UK vaccine chief warns of over-optimism, early imperfection

UK vaccine chief warns of over-optimism, early imperfection
A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 28 October 2020

UK vaccine chief warns of over-optimism, early imperfection

UK vaccine chief warns of over-optimism, early imperfection
  • No vaccine has ever been developed against any coronavirus
  • Numerous attempts to design vaccines against SARS and MERS have failed

LONDON: Warning that the first COVID-19 vaccines may be imperfect, the head of the U.K effort to develop a vaccine called Wednesday for immediate international cooperation to prevent the “largest global recession in history.’’
UK Vaccine Taskforce chair Kate Bingham also warned against over-optimism, saying there is no guarantee a successful vaccine against the novel coronavirus will ever be developed.
“The first generation of vaccines is likely to be imperfect, and we should be prepared that they might not prevent infection, but rather reduce symptoms, and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long,’’ Bingham wrote in an essay published in The Lancet medical journal.
No vaccine has ever been developed against any coronavirus, and numerous attempts to design vaccines against SARS and MERS, two which are related to the virus that causes COVID-19, have failed. Scientists also warn that immunity against coronaviruses appears to fade over time and that achieving any vaccine-induced immunity to protect against infection or severe disease could be challenging.
Bingham’s comments come as government leaders in Britain and other countries are basing their COVID-19 strategies on expectations of a vaccine becoming available as soon as early next year.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for example, has implemented a three-tiered regional strategy aimed at slowing the spread of the disease until there is a vaccine while also minimizing the economic damage from another widespread lockdown.
Meanwhile, coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the UK and elsewhere in Europe are rising amid a second wave of infections.
Britain created the Vaccine Taskforce earlier this year to speed the development of a vaccine. Two candidates are in late stage trials, with results expected around the end of the year or early 2021. Dozens of other potential vaccines are in earlier stages of development.
But Taskforce chair Bingham said the candidates that have progressed the most in testing are based on new approaches with little history of being used in vaccines. Vaccine candidates based on more frequently used methodologies aren’t likely to be ready until late 2021, she added.
In addition, it will be a challenge to rapidly produce enough vaccines to combat the virus. The global manufacturing capacity is “vastly inadequate for the billions of doses that are needed,” she wrote in The Lancet.
“China, Europe, the USA and the UK need to work together,’’ Bingham wrote. “If we establish international collaboration right now, then we will be better prepared to control future pandemics without causing the largest global recession in history and the biggest threat to lives in living memory.’’
The World Health Organization says it hopes first-generation coronavirus vaccines will have an efficacy rate of at least 70%, but it has acknowledged that 50% might be more realistic. The European Medicines Agency has not specified any minimum efficacy threshold for COVID-19 vaccines and said they would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.


Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal

Updated 04 December 2020

Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal

Germany wants broader Iran nuclear deal
  • Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the 2015 deal

BERLIN: Germany said Friday that a new broader Iran nuclear accord must be reached to also rein in Tehran’s ballistic missile program, warning that the 2015 deal was no longer enough.
“A form of ‘nuclear agreement plus’ is needed, which also lies in our interest,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, told Spiegel magazine in an interview.
“We have clear expectations for Iran: no nuclear weapons, but also no ballistic rocket program which threatens the whole region. Iran must also play another role in the region.”
“We need this accord because we distrust Iran,” he added.
The 2015 nuclear deal — known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
The European Union and the United States were key signatories in the deal but US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and has reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.
President-elect Joe Biden has signalled that Washington could rejoin the deal as a starting point for follow-on negotiations if Iran returned to compliance.
But Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has rejected talk of reopening the 2015 deal, saying on Thursday: “We will not renegotiate a deal which we negotiated.”
He added that Western powers should look to their own behavior before criticizing Iran.
He also complained at what he characterised as a lack of European outrage at the assassination of one of Iran’s leading nuclear scientists, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside Tehran last week — an attack Tehran has blamed on Israel.
Decades old US-Iranian tensions dramatically escalated after Trump walked out of the deal.
In recent months, alarm has also grown over Iran’s regional activities through proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, which the West says destabilizes the region.