Coronavirus vaccine rollout on schedule in Australia despite Pfizer shortages overseas, Treasurer says


Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine shortages overseas are unlikely to affect Australia’s planned February COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Australia has purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with the scheduled rollout hinging on the medical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), approving the jab later this month.

Several European countries have complained supplies of the vaccine have fallen short of their orders.

But Mr Frydenberg said the nation was still scheduled to receive the jabs next month.

“We have the virus under control here in Australia, but we do want to roll out the vaccine,” he told reporters on Sunday.

“The TGA is going through its normal process but we’re still on track to receive the vaccines in mid to late February, I’m advised.”

The impact of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine supply issues in Australia has been unclear, with mixed responses from federal leaders.

Australia has purchased 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.(AP: Mike Morones)

Last Thursday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had spoken to Pfizer as recently as Wednesday, receiving advice Australia was “still on track for first vaccines to be received in February”.

But the following day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted the issues may affect the vaccine’s rollout in Australia.

“We’ve set out indicative timeframes where we would hope to commence in mid to late February. But that will obviously change and be subject to any impacts on production schedules overseas,” Mr Morrison said.

The ABC has confirmed the Federal Government has not received any advice from Pfizer that the delays overseas will be felt in Australia.

Health authorities have been aware of the potential for supply-chain vaccine issues offshore, amid huge global demand for a COVID-19 jab.

It is one of the reasons Australia has invested so heavily in the AstraZeneca vaccine, which can be made onshore.

Unlike the AstraZeneca jab, the Federal Government has opted to buy the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine from overseas rather than produce it in Australia.

That is because the vaccine is based on mRNA technology, which has never been successfully manufactured or distributed locally before.

Italy threatens to sue Pfizer

Pfizer last week said it was temporarily slowing supplies to Europe to make manufacturing changes that would boost output.

The move has prompted outrage from some European countries, with Italy threatening to sue the company for a breach of contract.

AstraZeneca has also reportedly told the European Union (EU) it will cut deliveries of its COVID-19 vaccine to the EU by 60 per cent because of production problems.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took to Facebook to express his frustration with the delays.

“This is unacceptable,” he said.

“Our vaccination plan … has been drawn up on the basis of contractual pledges freely undertaken by pharmaceutical companies with the European Commission.”

Jab to be bulk billed

When the COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out in Australia, it will be bulk billed, the Government has confirmed.

As first reported by News Corp, doctors will be paid just over $30 for the first vaccine consultation, and about $24 for the second.

While the Pfizer jab will be delivered in hospitals and specialised hubs due to cold storage requirements, the AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to also be administered in GP clinics.

The Government has consistently promised the vaccine will be universal and free for everyone.

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Alex de Minaur determined to achieve success this year after ‘dark time’ amid coronavirus pandemic


Alex de Minaur says a challenging 2020 season amid the coronavirus pandemic is “fuelling the hunger” for his bid to climb the rankings this year and achieve his best finish at a major.

De Minaur, Australia’s top-ranked men’s player, made a lightning start to the new season earlier this month when he won the fourth ATP Tour title of his career in Turkey.

The world number 23 entered the 2021 season off the back of his best showing at a major, a quarter-final appearance at the US Open in New York.

But de Minaur said his run to the last eight at the US Open could not make up for the frustration he experienced while being alone in lockdown at his Spanish base for months on end as coronavirus wrought havoc.

“2020 was a tough year. Obviously I had my best result at a Slam (Grand Slam tournament) but it doesn’t feel like my best achievement,” de Minaur said.

“It was still a dark time. I wasn’t feeling great. It was just mentally — I wouldn’t say — my best performance.

“I ended up putting a couple of matches together and I had my best result. It’s still something to be proud of but still 2020 as a whole, I would say, I had a lot of expectations for it and … it’s just fuelling the hunger for 2021, to make it even better.”

De Minaur already has a title under his belt in 2021, having won the Antalya ATP Tour event.(Twitter: ATP)

De Minaur has one more week in quarantine in Melbourne as he prepares for the Australian Open. He is able to leave his hotel room only to train.

The 21-year-old said he could not wait to get his “freedom back”.

“I’m sure that will feel amazing,” de Minaur said.

“I’ve got my goal in my head of where I want to be when 2021 finishes up, but it’s a goal that I don’t like to say out loud.

