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Russia registered world’s first COVID-19 vaccine: Putin

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(Last Updated On: August 11, 2020)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that his country has succeeded to develop a vaccine that “forms stable cell and antibody immunity” against the COVID-19.

Speaking at a government meeting, Putin said: “As far as I know, this morning for the first time in the world a vaccine against the novel coronavirus infection was registered.” 

The Russian Tass news agency reported that the vaccine was developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya institute and its clinical trials were over.

The vaccine was approved by the country’s Health Ministry after less than two months of human testing.

“I know this very well, because one of my daughters got vaccinated, so in this sense, she took part in testing,” Putin said. He noted that after the first vaccine shot, his daughter had a 38°C fever, and on the next day, a fever slightly higher than 37°C. And then, after the second shot, she had a slight fever again, and then everything was fine, she is feeling well and has a high [antibody] count,” Putin said quoted by the Tass.

The vaccine still has to complete final trials but Russia’s move could pave the way for mass vaccination.

Reuters reported that the vaccine’s approval by the health ministry comes before the start of a larger trial involving thousands of participants, commonly known as a Phase III trial.

Such trials, which require a certain rate of participants catching the virus to observe the vaccine’s effect, are normally considered essential precursors for a vaccine to receive regulatory approval.

The Moscow-based Association of Clinical Trials Organizations (ACTO), a trade body representing the world’s top drugmakers in Russia this week urged the health ministry to postpone approval until that final trial had been successfully completed.

In a letter to the ministry, it said there were high risks associated with registering a drug before that happened.

“It is during this phase that the main evidence of a vaccine’s efficacy is collected, as well as information on adverse reactions that could appear in certain groups of patients: people with weakened immunity, people with concomitant diseases and so forth,” it said.

Some international experts have also questioned the speed at which Russia approved its vaccine.

“Normally you need a large number of people to be tested before you approve a vaccine,” said Peter Kremsner from the University Hospital in Tuebingen, currently testing CureVac’s COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials.

“In that respect, I think it’s reckless to do that (approve it) if lots of people haven’t already been tested.”

Duncan Matthews, a professor of intellectual property law at the Queen Mary University of London, said news of a potential COVID-19 vaccine was to be welcomed, “but safety must be the priority”.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have fast-track approval procedures for emergency humanitarian use and we need to see evidence that Russia is adopting an equally prudent approach,” Matthews said in an emailed comment.

More than 100 possible vaccines are being developed around the world to try to stop the COVID-19 pandemic. At least four are in final Phase III human trials, according to WHO data.

(With inputs from Reuters)

COVID-19

India’s COVID-19 tally surges past 5.4 million mark

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(Last Updated On: September 20, 2020)

India’s COVID-19 infection tally has surged past the 5.4 million mark after adding 92,605 cases in the past 24 hours, the health ministry stated Sunday. 

Every day, since August, the country has recorded the highest single-day caseload in the world. 

According to the health ministry, 1,113 people died of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of deaths to 86,752. 

Infection is surging through the country on a “step-ladder spiral” a government scientist told BBC. 

It took India 170 days to reach the first million cases but only 11 days to reach the last million. 

More than 50 million Indians have been tested so far for the virus, and more than a million samples are being tested daily, BBC reported but stated the country still has one of the lowest testing rates in the world.

According to the report, epidemiologists have said that India’s real infection rates are far higher.

The government’s own antibody tests on a random sample of people nationwide estimated 6.4 million infections in early May, as compared to the recorded case count of 52,000 at that time. 

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India’s COVID-19 infection rate continues to surge, over 5 million cases reported

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(Last Updated On: September 17, 2020)

India reported another record jump in daily coronavirus cases on Thursday with 97,894 new infections in the last 24 hours, after its caseload surged past the five million mark a day earlier, data from the health ministry showed. 

Deaths also increased, with the country recording more than 1,000 deaths every day for the last two weeks.

Coronavirus infections in India surged past five million on Wednesday, with one million active cases reported. 

India’s caseload is closing in on the US, which has reported more than 6.6 million cases and with the infection rate continuing as it is, health officials have warned that it could take just weeks for India to surpass the US. 

In the initial stages of Covid-19, India imposed a strict lockdown, but the virus then hit cities like Mumbai and the capital, Delhi, before surging in smaller cities and rural areas.

Despite the increase, the Indian government has eased restrictions to help the economy recover from the March to June lockdown. 

But as India opened up and people returned to work, the caseload increased drastically. 

In one week alone – last week – 600,000 new cases were added. 

India’s reported number of cases is now more than 5,020,359.

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Korea pledges $1m to help Afghanistan tackle pandemic

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(Last Updated On: September 16, 2020)

The  South Korean embassy in Kabul signed a US$1 million grant with the World Health Organization (WHO) this week to assist in efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Afghanistan. 

According to WHO, the organization will receive funding to implement the “Strengthening access to quality health care in the most vulnerable population in Afghanistan” project, over a six-month period.

In a joint statement issued by the organizations, WHO said the project is expected to bolster efforts to increase COVID-19 testing across the country through the provision of specimen collection kits for 15 rapid response teams (RRTs), which will enable sample collection from 40,500 people; provision of diagnostic kits to the Ministry of Public Health to cover testing for 50,000 people, and provision of testing consumables for RRTs and laboratory technicians across the country to cover testing needs for at least 10,520 people. 

“The project will also play a critical role in improving awareness about COVID-19 through community-based engagement, targeting 314,900 people across priority regions of the country and building field teams’ capacity to better engage and communicate with communities.” the statement read.

The grant arrangement was signed by the Korean ambassador Zha Hyoung Rhee, and Dr Richard Peeperkorn, WHO Representative for Afghanistan.

Both parties to the agreement emphasized the importance of continued support from the international community to help Afghanistan in its fight against COVID-19.

“While the pandemic does not respect borders when it comes to its negative impacts, there is no denying that those countries which lack in medical infrastructure are more vulnerable,” said Rhee. 

“Considering Korea’s experiences, 3Ts, i.e., testing, tracking, and treatment constitute the major components of an effective response to the pandemic. I sincerely hope that the support from Korea, especially regarding the earliest stage of those response activities, will help mitigate, to a considerable extent, the impact of the pandemic which has been inflicting enormous damage not only on the already dire humanitarian situation but also on the essential socio-economic fabric of Afghanistan,” Rhee added.

More than six months since the onset of the COVID-19 emergency in Afghanistan, cases continue to rise but severe testing restrictions have plagued the country, which already has a fragile health care system. 

As of Monday, 38,772 confirmed cases and 1,425 deaths had been reported. 

Peeperkorn in turn said: “The crisis is far from over.”

He noted the country had gone through a substantial first wave but that everyone needs to be prepared for secondary spikes. 

While Afghanistan’s official COVID-19 toll stands at close to 40,000, the Afghan Health Ministry and WHO stated early last month that they estimate nearly a third of the population – about 10 million people – had already been infected. 

Health Minister Ahmad Jawad Osmani told reporters on August 5 that a survey had been carried out and had been based on antibody tests.

The survey estimated that about 31.5 percent of the population of 32 million had contracted the virus, with the highest infection rate in the capital, Kabul where more than half of the city’s five million people are believed to have been infected.

Afghanistan, which has poor health infrastructure and has been wracked by decades of war, has only limited testing capacity.

But the new “Strengthening access to quality health care in the most vulnerable population in Afghanistan” project is a part of the COVID-19 ONE UN Health Response Plan and is aligned with the overall support that WHO is providing to Afghanistan to address needs related to COVID-19.

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