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Russia admits its coronavirus death toll third-worst in the world

MOSCOW, Dec 29: In a surprising development, Russia has admitted that its coronavirus death toll was the third-worst in the world. It said that the coronavirus-linked deaths were more than three times higher than it had previously reported.

The admission by Moscow on Monday has made it a country with the third-largest number of COVID-19 related fatalities. This is contrary to claims made by President Vladimir Putin about Russia’s low fatality rate from the virus.

Earlier this month, Putin had said that Moscow had done a “better” job at managing the pandemic than western countries. But since early in the pandemic, some Russian experts have said the government was playing down the country’s outbreak.

On Monday Russian officials admitted that was true. The Rosstat statistics agency said that the number of deaths from all causes recorded between January and November had risen by 229,700 compared to the previous year.

“More than 81 per cent of this increase in mortality over this period is due to Covid,” Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said, meaning that over 186,000 Russians have died from Covid-19.

Russian health officials have registered more than three million infections since the start of the pandemic, putting the country’s caseload at fourth-highest in the world. But they have only reported 55,265 deaths -- a much lower fatality rate than in other badly hit countries.

Russia registered 27,787 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, down from 28,284 the day before, bringing the total to 3,078,035, the federal response centre said on Monday. "Over the past 24 hours, 27,787 coronavirus cases were confirmed in 84 regions, including 3,748 cases (13.5 per cent) without clinical symptoms," the centre said, adding that the cumulative case count has now reached 3,078,035, with the rate of increase at 0.9 per cent.

Moscow confirmed 6,253 new coronavirus cases over the given period, down from 6,620 the day before. The Russian capital was followed by St. Petersburg with 3,748 cases, down from 3,761 the day before, and the Moscow region with 1,606 new cases, down from 1,609 the day before.

No new cases were recorded in the Chukotka Autonomous Region. The response centre reported 487 coronavirus fatalities, down from 551 the day before, raising the country`s death toll to 55,265. Total recoveries count 2,471,309 after 20,480 people were discharged from hospitals over the past day, down from 24,390 the day before.

According to the national public health watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, over 89.5 million tests to detect COVID-19 have been conducted in Russia since the beginning of the pandemic, and 660,009 suspected carriers remain under medical monitoring.

This common diabetes drug can trigger a rare complication for covid-19 patients

WASHINGTON, Dec 29: We already know that having diabetes puts you at the risk of more severe complications of covid-19. But now, a study has found that a particular kind of glucose-lowering drug could also play a part in the saga.

According to researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US, diabetes patients on glucose-lowering drugs called SGLT2i may be at an increased risk for a potentially lethal condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, when they contract covid-19, warns a new study.

Diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA arises when an illness prevents cells from receiving enough glucose to fuel their functioning. The findings of the study, published in the journal The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists Clinical Case Reports, cautioned that covid-19 patients receiving SGLT2i drugs may be at risk of a particular subset of DKA, known as euDKA.

What is euDKA?

EuDKA occurs when the body’s cells fail to absorb enough glucose and compensate by metabolising fats instead, creating a build-up of acids called ketones, the researchers explained.

They said EuDKA is characterised by lower blood sugar levels than DKA, adding that it is more difficult to diagnose.

The US FDA had earlier warned that the risk of DKA and euDKA may be increased for individuals who use SGLT2i drugs, which function by releasing excess glucose in the urine.


In the current study, the scientists studied five unusual euDKA cases brought to the diabetes inpatient services within the span of two months at the height of the pandemic in Boston.

They found that the five cases represented a markedly heightened incidence of euDKA compared to that of the previous two years, when inpatient services saw fewer than 10 euDKA cases.

According to the researchers, all five of the recent euDKA cases were observed in covid-19 patients who were taking SGLT2i—three patients were discharged to rehabilitation facilities, one was discharged home, and one, a 52-year-old male with acute respiratory distress syndrome, died.

“We have the background knowledge of recognizing that SGLT2 inhibitors can cause DKA and euDKA,” said study co-author Naomi Fisher of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Hypertension.

“Our report reinforces that if patients are ill or have loss of appetite or are fasting, they should pause their medication and not resume until they are well and eating properly,” Fisher said.

The researchers suspect that covid-19 may particularly exacerbate euDKA risks. “It’s been posited through other models that the virus may be preferentially destroying insulin-producing cells,” Fisher said.

Though the findings are observational, rather than the results of a clinical trial, the scientists encourage patients and physicians to halt SGLT2i-use in the event of illness.

“Patients should continue to monitor their blood sugar, and if the illness is prolonged or if their blood sugar is very high, they can speak to their doctor about other forms of therapy,” Fisher added.

Study reveals, blood vessels that fuel cancer can be controlled by enzyme discovery

WASHINGTON, Dec 26: A new study has revealed that with the help of an enzyme that limits blood vessel growth, it may be possible to develop new or better treatments for multiple health conditions.

The study published in the journal PLOS Biology pinpoints the precise molecular machinery that makes this happen, providing scientific insights that can potentially be translated into medicines that help kill tumors and stop cancer from spreading in the body.

The findings also may enable new interventions that promote healthy blood-vessel development for people with heart disease and other conditions, says the study’s leader Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D., a professor In the Department of Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research.

“We’ve uncovered a key regulatory step that drives blood-vessel development for tissues deprived of adequate oxygen--finally creating a more complete picture of the complex process that enables cancer tumors to adapt and survive,” says Yang. “By blocking this process on a molecular level, we found it’s possible to inhibit tumor growth.”

This study culminates a years-long project initiated by first author Yi Shi, Ph.D., who began the work as a staff scientist in Yang’s lab but recently finished his contributions from Nankai University in Tianjin, China, where he is now a faculty member.

Over the past decade, Yang and her team have published several key discoveries relating to how cells create blood vessels, delving into previously unknown roles of genes that regulate this function. Prior studies dealt with genes known as c-Myc and HIF-1, which promote blood vessel development and have strong links to cancer.

In the new study, Yang’s team looked at negative regulators of blood vessel growth--or proteins that turn the function off--to find out what causes them to become inactivated when tissues are deprived of oxygen, which is what happens within a solid tumor.

Their central focus was an enzyme known as SerRS (seryl-tRNA synthetase), most commonly known to exist in the gel-like substance within cells. There, the enzyme kicks off the first step of making new proteins. However, the enzyme is also found within the nucleus, performing an entirely different but vital job: Limiting unhealthy blood vessel growth by tamping down the function of c-Myc and HIF-1.

In the study, the researchers found that SerRS can be “silenced” by proteins known as ATM/ATR, which manage DNA damage responses. These proteins activate when tissues are deprived of oxygen. When this happens, new blood vessel growth can go unchecked and tumors can flourish.

Through separate experiments involving mice and human breast cancer cells, the team confirmed that by blocking the effect of ATM/ATR on SerRS, they were able to successfully reduce tumor growth.

Notably, Yang says, SerRS is part of an evolutionarily ancient family of enzymes called tRNA synthetases, which begin the process of making proteins that go on to form blood, skin, bones, and other essential elements of human life. The findings of this study show that SerRS has evolved extra functions beyond making proteins.

“It’s possible that SerRS regulates more than blood vessel development,” Yang says. “This is a compelling finding that opens the door to further investigation into how broad its influence may reach in the human body.”


WHO calls meeting on new virus variant, European chief says

GENEVA, Dec 22: The World Health Organization (WHO) will convene a meeting of members to discuss strategies to counter a new, more infectious coronavirus strain that emerged in Britain, its European chief said on Tuesday.

He did not give a date for the meeting.

“Limiting travel to contain spread is prudent until we have better info. Supply chains for essential goods & essential travel should remain possible,” WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge said on Twitter, urging increased preventive measures.

The Geneva-based body has cautioned against major alarm over the variant, saying it was a normal part of a pandemic’s evolution and praising Britain for detecting it.

In a statement on Tuesday, the WHO repeated that there was not yet enough information to determine whether the new variant could affect vaccine efficacy, saying researching was ongoing.

New strain of covid-19 might not be more contagious: US scientist

WASHINGTON, Dec 22: As a new strain of covid-19 runs amok in the UK, concerns about the contagion it can cause are on a rise. Except, according to this vaccine scientist, we have nothing to worry about YET.

Just as we had started getting into festive mode, looking forward to Christmas and the New Year—2020 hit us with a fresh surprise. A new variant of covid-19, which is running amok in the UK, slowly and steadily spreading across Europe.

As the United Kingdom gears up to go into lockdown and the whole world braces for this new strain to take over, American researchers are conducting studies to learn about it.

Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor to the Operation Warp Speed vaccine program in the US, expects lab experiments to show the new strain would respond to existing vaccines and treatments.

While several countries have shut their borders to Britain, Slaoui says it was possible the variant has long been prevalent in the United Kingdom—but that scientists had not begun looking for it until now, creating the impression of a surge when they did.

“There is no hard evidence that this virus is actually more transmissible, (but) there is clear evidence that there is more of it in the population,” the vaccine scientist and former pharmaceutical executive said.

“It may be just seeding happened in the shadows and we’re seeing now a surge, or maybe it has higher transmissibility.”

“What’s clear is it’s not more pathogenic,” he continued, meaning it hasn’t been shown to cause more severe disease.

On the question of contagiousness, in order to determine cause and effect, experiments would need to be carried out on animals in which they are co-housed and deliberately infected, he said.

This would show the level of viral load required to infect another animal.

The National Institutes for Health (NIH) had begun lab studies on the variant to determine whether antibodies against the more dominant strain of Covid-19 will be effective against it, said Slaoui. “Which is very likely the expected outcome,” he said.

The tests will use antibodies taken from recovered patients, antibodies raised by vaccines, and synthetic lab-made antibodies, and would take a few weeks to carry out.

Slaoui added he was optimistic that antibodies produced in response to Covid-19 vaccines would continue to be effective, because they bind to several “epitopes” or regions of the spike protein.

The spike protein is the three-dimensional surface molecule the virus uses to invade human cells, and is what gives the microbe its crown or “corona” like appearance.

The chances that a single mutation would alter all these regions at once are “extremely low,” he said.

“Whether someday, somewhere, a virus may turn out to escape the protective response produced by the vaccine is impossible to exclude, so we have to remain absolutely vigilant,” he cautioned.

Poorer nations to get virus vaccine early next year: WHO

GENEVA, Dec 19: Poorer countries will begin to receive coronavirus vaccination doses early next year from a facility created to ensure fair access, the World Health Organization and its partners said Friday.

Almost two billion doses of candidate vaccines have been secured for the Covax facility, run by the WHO along with the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

Countries including the United States and Britain have already begun to roll out a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNtech, with another developed by Moderna expected to gain widespread approval soon.

Neither drug is included in the two billion doses, but the WHO said it was in discussions with both companies.

“The arrangements announced today will enable all participating economies to have access to doses in the first half of 2021, with first deliveries anticipated to begin in the first quarter of 2021,” the WHO, Gavi and CEPI said in a statement.

Shipments of enough vaccines to protect health and social care workers would be delivered “in the first half of 2021 to all participating economies who have requested doses in this timeframe,” the statement said.

It said deliveries were contingent upon regulatory approvals and countries’ readiness for delivery.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference that “light at the end of the tunnel has grown a little bit brighter”.

“But we will only truly end the pandemic if we end it everywhere at the same time, which means it’s essential to vaccinate some people in all countries, rather than all people in some countries,” he said.

The statement said that by the end of the year, 20 percent of the populations in participating countries should be covered.