“It’s a goal that me and my team had and this is a strong start. Realistically I want to keep pushing myself up the rankings, keep putting myself at the end of weeks and keep pushing these top guys.

De Minaur, who is the second-youngest player in the top 25 of the men’s rankings, said he spent much of the extended preseason working on his body and mind.

“I don’t want just to be having a good result every now and then,” he said.

“I want to be bringing my level every single week.”

Nick Kyrgios lifts up Alex De Minaur in celebration.
De Minaur is set to team up with Nick Kyrgios for Australia in the upcoming ATP Cup.(AAP: Mark Evans)

De Minaur missed last year’s Australian Open with an abdominal tear, an injury he picked up while helping Australia reach the ATP Cup semi-finals.

He will again spearhead Lleyton Hewitt’s line-up next week in Melbourne before returning for another tilt at his home major.

“Hopefully I can be playing my best tennis at the ATP Cup and the Aussie Open,” de Minaur said.

AAP/ABC

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Sri Lanka’s health minister tests positive for coronavirus after promoting magic potions to fight COVID-19


Sri Lanka’s health minister, who publicly endorsed sorcery and magic potions to stop surging coronavirus infections in the island, has tested positive to COVID-19.

She and her close contacts will self-isolate, officials said on Saturday.

Pavithra Wanniarachchi had publicly consumed and endorsed a magic potion, later revealed to contain honey and nutmeg, manufactured by a sorcerer who claimed it worked as a life-long inoculation against the virus.

She also poured a pot of “blessed” water into a river in November after a self-styled god-man told her that it would end the pandemic.

The island nation of 21 million on Friday approved the emergency use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine only hours after Ms Wanniarachchi tested positive, officials said.

“Her antigen test returned positive on Friday and she has been asked to isolate herself,” a health ministry official said.

“All her immediate contacts have been quarantined.”

A junior minister who had also taken the potion made popular by Ms Wanniarachchi tested positive for the virus earlier this week.

Doctors in the island nation have said there is no scientific basis for the syrup, and there is no known cure for COVID-19.

But thousands defied public gathering restrictions to swamp a village in central Sri Lanka last month to obtain the elixir.

Sri Lankan health officials attend a mock COVID-19 vaccination drive after the Government approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.(AP: Eranga Jayawardena)

Family members of another politician have also been infected after taking the syrup.

Pro-government media gave widespread publicity to the holy man, who claimed the formula was revealed to him by Kali, a Hindu goddess of death and destruction.

But the Government has since scrambled to distance itself from the man, whose preparation was approved as a food supplement by the official indigenous medicine unit.

Sri Lanka is in the grip of a coronavirus surge, with the number of cases and deaths soaring from 3,300 and 13 in early October to nearly 57,000 infections and 278 dead this week.

AFP

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Will Vaccines Work Against the New Coronavirus Variants?


By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 22, 2021 (HealthDay News)

Everyone has heard the scary reports about the new, more infectious coronavirus variants that are circulating in countries around the world, but scientists aren’t pushing the panic button at this point.

Why? Because the new COVID-19 vaccines should still work on these viral interlopers.

Luckily, the new variants still rely on the coronavirus’ “spike protein” to infect cells, and the two COVID vaccines now on the U.S. market specifically target the spike protein to prevent transmission, explained Dr. Kathryn Edwards, scientific director of the Vanderbilt University Vaccine Research Program in Nashville.

“The spike is really critical. It’s really what is needed to interact with the cell,” Edwards said. “So, I think it would be hard to circumvent the spike in terms of function.”

New COVID variants out of Britain, South Africa and Brazil appear to be more infectious, possibly because the spike protein has mutated to make transmission between people easier, said Dr. Mirella Salvatore, an infectious disease expert and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

“The spike protein is needed to bind to the cell, to allow the virus to enter,” Salvatore explained. “If there are a lot of these mutations, maybe this binding is stronger and the virus can enter more easily. This is a possibility why this virus seems to transmit more easily.”

But the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are designed to not only target the spike protein, but to promote the creation of antibodies that will attack it in several different ways, Salvatore said.

Therefore, it’s not likely that a mutation would be able to evade the complex immune response created by a vaccine, even if the mutation makes the spike protein more effective at infecting unvaccinated people, the experts said.

