COVID vaccine rolls off production line as Vic eases hold
Pfizer has released footage of a potential coronavirus vaccine rolling off the production line in Belgium as America's top doctor warned of a "twindemic".
The drugmaker's UK boss, Ben Osborn, told the Mail on Sunday it aimed to have 100 million doses ready by the end of the year.
He said the company has already made several hundred doses of the drug as it prepares to seek emergency use in the US by November.
Mr Osborn also revealed that scientists in its main UK lab have also found drugs that could provide a potential cure for COVID-19 rather than just a preventive vaccine.
"The hope here is that we essentially come up with a medicine that disrupts the virus and ultimately prevents it worsening the condition of a patient," he said.
"The hope here is that we essentially come up with a medicine that disrupts the virus and ultimately prevents it worsening the condition of a patient."
An answer on whether the vaccine works or not is expected by the end of the month.
It comes as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an expert in infectious diseases for the last four decades, told CNBC that it was more critical than ever to wear a mask, social distance, avoid crowded spaces, do things outdoors where possible, and wash your hands frequently - even as lockdown fatigue and complacency about the virus sets in around the globe.
"I think we're facing a whole lot of trouble," Dr Fauci said.
"We have a baseline of infections now that vary between 40,000 and 50,000 per day," he said, referring to the United States, which has to dubious distinction of leading the world in COVID-19 cases.
"That's a bad place to be when you're going into the cooler weather of the [autumn], and the colder weather of the winter. In addition, we would like to see the per cent positivity be coming down."
In excess of 215,910 people in the US have died from COVID-19, according to official reports.
Other public-health experts have urged Americans to get their flu shot, otherwise as the US enters cold and flu season, winter illnesses could trigger a "twindemic" of COVID-19.
As happened earlier in the year, hospitals could become overwhelmed with coronavirus and influenza cases, as people may be unable to distinguish symptoms.
Dr Fauci, who has frequently found himself at odds with US President Donald Trump when acting as part of the White House coronavirus task force, offered his opinion on lockdowns versus opening the economy back up.
"This all-or-none phenomenon - either stay shut or you know, just throw caution to the wind - doesn't work. And we've proven it doesn't work," Dr Fauci said.
"So that the prudent way and the careful way we know will, in fact, get us open, and we'll do it in a safe way."
"This is an outbreak of historic proportions, the likes of which we have not seen in 102 years," he said, referencing the 1918 "Spanish Influenza" pandemic which infected approximately 500 million people globally. "There's no chance that I'm going to give up on this and walk away from it no matter what has happened."
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, coronavirus cases are increasing in 29 US states while only two states have reported decreases.
Dr Fauci appealed to communities to practice extreme caution, especially young people who risk infecting someone vulnerable. "That can be someone's grandfather, that can be a woman who's on chemotherapy for breast cancer, that could be an immune-deficient child. So we've got to stop thinking that we exist in a vacuum, only for ourselves. We're all in this together."
US BRACES FOR 'TWINDEMIC', RUSHES VACCINE
New York is planning to set up "mass vaccination sites'' once COVID-19 vaccines become available through the federal government and vetted by an independent state panel, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday local time.
According to The New York Post, the governor - in rolling out a statewide vaccine-distribution strategy - said the effort would be the largest that New York has undertaken since the coronavirus pandemic began in March.
"How do you administer 40 million vaccines to the state of New York? That is the trick,'' Mr Cuomo said at a press briefing.
He said so many doses are needed because there are 20 million state residents, and "most of the vaccines they're talking about require two doses'' three to four weeks apart.
The number of cases in the United States - the hardest-hit country in the world - has topped eight million and in the face of the surge, which experts warn could turn into a 'twindemic' during flu season, governments at a local level are struggling to persuade their constituents to observe necessary precautions across all 50 states.
Two US companies have announced that they expect to apply for emergency approval by late November, but experts warn that even when one is approved, it will take many months until they are widely available.
Pfizer and Moderna expect to apply for emergency approval for their vaccines, welcome news as the US hits a third surge of its coronavirus epidemic.
Pfizer said it hopes to move ahead with its vaccine after safety data is available in the third week of November.
Moderna is aiming for November 25 to seek authorisation.
SWEDEN REVERSES POSITION ON NO LOCKDOWNS
Sweden is now set to introduce local restrictions as coronavirus cases begin to rise across the country after it previously shunned lockdown and the restrictions implemented by other European countries to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The Nordic nation had been championed by lockdown sceptics as a display of how governments could weather the pandemic without using draconian measures.
Restaurants, bars and shops stayed open in the Northern spring and summer while other countries shut down their economies.
But now Sweden's capital of Stockholm is changing its strategy.
According to The Sun, Dr Johan Nojd, who leads the infectious diseases department in Uppsala, said: "It's more of a lockdown situation - but a local lockdown.
He is due to meet with Sweden's leading health officials on Monday to discussing implementing the new coronavirus measures.
Rules and restrictions will be suggested such as avoiding contact with the elderly and vulnerable; not using public transport. suggested being introduced include telling people to avoid meeting the vulnerable and not using public transport.
Dr Nojd also said that if contact tracing shows further links between activities and infections they will impose even tougher measures.
"Perhaps tomorrow we will [be] talking about concerts or restaurants and then perhaps one could say, '[I]t is the Public Health Agency's advice not to sit in restaurants late at night'."
Sweden, which has a population of 10 million, has seen coronavirus cases creeping up since the middle of September.
A two week total of 85 cases per 100,000 people has been reported by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Dr Tegnell, Sweden's state epidemiologist, who previously expressed interest in the idea of herd immunity, has walked back that option.
He is set to meet with local health officials next week to discuss which measures to put into place in response to outbreaks in the capital Stockholm and nearby city Uppsala.