The WHO revealed Friday that it had signed an agreement with US pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson for 500 million doses of a candidate drug, adding to agreements already signed with AstraZeneca, Novavax and Sanofi-GSK.

The UN health agency has previously said it was willing to include vaccines developed in China and Russia should those drugs prove safe and effective.

CEPI chief Richard Hatchett said massive research and development efforts were paying off.

“We now have safe and effective vaccines that can protect against Covid-19 and a clear pathway to securing two billion doses for the populations at greatest risk all around the world,” he said.

Gavi chief Seth Berkley meanwhile hailed the “unprecedented speed and scale” of the project.

“Securing access to doses of a new vaccine for both higher-income and lower-income countries, at roughly the same time and during a pandemic, is a feat the world has never achieved before,” he said.

Covax is a collaboration between organisations, companies and 190 countries -- but neither the United States nor Russia have joined so far.

US FDA approves Moderna Covid vaccine

DETROIT/ LOS AGNELES, Dec 19: Distribution of Moderna Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine to more than 3,700 locations in the United States has begun, vastly widening the rollout started last week by Pfizer Inc, US Army General Gustave Perna said on Saturday.

Moderna has already moved vaccines from its manufacturing plants to warehouses operated by distributor McKesson Corp where they are being packed into containers and loaded on to trucks on Saturday, Perna said during a news conference. Trucks will set out on Sunday and shipments will start reaching healthcare providers as soon as Monday, he said.

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved an emergency use authorization for Moderna’s vaccine, the second Covid-19 vaccine to be approved. The jab developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE was approved Dec. 11.

Workers in pharmaceutical services provider Catalent Inc’s facility in Bloomington, Indiana, are filling and packaging vials with Moderna vaccine and handing them to McKesson, which will ship doses from facilities including Louisville, Kentucky and Memphis, Tennessee. Those locations are close to air hubs for United Parcel Service Inc and FedEx Corp.

The start of delivery for the Moderna vaccine will significantly widen availability of Covid-19 vaccines as US deaths related to the respiratory virus set records.

“This is now a footrace between the vaccine and Covid,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Friday at a briefing on the virus. He said New York expects to receive 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week. Those will go to 292 medical facilities across the state.

Pfizer organized its own distribution system but the US government’s Operation Warp Speed, led by an Army general, is in charge for Moderna. The Moderna delivery system will have some of the same players as Pfizer’s but will differ in key ways.

Transportation companies UPS and FedEx are giving priority to vaccines on planes and trucks that are moving holiday gifts and other cargo. Their drivers will handle the bulk of the last-mile Moderna vaccine deliveries. They are going directly to vaccination sites, unlike Pfizer’s which was sent to large hubs and redistributed.

Moderna’s vaccine is available in quantities as small as 100 doses and can be stored for 30 days in standard-temperature refrigerators, while the inoculations from Pfizer come in boxes of 975 doses, must be shipped and stored at -70 Celsius (-94 F), and can be held for only 5 days at standard refrigerator temperatures.

Texas and Arkansas officials said they expect Moderna to be the primary vaccine for rural areas, which often lack the ultra cold storage equipment to store full trays of Pfizer’s vials. Once the plastic on a Pfizer 975-dose tray is opened, recipients have 120 hours to use the vaccine. Initial doses were given to health professionals. Programs by pharmacies Walgreens and CVS to distribute the Pfizer vaccine to long-term care facilities are expected to start on Monday, said Gareth Rhodes, a member of Cuomo’s Covid-19 task force.
And a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel on Sunday will consider what groups should get vaccinated next. “The logistics will be easier with the Moderna vaccine,” said Jesse Breidenbach, senior executive director of pharmacy for Sanford Health, which operates almost four dozen hospitals in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. “Thirty days in the refrigerator will make it a bit easier to deal with,” Breidenbach said.

Still, doses of vaccine must travel with security guards, including US Marshals, and will be stored in locked refrigerators.

Perna said the United States is on track to have enough doses available of Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines by the end of the year to inoculate 20 million people, but deliveries of those doses may continue into first week of January.

Both vaccines were about 95% effective at preventing illness in clinical trials that found no serious safety issues.

Separately, US officials said Pfizer is preparing to distribute 2 million additional doses of its vaccine to locations around the country next week, with preparations for shipping beginning over the weekend.


WHO vaccine scheme may leave poor countries with no Covid-19 shots until 2024

BRUSSELS, Dec 16: The global scheme to deliver Covid-19 vaccines to poorer countries faces a “very high” risk of failure, potentially leaving nations home to billions of people with no access to vaccines until as late as 2024, internal documents say.

The World Health Organization’s COVAX programme is the main global scheme to vaccinate people in poor and middle income countries around the world against the coronavirus. It aims to deliver at least 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to cover 20% of the most vulnerable people in 91 poor and middle-income countries, mostly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

But in internal documents, the scheme’s promoters say the programme is struggling from a lack of funds, supply risks and complex contractual arrangements which could make it impossible to achieve its goals.

“The risk of a failure to establish a successful COVAX Facility is very high,” says an internal report to the board of Gavi, an alliance of governments, drug companies, charities and international organisations that arranges global vaccination campaigns. Gavi co-leads COVAX alongside the WHO.

The report and other documents prepared by Gavi are being discussed at Gavi’s board meetings on December 15-17.

The failure of the facility could leave people in poor nations without any access to Covid-19 vaccines until 2024, one of the documents says.

The risk of failure is higher because the scheme was set up so quickly, operating in “uncharted territory”, the report says.

“Current risk exposure is deemed outside of risk appetite until there is full clarity on the size of risks and possibilities to mitigate them,” it says. “It therefore requires intensive mitigation efforts to bring the risk within risk appetite.”

Gavi hired Citigroup last month to provide advice on how to mitigate financial risks.

In one Nov. 25 memo included in the documents submitted to the Gavi board, Citi advisors said the biggest risk to the programme was from clauses in supply contracts that allow countries not to buy vaccines booked through COVAX.

A potential mismatch between vaccine supply and demand “is not a commercial risk efficiently mitigated by the market or the MDBs,” the Citi advisors wrote, referring to multilateral development banks such as the World Bank.

“Therefore it must either be mitigated through contract negotiation or through a Gavi risk absorption layer that is carefully managed by a management and governance structure.”

Asked about the documents, a Gavi spokesman said the body remains confident it can achieve its goals.

“It would be irresponsible not to assess the risks inherent to such a massive and complex undertaking, and to build policies and instruments to mitigate those risks,” he added.

The WHO did not respond to a request for comment. In the past it has let Gavi take the lead in public comments about the COVAX programme.

Citibank said in a statement: “As a financial advisor, we are responsible for helping Gavi plan for a range of scenarios related to the COVAX facility and supporting their efforts to mitigate potential risks.”

COVAX’s plans rely on cheaper vaccines that have so far yet to receive approval, rather than vaccines from frontrunners Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna that use more expensive new mRNA technology. The Pfizer vaccine has already been approved for emergency use in several countries and deployed in Britain and the United States, and the Moderna vaccine is expected to be similarly approved soon.

COVAX has so far reached non-binding supply agreements with AstraZeneca, Novavax and Sanofi for a total of 400 million doses, with options to order several hundred million additional shots, one of the Gavi documents says.

But the three companies have all faced delays in their trials that could push back some possible regulatory approvals to the second half of 2021 or later.

This could also increase COVAX’s financial needs. Its financial assumptions are based on an average cost of $5.20 per dose, one of the documents says.

Pfizer’s vaccines costs about $18.40-$19.50 per dose, while Moderna’s costs $25-$37. COVAX has no supply deals with either of those firms. Nor is it prioritising investment in ultra-cold distribution chains in poor countries, necessary for the Pfizer vaccine, as it still expects to use mostly shots which require more conventional cold storage, one of the Gavi documents says.

On Tuesday a WHO senior official said the agency was in talks with Pfizer and Moderna to include their Covid-19 vaccines as part of an early global rollout at a cost for poor countries possibly lower than current market prices.

Other shots are being developed worldwide and COVAX wants to expand its portfolio to include vaccines from other companies.

Rich countries, which have booked most of the currently available stocks of Covid-19 vaccines, are also planning to donate some excess doses to poor countries, although is not clear whether that would be through COVAX.

To meet its target of vaccinating at least 20% of people in poor countries next year, COVAX says it needs $4.9 billion in addition to $2.1 billion it has already raised.

If vaccine prices are higher than forecast, supply is delayed or the additional funds are not fully collected, the facility faces the prospect of failure, the documents say.

So far Britain and European Union countries are the main donors to COVAX, while the United States and China have made no financial commitments. The World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions are offering cheap loans to poor countries to help them buy and deploy vaccines through COVAX.

The facility is issuing vaccine bonds which could raise as much as $1.5 billion next year if donors agreed to cover the costs, one of the Gavi documents says. COVAX is also receiving funds from private donors, mainly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

But even under the best financial conditions, COVAX could still face failure, because of disproportionate financial risks caused by its complex deal-making process.

COVAX signs advance purchase contracts with companies on vaccine supplies that need to be paid for by donors or receiving countries that have the means to afford them.

But under clauses included in COVAX contracts, countries could still refuse to buy pre-ordered volumes if they prefer other vaccines, or if they manage to acquire them through other schemes, either faster or at better prices.

The facility could also face losses if countries were not able to pay for their orders, or even if herd immunity were developed too quickly, making vaccines no longer necessary, the Citigroup report said. It proposed a strategy to mitigate these risks including through changes in supply contracts.

WHO’s team to go to China in January for Covid-19 origin probe

GENEVA, Dec 16: The international team of World Health Organisation seeking investigation into the origin of Covid-19 virus will go to China in January, the global health body announced on Wednesday.

“I can confirm that this will take place in January,” WHO spokesman Hedinn Halldorsson said when asked about reports that the expert team, which includes epidemiologists and animal health specialists, would finally go to China next month.

The global call to investigate the origin of the virus, suspected to be in China’s Wuhan, has been echoed by scientists and medical experts as the scourage by coronavirus disease has claimed millions of lives and upended economies across the world.

The coronavirus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December, 2019, before spreading across China, and triggering a global pandemic.

China has rejected the claims for almost a year now on the reports of virus originating from its central city. Recently, a top German biochemist quoted by Chinese state media as saying that the coronavirus did not originate in Wuhan has called it “pure propaganda” and said there is no evidence to suggest that the virus did not come from the central Chinese city.

China has denied that it deliberately hid information about the spreading virus in January or earlier.

A year into the Coronavirus pandemic, China has effectively controlled the spread of Covid-19 within its borders, putting in place efficient lockdown and contract tracing measures and conducting mass testing for the virus for every small outbreak.

At the same time, Beijing, in the face of global criticism, has been trying to change the virus-origin theory and shift the blame outside. Several theories are in circulation – the origin could be the Indian subcontinent including India and Bangladesh or Saudi Arabia, Italy, the US and the US military, or imported frozen packaged food.

In August this year, the agency’s chief and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said the “international team” will deploy to Wuhan, the city where the pandemic is believed to have erupted late last year. Tedros said “terms of reference” have been drawn up by the WHO and China, but he did not specify.

Singapore approves Pfizer Covid vaccine, to give it free

SINGAPORE, Dec 14: Singapore has approved Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for pandemic use and expects delivery of the first shots by the end of December, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday.

The city-state of 5.7 million expects to have enough vaccines for everyone by the third quarter of 2021, Lee added, and will make it free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents.

