Vaccine hopes rise as Oxford jab prompts immune response among old as well as young adults

LONDON (Reuters) – One of the world’s leading COVID-19 experimental vaccines produces a immune response in both young and old adults, raising hopes of a path out of the gloom and economic destruction wrought by the novel coronavirus.

The vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford, also triggers lower adverse responses among the elderly, British drug maker AstraZeneca Plc, which is helping manufacture the vaccine, said on Monday.

A vaccine that works is seen as a game-changer in the battle against the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 1.15 million people, shuttered swathes of the global economy and turned normal life upside down for billions of people.

“It is encouraging to see immunogenicity responses were similar between older and younger adults and that reactogenicity was lower in older adults, where the COVID-19 disease severity is higher,” an AstraZeneca spokesman said.

“The results further build the body of evidence for the safety and immunogenicity of AZD1222,” the spokesman said, referring to the technical name of the vaccine.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be one of the first from big pharma to secure regulatory approval, along with Pfizer and BioNTech’s candidate, as the world tries to plot a path out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news that older people get an immune response from the vaccine is positive because the immune system weakens with age and older people are those most at risk of dying from the virus.

If it works, a vaccine would allow the world to return to some measure of normality after the tumult of the pandemic.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a vaccine was not yet ready but he was preparing logistics for a possible roll out mostly in the first half of 2021.

FILE PHOTO: A test tube labeled with the vaccine is seen in front of AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken, September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo/File Photo

Asked if some people could receive a vaccine this year he told the BBC: “I don’t rule that out but that is not my central expectation.”

“The programme is progressing well, (but) we’re not there yet,” Hancock said.

COMMON COLD VIRUS

Work began on the Oxford vaccine in January. Called AZD1222 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, the viral vector vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infections in chimpanzees.

The chimpanzee cold virus has been genetically changed to include the genetic sequence of the so-called spike protein which the coronavirus uses to gain entry to human cells. The hope is that the human body will then attack the novel coronavirus if it sees it again.

Immunogenicity blood tests carried out on a subset of older participants echo data released in July which showed the vaccine generated “robust immune responses” in a group of healthy adults aged between 18 and 55, the Financial Times reported earlier.

Details of the finding are expected to be published shortly in a clinical journal, the FT said. It did not name the publication.

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Oxford COVID-19 vaccine prompts immune response among adults old and young, AstraZeneca says

LONDON (Reuters) – The COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford produces a similar immune response in both older and younger adults, and adverse responses were lower among the elderly, British drug maker AstraZeneca Plc AZN.L said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A test tube labeled with the vaccine is seen in front of AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken, September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo/File Photo

A vaccine that works is seen as a game-changer in the battle against the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 1.15 million people, hammered the global economy and shuttered normal life across the world.

“It is encouraging to see immunogenicity responses were similar between older and younger adults and that reactogenicity was lower in older adults, where the COVID-19 disease severity is higher,” an AstraZeneca spokesman told Reuters.

“The results further build the body of evidence for the safety and immunogenicity of AZD1222,” the spokesman said, referring to the technical name of the vaccine.

The news that older people get an immune response from the vaccine is positive because the immune system weakens with age and older people are those most at risk of dying from the virus.

The Financial Times reported earlier that the vaccine, being developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca, triggers protective antibodies and T-cells in older age groups – among those most at risk from the virus.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be one of the first from big pharma to secure regulatory approval, along with Pfizer PFE.N and BioNTech’s 22UAy.F candidate.

If it works, a vaccine would allow the world to return to some measure of normality after the tumult of the pandemic.

Immunogenicity blood tests carried out on a subset of older participants echo data released in July which showed the vaccine generated “robust immune responses” in a group of healthy adults aged between 18 and 55, the Financial Times reported.

Details of the finding are expected to be published shortly in a clinical journal, the FT said. It did not name the publication.

OXFORD VACCINE

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said a vaccine was not yet ready though he was preparing logistics for a possible roll out.

“I would expect the bulk of the roll out to be in the first half of next year,” Hancock told the BBC.

Asked if some people could receive a vaccine this year he told the BBC: “I don’t rule that out but that is not my central expectation.”

“We want to be ready in case everything goes perfectly but it’s not my central expectation that we’ll be doing that this year, but the programme is progressing well, we’re not there yet,” Hancock said.

Called AZD1222 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, the vaccine was developed by Oxford University scientists and licensed to AstraZeneca in April, which took on the task of scaling trials and production.