“It’s not one single antibody, so if there is a mutation that changed a little bit of the structure of the spike protein, then there would be a lot of other substantial antibodies that would be able to stop the virus from attacking the cell and entering the cell,” Salvatore noted.

Edwards and Salvatore spoke Thursday during a briefing hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, of which they are both fellows.

There was a bit of bad news delivered during the briefing: The new Brazilian and South African variants do appear to be capable of reinfecting people who’ve had COVID before, the experts said.

For example, a Brazilian health care worker fell ill from both the original COVID-19 virus and, months later, again from what turned out to be a new mutation of the virus, Edwards said.

However, the man did not suffer severe illness either time, so it’s possible that his body didn’t mount a strong enough immune response during the first infection to protect him against the second, Edwards said.

“The height of the antibody response may be somewhat proportional to how sick you are in the beginning. Maybe if the patient had been vaccinated or maybe had a more severe disease, he would have had a higher antibody count that would have protected him,” Edwards said.

The heightened transmissibility of the new strains and their potential to evade the natural immunity caused by infection has raised concerns about a new wave of coronavirus in the United States, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“I am extremely worried about the U.K. variant,” Osterholm said during a HD Live! interview this week. “I think over the course of the next six to 12 weeks we could see the darkest days of this pandemic in this country, with that variant being responsible for greatly increased transmission.”

The new variants haven’t proven more lethal than the original COVID strain, Salvatore said, but increased infection could increase the number of people who die from the coronavirus.

Public health and infectious disease experts will need to continue to track new variants of COVID and decipher their genetics, just in case a new mutation causes a severe decline in vaccine effectiveness, the experts said.

But if that happens, it likely will be easy to change up the lab-created messenger RNA vaccines to maintain their effectiveness against new mutations, Edwards said.

“That is an advantage of the mRNA vaccines,” Edwards said, noting that public health officials already change the flu vaccine every year to maintain its effectiveness against the much more mutation-prone influenza virus.

“That process is done so efficiently by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] and other regulators that the ability to change is something we do every year,” Edwards said. “I think as we are going forward, we are using influenza as the model.”

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about COVID-19 variants.

SOURCES: Kathryn Edwards, MD, scientific director, Vanderbilt University Vaccine Research Program, Nashville, Tenn.; Mirella Salvatore, MD, assistant professor, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City; Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; Infectious Diseases Society of America, media briefing, Jan. 21, 2021

MedicalNews
Copyright © 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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Ash Barty ‘ready to go’ ahead of Australian Open following lengthy break during coronavirus pandemic


World number one Ash Barty says she is undaunted by the challenge of playing at the Australian Open after almost a year away from the WTA Tour.

Unlike most players, Barty sat out almost the entire 2020 season, even skipping her French Open title defence while prioritising her health over trophies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Her most recent WTA Tour appearance was at the Qatar Open last February, where she lost in the semi-finals to Petra Kvitova.

Barty said she does not think she would be playing catch-up during her much-anticipated return at a lead-up event scheduled in the week before the Australian Open starts on February 8.

“I feel like I’ve done all the work,” she said.

“I feel like we’ve ticked the boxes and I’m feeling like every single year we continue to develop my game and it’s better and better.

“Obviously I haven’t played competition tennis for a year now so it’s going to be a challenge but we also know that hopefully again it will be a long season and we don’t have to panic if we don’t get the perfect start.

“We’ll just try and go out there and do the best that we can and whatever happens will happen.

Barty reached the last four at Melbourne Park last year, becoming Australia’s first women’s semi-finalist since Wendy Turnbull in 1984.

The 24-year-old will once again be top seed at the Australian Open but she said she would not feel any pressure from casual observers expecting her to live up to her number-one ranking.

“They can think whatever they like. If they expect me to win the tournament, then that’s their expectations,” Barty said.

“But mine certainly aren’t that for now.

“It’s about doing the right things right from the start, from the very first match, and whether I win the match or not, if I go through the right processes and do things the way we’ve always done it, I’ll sleep well at night regardless of the results.

“That’s a really important part of our make-up with our whole team. Everyone plays a role and we try and do a job to the best of our ability on that given day.

“If it’s good enough, it is. And if it’s not, it’s not. But that’s okay.”

Barty (left) beat Petra Kvitova to reach the Australian Open semi-finals last year.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

It is not the first time Barty will be making a comeback to professional tennis following a long hiatus, as she famously took 16 months off to play cricket for Brisbane Heat in the women’s BBL in the early stages of her career.

