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COVID-19 vaccinations: What’s the progress?

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dw– This vaccine tracker will not be updated and will display the status of November 2021 until further notice. When we started the tracker at the end of 2020, the vaccine landscape changed regularly. By now, several vaccines are established and there aren’t any completely new developments. You can find up-to-date information on COVID-19 here.

How many people are vaccinated?

How far have researchers gotten in the development of a vaccine?

There are more than 200 clinical trials worldwide testing potential vaccines, known as candidates, against COVID-19. So far, seven of the vaccine candidates have been approved.

Please note: To be displayed as approved in the chart, a vaccine needs to be either approved by the USFDA or the European Medicines Agency (EMA), or cleared for emergency use by FDA, EMA or WHO. More details can be found here.

The approved vaccines were developed by:

  • BioNTech-Pfizer (mRNA vaccine)
  • Moderna (mRNA vaccine)
  • AstraZeneca (nonreplicating vector vaccine)
  • Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)(nonreplicating vector vaccine)
  • Sinopharm (inactivated virus vaccine)
  • Sinovac (inactivated virus vaccine)
  • Bharat Biotech (inactivated virus vaccine)

The majority of vaccine candidates for COVID-19 are in a preclinical phase. That means the vaccine candidates are being tested in animal experiments, for example, rather than with human patients. When those tests are deemed successful, candidate vaccines can move into clinical trial phases. That’s when they are tested with humans. There are three clinical trial phases for efficacy and safety before a vaccine can be approved for use by humans. The phases differ from each other, most significantly in their scale:

  • In Phase I, a vaccine is tested on small patient groups.
  • In Phase II, a vaccine is tested on larger groups of at least 100 patients; researchers can also test their vaccine candidate in specific subgroups, such as people with preexisting conditions, or patients with particular demographic characteristics, such as a higher age group.
  • In Phase III, a vaccine candidate is tested on at least 1,000 patients.

Some companies, such as BioNTech-Pfizer in Europe, and Sinovac in China, have tested their vaccine candidates in several trials in parallel. For example, they have tested the same vaccine but in different age groups or with different dosages.

If clinical trials are successful, a company can formally apply to regulatory bodies to have their vaccine approved for use by the general public.

Three regulatory authorities are considered to be particularly important in this context: The FDA in the US, the European EMA, and the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Device Agency in Japan.

How fast can vaccines be developed?

It can take several years to develop an effective and safe vaccine. On average, it takes between 10 and 12 years, but it can take longer. The search for a vaccine against HIV has been going since the early 1980s — so far without success.

In the case of COVID-19, researchers are racing to shorten the time it usually takes because of the ongoing pandemic. Despite the pressure that that brings, vaccine developers, manufacturers and the World Health Organization (WHO) say there will be no compromises on safety.

Research teams are aiming to accelerate, or limit, the time it takes to get to approval during the pandemic to an average duration of 16 months.

That will only be the beginning. Once clinical trials are successfully completed and a vaccine is approved and produced, researchers start phase IV, during which they observe the progress of vaccinated patients.

Which types of COVID-19 vaccine are in development?

Researchers are pursuing 13 different approaches for vaccines against COVID-19.

Most of the vaccine candidates use a protein-based subunit — so, instead of using a complete pathogenic virus, they are built on a small component of it, such as a protein found in its outer shell.

That protein is administered to patients in a high dose, with the aim of inducing a fast and strong reaction by the human immune system.

The hope is that the immune system will “remember” the protein and trigger a similar defense reaction if or when it comes into contact with the actual virus.

Vaccines against hepatitis B and HPV (human papillomavirus), for example, are based on this principle.

Four additional approaches have made it to phase III.

Nonreplicating viral vectors are a type of so-called recombinant vaccines: Researchers modify the virus’s genetic information by switching on or off or altering certain functions. By doing that they can, for example, reduce the infectiousness of a virus. Such genetic modifications, however, require that science already has detailed knowledge about which parts of a virus’ genetic material are responsible for which functions in order for them to be able to manipulate them effectively. The term “nonreplicating” means that the virus in the vaccine enters cells in the human body but is unable to reproduce there on its own.

Inactivated vaccines use a “dead” version of the pathogen. They tend to provide a lower level of protection than live vaccines. Some vaccines in this class have to be administered several times to achieve sufficient immunity. Examples of inactivated vaccines include ones against influenza and hepatitis A.

RNA vaccines follow a different strategy, without using any “real” component of the virus at all. Instead, researchers aim to trick the human body into producing a specific virus component on its own. Since only this specific component is built, no complete virus can assemble itself. Nevertheless, the immune system learns to recognize the non-human components and trigger a defense reaction.

Vaccines based on viruslike particles use another approach: Researchers only use the empty virus envelope — without any genetic material inside of it — to train the immune system.

With DNA-based vaccines, patients are injected with the virus’s genetic makeup for the human body to produce virus particles itself without being actually infected. Confronted with these self-produced virus particles, the immune system is supposed to learn to recognize and fight the actual virus.

