With over 14.7 million confirmed novel coronavirus cases and nearly 610,000 fatalities, researchers are reporting progress in the race to develop a safe and effective vaccine against the disease.
Two different experimental vaccines -- one developed in a joint venture between Britain’s Oxford University and British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca, the other by Chinese biotech firm CanSino Biologics -- have produced strong immune responses in late-stage human trials, according to two peer-reviewed studies published Monday in the British medical journal The Lancet.
Meanwhile, U.S. drug maker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech also reported positive progress Monday on their vaccine candidate.
The vaccine developed by the joint Oxford-AstraZeneca partnership is receiving the most attention, with the company having signed agreements with many governments to supply its vaccine if it is proved to be effective and granted regulatory approval. The company has already committed to making 2 billion doses.
According to The New York Times, the doses have been administered to more than 10,000 volunteers in Britain, Brazil and South Africa, with 30,000 participants in the United States set to receive the experimental vaccine next week.
Monday’s news comes a week after U.S.-based biotech firm Moderna announced a vaccine developed by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease had also produced strong immune responses in its late-stage human trials, although it came with mild or moderate side effects such as fatigue, headaches, chills and muscle aches.
But Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN Monday that “ the first vaccines may not be our best vaccines.” Dr. Hotez said it will probably take a year “to accumulate all the data showing the vaccines actually work, as well as that they’re safe.”
Meanwhile, European Union leaders reached an agreement early Tuesday on a $2.1 trillion budget and coronavirus relief package.
The agreement includes $857 billion in coronavirus funding that will be issued as loans and grants to the hardest-hit countries.
It came after negotiations stretched on for four days and nights, well beyond what was expected. A main sticking point was a divide between a group of five richer countries in the north, including the Netherlands and Austria, that advocated a cut in the original proposal of $572 billion in grants along with stricter spending controls, while others such as Spain and Italy sought to keep such restrictions to a minimum.
The final agreement included a compromise of $446 billion in grants.
During an Oval Office meeting with Republican lawmakers on Monday about a new coronavirus financial rescue package, President Donald Trump announced that he will resume the daily press briefings of his coronavirus task force, beginning Tuesday. The president led the briefings over the course of several weeks in the early days of pandemic, but ended them in April after he was widely criticized for an offhand suggestion that doctors could inject bleach into COVID-19 patients to counteract the disease. Trump also used the briefings to tout the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, despite medical experts’ warnings that the drug ineffective and has possibly deadly side effects.
The return of the daily briefings comes as the U.S. has topped 3.8 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and nearly 141,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center.
After weeks of downplaying the need for Americans to wear masks as an effective means to prevent spreading the virus, Trump also tweeted a photo of himself wearing a mask. He wrote that “many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance. There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!”