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Better Covid Vaccines Are Coming, WHO’s Chief Scientist Says - March 15, 2021

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  • Better Covid Vaccines Are Coming, WHO’s Chief Scientist Says - March 15, 2021

    posted with permission

    hat tip Jason Gale



    Better Covid Vaccines Are Coming, WHO’s Chief Scientist Says
    2021-03-15 10:08:43.464 GMT


    By Jason Gale
    (Bloomberg) -- New Covid-19 vaccines, including ones that
    don’t require needles and can be stored at room temperature, may
    be ready for use later this year or next year, the World Health
    Organization’s top scientist said.
    Six-to-eight new immunizations may complete clinical
    studies and undergo regulatory review by the end of the year,
    Soumya Swaminathan, the Geneva-based agency’s chief scientist,
    said in an interview Saturday.
    New vaccines will add to the 10 already shown to work
    within a year of Covid-19 being declared a pandemic. The world
    needs more immunizations, especially as the virus’s continuous
    circulation spawns dangerous new variants and drugmakers
    struggle to meet orders. Only 122 countries have started
    immunizing people, according to data collected by Bloomberg.
    “We’re thrilled with the vaccines that we have,” said
    Swaminathan, an Indian pediatrician best known for her research
    on tuberculosis and HIV. But “we can improve further,” she said.
    “I think, well into 2022, we’re going to see the emergence of
    improved vaccines.”
    The current crop of experimental vaccines use alternative
    technologies and delivery systems, and include more single-shot
    inoculations, and vaccines that are administered orally, via a
    nasal spray, and through the skin using a type of patch. These
    could bring immunizations that are better suited to specific
    groups, such as pregnant women, according to Swaminathan.
    More than 80 candidate vaccines are being studied in
    people, though some are still in the early stages of testing and
    may not be successful. Companies with Covid-19 vaccines already
    in use have also begun testing updated version designed to
    thwart variants of the coronavirus that have emerged in recent
    months.

    Booster Shots

    “We need to continue to support the research and
    development of more vaccine candidates, especially as the need
    for ongoing booster immunization of populations is still not
    very clear at this point,” Swaminathan said. “So we need to be
    prepared for that in the future.”
    The WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts on
    immunization is reviewing whether people who have been infected
    with Covid-19 need to have two doses of vaccine. Some research
    indicates that a natural infection works to prime the immune
    response to SARS-CoV-2, much as a first dose would, making a
    second injection unnecessary.
    Giving only one dose of vaccine to Covid-19 survivors could
    free up more supplies, Swaminathan said, though it could present
    “practical and logistical challenges in many countries” if blood
    tests are needed to measure patients’ antibody levels before
    deciding if a second jab is warranted.
    The roll out of safe and effective vaccines is also raising
    questions about how to efficiently and ethically conduct
    clinical trials of experimental vaccines, she said. Placebos
    will be replaced with a “gold standard” vaccine in a so-called
    non-inferiority design when it’s no longer ethical to use a
    placebo, Swaminathan said.

    Global Trial

    One approach the WHO is exploring is to compare three or
    four candidate vaccines simultaneously with a placebo. A similar
    study design was used to test the efficacy of drug therapies for
    Covid-19, and would mean trial participants would have an 80%
    chance of receiving an experimental vaccine and only a 20%
    chance of getting placebo.
    “We are in discussions now with several companies with
    vaccines in development to see if we could launch something like
    this on a global trial platform,” Swaminathan said, adding that
    she’s optimistic such a study may begin in the first half of
    2021.
    A global trial involving a wide pool of people and
    countries offers several advantages, she said. Testing vaccines
    in diverse ethnicities, age groups, and people with different
    medical conditions makes the results more generalizable, and
    when the epidemic wanes in some parts of the world it’s often
    still active in others, she said.

    To contact the reporter on this story:
    Jason Gale in Melbourne at j.gale@bloomberg.net
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