17 May 2021

• US President Joe Biden announces that the country will donate a total of 80 million doses of coronavirus vaccines (including the previously announced 60 million doses of  AstraZeneca vaccine, pending clearance by the US FDA) by the end of June 2021. Source

• Activists, business leaders and diplomats are pressuring the Biden administration to do more; Gregg Gonsalves, long-time AIDS activist and associate professor at Yale’s School of Public Health, noted that “Donating 80 million doses of vaccines without a plan to scale up production worldwide is like putting a Band-Aid on a machete wound.”  Source

• The CDC reports 1,949 breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among over 123 million fully vaccinated people in the US. Overall, half were among women, and 1,539 (79 percent) were in people age 65 or younger, and 354 cases (18 percent) were asymptomatic. Overall, 353 people (18 percent ) died, although 63 of these deaths occurred were not related to COVID-19 or were in asymptomatic people. Source

• After assessing stability data, the EMA extends the approved storage period for unopened, thawed vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine from five days to one month in a normal refrigerator. Source

• Pandemic refugees from over 160 countries have been arriving at the US – Mexico border. Source

• An increasing number of babies and small children in Brazil are dying from coronavirus. The country’s official death toll is  over 400,000; according to Brazil’s Ministry of Health, 832 of them were age 5 and under, but many more may have died without being diagnosed, due to low testing rates. A study tracking confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases among young children estimates that the real death toll is over 2,200. In comparison,  the US, which has a much larger population and a higher COVID-19 death toll than Brazil, 139 children aged 4 and under have died from COVID-19. The death rate is likely to be driven by the P.1. variant, which causes severe illness in pregnant women, and poor access to healthcare for children. Source

• Israel’s assault on Gaza, which was facing over 1,000 daily cases of COVID-19, has stopped coronavirus vaccination; UN officials fear that a severe worsening of the epidemic could occur as people seeking safety in overcrowded bomb shelters. Source

• Sanofi and GSK issue a press release announcing that their experimental coronavirus vaccine triggered strong immune responses in a 722-person phase II trial. A 35,000-person phase II trial of two formulations, one aimed at the B.1.351 variant, is expected to launch in the coming weeks. Source

• Ontario’s Biolyse is encountering barriers to a deal it entered with Bolivia to produce up to 50 million doses of the J & J coronavirus vaccine. J & J refused to negotiate or license the vaccine, so Biolyse asked Canada’s government to license the patents under the Canadian Access to Medicines Regime, which allows drugs and vaccines listed as Schedule 1  to be exported to  low-income countries. But COVID-19 vaccines are not on the list of Schedule 1 products; if Canada added them, Biolyse and others could also make  Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines.  A Canadian government spokesperson said that “…adding a COVID vaccine to Schedule 1 would not allow a compulsory license for the production and export of these vaccines. A company seeking authorization under Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime must be able to manufacture the drug and conduct necessary trials to establish that the drug meets Canadian safety and efficacy requirements before authorization would be granted.”

Biolyse’s Executive Vice President John Fulton said that the vaccine could be reverse-engineered, but the company would need J&J’s cooperation to run a trial and government funds to scale up production, adding that the government would need to  “…spend the political capital and have the courage to wade into the geopolitical storm that will ensue when they signal they support the loosening of IP to vaccinate LMIC. If a compulsory license system can’t work now, during a worldwide pandemic, what’s it for?” Source

• The one-shot Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, known as Sputnik Light,  is approved in Venezuela. It has also been approved in Angola. Source

• As third wave  of coronavirus approaches, South Africa opens up vaccine eligibility to people ages 60 and over. Source

• UNICEF announces that COVAX is delivering its 65th million dose of coronavirus vaccine instead of the 170th million dose – and that the shortfall is likely to reach 190 million doses, calling for high-income countries to donate just 20 percent of their vaccine supply in the next three months – which is possible without compromising their own national vaccine campaigns – and noting that “We have issued repeated warnings of the risks of letting down our guard and leaving low- and middle-income countries without equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. We are concerned that the deadly spike in India is a precursor to what will happen if those warnings remain unheeded. While the situation in India is tragic, it is not unique. Cases are exploding and health systems are struggling in countries near – like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives – and far, like Argentina and Brazil. The cost for children and families will be incalculable.” Source

• Nepal’s coronavirus is worsening; the positivity rate has reached 45 percent, and daily cases have increased by 3000 percent in just a month, reaching 9,000. An estimated 400,000 seasonal workers are expected to return from India in the coming weeks, which could exacerbate the crisis because the country does not have enough tests, oxygen or ventilators- and only eight doctors per 10,000 people. Source

• A pre-print study reports that a longer interval between the first and second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine versus three weeks) increases immune responses by three-and-a-half times in people ages 80 and over. Source

• Former New York Times health journalist Don McNeil deconstructs the origin of the “lab leak” theory and notes that additional evidence supports the possibility, including that that no virus with intermediate evolutionary steps towards SARS-Cov-2 has been identified – and that China’s lack of transparency is disturbing. Source

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