Dispatch from Washington: The coronavirus good news from Pfizer and Moderna

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In the era of COVID-19, it’s really hard to see any good news or breakthrough, especially when hundreds of thousands of people are contracting the respiratory disease and thousands are dying every 24 hours.

With lockdowns and shutdowns, our homes have become not so comfortable as the coronavirus fatigue sets in every minute. The fear of going out, the suspicion that others have it while we do not, or the belief that we may contract it from them if we came near them, is making things really hard.

The economic impact, the loss wages, the fear of being evicted from our homes, of running out of food, or of losing our connections with our friends, family members and loved ones is even more difficult.

Yet, even in the midst of this gloom or doom, two pieces of good news came to us within a week that we should be happy about.

On Monday, Moderna Inc announced that its experimental vaccine was 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

The company’s interim data analysis was based on 95 infections among trial volunteers who received either a placebo or the vaccine.

A placebo is a fake pill, a fake treatment, it’s a way of deceiving the patient they are receiving the vaccine, when in reality, they are not.

The way it works is the company brings about 100 people as vaccine volunteers, gives the vaccine to 90 of them and gives a fake vaccine to 10 of them known as placebo, and sends them back into the society and monitors what happens to them.

It sounds a bit heartless or cruel, how can you deceive someone who trusts you? but that’s one way to know whether a vaccine has an impact or no impact.

In the Moderna case, only 5 infections occurred in those who received the vaccine, which is administered in two shots 28 days apart, while 90 infections occurred among those who received the placebo or the fake vaccine.

There were about 30,000 volunteers in the Moderna late-stage clinical trial. Out of the 95 infections recorded, 11 people developed severe illness, all of them were people who received the placebo or the fake vaccine.

Moderna is part of the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed program. The company expects to produce around 20 million doses of the vaccine for the United States this year.

Millions of doses have already been made and are ready to ship pending the Food and Drug Administration authorization.

Moderna became the second U.S. company in a week, after Pfizer, to report results that have exceeded expectations.

Last week, Pfizer Inc announced that its own experimental vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

If everything went according to expectations, pending regulatory review of more data, the United States could have two vaccines authorized for emergency use in December.

It is believed that as many as 60 million doses of the vaccines could be available by the end of the year, and more than a billion doses by next year, enough to vaccinate everyone in the United States.

If this is good news for the United States, what about the rest of the world?

Amnesty International seemed to have the same question in mind. On Monday, the rights group urged Moderna to share its COVID-19 technology to ensure the vaccine breakthrough is not limited to rich countries.

Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice Program, said Moderna should now ensure that poor countries around the world have access to the vaccine to prevent the global spread COVID-19.

To date, Moderna is the only company that has committed to not enforce its intellectual property rights and allow others to make the vaccine.

“Having already sold most of its potential 2021 vaccine supply to rich countries, Moderna must follow through on its promise to allow others to make the vaccine, and provide the knowledge and technology to do so, once the vaccine has proven to be safe and effective,” Cockburn said in a statement.

“Companies like Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have a responsibility to respect human rights, and they should play a leading role towards a global solution to COVID-19 by sharing and ensuring affordable prices. They must not act in a way that allows governments to hoard vaccines for a privileged few.

“We can only put an end to COVID-19 if companies ensure that those most in need of life-saving vaccines are not left behind. It’s time for companies to live up to their human rights responsibilities and ensure the widest possible access to their innovations.”

Moderna has said it can manufacture between 500 million and 1billion vaccine doses in 2021 (two doses per person needed), but it has only struck deals with rich countries that may account for the majority of these.

The US has paid for 100 million doses already, with an option of a further 500 million. Canada has ordered 56 million, Japan 50 million, and the European Commission completed advanced talks with Moderna for up to 160 million doses. As these negotiations tend to be done behind closed doors, additional deals could also be underway, added Amnesty International.

The new development follows a UN Special Rapporteurs statement on November 9, which highlighted that companies “should refrain from causing or contributing to adverse impacts on the rights to life and health by invoking their intellectual property rights and prioritizing economic gains.”

Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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