Lee said he and other government officials would be among the early recipients, after healthcare workers, frontline workers, the elderly and the vulnerable.

Lee said the city-state will progress to the third and final phase of its national Covid-19 response strategy on December 28 and will ease restrictions.

The government will increase the maximum size of gatherings outside homes from five people to eight, and will ease capacity limits in public places like malls, attractions and at places of worship, he added.

“Please understand that even as we enter Phase three, the battle is far from won," the prime minister said during a national address. “The Covid-19 virus has not been eradicated."

India records 30,006 new Covid-19 cases in 24 hours, total tally crosses 9.8 million

NEW DELHI, Dec 12: India recorded 30,006 fresh Covid-19 infections in the last 24 hours, registering a 2 per cent increase from Friday’s fresh infection tally. With 33,494 recoveries and 442 deaths recorded in the same time, the total tally reached 98,26,775.

The number of active cases on Saturday further dipped to 3,59,819. The number of total recoveries reached 93,24,328, according to the dashboard of the Union health ministry. On Friday, the number of fresh cases was 29,398.

India’s Covid-19 tally had crossed the two million mark on August 7, three million on August 23 and four million on September 5. It went past five million on September 16, six million on September 28, seven million on October 11, eight million lakh on October 29, and nine on November 20.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, a cumulative total of 15,26,97,399 samples have been tested up to December 11 with 10,65,176 samples being tested on Friday.

On Friday, India reported the landmark achievement of bringing the active caseload to 3.63 lakh after 146 days.

Kerala for the past few days has been recording the maximum number of new infections, while the situation in Delhi has improved. On Thursday, West Bengal (2,801), Uttar Pradesh (1,662)and Rajasthan (1,592) reported more cases than Delhi (1,575). On Friday, however, Delhi saw a spike of 1,000 cases as it recorded 2,385 fresh Covid-19 infections.

In the view of the steady rise in cases, Kerala has decided to not allow devotees inside Guruvayur temple in Thissur for two weeks as the area has been declared a containment zone. On Friday, as many as 22 employees of the devaswom tested positive for the infection.

Canada becomes second nation to approve Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine

TORONTO, Dec 9: Canadian health authorities on Wednesday approved a vaccine manufactured by Pfizer and BioNTech, and the inoculation programme could commence as early as next week.

“Thanks to advances in science and technology, and an unprecedented level of global cooperation, today, Canada reached a critical milestone in its fight against Covid-19 with the authorisation of the first Covid-19 vaccine,” Health Canada said in a statement.

“Canadians can feel confident that the review process was rigorous and that we have strong monitoring systems in placeHealth Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will closely monitor the safety of the vaccine once it is on the market and will not hesitate to take action if any safety concerns are identified.”

Canada is set to receive up to 249,000 doses this month.

Canada is now among the first nations in the world to have approved a vaccine, following similar approval in the United Kingdom this month.The approval paves the way for the Justin Trudeau government to begin inoculating Canadians against Covid-19, which has killed more that 12,800 people in the country so far.

Health Canada said it received Pfizer’s submission on October 9, and “after a thorough, independent review of the evidence”, determined that the “vaccine meets the Department’s stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements for use in Canada.”

It also said that “strong monitoring systems” will be in place as the vaccine is rolled out, adding, “Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will closely monitor the safety of the vaccine once it is on the market and will not hesitate to take action if any safety concerns are identified.”

Canada is expected to receive 249,000 doses of the vaccine very soon and early recipients will include healthcare workers and residents of long term care homes, considered among the most vulnerable demographics.

Another four million doses are expected to be available by March next year, while Canada has nearly 20 million doses of this particular vaccine on order. The Pfizer vaccine has to be delivered in two doses and brings with it logistical challenges having to be stored at temperatures below -70 degree C.

The country has established 14 distribution centres where the vaccinations will take place in the beginning.

Health Canada said the vaccine is for use in people 16 years of age or older, but noted Pfizer-BioNTech are running further clinical trials on children of all age groups and that could change.

Canada recently amended the contract with Pfizer so that it would deliver up to 249,000 doses this month. That will mean about 124,500 of the highest risk Canadians will get vaccinated at first as two doses are required per person a few weeks apart.

Pfizer and BioNTech said it will supply a minimum of 20 million doses to Canada through 2021 and as many as 76 million.

Canada has contracts with six other vaccine makers as well.

The government has said 14 distribution centres will be located in large Canadian cities initially. There will be at least one in each province and two each in Canada’s four largest provinces.

“This is phenomenal news for all Canadians as we take the next step toward ending this pandemic. As soon as vaccines arrive on Ontario soil, we will be ready to deliver and administer them,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a tweet.

90-year-old British grandmother becomes first person to receive Pfizer anti-COVID jab

LONDON, Dec 8: The UK kicked off its biggest-ever vaccine campaign in history on Tuesday, as 90-year-old grandmother Margaret Keenan became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech jab against COVID-19.

At 6:31 AM GMT early riser Maggie was given the life-saving jab by nurse May Parsons at her local hospital in Coventry to mark what the National Health Service (NHS) has dubbed a "landmark moment" on V-Day or Vaccine Day in the fight against the deadly virus.

"I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19, it's the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year," said Maggie, who turns 91 next week.

The former jewellery shop assistant who retired four years ago has a daughter, a son and four grandchildren and is looking forward to being able to go out again once she receives the top-up booster dose 21 days later.

"I can't thank May and the NHS staff enough who have looked after me tremendously, and my advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it. If I can have it at 90 then you can have it too," she said.

"It's a huge honour to be the first person in the country to deliver a COVID-19 jab to a patient, I'm just glad that I'm able to play a part in this historic day," said nurse Parsons.

Maggie is among the first set of people contacted in advance by the NHS for the jab based on a pre-determined health risk criteria and will include 87-year-old British Indian grandfather of nine Hari Shukla, who will get his first dose at a hospital in Newcastle.

"I'm so pleased we are hopefully coming towards the end of this pandemic and I am delighted to be doing my bit by having the vaccine, I feel it is my duty to do so and do whatever I can to help," said Dr Shukla, a race relations campaigner.

They have been picked based on the criteria set by the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation phased rollout based on those at the highest risk of death from the deadly virus.

People aged 80 and over as well as care home workers will be first to receive the jab this week, along with NHS workers who are at higher risk among the first to receive the "life-saving jab".

"Today marks a huge step forward in the UK's fight against coronavirus, as we begin delivering the vaccine to the first patients across the whole country. I am immensely proud of the scientists who developed the vaccine, members of the public who took part in trials, and the NHS who have worked tirelessly to prepare for rollout,? said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

However, the UK prime minister struck a note of caution to say that mass vaccination will take time, and therefore there was a need to remain "clear-eyed" about the challenges that remain.

"As the programme ramps up in the weeks and months ahead, it is as important as ever to keep to the COVID Winter plan following the rules in your area and remember the basics of hands, face and space," he said.

Since the Pfizer vaccine got the green light from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) last week, the NHS said.

Its workers have been working around the clock to manage the huge scale logistical challenge of deploying the vaccine. Over the weekend, hospitals have begun inviting over 80s in for a jab and work with care home providers to book their staff into vaccination clinics.

"We will look back on today, V-day, as a key moment in our fight back against this terrible disease, and I am proud our health services across the United Kingdom are about to embark on our largest ever vaccination programme," said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

"With over-80s and frontline health and care staff receiving their vaccinations from today, the whole country will breathe a collective sigh of relief as our most vulnerable loved ones start to be given protection from the virus.

"Now's the time to sit tight and remain patient until you get notified by the NHS that it's time for your vaccination. Until then, protect yourselves and the NHS by continuing to follow local restrictions. We can see light at the end of the tunnel but still have a long way to go,'' he said.

The Pfizer/BionTech formula is an mRNA vaccine that uses a tiny fragment of genetic code from the pandemic virus to teach the body how to fight COVID-19 and build immunity.


Nearly 500 fall six from mysterious disease at Eluru in Andhra

ELURU, Dec 7: More than two days after a mysterious disease struck the people of several areas in Eluru town in Andhra Pradesh’s West Godavari district, the authorities are still clueless about its cause.

The casualty ward of the government hospital at Eluru continued to be flooded with patients complaining of giddiness, seizures, convulsions and epilepsy even at 9 pm on Monday and ambulance sirens continued to blare in the hospital premises bringing more and more patients.

K Gangadhar (35), who complained of giddiness and headache after returning home from his two-wheeler garage at Padamata Veedhi area, had vomited within minutes of being brought to the hospital. “He was not in a position even to sit. He had convulsions and collapsed,” his sister said.

So was the case with 14-year old T Sekhar, who suffered severe headache and convulsions. “He was alright till afternoon. All of a sudden, he was crying complaining of headache and giddiness,” his mother Lakshmi said.

Jaya Deepthi (16), a Class 10 girl was gasping for breath and nurses at the hospital had put her on oxygen to help her breathe. “She was panicky as she developed convulsions and shivering,” said her sister-in-law who got her admitted to the hospital.

While the number of patients who were admitted till Sunday night were around 300, it rose to 471 by Monday night and is still counting.

“We have not come across such a strange phenomenon till now. Strangely, most of them are showing signs of recovery within hours of being administered medicines for symptomatic treatment. But more and more patients are getting admitted to the hospital for the same symptoms,” said Dr T Geetha Prasadini, director of public health.

So far, there has been only casualty – that of a 45-year old patient Sridhar from Vidyanagar area, supposedly due to this mysterious disease. “He also got admitted with the same symptoms. He got cured by evening, but suddenly collapsed later. We are awaiting the post-mortem report to know the actual cause,” Dr Geetha said.

According to her, most of the patients who suffered from symptoms of mysterious disease were in the age group of 20-30 years, but there were around 65 children below 12 years of age. Some of the patients were sent to Vijayawada and Guntur hospitals for better treatment.

Several teams of medical experts, molecular biologists and public health experts have landed in Eluru to ascertain the exact cause of the disease. A team of doctors from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Mangalagiri, has already collected samples of blood, urine and saliva of the patients to find out the causes for the mysterious disease.

Dr Geetha said drinking water samples in 32 ward secretariat limits, from where the cases were mostly reported, were tested and reports of blood samples of the patients were normal. “Blood samples taken for Hb, CBP, LFT, RFT and GRBS- were normal and blood samples were inoculated, and reports are awaited. Viral markers for IgM ELISA, for Chikungunya, Dengue, HSV-2, and all samples reported negative. The CT scan reports were also normal,” she said.

The causes of the outbreak are not known yet. She said the cases are being reported in Eluru rural and Dendaluru apart from Eluru urban and all age groups are prone to the infection. The people who have been drinking treated water and mineral water were also infected, she said.

Blood samples of some patients have also been sent to Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad for examination. Similarly, experts from National Institute of Nutrition are also looking into the possible food contamination in the area.

Chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy visited the hospital on Monday and interacted with the patients and attendants and assured them of all help. He also reviewed the situation at a meeting with officials.

Later, addressing a review meeting at the zila parishad office here on Monday, Jagan directed the officials to be vigilant and ready to handle any situation. He enquired about the treatment being given to the patients who fell ill, and the measures being taken for the control of the situation.

He also enquired about the possible causes of the outbreak and about the medical tests and investigations that are being carried out on patients. He said a high ranking official of the Health Department should stay put to monitor the situation.

He instructed the officials to create awareness among the people to call emergency numbers 104 and 108 if anyone faces any problem. Medical assistance should be provided as early as possible once the call is received.