Who is working on a COVID-19 vaccine?

At time of writing, there were well over 100 research teams worldwide developing a COVID-19 vaccine. So far, several teams have advanced their vaccines to the third phase of clinical trials. Although some of these vaccines have already been approved in some countries, they still continue to be tested in clinical trials in parallel.

Five teams stand out for conducting the most extensive clinical trials:

  • Belgian company Janssen Pharmaceutical is testing its candidate vaccine, which is based on a nonreplicating viral vector, on about 576,000 people in South Africa, Belgium, the United States, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.
  • The US company Moderna is testing its RNA-based vaccine on 79,000 people in the US, Canada, France and Japan
  • In a public-private partnership between the University of Oxford and the British company AstraZeneca, researchers are testing their vaccine candidate on approximately 66,000 people in the US, Chile, Peru and the UK. Their vaccine is based on a similar principle to Janssen’s.
  • The Chinese company Sinopharm is working in various constellations with the Beijing Institute and Wuhan Institute. Taking all trial series together, they are testing an “inactivated” vaccine on around 61,000 people in Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Argentina and Peru.
  • A German company, BioNTech, is pursuing a different approach: It is focusing on RNA-based technology and testing the BioNTech-Pfizer candidate vaccine on about 49,000 people in the US, Argentina and Brazil, among other countries.

 

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NSW COVID-19 hospitalisations pass 1,000 as cases continue to balloon across Australia

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sbs– New South Wales has recorded another 18,278 COVID-19 cases and two deaths as the state’s outbreak continues to surge.

Sunday’s case numbers are slightly lower than Saturday’s 22,577.

The state recorded two deaths from the virus, while 1,066 people are hospitalised, up from 901 on Saturday. There are 83 in intensive care.

At the peak of the Delta outbreak, on 21 September, there were 1,266 people hospitalised with infections, and 244 in intensive care.

Testing numbers to 8pm on the first day of 2022 were down to 90,019, a drop from 119,278 on New Year’s Eve.

The high case numbers come as Premier Dominic Perrottet continues to focus on hospitalisation and intensive care numbers rather than the daily case total.

Despite comprising about six per cent of the population, unvaccinated people make up the majority of those in intensive care, Health Minister Brad Hazzard says.

To ensure hospital systems can cope, asymptomatic health workers who are in isolation due to being a close contact of a positive case will be permitted to leave isolation in “exceptional circumstances”, NSW Health announced on Friday night.

Victoria posts 7,172 cases, extreme heat closes testing sites

The first day of 2022 hasn’t been kind to 7,172 Victorians, the state’s latest residents to contract COVID-19.

A further three virus-related deaths have also been recorded for 1 January.

However the number of Victorian coronavirus patients in hospital care remains relatively stable at 472, up 19 on Saturday’s figure and 48 beyond the seven-day average.

Of them, 52 are classified as active ICU cases and 22 are in need of ventilation.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton’s daily update said on Sunday community sampling had revealed 76 per cent of all samples collected over the Christmas period were the Omicron variant. Further testing to confirm this is being undertaken over the next week.

In total, Victoria is managing 31,461 active COVID-19 cases.

Health authorities says virus testers managed to process 48,252 results in the 24 hours to Saturday evening.

The state is 93 per cent fully vaccinated for everyone aged 12 and over.

Some 7,442 infections were reported on Saturday, another pandemic record. There were 51 actively infectious patients in intensive care and 21 ventilated.

Extreme heat caused the closure of eight of the state’s testing sites on Saturday.

Queensland records 3,587 new cases

Queensland has added 3,587 infections to its COVID-19 caseload as a new indoor mask mandate comes into effect across the state.

Some 16,688 Queenslanders now have the virus. However, hospital numbers remain low with 112 patients in care, five of them in ICUs and none requiring ventilation.

Health authorities say testers processed almost 34,000 results in the 24 hours to 7pm on Saturday.

Queensland is 86.60 per cent fully vaccinated for everyone 16 and over.

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard says despite a jump of more than 1,300 cases in a day, he’s not surprised. In part, the increase is related to a change in reporting protocols which saw case figures taken from a 12-hour window on Friday.

“This number is probably a bit smaller than we had expected,” he said in Brisbane on Sunday of the latest figures.

“It probably (also) relates to testing over the holiday period and so it will not be a surprise at all that in the next couple of days we see a significant increase in cases as more samples are tested and more people come forward.”

Dr Gerrard said what experts were now seeing with the virus was that it was “a vastly different disease” to that which was spreading in the community last year and prior to vaccination.

“With a degree of contagiousness of this virus, we are going to be seeing very large numbers of cases, even though the severity is clearly going to be less,” he said.

“We are going to see very large numbers of cases and a small proportion of a very large number (who fall ill) is still a large number.”

Masks were declared compulsory in “virtually all indoor spaces” in Queensland from 1am on Sunday.

Previously masks were only required indoors at supermarkets, shops, on public transport and ride share as well as airports and planes, cinemas and theatres in Queensland.