The vaccine is likely to provide protection for about a year, CEO Pascal Soriot said in June.

The British drugmaker has signed several supply and

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Number of South Koreans dying after flu shot rises, prompts vaccine worries

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – At least 13 South Koreans have died after receiving flu shots in recent days, according to official and local media reports, ramping up fears about vaccine safety even as authorities rule out a link.

Health authorities said on Wednesday they had no plans to suspend a programme to inoculate around 19 million people for free after a preliminary investigation into six deaths found no direct connection to the vaccines.

No toxic substances had been found in the vaccines, and at least five of the six people investigated had underlying conditions, officials said.

Officials have reported nine deaths following flu vaccinations and the Yonhap news agency reported another four on Thursday.

The deaths, which include a 17-year-old boy and a man in his 70s, come just a week after the free flu shot programme for teenagers and senior citizens was restarted.

The programme was suspended for three weeks after it was discovered that some 5 million doses, which need to be refrigerated, had been exposed to room temperature while being transported to a medical facility.

South Korea’s vaccines come from a variety of sources. Manufacturers include local drug makers GC Pharma, SK Bioscience and Ilyang Pharmaceutical Co, along with France’s Sanofi and Britain’s Glaxosmithkline. Distributors include LG Chem Ltd and Boryung Biopharma Co. Ltd., a unit of Boryung Pharm Co. Ltd..

GC Pharma, LG Chem, SK Bioscience and Boryung declined to comment. Ilyang Pharmaceutical, Sanofi and GSK could not immediately be reached for comment.

South Korea had extended its seasonal vaccine programme this year to ward off any potential COVID-19 complications and overburdening hospitals over the winter.

Officials said 8.3 million people have been inoculated with the free flu vaccine since it resumed on Oct. 13, with around 350 cases of adverse reactions reported.

The highest number of deaths linked to the seasonal flu vaccination was six in 2005, according to the Yonhap news agency. Officials have said it is difficult to make comparisons to previous years because of the greater numbers of people taking the vaccine this year.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha; editing by Jane Wardell)

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COVID-19 surge prompts warnings that anticipated ‘third wave’ is now here

COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are increasing again with no sign of stopping, sparking fears that the fall and winter wave experts had warned about all year is already here. 

Over the past week, according to The New York Times COVID-19 tracker, the U.S. has confirmed an average of 54,000 new cases per day, a 25 percent increase compared to two weeks ago. The surge cannot solely be explained by an increase in testing.

Nineteen states, including North Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Kansas and Indiana, are seeing record-high case numbers in their areas, according to the tracker. 

States that have seemingly gained control of the pandemic in recent months, such as Florida, New York, New Jersey, Arizona and others, are also seeing increases. 

“We’ve been talking about the fall surge for a long time now. I think that is the beginning of that reality,” Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s former Food and Drug commissioner, told CNBC on Friday. 

Gottlieb added that Europe, which is seeing a daily average of 100,000 new COVID-19 cases — higher than at any other time during the pandemic — is probably about two or three weeks ahead of the U.S.

“I think we’re in for a difficult fall and winter,” Gottlieb said. 

Hospitalizations are also beginning to increase, with Wisconsin building a field hospital on the state park fairground.

Deaths remain flat at about 700 per day in the U.S., but that number typically lags behind hospitalizations, which lag behind case increases, meaning the U.S. could see more fatalities reported in the coming weeks. 

The silver lining, Gottlieb said, is the death rate will likely be “substantially less” than it was in the spring and summer outbreaks because of improved therapies and techniques that have saved people’s lives.

Experts generally say there have been two “surges” of COVID-19 in the U.S.

The first surge hit the northeast in the spring, and the second hit the south over the summer, peaking at about 73,000 cases per day in July — the highest levels so far recorded in the pandemic in the U.S.  Afterward, new cases steadily dropped, before beginning a climb upwards in September. Now the U.S. is poised to surpass the previous daily high in new cases, experts say.

“We’re actually almost already back at the peak that we saw nationally in the summer,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chain School of Public Health. 

“We’re almost back at that same level and I don’t believe that we’re anywhere close to that rise abating. … We’re seeing [cases] go up and in Europe and in many of those places, cases really did get down fairly low numbers first and now they’re skyrocketing again in many places. We’re seeing it in the US, and we’re seeing in other places as well and so we’re pretty much there and I think we have a long winter ahead.”

Experts have warned for months of a surge in cases in the colder months that would likely rival the

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