Meanwhile, Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan constituted a three-member expert team led by AIIMS emergency health care head Dr Jamshed Nair, National Institute of Virology expert Dr Avinash Devashtawar and NDCC deputy director Dr Sanketh Kulakarni. The team will be coming to Eluru on Tuesday to assess the situation.

After Pfizer, Serum Institute Of India Seeks Approval For Covid Vaccine

NEW DELHI, Dec 7: Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker by number of doses produced, has sought government approval for emergency use authorisation of the coronavirus vaccine that it is developing with the University of Oxford and British drugmaker AstraZeneca.

The Pune-based pharmaceutical firm is the second to do so after American firm Pfizer sought approval from the drug regulator - the DCGI (Drugs Controller General of India) - for its COVID-19 vaccine, cleared by the United Kingdom and Bahrain.

Serum Institute of India (SII) partnered with AstraZeneca to conduct trials on its Covishield vaccine in India. "As promised, before the end of 2020, @SerumInstIndia has applied for emergency use authorisation for the first made-in-India vaccine, COVISHIELD. This will save countless lives, and I thank the Government of India and Sri @narendramodi ji for their invaluable support," tweeted Adar Poonawala, who leads the SII, this morning. He had said last month the SII will ask for approval in two weeks.

The phase-three clinical trial of Covishield, co-sponsored by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), is being conducted in various parts of the country in addition to clinical studies being carried out by Oxford-AstraZeneca in the UK and Brazil.

The Pune-based institute has shared interim data with the DCGI of four clinical trials - one in India, two trials in UK and one in Brazil.

The government last week said it had found no reason to stop the Oxford vaccine trials in India after reviewing a Chennai volunteer's allegation of serious adverse effects, including memory loss and change in behavior.

The Adar Poonawalla-led Serum Institute of India (SII) also said the vaccine was "safe and immunogenic" and the Data and Safety Monitoring Board and the Ethics Committee had "independently cleared" the trials after examining the complaint.

Last month, AstraZeneca had said an interim analysis of clinical trials of its COVID-19 vaccine in the UK and Brazil showed that it was 70 per cent effective on average, becoming the third drugmaker after US firms - Moderna and Pfizer - to announce promising results to contain the deadly virus, which has affected over 96 lakh people in India and over 6.6 crore people across the world.

The company had also said that the vaccine showed 90 per cent efficacy in one dosing regimen when the vaccine was given as a half dose, followed by a full dose at least a month later, while another dosing regimen showed 62 per cent efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart.

Covishield has drawn an immune response even in the elderly, who are among the groups vulnerable to the disease, said Adar Poonawalla. The first batch of 100 million doses should be available by the second or third quarter of 2021, he had said.

The vaccine can be stored in 2 Celsius to 8 Celsius unlike Pfizer's vaccine that needs to be stored and transported at -70 degrees. Many experts have expressed concern over the logistical issue linked to distribution of the Pfizer vaccine, which has not conducted trials on the country's local population.

While Pfizer has asked for permission to import Covid vaccine for sale in India, the Adar Poonawala-led institute has sought permission to manufacture Covid vaccine for sale in India.

The drug regulator may give emergency approval to Pfizer if it is satisfied by the results of the trials conducted outside India. Pfizer's application has been forwarded to the Subject Expert Committee of the CDSCO (Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation) for examination of clinical trial data.

Nearly a week after his visit to top vaccine hubs including the SII, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said India can hope to get a vaccine in the next few weeks.

Nearly a week after his visit to top vaccine hubs including the SII, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said India can hope to get a vaccine in the next few weeks.

Vaccine Does Not Equal Zero Covid, Warns WHO; Bahrain 2nd Nation to Approve Pfizer Shot After UK

MANAMA, Dec 5: Bahrain said on Friday it has granted emergency use authorisation for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the second country after Britain to approve it.

The Gulf Arab state had also approved Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine in November for use by frontline workers.

"The approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will add a further important layer to the Kingdom's national COVID-19 response," Dr. Mariam Al Jalahma, CEO of Bahrain's National Health Regulatory Authority said in a statement.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), meanwhile, warned that the roll-out of vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic will not, on its own, eliminate the virus.

"Vaccines do not equal zero Covid. Vaccines and vaccination... by themselves, they will not do the job," WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told a virtual news conference, adding that "the vaccine will not be with everyone early next year".

"Progress on vaccines gives us all a lift and we can now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, WHO is concerned that there is a growing perception that the Covid-19 pandemic is over," he said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the pandemic still had a long way to run and that decisions made by citizens and governments would determine its course in the short run and when the pandemic would ultimately end.

"We know it's been a hard year and people are tired, but in hospitals that are running at or over capacity it's the hardest it can possibly be," he said.

"The truth is that at present, many places are witnessing very high transmission of the COVID-19 virus, which is putting enormous pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and health workers."

Britain approved Pfizer Inc's COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, jumping ahead of the rest of the world in the race to begin mass inoculations. The move raised hopes that the tide could soon turn against a virus that has killed nearly 1.5 million people globally, hammered the world economy and upended normal life for billions since it emerged in Wuhan, China, a year ago.

Other vaccines expected to come on stream soon include ones from Moderna and AstraZeneca/Oxford University, which has strong backing from the UK government.

Many poorer countries are pinning their hopes on the AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate, which can be kept in regular refrigerators and is being offered at cost price. But it is undergoing further data analysis after questions were raised over the effectiveness of its dosage regime.

With effectiveness around 95 percent, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are based on new mRNA technology, which hacks into human cells to effectively turn them into vaccine-making factories.

Promise of Covid-19 vaccines is phenomenal: WHO

COPENHAGEN, Dec 3: The promise of Covid-19 vaccines is “phenomenal” and “potentially game-changing”, Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, told a briefing on Thursday.

Speaking from Copenhagen, he said supplies were expected to be very limited in the early stages and countries must decide who gets priority, though the WHO said there is “growing consensus” that first recipients should be older people, medical workers and people with co-morbidities.

Britain approved Pfizer Inc’s Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, jumping ahead of the rest of the world in the race to begin the most crucial mass inoculation programme in history.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson touted the green light from Britain’s medicine authority as a global win though he recognised the logistical challenges of vaccinating an entire country of 67 million.

US and EU regulators are sifting through the same Pfizer vaccine trial data, but have yet to give their approval.

The WHO said on Wednesday it had received data from Pfizer and BioNTech on the vaccine and was reviewing it for “possible listing for emergency use”, a benchmark for countries to authorise national use.

UK approves Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine; roll-out from next week

LONDON, Dec 2: The UK on Wednesday approved a Covid-19 vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, with 800,000 doses to be administered starting next week, marking the fastest development of any vaccine in history, from the design stage to approval within a year.

The first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, the UK has ordered 40 million doses, with 800,000 doses arriving from its production base in Belgium next week. The UK’s regulator said the coronavirus vaccine was approved after rigorous, scientific and detailed review of rolling data.

The usual prolonged process of vaccine development involving several years of design, clinical trials and regulatory scrutiny has been expedited to within 10 months in the case of Covid-19, marking a new phase in the history of global public health.

June Raine, chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said “no corners were cut” while assessing the data. The UK’s health officials said the elderly and those above 80 years will be prioritised when the first doses arrive.

Raine said, “We have carried out a rigorous scientific assessment of all the available evidence of quality, safety and effectiveness. The public’s safety has always been at the forefront of our minds - safety is our watchword.”

“I’m really pleased to say that the UK is now one step closer to providing a safe and effective vaccine to help in the fight against Covid-19 - a virus that has affected each and every one of us in some way - and in helping to save lives,” she added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the development as “fantastic” while a “thrilled” health secretary Matt Hancock reiterated his belief that normalcy would return by April. Johnson said, “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”

Hancock, however, sounded a note of caution, asking Britons to see through the winter months by following restrictions until coronavirus vaccines are rolled out on a wide scale. “We can’t lower our guard yet,” said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer.

The vaccine with 95% efficacy needs to be initially refrigerated in bulk in “freezer farms” at between minus 70-80 degrees Celsius when doses arrive.

It then has 10 days to reach vaccination centres, and once delivered, it can be stored up to five days in a fridge between 2-8 degrees Celsius, and administered.

Arrangements are being made by the National Health Service (NHS) for mass vaccination across the UK.

An official spokesperson said, “The NHS has decades of experience in delivering large-scale vaccination programmes and will begin putting their extensive preparations into action to provide care and support to all those eligible for vaccination.

“To aid the success of the vaccination programme, it is vital everyone continues to play their part and abide by the necessary restrictions in their area, so we can further suppress the virus and allow the NHS to do its work without being overwhelmed.”

The MHRA is currently analysing data from trials of the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. The former is expected to be the mainstay of countering the virus in the UK, India and elsewhere due to its low cost and logistical ease.

UK vaccine approval ‘historic moment’ in Covid-19 battle: Pfizer CEO

BERLIN, Dec 2: Britain’s approval of BioNTech-Pfizer’s vaccine against Covid-19 marks a “historic moment” in the battle against the pandemic, the US pharma group’s chief executive said Wednesday, after his company won the first such authorisation in the West.

“Today’s Emergency Use Authorisation in the UK marks a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19,” said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

The US company and Germany’s BioNTech added that they expected further regulatory decisions from other countries “in the coming days and weeks”.

Most top brands are selling adulterated honey in India, shows CSE investigation

NEW DELHI, Dec 2: An investigation conducted by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has found rampant adulteration in honey sold by major Indian brands, with 77 percent of samples failing purity tests for sugar syrup adulteration.

Of the 13 top and smaller brands of processed and raw honey, such as Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, and Zandu, selected by CSE food researchers for the investigation, only three could pass the internationally accepted Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (NMR) test.

Indian tests were unable to detect this adulteration because Chinese companies have designed sugar syrups - namely golden syrup, invert sugar syrup and rice syrup being exported to India as fructose - in a way they can easily bypass food standards.

When the samples were first tested at the Centre for Analysis and Learning in Livestock and Food (CALF) at National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in Gujarat, all top brands, except Apis Himalaya, passed the purity test.

Later, when the same samples were tested using NMR, almost all the brands, including Dabur, Patanjali, Baidyanath, Zandu, Hitkari, and Apis Himalaya, failed to pass the purity test.

Out of a total of 22 samples that were tested, only five passed all the purity tests. The three brands that passed the NMR tests are Saffola, Markfed Sohna, and Nature’s Nectar.

The consumption of honey has gone up in India since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic as its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties are known to help build immunity. Hence, the detection of the food fraud is of particular concern as it compromises public health at a time a pandemic has brought the world to its knees.

“It is a food fraud more nefarious and more sophisticated than what we found in our 2003 and 2006 investigations into soft drinks; more damaging to our health than perhaps anything that we have found till now – keeping in mind the fact that we are still fighting against a killer COVID-19 pandemic with our backs to the wall. This overuse of sugar in our diet will make it worse,” said Sunita Narain, Director General, CSE.

“Our research has found that most of the honey sold in the market is adulterated with sugar syrup. Therefore, instead of honey, people are eating more sugar, which will add to the risk of COVID-19. Sugar ingestion is directly linked to obesity, and obese people are more vulnerable to life-threatening infections,” she added.