They now need to be worn at workplaces unless unsafe to do so, pubs, clubs and cafes unless when seated, indoor stadiums and sport arenas, libraries, hair dressers and nail salons, and medical centre waiting areas.

Queenslanders were also urged to return to work-from-home arrangements where possible.

SA hospitalisations ‘very much within capacity’

South Australia, meanwhile, recorded 2,298 COVID-19 cases on New Years Day from 21,140 tests.

The newest caseload is up from 2,108, while hospitalisations have also risen by 11.

There are currently 82 people in hospital, Premier Steven Marshall said on Sunday, a number which he said was “still very much within our current capacity”.

Seven people are in ICU.

“We see a lot of admissions but also a lot of people are leaving hospital on a daily basis after their conditions have stabilised,” Mr Marshall told reporters on Sunday.

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US follows UK’s lead and shortens isolation for healthcare workers who test positive for Covid-19

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independent– Healthcare workers who test positive for Covid-19 and are asymptomatic only need to isolate for seven days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said.

The CDC reduced the recommended isolation time from 10 days in part due to concerns that the highly transmissible Omicron variant could cause even greater staffing shortages at hospitals.

In new guidance released on Thursday, the CDC said infected healthcare workers could return to work after a week as long as they were asymptomatic and produced a negative test.

The US recorded 261,339 new cases on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Earlier this week, the UK Health Security Agency announced that essential workers would be allowed to return after a seven-day isolation period amid a worsening staffing crisis in hospitals.

In a statement, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said it was updating guidelines in response to an “anticipated surge” in patients due to the Omicron variant.

“Our priority, remains prevention—and I strongly encourage all healthcare personnel to get vaccinated and boosted.”

Dr Walensky added that health care workers who were fully vaccinated, including with a booster shot, did not need to isolate after a high-risk exposure.

On Friday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that essential workers who tested positive could return to their jobs after five days if they were fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, and had not had a fever within the past 72 hours.

“This is not Delta, or the first variant,” Ms Hochul said during a live address.

“This is Omicron, and thus far it has demonstrated it’s not as severe in its impact, and therefore we want to make sure that our critical workforce, who we’ve relied on from the beginning, can get back to work.”

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Covid booster jab triggers immune response in days, not weeks, say scientists

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independent– Those who receive a Covid booster jab can expect to mount an immune response in a matter of days – not weeks, scientists say.

The boosters have been shown to restore the body’s immunological defences against Omicron, which appears capable of infecting those who are double-jabbed.

While it takes up to two weeks to prime the immune system against Covid after a first dose, the effects of a booster jab start to be felt within two to three days, experts believe.

“The immunity generated after a booster jab will rise much quicker than the first immune response,” said Gary McLean, a professor in molecular immunology at London Metropolitan University.

That’s because crucial memory cells activated after the first dose will still be present in the body, Prof McLean explained, and therefore “do not require the two-week activation and instruction phase they initially go through”.

These memory cells – T and B – are responsible for hunting down infected cells and producing antibodies that stop the virus from gaining entry in the first place.

Their continuing presence means the immune system is on high alert and ready to spring back into action at the earliest sight of the virus, or anything that mimics it.

“That can then translate into boosted antibody levels and other increases in active T cells within days of the booster,” said Prof McLean. “It is likely that maximal immune activity is reached seven days after the booster.”

Professor Charles Bangham, an immunologist and co-director of the institute of infection at Imperial College London, said that in a secondary or subsequent immune response, T cells and antibodies should start to be detectable within “two to three days” of a booster.

The boosters appear to be 70 per cent effective against omicron infection – and are thought to offer even higher protection from hospitalisation and death – but scientists are concerned that the UK rollout won’t be able to keep up with the spread of the variant.

Doubling at a rate of every two days, Omicron has fuelled a sudden lift in national cases. On Thursday, 88,376 new Covid cases were reported, setting a new pandemic record for the second day running.

However, infections are thought to be running at far higher levels. The UK Health Security Agency said it expects there to be more than one million infections a day by the end of the month.

The government, meanwhile, has set the ambitious target of rolling out one million boosters a day to counter Omicron, and intends to have offered all eligible adults one by the close of the year. Some 745,183 third doses were given on Thursday, bringing the national total to 25.4 million.

Recent research from Israel suggests that rates of infection, severe disease and death from Delta were reduced after three to seven days post-boost – but reduced more after 12 days post-boost – when using the Pfizer vaccine for all three jabs.

The UK’s Cov-Boost study, which investigated the benefits of a booster jab among people who had received doses of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine, also pointed to an increased immune response by day seven.

“This ‘secondary immune response’ is more rapid than observed following the ‘priming’ course of vaccination, when the body takes 14 days or longer to ‘prime’ the antibody-producing B cells to produce antibody against the virus,” said Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London.

“However when virus antigens [an immune-triggering structure] are ‘re-encountered’ – either by a boosting shot of vaccine or by exposure to infection – these cells react very rapidly to produce antibody more quickly.”

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