Sweden is now marked with an "orange" alert.
Some 970 new cases were detected on Wednesday, Sweden's highest figure since June.
Sweden has so far recorded 103,200 cases and 5,918 deaths as it attempted an alternative strategy to beat coronavirus.
Dr Joacim Rocklov, professor of epidemiology at Umea University, said: "What's happened in the last couple of weeks is a movement towards a similar model to what has been used in Norway and many other countries.
"It's very obvious that it's a new strategy, but still the newspapers report on 'the Swedish strategy' as if it were fixed in March."
Dr Rocklov said that he believed that the resurgence in infections in Stockholm has challenged health authorities belief that herd immunity would work.
He said: "I think they must have been shocked by that, after all these strong claims that we were closing in on immunity in April and May. They must have realised that that's not really the case."
Anders Tegnell said that the autumn surge in infections had changed they way they understood the virus.
"I think the obvious conclusion is that the level of immunity in those cities is not at all as high as we have, as maybe some people, have believed," he said.
"I think what we are seeing is very much a consequence of the very heterogeneous spread that this disease has, which means that even if you feel like there have been a lot of cases in some big cities, there are still huge pockets of people who have not been affected yet."
Stockholm University maths professor Tom Britton said, "If we did not care anything about any restrictions or preventive measures, then I think we would see a big second wave, not as big as in the spring, but still a big one."
INDIA SAYS HOPES TO CONTAIN VIRUS BY FEBRUARY
A government panel claims COVID-19 has peaked in India, and can be controlled by February, according to The Times of India.
The 10-member panel, chaired by IIT Hyderabad professor M. Vidyasagar, says no fresh lockdowns should be imposed on district or state level unless there is an imminent danger of healthcare facilities being overwhelmed.
"In actuality, the peak of active cases came in late September … By this time, we were far better equipped to handle the pandemic in terms of diagnostics and vital equipment inventories. Without a lockdown the number of deaths in India would have overwhelmed the system within a very short time frame", the panel added.
ANGER OVER MELBOURNE RULE CHANGE
After months of living through one of the world's harshest COVID-19 lockdowns, Melbourne is set to see a much-needed ease in restrictions.
The news comes as Victoria recorded just two new cases of coronavirus on Sunday and no deaths, bringing Melbourne's all important 14-day rolling average to 7.5 and regional Victoria's to 0.5.
The 5km rule has been scrapped, with people now allowed to travel up to 25km from their home.
The two hour exercise and outdoor socialising rule will also be scrapped entirely, and up to 10 people from two households may now socialise outdoors together.
Tennis, skate parks, golf courses, outdoor pools with up to 30 people, hairdressers, property inspections and auctions with up to ten people will also be allowed.
Non-essential outdoor home maintenance including repairs, renovations and house painting can also occur, with a maximum of five workers.
"Victorians have done an amazing job over recent weeks and months. What it means is that as so many cities across the world head into what is going to be a deadly winter, we in Melbourne and across Victoria are well-placed to have a COVIDSafe summer and a COVID normal 2021," Premier Daniel Andrews said during his daily press briefing.
"Yes, these lockdowns have come with pain and damage and hurt but the strategy is working and will continue to work. Not so long ago we had 725 cases and there was simply no way we could have a debate, a perfectly legitimate debate about how to open, when to open, how to do that. It was not an option available to any of us. But Victorians, in every community, from every background, every circumstance, have stayed the course."
However, not everybody was happy with the announcement.
Retailers slammed Daniel Andrews for "ignoring" businesses that hoped for reprieve before the end of October.
"You cannot fix the economy and repair the damage that this virus has done to the economy until you deal with the virus," the Premier told reporters.
"We will get you open when it is safe to be open. For you, for your staff, for your customers and for every single Victorian."
While the Australian Retailers Association said the plan to reopen stores on November 2 was an "enormous relief", Chapel Street Precinct general manager Chrissie Maus labelled it "an unjust joke".
"This is no longer acceptable or sustainable for our businesses," she said.
"I would rather have kept the 5km limit and the shops opened."
Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott said there was no point to easing any rules if nothing was allowed to open.
"This is an inexplicable and unacceptable delay for Victorians and small businesses who are hanging on by a day, not a week," she said.
"Simply being allowed to go for a haircut or outside a bit more when you have no job, no money and your business has failed is just not good enough."
THE NEXT STEP
The next ease in restrictions is scheduled for 11.59pm on 1 November. These changes will include scrapping the four reasons to leave home rule, and reopening retail and beauty services.
Hospitality venues will be able to seat up to 20 people inside and up to 50 people outside, and two people plus dependants will be able to visit homes.
"Not a bubble, not an exclusive arrangement, but essentially one family, two adults and children, to your home, once-a-day," Premier Andrews said.
Additionally, up to 20 people will be allowed for outdoor religious gatherings. A maximum of 10 people will be allowed at weddings, and a maximum of 20 mourners at funerals.
In regional Victoria, where case numbers are substantially lower, two people plus dependants will be able to make home visits, households will able to visit care facilities, and hospitality venues will be able to increase capacities to 70 people outside and 40 people inside.
Mr Andrews said that as new cases continue to drop there is an opportunity for the 1 November changes to be brought forward.
Speaking on the upcoming AFL Grand Final, Mr Andrews said that while the event will look very different this year "for obvious reasons", he implored Victorians to not break restrictions.
"You cannot have friends over into your home. You cannot pretend that it is over because we all desperately want it to be. As important as it is, in a cultural sense, in a very passionate way, for every single football fan across our state, it is not worth risking all that we have done, all that we have built, all that we can do in just a few days' time by having gatherings that are unsafe … As significant as the day is, it has to be different, it has got to be different."
Originally published as COVID-19 vaccine rolls off the production line as Vic eases hold