Speaking about the sugar syrup adulteration, Amit Khurana, Programme Director, Food Safety and Toxins team, CSE, said: “It remains unclear how much does the food regulator really know about this murky business. The three imported sugar syrups named by FSSAI in its directive – golden syrup, invert sugar syrup, and rice syrup - are either not imported in these names or are not indicted for adulteration. Instead, Chinese companies are mostly exporting this syrup as fructose to India. So, why did FSSAI put out what is clearly an erroneous order? We are not certain.”

The FSSAI, in the past year, had directed importers and state food commissioners that golden syrup, invert sugar syrup and rice syrup imported into the country was being used for adulteration of honey.

It was found that Chinese online portals such as Alibaba were advertising fructose syrups that can bypass purity tests. A factory in Uttarakhand’s Jaspur was also found manufacturing sugar syrup to adulterate honey.

Moderna vaccine 94.1% effective, seeks US, EU authorisation

WASHINGTON DC, Nov 30: Moderna has applied for US and European emergency authorisation for its Covid-19 vaccine after full results from a late-stage study showed it was 94.1% effective with no serious safety concerns, it said.

Moderna also reported that its vaccine’s efficacy rate was consistent across age, race, ethnicity and gender demographics as well as having a 100% success rate in preventing severe cases of a disease that has killed nearly 1.5 million people. The filing sets Moderna’s product up to be the second vaccine likely to receive US emergency use authorisation this year following a shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech which had a 95% efficacy rate.

“We believe that we have a vaccine that is very highly efficacious. We now have the data to prove it,” Moderna Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks said. “We expect to be playing a major part in turning around this pandemic.”

Of the 196 people who contracted Covid-19 out of over 30,000 volunteers, 185 had received a placebo and 11 got the vaccine. Moderna reported 30 severe cases, all in the placebo group, which means the vaccine was 100% effective against severe cases. In addition to filing its US application, Moderna said it would seek conditional nod from European Medicines Agency, which is reviewing its data.

Will do everything to find virus origin: Tedros

GENEVA, Nov 30: The World Health Organization insisted Monday it would do everything possible to find the animal origins of Covid-19, insisting that knowledge was vital to preventing future outbreaks.

“We want to know the origin and we will do everything to know the origin,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters.

He insisted the UN health agency was intent on getting to the bottom of the mystery, and urged critics who have accused it of handing the reins of the probe to China to stop “politicising” the issue.

“WHO’s position is very, very clear. We need to know the origin of this virus, because it can help us prevent future outbreaks,” Tedros said.

The United States, which with more than 262,000 deaths is the country hardest hit by the pandemic, has been harshly critical of the WHO’s handling of the crisis and has accused it of kowtowing to China and of dragging its feet on investigating how the outbreak first started.

Other critics have also voiced concern that the agency may have allowed China to dictate the terms of an international investigation into the origins of the virus, which first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Since then, more than 1.46 million people have died and nearly 63 million have been infected worldwide.

The WHO has for months been working to send a team of international experts, including epidemiologists and animal health specialists, to China to help probe the animal origin of the novel coronavirus pandemic and how the virus first crossed over to humans.

The organisation sent an advance team to Beijing in July to lay the groundwork for the international probe.

But it has remained unclear when the larger team of scientists would be able to travel to China to begin epidemiological studies to try to identify the first human cases and their source of infection.

Last week, the WHO’s emergencies chief Michael Ryan said the agency was hoping to send the international team to Wuhan “as soon as possible”.

Tedros meanwhile rejected on Monday criticism over lacking transparency on the probe, stressing that the names of the experts on the team and the terms of reference had been made public.

“There is nothing to hide. We want to know the origin. I don’t want to have any confusion on that.”

Scientists initially believed the killer virus jumped from animals to humans at a market selling exotic animals for meat in the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected late last year.

But experts now think the market may not have been the origin of the outbreak, but rather a place where it was amplified.

It is widely assumed that the virus originally came from bats, but the intermediate animal host that transmitted it between bats and humans remains unknown.

Singaporean gives birth to baby with Covid-19 antibodies: Report

SINGAPORE, Nov 29: A Singaporean woman, who was infected with the novel coronavirus in March when she was pregnant, has given birth to a baby with antibodies against the virus, offering a new clue as to whether the infection can be transferred from mother to child.

The baby was born this month without Covid-19 but with the virus antibodies, the Straits Times newspaper reported on Sunday, citing the mother.

“My doctor suspects I have transferred my Covid-19 antibodies to him during my pregnancy,” Celine Ng-Chan told the paper.

Ng-Chan had been mildly ill from the disease and was discharged from hospital after two-and-a-half weeks, the Straits Times said.

Ng-Chan and the National University Hospital (NUH), where she gave birth, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The World Health Organisation says it is not yet known whether a pregnant woman with Covid-19 can pass the virus to her foetus or baby during pregnancy or delivery.

To date, the active virus has not been found in samples of fluid around the baby in the womb or in breast milk.

Doctors in China have reported the detection and decline over time of Covid-19 antibodies in babies born to women with the coronavirus disease, according to an article published in October in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Transmission of the new coronavirus from mothers to newborns is rare, doctors from New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center reported in October in JAMA Pediatrics.

US surpasses 100,000 new Covid-19 daily cases for 26th consecutive day

WASHINGTON, Nov 29: At least 100,000 new cases were added to the total number of coronavirus cases in the United States on Saturday (local time) marking the 26th consecutive day the country has topped that benchmark, CNN reported citing the data from Johns Hopkins University.

So far today the US has reported 114,397 new cases and 862 deaths, CNN further reported.

The exact number of people diagnosed with Covid-19 in the United States stood at 13,047,202 as of 22:15 GMT on Friday. More than 264,000 people have died of the disease in the country since the start of the pandemic, Sputnik reported.

The World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US has reached 13,244,417, Johns Hopkins University and Medicine reported on Sunday.

Trump says coronavirus vaccine deliveries to begin next week

WASHINGTON DC, Nov 27: US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that delivery of the coronavirus vaccine would begin next week and the week after.

Speaking to US troops overseas via video link to mark the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump said the vaccine would initially be send to front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens.

Astra-Oxford shot is key to escaping pandemic for many nations

LONDON, Nov 22: Trial successes from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. have buoyed hopes that a Covid-19 vaccine is coming soon. But much of the world, outside of rich nations like the U.S., is counting on another company’s shot to escape the crisis.

Findings from the final stage of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine studies are due to be released shortly, and the stakes for lower- and middle-income nations are immense. The shot developed with the University of Oxford accounts for more than 40% of the supplies going to those countries, based on deals tracked by London-based research firm Airfinity Ltd.

The Astra vaccine costs a fraction of the price set by Pfizer and will be manufactured in multiple countries, from India to Brazil. It should be easier to deploy far and wide than other shots that need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. But if the U.K. partners can’t match the lofty efficacy levels Pfizer and Moderna delivered or roll out their inoculation quickly, the pandemic might continue spreading death and disease in countries relying on it.

“There’s a lot riding on the Astra vaccine,” said Suerie Moon, co-director of the Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. For lower-income countries, “it’s huge.”

Pfizer applied Friday for an emergency use authorization in the U.S., and may begin the rollout in mid-December. While wealthy nations are in a position to receive the first supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna shots thanks to significant quantities they’ve snapped up in advance, most regions are depending heavily on companies following the front-runners, especially AstraZeneca, Novavax Inc. and Johnson & Johnson. Supplies will likely struggle to meet demand in the months after vaccines arrive, raising concerns about global access.

“The vast majority of the global population live in low- and middle-income countries,” said Mark Eccleston-Turner, a law and infectious disease specialist at Keele University in England. “It’s not just a problem for people over there, far away from us. This is a problem for most people in the world.”

A global program called Covax has made strides in an ambitious effort to deploy future vaccines equitably around the world, getting dozens of countries to join and securing deals for 700 million doses so far.

AstraZeneca reached an agreement to supply the initiative, while a collaboration including the Serum Institute of India agreed to accelerate the production of Astra or Novavax shots for low- and middle-income nations, priced at a maximum of $3 per dose, with an option to secure more. A Covax pact with Sanofi and partner GlaxoSmithKline Plc followed last month.

The program, led by the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, expects more deals in the coming weeks. Pfizer and BioNTech, along with Moderna, remain in talks with Covax.

AstraZeneca has easily been the most active in reaching supply accords. Of all the volumes committed globally, almost a third -- about 3.2 billion doses -- are set to come from the U.K. company, according to Airfinity. More than 50 lower- and middle-income countries would receive Astra and Oxford’s shot, in regions including Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe, along with wealthy governments too, the research group found.

If the vaccine is successful, fulfilling that demand won’t be easy. In the U.K., a shortfall in supplies of the shot expected by the end of the year casts doubt on how swiftly AstraZeneca will be able to immunize the public. Yet the company has said it’s confident it can begin supplying hundreds of millions of doses on a rolling basis once it gains approval.

One of the key factors behind the reliance on the Astra-Oxford vaccine is the initial price. Astra has said it won’t profit during the pandemic and that the vaccine will cost between $4 and $5 a dose, though health advocates worry what that company and others will charge when the crisis is deemed over.

The U.S. agreed in July to obtain the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine in a deal that sets the price at $19.50 a dose, or $39 for a two-shot immunization, a level BioNTech said could become a benchmark for developed nations. Moderna said it’s charging $32 to $37 a dose for smaller deals and less for bigger purchases.

“Those prices really risk putting vaccines out of reach for a lot of the world,” said Margaret Wurth, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in New York.

Astra-Oxford also has advantages beyond cost when it comes to the rollout in low- and middle-income countries. The global scope of manufacturing eases worries about countries restricting exports, and the product should be easier to transport and store, according to Eccleston-Turner, the Keele expert.

The jab importantly can be kept at refrigerator temperatures, while those from Pfizer and Moderna, based on novel messenger RNA technology, require freezing for longer-term storage and transport.

That’s why so many countries are eagerly awaiting the Astra results and focusing on the next candidates, including those from China. Russia also plans to produce the Sputnik V vaccine in other countries such as India and Brazil.

“All of the wealthy countries are now fairly well positioned,” said Moon, the health specialist in Geneva. For developing countries, “it’s not as if they have been sitting back and saying we’ll see what trickles down to us. They’ve been aggressively pursuing what they can with the means at their disposal.”

Indian-American Scientists Identify Possible Covid-19 Treatment

MEMPHIS, Nov 21: A team of Indian-origin immunologists in the US has discovered a potential strategy to prevent life-threatening inflammation, lung damage and organ failure in patients with Covid-19.

The scientists led by Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, vice-chair of Immunology at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, identified the drugs after discovering that the hyperinflammatory immune response associated with Covid-19 leads to tissue damage and multi-organ failure in mice by triggering inflammatory cell death pathways.

The researchers detailed in a paper published in the journal “Cell” how the inflammatory cell death signalling pathway worked, which led to potential therapies to disrupt the process.

“Understanding the pathways and mechanism driving this inflammation is critical to developing effective treatment strategies,” said Kanneganti who was born in Telangana and earned her undergraduate degree at Kakatiya University in Warangal.

“This research provides that understanding. We also identified the specific cytokines that activate inflammatory cell death pathways and have considerable potential for the treatment of Covid-19 and other highly fatal diseases, including sepsis,” she informed.

She worked with Bhesh Raj Sharma, Rajendra Karki and others at her lab for the research that helps increase understanding of the pathways and mechanism that drives Covid-19 inflammation so researchers can develop effective treatment strategies.

The infection is marked by increased blood levels of multiple cytokines. These small proteins are secreted primarily by immune cells to ensure a rapid response to restrict the virus. Some cytokines also trigger inflammation.

