workers wary of vaccine

The initial 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine began shipping on Sunday and were still making their way to hospitals across the country and into the arms of doctors, nurses, and other frontline medical professionals.

Some of the first shots were also going to residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Later vaccine rounds will go to other essential workers, senior citizens and people with chronic health conditions.

It will take several months before vaccines are widely available to the public on demand, and opinion polls have found many Americans hesitant about getting inoculated.

Some are distrustful of immunisations in general, and some are wary of the unprecedented speed with which the first vaccines were developed and rolled out — 11 months from the first documented US cases of Covid-19.

Public health authorities have sought to reassure Americans that the vaccines are safe as well as highly effective at preventing illness.

But ambivalence has emerged even among pockets of healthcare workers designated as first in line for inoculation.

“Some are on the fence. Some feel that we need to get it done. It’s split down the middle,” Diego Montes Lopez, 28, a phlebotomist at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in South Los Angeles, said of co-workers after getting injected himself.

Public service messaging about vaccines has been mixed with urgent pleas for Americans to remain diligent about social distancing and mask-wearing until immunisations become widely available.

They point to data showing infections continuing to spread virtually unabated across much of the country, apparently fueled by increased transmissions of the virus as many Americans disregarded warnings to avoid social gatherings and unnecessary travel over the Thanksgiving holiday last month.


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Govt to distribute health insurance cards amongst Azad Kashmir people

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 Prime Minister Imran Khan announced Thursday his government has decided to distribute National Sehat Card amongst people of Azad Kashmir.

All of the populace in the 10 districts of Azad Kashmir will be given health insurance cards, the PM announced and added that for 1.2 million people overall, the government will begin printing the cards.

The Prime Minister will officially announceed the insurance card distribution amongst Azad Kashmir people in the program related to the national health scheduled in the Prime Minister card.

About 350 hospitals will be on the panel of this health insurance card where the insured can get treated for free and now the government has decided to include 11 more hospitals from Azad Kashmir to be in the panel.

According to the official statement, at least six people of the family will be insured against one card, and all major medical procedures including heart surgery will be free for the card holders as the expenses are being borne by the government.


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Coronavirus and Vitamin D: Is there hope for immunity with the supplement?

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An expert panel has said that there is not enough evidence that Vitamin D supplements are effective against protecting people from COVID-19, BBC reported on Thursday.

The panel consists of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

It said that people, however, should continue to take the supplement “to keep bones and muscles healthy”.

A review of a possible link between Vitamin D and COVID-19 was carried out after a few studies suggested the vitamin “might play a role in the boy’s immune response to respiratory viruses”, the British publication said.

The panel, however, concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to recommend it as a treatment or for prevention.

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of the centre for guidelines at NICE, said: “We are continuing to monitor evidence as it is published and will review and update the guidance if necessary.”

Prof Adrian Martineau, clinical professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London, said there was a chance the vitamin “might reduce risk and/or severity of Covid-19” and clinical trials currently in progress would “hopefully shed light on this question”.

Taking Vitamin D important this winter

According to BBC, it is more than important than ever to take Vitamin D this winter as a lot of time will be spent indoors isolating and staying safe from coronavirus.

The sunlight, otherwise, is a key source.

Vitamin D is also found in oily fish and cereals.

The following people are said by BBC to be “at risk” of having low levels of Vitamin D even in summer and spring:

These people are advised to ensure an all year long consumption of a Vitamin D supplement.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “We advise that everyone — particularly the elderly, those who don’t get outside and those with dark skin — takes a vitamin D supplement containing 10 micrograms (400IU) every day,” she said.

“This year, the advice is more important than ever with more people spending more time inside.”


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UK has vaccinated 137,897 people so far against COVID, minister says

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Nearly 140,000 people in the United Kingdom have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the first week of roll-out of the shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the minister in charge of deployment of the vaccine said on Wednesday.

“A really good start to the vaccination program. It’s been 7 days and we have done: England: 108,000, Wales: 7,897, Northern Ireland: 4,000, Scotland: 18,000. U.K Total 137,897,” Nadhim Zahawi said in a tweet.

“That number will increase as we have operationalised hundreds of PCN (primary care networks),” he said.


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U.S finds first case of coronavirus in wild animal, a Utah mink

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Monday that it confirmed the first known case of the coronavirus in a wild animal, a mink. The discovery increases concerns about outbreaks in mink as the virus has killed more than 15,000 farmed mink in the United States since August.

Global health officials are investigating the potential risk the animals may pose to people after Denmark last month embarked on a plan to eliminate its farmed mink population of 17 million, warning that a mutated coronavirus strain could move to humans.

The USDA said in a notice that it confirmed the case in a “free-ranging, wild mink” in Utah as part of wildlife surveillance around infected farms.

Several animals from different wildlife species were sampled and all tested negative, the USDA added.

The agency said it notified the World Organisation for Animal Health of the recent case but said there is no evidence the virus has been widespread in wild populations around infected mink farms.

“To our knowledge, this is the 1st free-ranging, native wild animal confirmed with SARS-CoV-2,” the USDA said in the notice.

The virus has also been found in zoo tigers and household cats and dogs.


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Coronavirus vaccine to be available in Pakistan in two months

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The coronavirus vaccine will be available in Pakistan in the next two months, says Prime Minister Imran Khan’s National Task Force on Science and Technology Chairperson Dr Atta-ur-Rehman.

Dr Rehman said on Monday that the richer and bigger countries have already paid for the COVID-19 vaccine. “It will take time for smaller countries to procure the vaccine,” he said, adding that Pakistan will have to try hard itself to procure it.

The scientist explained that dispensing the vaccine will be a lengthy procedure because of the country’s population.

Earlier this month, the federal cabinet approved a $150 million grant to procure the coronavirus vaccine. Federal Minister for Planning and Development and National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) chief Asad Umar has said that a task force, led by Special Assistant to PM on National Health Services Dr Faisal Sultan, had finalised recommendations for the procurement.

Chinese vaccine
Scores of volunteers from across Pakistan flocked to research hospitals over the past few days to join the final-stage clinical trials of a Chinese-made vaccine for coronavirus — marking the first time the country has participated in such a trial.

The coronavirus vaccine is being developed by CanSinoBio and the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology China as multiple Western pharmaceutical companies issued a string of positive vaccine announcements this month.

Pfizer vaccine
A spokesperson for Pfizer Asia Pacific told Geo.tv that the company was in talks with Pakistan’s health ministry for the procurement of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine. It said the pharmaceutical, for now, would do government-based contracts due to heavy demand.

To overcome the extreme challenge of minus 70 degrees for Pfizer BioN Tech vaccine storage, the spokesperson shared that Pfizer has made specially designed, temperature-controlled thermal shippers, in which the doses will arrive which can be used as temporary storage units.

The shipper can maintain the recommended storage condition -70°C ± 10°C for 10 days unopened, which allows for it to be transported globally. Once opened, and if it is used as temporary storage by a vaccination centre, it can be used for a total of 30 days with re-icing every five days. Pfizer Pakistan has signed an MoU with Chughtai Labs to set up cold chains and vaccination centers in Pakistan.

Moderna’s vaccine
Moderna’s vaccine also needs to be stored at low temperatures. However, the Chinese vaccines and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine need normal refrigeration to store its products.

Talks are underway between Oxford Astra Zeneca and Pakistan’s health ministry officials as well and it is expected that Pakistan will also receive a sizeable quantity of approved vaccine from the global COVAX alliance at some point in the coming year.


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