“It’s very different circumstances but I think from a personal point of view, I’ve had a lot of growth this year as well,” Barty said.

“Even though from a professional and career standpoint there wasn’t too much going on playing-wise, I still feel like I’m ready to go.

“So there’s no stresses, no concerns for me. I just try and focus on what I can well, what I know to do and I know it’s going to be a little bit rusty and that’s okay.

“But we’ll go out there and give it a crack and see how we go.”

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Coronavirus Australia live news: Sydney areas reclassified and travel now allowed into Victoria



Sydney areas reclassified and travel now allowed into Victoria

By Hannah Jose

People from all areas of New South Wales, except the Cumberland Local Government Area, are now able to enter Victoria, after New South Wales recorded its fifth day with no locally transmitted infections.

As of 6pm last night, a number of Sydney suburbs were reclassified from red to orange, meaning that NSW residents and returning Victorians can now get a permit and must self-isolate and get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours. 

This is with the exception of the Cumberland LGA which covers Auburn, Berala, Lidcombe and Greystanes, which remains a red zone.

Parramatta, Liverpool, the Inner West, Faifield, Blacktown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Canada Bay and Burwood are now all orange zones.

New South Wales has now gone five days without a locally acquired case but authorities warn that testing rates need to be higher.

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EU approves German coronavirus state aid scheme





FILE PHOTO: Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age and European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton, leave at the end of a news conference on the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium December 15, 2020. Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

January 21, 2021

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission said on Thursday it had approved the German government’s 12-billion-euro scheme to compensate companies for damages incurred due to coronavirus lockdowns last year.

The Commission, which monitors to ensure that governments do not unfairly help companies for competitive advantage, said in a statement the German scheme was a “proportionate” response and in line with EU state aid rules.

The scheme entitles companies from all sectors to compensation for damages incurred during lockdowns imposed in Germany to contain the coronavirus pandemic in March-April and November-December last year.

The aid comprises grants covering up to 100% of the damage suffered during the lockdowns, or 75% of a company’s turnover in November and December 2019.

The European Union’s antitrust chief, Margrethe Vestager, said the measures would complement German state aid schemes, already approved by the EU, offering support of up to 4 million euros per company.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)




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Coronavirus updates LIVE: Western Australia to relax NSW and Queensland border rules; Invasion Day rallies planned



Victoria reached 16 days without community transmission on Friday, while Queensland and NSW also recorded no new local cases.

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Why a Covid-19 vaccine will not stop the coronavirus pandemic right away


It was in 2009, when the H1N1 “swine” flu broke out in April, right at the end of the regular flu season.

“That was very challenging,” Shah, who heads the Harris County, Texas, health department, told CNN.

“There were a lot of moving pieces. It took several weeks to months to not just organize but to implement and to do safely and effectively. And that was a mild pandemic.”

This is not a mild pandemic. And while vaccine manufacturers, public health experts and the federal government are all confident one or more of the coronavirus vaccines being tested now will be shown to work safely by the end of the year, the US and the world will still be a long way from ending the pandemic.

“I feel cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this calendar year, as we get into early 2021,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, who, as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is helping lead the medical battle against the virus, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Friday.

“But it’s not going to be turning a switch off and turning the switch on. It’s going to be gradual,” Fauci added.

“Having” a vaccine does not mean having a vaccine approved, distributed and into the arms of more than 300 million Americans.

First, any vaccine must either be approved or authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration. That’s a process that under normal circumstances can take months or years. While the FDA has promised a speedier process for a Covid-19 vaccine, it must still go through a committee known as the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, or VRBAC.

The FDA will almost certainly allow a shortcut process known as emergency use authorization, or EUA, but the agency has said it will require an “EUA-plus” that adds at least some layers of scrutiny.

“It’s unlikely that a Covid-19 vaccine will receive full approval and broad distribution right away. Instead, the FDA will probably authorize vaccines for use in targeted groups of people at high risk from Covid and most likely to benefit from the vaccine,” Dr. Mark McClellan and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, both former FDA commissioners, wrote in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Monday. “All this means that at least initially, Covid vaccines won’t provide the sort of herd immunity that can help extinguish an epidemic.”

That will take time — likely well into next year, even if a vaccine were to be authorized in January, most experts who spoke to CNN predicted.

