Health experts clash over use of certain drugs for COVID-19

Health experts clash over use of certain drugs for COVID-19
Health officials around the world are clashing over the use of certain drugs for COVID-19, leading to different treatment options for patients depending on where they live. (AP)
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Updated 20 November 2020

Health experts clash over use of certain drugs for COVID-19

Health experts clash over use of certain drugs for COVID-19
  • On Friday, a World Health Organization guidelines panel advised against using the antiviral remdesivir for hospitalized patients

Health officials around the world are clashing over the use of certain drugs for COVID-19, leading to different treatment options for patients depending on where they live.
On Friday, a World Health Organization guidelines panel advised against using the antiviral remdesivir for hospitalized patients, saying there’s no evidence it improves survival or avoids the need for breathing machines.
But in the US and many other countries, the drug has been the standard of care since a major, government-led study found other benefits — it shortened recovery time for hospitalized patients by five days on average, from 15 days to 10.
Within the US, a federal guidelines panel and some leading medical groups have not endorsed two other therapies the Food and Drug Administration authorized for emergency use — Eli Lilly’s experimental antibody drug and convalescent plasma, the blood of COVID-19 survivors. The groups say there isn’t enough evidence to recommend for or against them.
Doctors also remain uncertain about when and when not to use the only drugs known to improve survival for the sickest COVID-19 patients: dexamethasone or similar steroids.
And things got murkier with Thursday’s news that the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab may help. Like the key WHO study on remdesivir, the preliminary results on tocilizumab have not yet been published or fully reviewed by independent scientists, leaving doctors unclear about what to do.
“It’s a genuine quandary,” said the University of Pittsburgh’s Dr. Derek Angus, who is involved in a study testing many of these treatments. “We need to see the details.”
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, infectious disease chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, agreed.
“It’s really hard to practice medicine by press release,” she said on a podcast Thursday with a medical journal editor. Until the National Institutes of Health’s guidelines endorse a treatment, “I’m really reluctant ... to call that standard of care.”
Angus said there are legitimate questions about all of the drug studies.
“It’s not unusual for professional guidelines to disagree with each other, it’s just that it’s all under the microscope with COVID-19,” he said.
The rift over remdesivir, sold as Veklury, by Gilead Sciences Inc., is the most serious. The WHO guidelines stress that the drug does not save lives, based heavily on a WHO-sponsored study that was larger but much less rigorous than the US-led one that found it had other benefits.
The drug is given through an IV for around five days, and its high cost and lack of “meaningful effect” on mortality make it a poor choice, the WHO panel concluded.
Gilead charges $3,120 for a typical treatment course for patients with private insurance and $2,340 for people covered by government health programs in the US and other developed countries. In poor or middle-income countries, much cheaper versions are sold by generic makers.
This week, the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, a nonprofit group that analyzes drug prices, said remdesivir should be priced around $2,470 for hospitalized patients with moderate to severe disease because of the cost savings from fewer days of care. However, it’s worth only $70 for patients hospitalized with milder disease, the group concluded.
Price also may be driving lower demand. In October, US health officials said that hospitals had bought only about one-third of the doses of remdesivir that they were offered over the previous few months, when the drug was in short supply. Between July and September, 500,000 treatment courses were made available to state and local health departments but only about 161,000 were bought.
In a separate development, the FDA on Thursday gave emergency authorization to use of another anti-inflammatory drug, baricitinib, to be used with remdesivir. Adding baricitinib shaved an additional day off the average time to recovery for severely ill hospitalized patients in one study.
Lilly sells baricitinib now as Olumiant to treat rheumatoid arthritis, the less common form of arthritis that occurs when a mistaken or overreacting immune system attacks joints, causing inflammation. An overactive immune system also can lead to serious problems in coronavirus patients.


6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece
Updated 03 March 2021

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

6.3-magnitude earthquake hits central Greece

ATHENS: A strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit central Greece on Wednesday, the US Geological Survey said, prompting residents in the city of Larissa to rush into the streets according to local media.
The Institute of Geodynamics in Athens said the quake, which could be felt across central and northern Greece, had measured at a magnitude of 6.0.
According to the Athens observatory, the epicentre of the quake was 21 kilometres (13 miles) south of the town of Elassona, near Larissa.


Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
Updated 03 March 2021

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca

Made in India: Ministers, officials prefer locally-developed vaccine over AstraZeneca
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier opted for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine

NEW DELHI: Government ministers and officials were following Prime Minister Narendra Modi lead by opting on Tuesday for an Indian-made COVID-19 vaccine approved without late-stage efficacy data, instead of the AstraZeneca one.
India’s health, foreign and law ministers, and state governors, all flocked to Twitter to express support for the much-criticized Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN vaccine, after it was administered to Modi on Monday.
“Made-in-India vaccines are 100% safe,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said after being inoculated with COVAXIN.
Many state officials and doctors have refused to take COVAXIN before its effectiveness could be proved. Bharat Biotech says it has completed the late-stage trial and results will be out this month.
The company said the endorsement by Modi and other ministers would set an example for other Indians and reduce “vaccine hesitancy.” It is seeking to sell COVAXIN to countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
COVAXIN and the AstraZeneca vaccines were approved by India’s regulator in January. The government has distributed to states a total of 50 million doses of the vaccines but only 12 percent of the 12 million people immunized so far have taken COVAXIN, according to government data.


Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police
Updated 03 March 2021

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

Explosion hits Dutch COVID-19 testing center, no injuries — police

AMSTERDAM: Dutch police on Wednesday said a coronavirus testing location north of Amsterdam appeared to have been intentionally targeted after an explosion went off at the location before the site opened.

The blast in the town of Bovenkarspel, 55 km north of the capital, shattered windows but caused no injuries, police from the province of North Holland said in a statement.

They said they had cordoned off the area to investigate.

The explosive “must have been placed” there, police spokesman Menno Hartenberg told Reuters, adding that “something metal” had caused the explosion.

“We don't know yet exactly what exploded, the explosives experts must first investigate,” Hartenberg said.

“What we're saying is that something like that doesn't just happen by accident, it has to be laid,” he spokesman said.


Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
Updated 03 March 2021

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority

Pakistan Senate election kicks off as Imran Khan’s ruling party looks for majority
  • Imran Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: The ruling party of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his political allies will seek to wrest control of Pakistan’s Senate from opposition parties on Wednesday in indirect elections to 37 seats in the 104-member upper house of the country’s parliament.
Though his party won the 2018 general election, Khan’s coalition does not have a majority in the Senate, needed to pass key legislation – including legal reforms sought by global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and money laundering watchdog the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
“They have difficulty in legislating, and many laws are stuck,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, head of the independent research organization PILDAT, said.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), which translates into Pakistan Movement for Justice, has 12 seats in the Senate, and the two main opposition parties Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) have 12 and 25 seats each.
PTI is looking to go up to 25 seats after the elections, and, along with other coalition parties and independents, have a slender majority in the Senate.
The electoral college for the Senate elections, which are held every three years on half of the chamber’s strength, comprises Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies and the lower house of parliament.
With opposition parties controlling the Senate, the government has had to pass interim legislation through Presidential Ordinances, which expire in 120 days.
The government’s legislators and allies in the lower house of parliament will vote on making Khan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafiz Sheikh, a senator. The result could show how much confidence there is in the administration.
“It could determine who has a majority in parliament... it will be an embarrassment for the government, and could even lead to seeking a fresh vote of confidence,” Mehboob said.
The lead up to the potentially pivotal election has been marked by the government and opposition charging each other with seeking votes through unfair means.


Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
Updated 03 March 2021

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan

Daesh claims responsibility for attack on media workers in eastern Afghanistan
  • Daesh fighters targeted three female employees of a television station

Daesh claimed responsibility for an attack that killed three female media workers in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday evening.
The militant group, which has a presence in Afghanistan, said its fighters had targeted the three female employees of a television station in the eastern city of Jalalabad, according to SITE Intelligence group.
Three women who worked for Enikas TV aged between 18 and 20 had died and a fourth was critically injured after being shot on their way home from work, Afghan officials had said.