Kanneganti’s team focused on a select set of the most elevated cytokines in Covid-19 patients.

The scientists showed that no single cytokine induced cell death in innate immune cells.

The St. Jude investigators then tried 28 cytokine combinations and found just one duo that, working together, induced a form of inflammatory cell death previously described by Kanneganti as PANoptosis.

The investigators showed that blocking individual cell death pathways was ineffective in stopping cell death caused by TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma.

Because TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma are produced during Covid-19 and cause inflammatory cell death, the investigators questioned whether these cytokines were responsible for the clinical manifestations and deadly effects of the disease.

They found that the TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma combination triggered tissue damage and inflammation that mirror the symptoms of Covid-19 along with rapid death.

Neutralising antibodies against TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma are currently used to treat inflammatory diseases in the clinic.

“The findings link inflammatory cell death induced by TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma to Covid-19,” said Kanneganti who received her M.Sc. and Ph.D. from Osmania University in India.

“The results also suggest that therapies that target this cytokine combination are candidates for rapid clinical trials for treatment of not only Covid-19, but several other often fatal disorders associated with cytokine storm.”

Co-first author Karki added: “We were excited to connect these dots to understand how TNF-alpha and IFN-gamma trigger PANoptosis.”

“Indeed, understanding how PANoptosis contributes to disease and mortality is critical for identifying therapies,” Sharma said.

India's COVID-19 Cases Cross 90 Lakh With 1,32,162 Deaths

NEW DELHI, Nov 20: India's fresh coronavirus infections rose by 45,882 in the past 24 hours to touch 90,04,365, government data shows. Recoveries surged to 84.28 lakh, pushing the national recovery rate to 93.6 per cent. Up to 584 people died of the disease since Thursday, the overall number till now being 1,32,162. Up to 4,43,794 active cases remain in the country.

Here are the top developments on this front from the past 24 hours:

Maharashtra remained the top affected state in the country with 17,63,055 total cases, up 5,535 since Thursday. The state recorded 154 deaths in the past 24 hours. Other states in the top-5 list include Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla on Thursday said the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine should be available for healthcare workers and elderly people by around February 2021 and by April for the general public, and will be priced at a maximum of ₹ 1,000 for two necessary doses for the public.

Total fatalities in Delhi has crossed 8,000-mark with 98 news deaths recorded on Thursday and 7,546 new cases being reported, taking the total active cases to 43,221. The death rate in the city stands at 1.57% while the recovery rate is 89.9%.

Following some harsh words from the Delhi High Court on Thursday, the Delhi government is gearing up to fight COVID more intensively, starting with the launch of a house-to-house survey from Friday. It has also jacked up fine amounts considerably for not wearing masks in public.

The Telangana High Court on Thursday directed the state government to conduct 50,000 coronavirus tests every day and if need be increase the number to 1 lakh in the wake of second wave of the pandemic sweeping the national capital. Andhra Pradesh on Thursday reported 1,316 new cases, taking its total to 8,58,711.

Meghalaya reported 109 fresh COVID-19 cases on Thursday, pushing the states total numbers to 10,979. Its death count rose to 104 after one more patient succumbed to the virus on Thursday.

The WHO has said the anti-viral drug remdesivir should not be used to treat COVID-19 patients no matter how severe their illness as it has "no important effect" on survival chances. This scratches one of the few treatments that had shown some initial promise in severe patients.

Europe's second coronavirus wave may be starting to ease, a top WHO official said Thursday, as cases drop slightly even though over the past week someone on the continent died every 17 seconds from the virus.

US President-elect Joe Biden said on Thursday that he would not order a nationwide shutdown to fight the Covid-19 pandemic despite a surge in cases. States and cities have been imposing their own restrictions.

Pfizer asks for emergency use of its coronavirus vaccine, doses could be available next month

WASHINGTON DC, Nov 20: S drugmaker Pfizer Inc, which has developed a 95% effective vaccine against coronavirus, is now seeking the emergency use tag from the US government for its dosage. Pfizer has said the emergency use tag could start the process early and the coronavirus vaccine doses could be available as early as next month.

Now its on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide if there's enough evidence to allow emergency vaccinations. If so, first supplies will be scarce and rationed. Experts warn it likely will be spring before there's enough for everyone.

On Wednesday, Pfizer said the final results of its ongoing coronavirus vaccine trials have suggested that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine shots are 95% effective, a month after the first dose was administered.

Pfizer said on Friday it is asking US regulators to allow emergency use of its Covid-19 vaccine.

The application to the FDA comes just days after Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE reported final trial results that showed the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 with no major safety concerns.

In addition to Friday's FDA submission, Pfizer has also started “rolling” applications in Europe and the UK and intend to submit similar information soon.

The Pfizer vaccine needs storage at extreme cold temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius. The cold-chain requirement for the coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer poses a huge challenge, especially in developing nations such as India, warned experts. However, Centre has said it is examining the possibilities if at all the vaccine has to be obtained by India.

"The arrangement of cold-chains for storing the vaccine developed by Pfizer at a low temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius is a big challenge and it will not be easy for any nation. But then, if at all it has to be obtained, we are examining what we need to do...and will work out a strategy," NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul said.

Pfizer asks for emergency use of its coronavirus vaccine, doses could be available next month

WASHINGTON DC, Nov 20: S drugmaker Pfizer Inc, which has developed a 95% effective vaccine against coronavirus, is now seeking the emergency use tag from the US government for its dosage. Pfizer has said the emergency use tag could start the process early and the coronavirus vaccine doses could be available as early as next month.

Now its on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decide if there's enough evidence to allow emergency vaccinations. If so, first supplies will be scarce and rationed. Experts warn it likely will be spring before there's enough for everyone.

On Wednesday, Pfizer said the final results of its ongoing coronavirus vaccine trials have suggested that the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine shots are 95% effective, a month after the first dose was administered.

Pfizer said on Friday it is asking US regulators to allow emergency use of its Covid-19 vaccine.

The application to the FDA comes just days after Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE reported final trial results that showed the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing Covid-19 with no major safety concerns.

In addition to Friday's FDA submission, Pfizer has also started “rolling” applications in Europe and the UK and intend to submit similar information soon.

The Pfizer vaccine needs storage at extreme cold temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius. The cold-chain requirement for the coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by Pfizer poses a huge challenge, especially in developing nations such as India, warned experts. However, Centre has said it is examining the possibilities if at all the vaccine has to be obtained by India.

"The arrangement of cold-chains for storing the vaccine developed by Pfizer at a low temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius is a big challenge and it will not be easy for any nation. But then, if at all it has to be obtained, we are examining what we need to do...and will work out a strategy," NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr V K Paul said

Pfizer Says Vaccine 95% Effective In Final Trials With No Safety Concerns

WASHINGTON DC, Nov 18: Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on Wednesday said that its COVID-19 vaccine candidate was found to be 95 per cent effective in the final analysis of the Phase 3 trial, adding it had the required two-months of safety data and would apply for emergency US authorization within days.

The drugmaker said the efficacy of the vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech SE was consistent across age and ethnicity demographics, and that there were no major side effects, a sign that the immunization could be employed broadly around the world.

The study reached 170 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the vaccine candidate BNT162b2 demonstrating 95 per cent efficacy beginning 28 days after the first dose, Pfizer said.

"Additionally, the safety milestone required by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) has been achieved. To date, no serious safety concerns related to the vaccine candidate have been reported," it said.

"Within days, we plan to submit a request to the US FDA for an EUA based on the totality of safety and efficacy data collected, as well as manufacturing data relating to the quality and consistency of the vaccine candidate," it added.

The Pfizer vaccine, however, has been all but ruled out for use in India because it needs to be stored and transported at a temperature of minus 70 degrees celsius which is a huge challenge. The government on Tuesday said it is examining the possibilities if at all the vaccine has to be obtained.

NITI Aayog member (Health) Dr VK Paul, who also heads the National Task Force on COVID-19, said sufficient doses of the Pfizer vaccine, as required for the Indian population, will not be available, but the government is looking at the possibilities and will work out a strategy for its procurement and distribution in case it gets the regulatory approvals.

"The arrangement of cold-chains for storing the vaccine developed by Pfizer at a low temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius is a big challenge and it will not be easy for any nation. But then, if at all it has to be obtained, we are examining what we need to do...and will work out a strategy," he said.

The final analysis from Pfizer comes just one week after initial results from the trial showed the vaccine was more than 90 per cent effective. Moderna Inc on Monday released preliminary data for its vaccine, showing similar effectiveness.

The better-than-expected data from the two vaccines, both developed with a new technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), have raised hopes for an end to a resurgent pandemic that has killed more than 13 lakh people globally and upended economies and daily life.

Worldwide, there are dozens of vaccine candidates at various stages of trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers. The next data release will likely be in November or December from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford which has partnered the Serum Institute of India for large-scale production.

Moderna says its Covid-19 vaccine is nearly 95% effective

WASHINGTON, Nov 16: US biotech company Moderna said on Monday its candidate vaccine for Covid-19 has turned out to be nearly 95% effective in thwarting the deadly coronavirus and it planned to apply for regulatory authorisation in 10 days’ time, setting up limited-capacity distribution in the United States before year-end.

This is the second vaccine on the way. US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German BioNtech announced last week that their candidate vaccine tested 90% effective.

“This is a pivotal moment in the development of our Covid-19 vaccine candidate,” said Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, in a statement. “We look forward to the next milestones of submitting for an EUA (emergency use authorisation) in the US, and regulatory filings in countries around the world.”

Bancel told The Washington Post the company planned to apply for EUA shortly before November 26, and that he hoped to make it available to those at high risk in the second half of December.

It could not be immediately ascertained if and when Moderna would be able to make the vaccine available in India. Pfizer has said it is in talks to sell its vaccine in India.

More than 1.3 million people have died from Covid-19 around the world and more than 54 million have been infected. The pandemic has begun surging again with experts warning of a grim winter. The US and India are the two worst-hit countries, with 11 million and 8 million infections and 246,000 and 130,000 fatalities respectively, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker.

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is headed by leading epidemiologist Anthony Fauci and which co-developed the drug, said the “data suggests that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in adults… The findings are statistically significant, meaning they are likely not due to chance”.

US President Donald Trump, who has been more focused in recent days on seeking to overturn his defeat in the election, welcomed Moderna’s announcement with a swipe at his critics.

“Another vaccine just announced. This time by Moderna, 95% effective. For those great ‘historians’, please remember that these great discoveries, which will end the China plague, all took place on my watch!”

Moderna received substantial funding from the US government as part of Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, a project launched to expedite the search for a Covid-19 vaccine. As mentioned, Fauci’s NIAID collaborated with it. Pfizer and BioNtech developed their vaccine candidate independently, without any government funding, though the Trump administration sought to claim credit for it as well.

The Moderna vaccine candidate was being tested on 30,000 volunteers, half of whom received two doses of it and the rest were on placebo. Among the 95 people who tested positive for Covid-19 two weeks after the second dose, 90 were those who were in the placebo group, as were the 11 who developed severe symptoms.

The 95 Covid-19 cases included 15 older adults (ages over 65) and 20 who identified themselves as belonging to diverse communities (including 12 Hispanic or Latinx, four Black or African-Americans, three Asian-Americans and one multiracial), Moderna said in the press announcement.

