Good news and bad news on COVID-19 vaccines

By | September 5, 2020

Vaccine candidates in the United States and Russia have shown promise this week, but polling shows most people are hesitant to get immunized.

On Friday, the team of Russian scientists behind a vaccine touted by President Vladimir Putin as a “very important step for our country, and generally, for the whole world” published the first report showing their vaccine created a modest antibody response. The trial was small, with only 40 volunteers who all received doses of the vaccine without anyone receiving a placebo for comparison. The vaccine, called Sputnik V, produced mild symptoms in a number of subjects, the most common of which were fevers and headaches.

Meanwhile, vaccine candidates bankrolled by the U.S. government are in late-stage trials to determine their effectiveness. Moderna and Pfizer launched massive trials over the summer that will enroll roughly 30,000 volunteers each.

President Trump said Friday that Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are “doing very well” and teased “results that are shockingly good.” He added that a vaccine may become available before Nov. 1, a tall order that even government health officials have doubted.

Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser for the White House coronavirus vaccine development program, said Thursday the chance of having a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day is “extremely unlikely but not impossible.”

“I firmly believe that we will have a vaccine available before the end of the year, and it will be available in quantities that can immunize subjects with health at the highest risk,” Slaoui said. “And then we will ramp up the manufacturing of vaccine doses to be able to, based on our plans, have enough vaccine to immunize the U.S. population by the middle of 2021.”

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The bad news is that, even if a vaccine were to be approved before Election Day or by the end of the year, more than two-thirds of voters would think twice about getting first access, and 44% would wait to get vaccinated until others have tried it first.

In an effort to bolster public confidence, Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson plan to sign a rare joint pledge to guarantee the safety of their vaccines before submitting for Food and Drug Administration approval, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday evening.

The pharmaceutical companies have yet to respond to requests for comment.

Pollsters at Suffolk University also found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to get the vaccine at some point, either immediately or after others have gotten it. The youngest people included in the survey, under 24, and the oldest, 75 and older, were the likeliest to get the vaccine at some point.

The Trump administration has undertaken a major effort to accelerate the development and production of a COVID-19 vaccine, but there are signs that the rush has sparked fears that the process is being influenced by political considerations.

The polling data comes amid increases of roughly 40,000 new coronavirus cases daily, bringing the total case tally to more than 6.19 million and more than 187,400 deaths.

The economy added 1.4 million jobs in August, and the unemployment rate fell 1.8 percentage points to 8.4%, the Labor Department reported on Friday as hiring slows from prior months. The unemployment rate fell even as the labor force expanded by nearly 1 million, suggesting that many workers are returning to their old jobs. Unemployment is already below the rate that Federal Reserve officials expected it to be at the end of the year.

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Hiring, however, has slowed each of the past few months, raising the worrying prospect that the recovery will lose steam before the workers who lost their jobs in the pandemic are able to return to work.

Joe Biden said Friday that Trump’s coronavirus response efforts have resulted in a “K-shaped” economic recovery in which the rich are prospering, while middle and lower classes are suffering. Meanwhile, Trump maintains that the economy has bounced back in a V-shape in which all facets of the economy are much better than they were in the spring.

Workers who are able to work remotely, Biden said, do not have to worry much about the virus and are financially well off. He said, however, that those who have in-person jobs on assembly lines, checkout counters, or meatpacking plants are forced to be worried about the virus and are facing great financial difficulties.

A new study published in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology finds that COVID-19 patients with acute respiratory infections may improve with a regimen of Vitamin D3, hydroxychloroquine, and azithromycin. Researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial on patients who had COVID-19-related pneumonia in a hospital in Spain. All patients were given hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, and one group was given Vitamin D3 (calcifediol) while the other group was not.

Of the 50 patients treated with Vitamin D3, only two were admitted to an intensive care unit. Of the 26 patients who did not receive Vitamin D3, 13 were admitted to the ICU, and two died. The study did not, however, resolve the question of whether Vitamin D3 would work without hydroxychloroquine.

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Trump hinted at a comeback of large campaign rallies in indoor arenas with less than two months until Election Day. Trump, who has not held an indoor rally in a major arena since one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June, told the Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito after his Thursday evening rally in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, that the campaign “may do the arenas” before the Nov. 3 contest against Biden.

“We had thousands of people here, but we had thousands of people along the runway that couldn’t get in. It’s ridiculous,” Trump said of Thursday’s rally.

Coronavirus cases are surging in France as people return to work and school, putting health authorities on high alert about gathering places that could become superspreading events, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

France is now the hardest-hit country in the European Union behind Spain. France’s seven-day average of daily COVID-19 infections has nearly doubled over the past two weeks. The country has, so far, confirmed more than 347,000 cases and about 30,700 fatalities due to COVID-19.