The Daily Dose: Chinese pharma disputes 50% COVID-19 vaccine efficacy data; U.S. vaccine rollout piles error on error.

There’s some controversy surrounding a COVID-19 vaccine again. This time, it involves a Chinese pharmaceutical company and the data coming from its phase III clinical trials. Per the South China Morning Post, “The chairman of Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac has insisted its Covid-19 vaccine is highly effective as he sought to clarify the results of its trials in Brazil after the firm’s Brazilian partner a day earlier announced efficacy of only 50 per cent. Following the CoronaVac vaccine’s differing efficacy data in trials in Brazil, Turkey and Indonesia, chairman Yin Weidong said that the Brazil trials had found it to be 100 per cent effective in preventing severe Covid-19 cases, and that the company was expanding its production capacity to meet overseas and domestic demand.” His explanation only muddied the water more, saying that the vaccine protected 50% of “medical workers.” So what does that mean? Parsing words when it comes to vaccine efficacy or safety data can’t be a good thing.

The United States may have a pair of COVID-19 vaccines that work but the efforts immunize Americans is quickly turning into a farce. Initially, the process was too slow. Now, at the direction of Health and Human Services director Alex Azar, the vaccination process may be moving too quickly. An article in STAT explains why. “It will be several months before there is enough vaccine available to meet that kind of demand. The move all but ensures the current narrative around the vaccine rollout — it’s too slow — will shift, but not in a positive direction: The incoming Biden administration will likely face a groundswell of complaints about long lines, failed efforts to find vaccine supplies, and an inequitable distribution system as it tries to live up to its promise of seeing 100 million vaccine doses administered in the new president’s first 100 days in office.” The Trump Administration has overseen a disastrous response to COVID-19 — Operation Warp Speed being something of an exception — and it has only grown worse as his days in the White House dwindle.

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The vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna represent a major shift in the way vaccines are made. The technology used by the two companies is cutting edge stuff. An article in Nature takes a look at a new era indrug development. “The idea of using RNA in vaccines has been around for nearly three decades. More streamlined than conventional approaches, the genetic technology allows researchers to fast-track many stages of vaccine research and development. The intense interest now could lead to solutions for particularly recalcitrant diseases, such as tuberculosis, HIV and malaria. And the speed at which they can be made could improve seasonal-flu vaccines.” There are some kinks that need to be worked out, of course. The side effects of the mRNA vaccines has been well documented and publicized. On top of that, they are expensive to manufacture. Lastly, the necessary cold chain needed to keep the vaccines is a very significant hurdle to broader adoption. It isn’t the first time a new drug has had cold chain problems. No doubt, a more stable version will be developed.

One of the major problems that has plagued the antibiotics industry since the 1950s has been a degree of group-think in the way they have approached neutralizing bacteria. The result was the production of derivative antibiotics but very few new classes. An paper in Nature proposes a different strategy. “The authors’ approach involved the development of a new class of molecule called immunoantibiotics. These target a key pathway that generates a molecule needed by microbes and, in doing so, stimulate a particular population of immune cells. The cells, from the grouping called γδ T cells, then provide a general (innate-like), potent antimicrobial immune response.”

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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