“People can’t be lulled into a false sense of security by knowing the vaccine is coming,” Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers, told CNN.

Although manufacturers are already making vaccine doses, it takes time. And the US will likely need more than 600 million doses of vaccine — enough for everyone to get two doses of the vaccine.

A new vaccine, and a plan for getting it out

“Let’s say … at the end of the year, there will be millions and tens of millions of doses available,” Fauci said in the CNN interview Friday.

“It won’t be until we get into 2021 that you’ll have hundreds of millions of doses, and just the logistics constraints in vaccinating large numbers of people — it’s going to take months to get enough people vaccinated to have an umbrella of immunity over the community.”

The US just is not ready for a mass vaccination campaign like the one needed to bring coronavirus under control, public health experts agreed.

Pfizer proposes expanding Covid-19 vaccine trial to include more diversity as race for a vaccine continues

“I don’t think it’s going to be seamless,” said Plescia.

The biggest mass vaccination program the US undertakes every year is the annual influenza vaccine. Only about half of Americans get a flu vaccine, and manufacturers make and distribute fewer than 150 million doses of it.

Yet it takes a full year from start to finish to formulate, make and distribute flu vaccines every influenza season.

“We start planning for flu vaccines in January or February,” Michael Einhorn, the president of Dealmed, an independent medical supply distributor covering New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Flu vaccines generally become available in August — seven to eight months later.

And that’s with a vaccine made using familiar technology, and dispensed in ways that people are familiar with — in pediatricians’ offices, at pharmacies, in grocery stores and at clinics.

“You have a playbook for influenza,” Shah said. “This is not the same.”

Here's how Trump could bigfoot the FDA and get a vaccine out ahead of the science

Any coronavirus vaccines will involve new technology and a whole new process for distribution, administration and then for payment.

And while anyone can walk into, say, a pharmacy, get a flu shot and leave without ever thinking about it again, coronavirus vaccines will involve a whole lot more trouble and paperwork. People will probably need at least two doses about a month apart. Someone will have to track and follow up on that.

“We have to be able to see who has been vaccinated and who has not been,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, told a public hearing about vaccine distribution organized by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

Paperwork and red tape

“To have two doses means that you provide the initial dose and we will need to bring the person back for a second dose a month later,” Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy secretary of public health for the state of Maryland, told CNN.

And it’s very likely that vaccines made by several different companies will be in use by next year.

9 vaccine makers sign safety pledge in race for Covid-19 vaccine

“We have to make sure that we give the person the same vaccine for their second dose that they got for their first dose,” Chan said.

No vaccination program can start until there are plans in place to manage this.

Plus, the coronavirus vaccine or vaccines will still be experimental, so every person who gets one will need to be tracked to make sure there are no adverse reactions.

There is no plan yet for any of this.

“We have gotten very little information on how this is going to roll out,” said Harris County’s Shah. “That makes it even more difficult to plan.”

One big potential stumbling block is what’s known as the cold chain. The two vaccines furthest along in development both must be kept frozen. Moderna’s vaccine must be kept at -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius), while Pfizer’s must be kept at -94 F (-70 C). While -4 isn’t much colder than the optimal home freezer’s setting of 0 degrees F, -94 is more of a challenge.

“Throughout — from every single point the vaccine has to traverse — we have to maintain it at that temperature. Otherwise, there is a risk of some degradation and the vaccine possibly becoming less effective,” Chan said. “We need to make sure that there is some capability to store it appropriately until it is ready to use.”

There's a legitimate way to end coronavirus vaccine trials early, Fauci says

Otherwise, a thawed batch could mean hundreds or even thousands of people get a dud vaccine.

This can be a challenge, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a vaccine expert at Emory University. “We simply don’t have freezers that can reach minus 70 degrees in most clinics,” he told the National Academies meeting.

To reach enough people, any mass vaccination effort will have to go beyond clinics, hospitals and pharmacies. “You are going to have to get out to communities. You are going to have to get out to places of work,” Del Rio said. That makes keeping the vaccines cold enough more of a challenge.

Plescia said Pfizer has a plan to help keep its vaccine cold. “Pfizer is going to have special boxes they ship the vaccines in, packed with dry ice,” he said. “Once you get the box, it’ll keep the stuff at negative 80 degrees for 10 days.”

