Is there vaccine research being done in the US?

Donald Trump has said the US would start mass production of any vaccines developed before they are fully approved so that they can be quickly distributed once rubber-stamped. 

The president has accused the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of preventing pharmaceutical companies from finding people to test coronavirus vaccines on. Mr Trump suggested “deep state” elements at the FDA wanted to delay a vaccine until after the election.

Only half of Americans are now willing to take a vaccine for Covid-19, a significant drop due to growing concerns the approvals process will be rushed.

The US has already signed contracts worth billions of dollars to distribute the vaccine.

Moderna’s vaccine trial showed promising early results after the candidate reportedly produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers. A third trial involving thousands of people started in July. Even if the trials are successful Moderna’s vaccine would not be available until between January and June 2021. 

On August 11, Mr Trump said his government will purchase 100 million doses of Moderna’s experimental vaccine.

Some scientists have expressed concerns that the FDA, which would need to approve any potential vaccine, could be pressured by the White House into clearing an unproven drug before election day on November 3.

The first coronavirus vaccine that aims to protect people with a single shot has entered the final stages of testing in the US in an international trial that will recruit up to 60,000 participants. The experimental vaccine being developed by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson is the fourth vaccine to enter the large, Phase 3 trials in the US.

On October 12, Johnson & Johnson’s trial was temporarily halted because one of its participants had become sick.

Is China working on a vaccine?

China has moved up a gear in the pivotal area of vaccine diplomacy, with a string of positive announcements from Beijing.

Sinovac, the Chinese pharmaceutical firm, says its vaccine is nearly ready and will be rolled-out across the world early next year.  

Sinovac is one of four Chinese vaccines in last-stage human trials, a higher number than any other nation in the world. 

However, some are concerned about the quality of the vaccines and that they are being used to gain political leverage.

On November 9, Sinovac was forced to suspend trials of its vaccine in Brazil after a participant died.

Beijing was so confident in its homegrown inoculations that authorities had been administering vaccines for more than a month before clinical studies conclude, authorities revealed at the beginning of September.

The Chinese government has provided sparse details on which vaccines are being given to people, and how many have been vaccinated, leading to concerns participation may be forced and not voluntary. 

The Sinovac vaccine, which involves two shots administered two to four weeks apart, has so far been given to 3,000 of the company’s employees in an effort to demonstrate safety. 30,000 worldwide have so far received the vaccine during clinical trials.

Beijing has been particularly supportive of the Sinovac project, building a new production facility capable of producing 300 million doses per year. Sinovac CEO Yin Weidong has said he hopes the vaccine will be used by people all over the world, including those in “the US and EU”.

However, it remains to be seen if the vaccine will pass strict western safety protocols.

Experts are starting to wonder whether China’s strategy of focusing on “old school” vaccine technologies may eventually prove to be more prudent.

China National Biotec Group (CNBG), a state-run vaccine company, said in mid-September that early data from its phase three trials showed that its two leading immunisations were effective in preventing volunteers contracting Covid-19 – the first time a claim of efficacy has been made.

A Chinese vaccine candidate, called BBIBP-CorV,  based on inactivated coronavirus is safe and elicits an antibody response, preliminary results have shown.

The research, published in the journal Lancet Infectious Disease, was not designed to assess efficacy of the vaccine, however, so it is not possible to say whether the antibody responses induced by the vaccine are sufficient to protect from coronavirus infection.

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