5 May 2021

• In a significant breakthrough for global efforts to suspend patent rules during the pandemic, the Biden administration announces its support for waiving intellectual property protections on coronavirus vaccines. Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, released a statement saying “… the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.” Source

• The New York Times describes a “split screen” — the reopening of clubs and restaurants reopening in the US and the EU while funeral pyres burn and people gasp for breath in India, due to the failure to distribute vaccines across the world, logistical problems and the legacy of colonialism, which has fostered vaccine hesitancy. CARE, a global nonprofit, says that for every dollar spent on coronavirus vaccines, an additional five dollars is needed to ensure that the vaccines go from airport runways into people’s arms.  Many already delivered doses sit in warehouses, with expiration dates nearing.

Safety concerns in the EU and the US have also slowed vaccine roll-out – and uptake – in some countries, as people wonder why they are getting a vaccine deemed unsafe in high-income countries. Economically devastated countries lack funding for hiring and training healthcare workers – and even for printing immunization cards. As richer nations vaccinate their residents, they may continue to buy booster shots, leaving insufficient production capacity to meet the global demand. Source

• Dr. Navjot Dahiya, Vice President of the Indian Medical Association, calls Prime Minister Modi a “super spreader” after he failed to cancel crowded campaign rallies and cricket matches. Source

• As foreign ministers from the Group of 7 countries —Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US -met with representatives from Australia,  Brunei, India, South Africa and South Korea  met at the first face-to-face G7 meeting in two years, where precautions included daily testing, social distancing and masking, India’s foreign minister announced that its delegation was in self-isolation following a possible coronavirus exposure.  Source

• As Nepal’s fast-growing coronavirus outbreak spreads to the Himalayas, an increasing number of climbers are testing positive after being evacuated from base camps of Mount Everest and  surrounding peaks. Concern is increasing over their safety and that of their Nepali guides, who are already vulnerable to illness from lower blood oxygen levels and weakened immunity. But Nepal’s government denies the outbreak at the Everest base camp and has not released any information on the number of evacuees. Source

New England Journal of Medicine publishes cohort data from Qatar on effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine against the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351  variants among 265,410 people, at least 14 days after they received their second dose. Vaccination was 89.5 percent effective against  B.1.1.7 and 75 percent effective against B.1.351, and over 97 percent effective against severe, critical and fatal COVID-19. Source

• ­Lancet publishes a study estimating the effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Israel among 4,714,932 fully vaccinated people, beginning at 7 days after their second dose. Overall, the vaccine was 93 percent effective, including against the B.1.1.7 variant; it was 91·5 percent effective against asymptomatic COVID-19; 97 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19; 97·2 percent effective at preventing hospitalization, and  96·7 effective at preventing death. The authors noted a marked nationwide decline in SARS- CoV-2 incidence even after lockdowns and other restrictions were lifted and suggested that the vaccine’s effectiveness against  asymptomatic infections could reduce transmission. Source

• Moderna issues a press release with interim data from an ongoing phase II trial comparing three strategies for coronavirus vaccine boosters:  one candidate, mRNA-1273.351, based on the B.1.351 variant; a 50-50 mixture of RNA-1273-351 with the current Moderna vaccine, or  a single dose of mRNA-1273.351 plus a 50 µg booster dose of the current vaccine.  Study participants, who had already been vaccinated, still had  string immune responses to an older version of the virus, but protection against the P.1 and B.1.351  variants was much lower. Two weeks after they received boosters, all participants had responses similar to peak levels after  primary vaccination- and  against all variants.

mRNA-1273.351 appeared to be more effective against variants  than the original vaccine; adverse events, mainly mild-to-moderate, were similar to those reported from earlier clinical trials of the vaccine. Moderna has submitted data on the variant-specific booster vaccine candidates as a preprint to bioRxiv and will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication. Source

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