But it’s not clear, Plescia said, if the boxes could be opened and a few doses of vaccine taken out safely. “Even if these boxes work very well, it is still going to add a whole level of challenge,” he said.

Taking the mass out of mass vaccination

Past mass vaccination efforts have been just that — mass. But coronavirus is a respiratory disease, and the last thing anyone should be doing is lining people up or packing them into, say, school gyms to get vaccinated, Chan noted.

Past vaccine disasters show why rushing a coronavirus vaccine now would be 'colossally stupid'

“With mass vaccination clinics, it involves bringing large groups of people into a site and vaccinating as many people as possible,” Chan said. “How do we do that in a way that reduces the risk of transmitting the very disease that we trying to vaccinate against?”

Illinois’ Ezike said some of the experience with test sites may help. “We had these strike teams,” she said. “We have been able to convert a lot of different sites into sites where people can drive up. Can you do a vaccination through the [car] window?” she asked.

But to accommodate that, cities and states will have to get busy soon. “We are going to need additional providers,” she told the NASEM meeting. “We need mass vaccination clinics and sites. So we really want to recruit lots and lots of essential partners,” she added — especially for the communities that are hardest hit by the pandemic, including meat-packing facilities and remote rural areas.

Experts call for independent commission separate from FDA to review Covid-19 vaccines

That means changes in policies and legislation — another potentially time-consuming process. Medical practice is legislated by states, not by the federal government. “We know that we’ll need some expanded scope of practice for different professional groups,” she said. For instance, states may want to enable dentists, dental hygienists and even medical school students and veterinarians to vaccinate people.

And that requires some other levels of legislation so that providers can get paid for their time. Changes to health insurance laws may be necessary, including billing codes that provide for a system under which people get vaccinated for no charge.

Because rollout will not be immediate, people will be vaccinated in groups. The National Academies is considering this, as is the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). They, along with private advocacy groups, have already released their own draft blueprints that in general put health care workers, first responders and the most vulnerable at the front of the line. But that’s another layer of management for governments to take on.

Many states have old and unwieldy systems for managing all of this, and Ezike said the needed upgrades may take time.

Immunity takes time

Adding to the timeline is simple biology. The Pfizer and Modern vaccines, at least, will have to be given in two doses, a month apart. After that, it takes about two weeks for immunity to build. That makes for six weeks from the time someone first gets vaccinated to when they can feel safe from infection.

US could see a 'very deadly December' with tens of thousands of coronavirus death to come, computer model predicts

On top of all of this, many Americans are fearful of vaccines — especially a new one and especially a new vaccine rolled out in a time of intense politicization of the process.

“There’s general vaccination mistrust and then there’s government mistrust,” Ezike noted.

The current atmosphere over mask use has not helped, added Harris County’s Shah.

“We have made it a political fight,” he said.

“When you make it political in nature, not driven by health and medical considerations, ultimately people will take sides.”

Unless a majority of the population gets vaccinated, the virus will continue its spread. Most estimates suggest that 60% to 70% of the population must be immune to provide enough herd immunity to interrupt the spread of the virus. Polls indicate that only about half of Americans feel confident right now about being vaccinated.

And if vaccines are less than fully effective, that may mean even more of the population needs to be vaccinated to have an effect on spread.

Then there are the unknowns.

“Testing has not been seamless at all. There are going to be some glitches,” Plescia said.

“I think there is a good chance there is going to be a vaccine that works and gets us out of this, but it is hard to believe that it is going to go really smoothly, given all the things that could happen.”

Shah is ready for unpleasant surprises. “This is a super slick virus that has broken every rule in the book,” he said.

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UK coronavirus LIVE: Covid cases plunge in London as R rate falls to between 0.8 and 1


It comes as the UK’s R rate dropped to between 0.8 and 1 according to the Scientific Group for Emergencies (Sage). But the scientists advising the Government warned that despite the reductions, case levels remain “dangerously high”.

Live updates

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Case numbers are shrinking by up to 4% every day

The estimates for R and the growth rate are provided by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), a sub-group of Sage.

The growth rate, which estimates how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, is between -4 and -1 per cent for the UK as a whole.

It means the number of new infections is shrinking by between one and four per cent every day.

Scientists advising the Government said that all regions of England have seen decreases in the R number and growth rate estimates compared with last week, and R is below or around 1 in every region.