Moderna added that it expected to apply for EUA with the US drug regulator FDA in the coming weeks, with an unspecified time-frame for other counties. A response was awaited to a request for plans for India.

WHO says no time for Covid complacency despite vaccine news

GENEVA, Nov 16: The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that there is no time for complacency in confronting the coronavirus despite positive news about possible vaccines.

“Right now we are extremely concerned by the surge in #COVID19 cases we’re seeing in some countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a Tweet on Monday.

“Particularly in Europe and the Americas, #healthworkers and health systems are being pushed to the breaking point.”

More than 54.44 million people have been reported infected by the coronavirus globally and 1,318,042​ have died, according to a tally.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.

WHO chief Tedros thanks Modi for Covid-19 vaccine initiative

NEW DELHI, Nov 11: World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus on Wednesday thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his strong commitment to Covax — a global vaccine pool led by WHO and Gavi — and for making Covid-19 vaccines a global public good. “The pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for the world, and we agreed to work shoulder to shoulder to end it,” Tedros tweeted.

It was an excellent conversation, Modi said. “We discussed the vast potential of traditional medicine for promoting health and wellness in the world. I also assured India’s support to WHO and the world community in the fight against Covid-19,” Modi tweeted.

During the conversation, Modi expressed his appreciation for WHO’s important role in facilitating a coordinated global response to the Covid-19 pandemic, a statement issued by the PMO said. “He also noted the need to not lose sight of the battle against other diseases, and appreciated the importance of WHO’s support to the health systems of developing countries,” it said.

Tedros, on the other hand, stressed the close and regular collaboration between the WHO and the Indian health authorities. The WHO chief also appreciated India’s domestic initiatives like the Ayushman Bharat scheme and India’s campaign against Tuberculosis.

The duo discussed on traditional medicine solutions, including Ayurveda, and on the need to integrate traditional medicine solutions into modern medical practice, the statement said.

“Namaste, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for a very productive call on how to strengthen our collaboration and advance access to knowledge, research and training in traditional medicine globally. WHO welcomes India’s leading role in global health and to universal health coverage,” Tedros tweeted after the meeting.

Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective: Russia

MOSCOW, Nov 11: Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective at protecting people from Covid-19 according to interim trial results, the country’s sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday, as Moscow rushes to keep pace with Western drugmakers in the race for a shot.

Russia’s results are only the second from a late-stage human trial, following on swiftly from data released on Monday by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, which said their shot was also more than 90% effective.

While experts said the Russian data was encouraging and reinforced the idea the pandemic could be halted by vaccines, they warned that the results were only based on a small number of trial volunteers who had contracted Covid-19.

The analysis was conducted after 20 participants developed the virus and examined how many had received the vaccine versus a placebo. That is significantly lower than the 94 infections in the trial of the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

“I assume there was political pressure after the press release from Pfizer and BioNTech earlier in the week to now draw level with their own data,” said Bodo Plachter, deputy director of the Institute of Virology at the Mainz University. “What is missing for now is an analysis of statistical significance.”

To confirm the efficacy rate of its vaccine, Pfizer said it would continue its trial until there were 164 Covid-19 cases.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which has been backing Sputnik V’s development, said the Russian trial would continue for six months.

Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the vaccine, said the interim results demonstrated that Sputnik V was effective and mass vaccinations would be rolled out in Russia in the coming weeks.

European stocks and U.S. stock futures extended their gains slightly after Russia’s announcement though the reaction was far more muted than after Pfizer’s results.

China’s Sinopharm, which is running large-scale late-stage clinical trials for two Covid-19 vaccine candidates, said on Wednesday that its data was better than expected, though it did not give further details.

Successful vaccines are seen as a crucial to restoring daily life around the world by helping end the pandemic that has killed more than 1.26 million people, shuttered businesses and put millions out of work.

However, experts said knowledge about the Russian trial’s design was sparse, making it hard to interpret the data.

Scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Moscow has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for the shot and launching mass vaccinations before full trials to test its safety and efficacy had been completed.

“This is not a competition. We need all trials to be carried out to the highest possible standards and it is particularly important that the pre-set criteria for unblinding the trial data are adhered to avoid cherry picking the data,” said Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh.

“Anything less than this risks a public loss of trust in all vaccines, which would be a disaster.”

The results are based on data from the first 16,000 trial participants to receive both shots of the two-dose vaccine.

“We are showing, based on the data, that we have a very effective vaccine,” said RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev, adding that it was the sort of news that the vaccine’s developers would talk about one day with their grandchildren.

The so-called Phase III trial of the shot is taking place in 29 clinics across Moscow and will involve 40,000 volunteers in total, with a quarter receiving a placebo shot.

The chances of contracting Covid-19 were 92% lower among people vaccinated with Sputnik V than those who received the placebo, the RDIF said.

That’s well above the 50% effectiveness threshold for Covid-19 vaccines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The RDIF said data from the study would be published in a leading medical journal following a peer review. The results of the early-stage Russian trials were peer reviewed and published in September in The Lancet medical journal.

Experts said that as with the Pfizer results, it was not yet clear how long immunity would last after taking the Russian vaccine, nor how efficient it would be for different age groups.

“We certainly need longer-term observations to draw valid conclusions about efficacy and side effects. The same goes for Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s numbers,” said Plachter in Mainz.

As Moscow seeks partners abroad to boost output, China’s Tibet Rhodiola Pharmaceutical Holding announced a deal soon after the results to released to make, sell and test the shot in China.

The Russian drug is named Sputnik V after the Soviet-era satellite that triggered the space race, a nod to the project’s geopolitical importance for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia registered the vaccine for public use in August, the first country to do so, ahead of the start of the large-scale trial in September.

So far, it has inoculated 10,000 members of the public considered at high risk of contracting Covid-19 such as doctors and teachers, outside of the trial.

The vaccine is designed to trigger a response from two shots administered 21 days apart, each based on different viral vectors that normally cause the common cold: human adenoviruses Ad5 and Ad26.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology and is designed to trigger an immune response without using pathogens, such as actual virus particles.

Russia is also testing a different vaccine, produced by the Vector Institute in Siberia, and is on the cusp of registering a third, Putin said on Tuesday, adding that all of the country’s vaccines were effective.

RDIF said as of Nov. 11 no serious side effects had been reported during the Sputnik V Phase III trial.

Some volunteers had short-term minor adverse events such as pain at the injection site, flu-like syndrome including fever, weakness, fatigue, and headache, it said.

In late October, the vaccination of new volunteers was temporarily paused due to high demand and a shortage of doses.

Russia’s deputy prime minister said on Wednesday that the Vector Institute vaccine was expected to start post-registration trials on Nov. 15.

She also said that Russia would produce 500,000 doses of Sputnik V in November, lower than a previous forecast of 800,000 doses given by Trade and Industry Minister Denis Manturov.

Russia reported 19,851 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours and a record high of 432 deaths. At 1,836,960, its overall case tally is the fifth largest in the world, behind the United States, India, Brazil and France.

Delhi reports highest daily 8,593 Covid-19 cases

NEW DELHI, Nov 11: For the first time ever, Delhi’s daily Covid-19 cases crossed the 8,000-mark on Wednesday as the Capital reported 8,593 cases. The total tally of the city now stands at 45,9975 and the positivity rate has jumped to 13.40 per cent. In the last 24 hours, 64,121 tested have been conducted and 85 deaths have been reported. Over 24,000 people in Delhi are now under home isolation, the health bulletin said.

On Tuesday, the city recorded 7,830 fresh infections which was the highest till yesterday.

The unprecedented spike in the number of daily cases comes at a time when experts have been pointing out overall laxity in maintaining social distance. All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) director Randeep Guleria has said super-spreader events might have led to the recent surge in the number of cases.

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday pulled up the AAP government for relaxing safety norms for public gatherings. A bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramanium Prasad also noted that the wearing of masks has not been made mandatory in Delhi. The court also asked the government why it has increased the number of people allowed in weddings, public transport etc.

Since October last week, Delhi has been reporting a spike in the number of daily cases. In the last two days, it has surpassed Kerala and Maharashtra in the maximum number of daily Covid-19 infections.

The onset of winter with pollution combined is being blamed for what has now officially been called the third wave of Covid-19. The first wave was in June and the second was in September. But the third wave is the worst, Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain has said. “The third wave of COVID-19 is at its peak in Delhi. The number of cases suggests it is the worst wave so far. But the cases will come down soon,” Jain said earlier.

The latest report of serosurvey, which the government submitted to the high court on Wednesday, has found that Covid-19 antibodies were present in 25 per cent of the persons tested. After going through the report, the court pointed out that the virus has touched almost every household in the national Capital. One in four persons in the city appears to be infected by Covid-19, the court observed.

Keeping Pfizer vaccine at minus 70 degree Celsius tough: AIIMS chief

NEW DELHI, Nov 11: The announcement by American pharmaceutical major Pfizer about Covid-19 vaccine trial has led to renewed hopes in a wold battered by the coronavirus pandemic. Experts, however, point towards the logistics of giving the potential vaccine to a larger population.

One of those experts is director of the premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Randeep Guleria. He has expressed concern over the storage of Pfizer vaccine highlighting that the shots need to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius which would be a challenge for developing countries like India.

“Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius which is a challenge for developing countries like India where we will have difficulties in maintaining a cold chain, especially on rural missions,” Guleria told news agency ANI on Wednesday. “But it is overall encouraging news in vaccine research for those in Phase III trial,” he added.

Pfizer recently announced that its vaccine for coronavirus, in development with collaboration with German firm BioNTech, is 90% effective in preventing infections. The news came as a ray of hope as the countries across the world are battling unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic.

Based on supply projections, the companies are expecting to supply 50 million vaccine doses globally by the end of this year. Up to 1.3 billion doses will be supplied in 2021.

The AIIMS director also spoke on Covid-19 situation in Delhi. Guleria attributed the recent spike to “super spreading events”.

“We’re seeing a surge of Covid-19 cases in Delhi. Super spreading events, which are big crowds with attendees not taking precautions must have happened here. So we need to work aggressively towards curbing this number,” he said.

Delhi is witnessing the third wave of Covid-19, recording a spike in the number of daily cases.

Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain attributed the jump in cases to people not adhering to the Covid-19 precautionary measures and showing negligence in wearing a face mask.

Citing experts, he also said that the third wave could last for another 4-5 days.

WHO chief hopes there will be a coronavirus vaccine by end of this year

GENEVA, Nov 10: WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said he hopes there will be a coronavirus vaccine by the end of 2020.

"The Pfizer one (vaccine) is a very promising one, we also expect more and more," said Tedros. He reiterated the United Nations agency's call for an equitable distribution of vaccine doses once they are available.

He said the WHO team studying origin of virus has experts from US, Russia, Australia, Sudan, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Japan, Vietnam and Britain.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa, told the same WHO ministerial assembly: "The exciting news yesterday (Monday) of a possible effective vaccine becoming available presages significant cold chains challenges for African countries by the type of vaccine that that is. Which will need to be factored into the support to be provided."

The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the extent of its coronavirus outbreak, called on Tuesday for a "transparent and inclusive" WHO-led international investigation into the origin of the pandemic, criticising its current terms.

The Trump administration has accused the World Health Organization of being "China-centric" and of being its puppet, which WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has denied.

Tedros on Monday welcomed efforts to strengthen the Geneva-based body through reform and said it was looking forward to working closely with the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.

WHO's funding must become more flexible and predictable to end a "major misalignment" between expectations and available resources, WHO director-general said, citing reform efforts by France, Germany and the European Union.