However, they warned that despite the reductions, case levels “remain dangerously high and we must remain vigilant to keep this virus under control, to protect the NHS and save lives”.

Sage scientists said: “It is essential that everyone continues to stay at home, whether they have had the vaccine or not.

“We all need to play our part, and if everyone continues to follow the rules, we can expect to drive down the R number across the country.”

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More on that R rate which suggests lockdown is starting to have an impact…

The reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK is between 0.8 and 1, the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said.

Last week, it was between 1.2 and 1.3.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above 1, it means the outbreak is growing exponentially.

An R number between 0.8 and 1 means that, on average, every 10 people infected will infect between 8 and 10 other people.

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The R rate has fallen to between 0.8 and 1

The reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission has fallen and is now estimated to be between 0.8 and 1 across the UK, according to the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).

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No10 remains staunch in its refusal to publish vaccine supply data

Downing Street has cited a global demand for vaccines as a reason why the figures for the supply of coronavirus jabs is not being published.

Asked why the Government is not giving numbers on supply, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “There’s clearly a huge demand for vaccines around the world so we’re not going to be commenting on vaccine supply and delivery schedules.”

Pressed on how global demand is a justification for not publishing figures, he said: “I haven’t got any more to add on this.

“We have said we won’t be getting into the detail of supplies and deliveries.”

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Sadiq Khan is calling for facemasks to be worn outdoors in a bid to tackle the crisis in the capital

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We must ensure vaccine rollout is ‘fair’ – No10

Asked about whether supply of the vaccine to the north-east of England and Yorkshire would be scaled down due to strong progress in vaccinating people in the top four priority groups in those areas, Downing Street highlighted comments made by Health Secretary Matt Hancock this week about the rollout needing to be “fair”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will continue to ensure that all areas and regions of the UK receive the vaccine to ensure we can protect the most vulnerable in society.

“I would point to what Matt Hancock said yesterday where he said we have got to make sure vaccination is fair across the UK and some parts of the country, including parts of the North East and Yorkshire, have gone fast early on.

“He also said why we’re putting more vaccine into areas that haven’t made as much progress, so everyone in the top four groups can receive the offer of a vaccine by February 15.

“We’ve always said that we will prioritise those first four cohorts, which is why we set the mid-February target.

“But it remains the case that areas of the UK will continue to receive doses of the vaccine.”

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Government avoids question on whether vaccines will be moved away from some regions to boost others

Downing Street has declined to deny suggestions that vaccines will be moved away from some regions in order to boost those that have made less progress in the rollout.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi previously denied that vaccines would be moved from Yorkshire and the North East to help other regions in England.

But asked to repeat the denial, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I’m simplifying pointing out the fact that we’ll continue to prioritise the over-80s and will ensure the areas that need more in order to increase those percentages can receive it, while ensuring that we provide vaccine doses to all areas of the country.”

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Downing Street denies £500 quarantine payment

Downing Street has denied that the Government is preparing to pay everyone in England £500 if they test positive for coronavirus in an effort to increase the number of people abiding by quarantine rules.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “There are no plans to introduce an extra £500 payment.

“We already offer a £500 payment to support those on low incomes who cannot work from home.

“We’ve given local authorities £70 million for the scheme and they are able to provide extra payments on top of those £500 if they think it necessary.

“That £500 is on top of any other benefits and statutory sick pay that people are eligible for.”

The spokesman, asked about the Department of Health and Social Care document the universal payment suggestion was allegedly made in, said he would not comment on a leaked paper.

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Some smaller hotspot areas have one in 20 people with Covid in private households

In some areas of England as many as one in 20 people in private households are estimated to have had Covid-19 between January 12 and 17, according to the ONS.

These areas are Rochdale, West Lancashire, Knowsley, Liverpool and Sefton in north-west England; and Redbridge, Barking & Dagenham, Newham and Croydon in London.

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One in 35 Londoners had Covid last week – ONS

Around one in 35 people in private households in London had Covid-19 between January 10 and 16, according to ONS estimates.

This is the highest figure for any region in England.

The ONS estimates that around one in 40 people in north-east England had Covid-19 during this period, with one in 50 in north-west England and the West Midlands.

The other estimates are one in 55 people in south-east England, one in 60 in the East Midlands, one in 75 in eastern England, one in 80 in south-west England and one in 85 in Yorkshire and the Humber.

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