"We welcome the encouraging vaccine news from @pfizer & @BioNTech_Group & salute all scientists & partners around the who are developing new safe, efficacious tools to beat #COVID19," WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a tweet.

"The world is experiencing unprecedented scientific innovation & collaboration to end the pandemic," he said.

As of mid-October, the WHO has identified 42 "candidate vaccines" at the stage of clinical trials, up from 11 in mid-June.

Ten of them were at the most advanced phase 3 stage, in which a vaccine's effectiveness is tested on a large scale, generally tens of thousands of people across several continents.

Covid-19 vaccine 90% effective in Phase 3 trial: Pfizer

NEW YORK, Nov 9: The vaccine against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), which is being developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech, is 90% effective in preventing infections in the ongoing Phase 3 trials, Pfizer announced on Monday.

“The first set of results from our Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent Covid-19,” Pfizer’s chairperson and CEO Albert Bourla said. “We are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis,” Bourla added.

Protection in patients was achieved seven days after the second of two doses, and 28 days after the first, according to preliminary findings. The findings are based on an interim analysis conducted after 94 participants contracted the illness. The trial will continue until 164 cases have occurred. The preliminary results pave the way for the companies to seek an emergency-use authorization from regulators if further research shows the shot is also safe.

Based on supply projections, the companies are expecting to supply 50 million vaccine doses globally by the end of this year. Up to 1.3 billion doses will be supplied in 2021.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump hailed the announcement as “such great news”.

“Stock market up big, vaccine coming soon. Report 90% effective. Such great news!” Trump tweeted.

Since its outbreak last year, the coronavirus disease has wreaked havoc in the world and the global cases exceeded 50 million in a grim milestone on Monday. While the death toll is over 1,255,000.

80% of covid-19 patients could be deficient in vitamin D, claims Spanish study

SANTANDER (Spain), Nov 8: One of the most prominent findings of the research work on the novel coronavirus has been on the role of vitamin D. Before the pandemic hit the world, vitamin D or the sunshine vitamin was perhaps best known for the role it plays in bone health. But as recent times have been witness, we know also know that this vitamin is crucial for keeping the immune system in good shape.

What’s more, recent studies have also found that a vitamin D deficiency can increase the risk of covid-19. And now, a study claims that over 80% of covid-19 patients could be vitamin D deficient.

A Spanish study recently studied the link between vitamin D and covid-19 in patients.

The study, which was published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism states that over 80% of 200 covid-19 patients in a hospital in Spain have a vitamin D deficiency.

“One approach is to identify and treat vitamin D deficiency, especially in high-risk individuals such as the elderly, patients with comorbidities, and nursing home residents, who are the main target population for the covid-19,” said study co-author Jose L. Hernandez, Ph.D., of the University of Cantabria in Santander, Spain.

“Vitamin D treatment should be recommended in covid-19 patients with low levels of vitamin D circulating in the blood since this approach might have beneficial effects in both the musculoskeletal and the immune system,” added Hernandez.

Covid-19 patients with lower vitamin D levels also had raised serum levels of inflammatory markers such as ferritin and D-dimer.

Why is vitamin D so important in the fight against covid-19?

Vitamin D is a hormone that our kidneys produce. It controls blood calcium concentration and impacts the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a variety of health concerns, although research is still underway into why the hormone impacts other systems of the body.

Many studies point to the beneficial effect of vitamin D on the immune system, especially regarding protection against infections.

A nasal spray may help prevent COVID-19 in absence of a vaccine

NEW YORK, Nov 8: As COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc into the lives of people all around the world, researchers and medical professionals are working round the clock to find an effective and safe vaccine for COVID-19 prevention, which will be the best way to prevent the spread of the virus.

With no specific cure in sight, researchers are also looking at various treatments used to treat other infections, in a bid to repurpose them for COVID-19. As hopes of life returning to the normal we knew to revolve around a vaccine, researchers have found one more way for COVID-19 prevention, that can come in handy in the absence of a vaccine.

Vaccines, especially those that need to be injected, have their limitations. They are hard to deploy in low-income and rural areas, and the distribution of such jabs is not easy. Therefore, scientists have come up with a more accessible alternative.

According to recent reports, researchers from Columbia University have developed a nasal spray, that can successfully prevent COVID-19 infections. These sprays have currently been tested in ferrets, and 3D model of human lungs.

The lipopeptide, which is a lipid, and peptide combination, prevents the coronavirus from fusing with a target cells' membrane, by blocking a key protein from adopting a necessary shape. Researchers believe it should work immediately, and last at least 24 hours. The nasal spray is also affordable, lasts a long time, and does not even need refrigeration.

However, the spray cannot be given out for public use just yet. Like any other medical tool, the nasal spray also needs to go through human clinical trials. The spray also needs to be produced in large numbers, to provide access to one and all. Scientists are planning to “rapidly advance” to further testing, Columbia said.

The nasal spray could be really useful in parts of the world where COVID-19 mass vaccinations will be difficult, especially initially. As the vaccine production and distribution is also likely to take some time, the nasal spray can work as a compliment. People who do not get their hands on a vaccine can spray themselves daily, and keep the risk of the virus at bay. This will not only reduce the burden on healthcare but will also help limit the spread of the virus in humans, which is the ultimate goal.

The novel coronavirus has caused a total of more than 49 million infections worldwide and claimed over 1.25 million lives so far. Various vaccines are currently under trials for efficacy and safety, and the world hopes to return back to normal soon.

Delhi reporting third Covid-19 wave: Kejriwal

NEW DELHI, Nov 4: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Wednesday said that the national capital is reporting a “third wave” of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.

The CM said that the Delhi government would move the Supreme Court (SC) later on Wednesday to vacate the stay imposed by the Delhi high court (HC) on the city administration’s order of reserving 80% of the intensive care unit (ICU) beds for Covid-19 patients in 33 private hospitals.

The declaration is significant, as the Delhi government had earlier maintained that it would wait for a week to decide whether a third wave has hit the national capital.

The CM’s statement came after Delhi reported 6,725 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday and the overall tally went past 400,000.

Kejriwal said he would hold a meeting to review Covid-19 management on Thursday.

“I want to inform the public that Delhi is reporting a surge in Covid-19 cases over the past few days. I would call this a third wave of the pandemic in the city because in the end of September and the beginning of October, daily Covid-19 cases had started to drop below 3,000,” Kejriwal told media persons at Hiranki village, where he visited to check the effectiveness of the bio-decomposing process of converting stubble into manure.

The CM also urged the public not to panic and assured that he is closely monitoring the situation.

“At present, there is no scarcity of Covid-19 beds in Delhi. There is no scarcity of any form of health infrastructure in the national capital. It has come to our notice that in big private hospitals, only a few ICU beds with ventilators are lying vacant. The issue will be resolved in a day or two once the SC vacates the stay by the HC,” Kejriwal said.

The Delhi government would take a call on Thursday whether firecrackers would be allowed this Diwali, he added. Diwali will be celebrated on November 14.

“The meeting will discuss a gamut of issues such as allowing firecrackers to availability of Covid-19 beds, especially those in ICUs.The meeting is scheduled to be held at 4 pm,” Kejriwal said.

Delhi’s positivity rate on Tuesday stood at 11.29% as fears abound that SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, is spreading at an unprecedented rate amid the festive season and growing pollution due to stubble burning in neighbouring agrarian states such as Haryana and Punjab and parts of western Uttar Pradesh (UP) .

Typically, a rising positivity rate suggests an inadequate number of tests.

The Delhi government’s bulletin on Tuesday stated that of the 59,540 swab samples tested in the past 24 hours, 13,560 were reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, which was the lowest RT-PCR sample size in the past three weeks.

Covid-19 vaccine likely to be available by Jan, will be affordable: Adar Poonawalla

NEW DELHI, Nov 4: Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer (CEO) of Pune-based pharmaceutical company Serum Institute of India (SII), on Wednesday said that a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is likely to be available in the country by January 2021 provided approvals from regulatory bodies are in place in time.

Poonawalla said, “Based on the success of the trials in India and the United Kingdom, and if approvals from regulatory bodies are in place in time, then we can expect the vaccine to be available in India by January 2021, only if its proven immunogenic and efficacious.”

The SII is working in collaboration with British-Swedish pharma major AstraZeneca to produce the potential Covid-19 vaccine Covishield.

Covishield, developed by University of Oxford, is currently in the phase 2/3 clinical trial in the country and will be produced by SII for low-and-middle income countries.

Poonawalla said that the vaccine shot has so far been given to thousands of people in India and abroad with no safety concerns. He, however, added that it will take two to three years to ascertain the long-term effects of the vaccine.

According to a report published in the British medical journal The Lancet, the potential Covid-19 vaccine produced a dual immune response in people aged 18 to 55. AstraZeneca and Oxford University have said a two-dose regimen showed greater promise, while a single-dose injection is also being tested in trials.

The CEO of the world’s largest drug manufacturing firm also said that the firm is in talks with the government over the pricing of the vaccine and assured that it will be made available at a reasonable price. “We are certain that it will be affordable for all,” he said.

SII aims to manufacture about 60-70 million doses, and stretch it up to 100 million doses of the vaccine per month, Poonawalla said, adding, “We should be able to reach there over the next few months.”

The pharma firm has also entered into a partnership with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to speed up the process of manufacturing and delivery of up to 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines for India and other third world countries.


Delhi records 6,725 new cases of Covid-19, its highest single-day spike

NEW DELHI, Nov 3: National capital Delhi recorded 6,725 new cases of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on Tuesday, which took the total number of cases to 4,03,096, according to health bulletin issued by the state government. This is the highest-ever single-day spike in Delhi.

The infection claimed 48 lives in Delhi, the bulletin further said.

There are 36,375 active case in the national capital and 3,60,069 recoveries.

The Union Health Ministry had on Tuesday said that Delhi, along with Kerala, West Bengal and Manipur, have shown a rise in the number of active Covid-19 cases between October 3 and November 3.

Top officials from the Union and the Delhi governments met on Monday to discuss a recalibration of testing, treating and surveillance strategies amid the surge in number of cases.

The meeting was attended by top bureaucrats from the Union home ministry, Union health ministry, Niti Aayog, the Delhi government, and Delhi Police where the officials reviewed the Covid-19 situation in the national capital. The central officials stressed on the need to make testing more pinpointed, and called new awareness campaigns targeted at people in the 20-40 age bracket at a time when people have started moving about more freely and “pandemic fatigue” has started to set in.

Several indicators now reinforce the fact that Delhi is in the grip of its third and worst wave of infections yet. In the past week, there were 5,269 cases on average every day. The peak seven-day average was at 4,174 at the height of the second wave on September 17 and 3,446 at the height of the first, which was on June 26.

UAE PM receives Covid-19 vaccine shot

ABU DHABI, Nov 3: UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum received a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

Sheikh Mohammed shared a picture on Twitter of him getting vaccinated by a medical staffer.

Sheikh Mohammed said, “While receiving the Covid-19 vaccine today. We wish everyone safety and great health, and we are proud of our teams who have worked relentlessly to make the vaccine available in the UAE. The future will always be better in the UAE.”

A number of UAE ministers also took the vaccine over the past few weeks.

The UAE has authorised the emergency use of the vaccine as part of the country’s measures to protect health workers in close contact with Covid-19 patients and ensure their safety, and that it was fully aligned with the regulations and laws that allow a faster review of licensing procedures.


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