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Oxford coronavirus vaccine approved in UK with ‘millions to get jab within weeks’

Reprint – Adapted

It could lead to an end to lockdown by February with 15 million people most at risk of dying or getting seriously ill with coronavirus having reportedly been identified for urgent inoculationmirror

By Abigail O’Leary & Ryan Merrifield Updated 07:57, 30 DEC 2020

Matt Hancock on Oxford vaccine “It brings forward the day we can all get our lives back to normal”

A Covid-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been approved for use in the UK, paving the way for mass rollout.

The jab, which has been described as a “game-changer”, was given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine – enough to vaccinate 50 million people, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirming a January 4 rollout.

He called it “fantastic news”, adding vaccinations could “really accelerate” in the coming weeks.

It comes hours before today’s coronavirus tier review could plunge 15 million more people in the toughest restrictions as early as tonight, it is claimed.

The Oxford University and AstraZeneca have been approved for emergency use in the UK (Image: Getty Images)
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Essex authorities declare major incident as coronavirus cases overtake first wave

Two-thirds of the country could reportedly move into Tier 4, potentially as soon as midnight.

Pressure has mounted on the Government to act as hospitals across England warned of increasing strains on services due to Covid-19 patient numbers.

Admissions have reached their highest levels during the pandemic, while 51,135 further cases and 414 deaths were reported on Tuesday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaking on Wednesday morning
Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaking on Wednesday morning

Mr. Hancock said he couldn’t put a figure on the exact number of jabs that will be given but emphasised two vaccines means “we can go faster than previously”.

“Also because this Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doesn’t have to be kept at that ultra-low temperature, it means it’s easier to distribute, for instance in GP settings and in care homes,” he continued.

“The vaccine is our way out of this pandemic so it brings forward the day on which we can all get our lives back to normal.”

The new jab is easier to distribute than the existing Pfizer one (Image: PA)

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens this week said approval of the Oxford vaccine, weeks after the Pfizer inoculation was greenlit, sets the UK on track to vaccinate “all vulnerable people” by late spring.

This could amount to as many as 22 million people, with official guidelines listing all those over 50 as among the “vulnerable”.

In turn, lockdowns and tiers could be scrapped as soon as February.

Also this morning local authorities in Essex have declared a “major incident” as the number of coronavirus cases threatens to overwhelm health services in the county.

(Image: Getty Images)

Figures from NHS England showed there were 21,787 patients in NHS hospitals in England as of 8 a.m. on Tuesday, compared with 20,426 on Monday, and 18,974 at the first wave peak on April 12.

Five of the seven NHS regions in England are currently reporting a record number of Covid-19 hospital patients: Eastern England, London, the Midlands, south-east England, and south-west England.

The other two regions, north-east and north-west England, remain below peak levels that were set in mid-November.

The new jab is easier to distribute than the existing Pfizer one (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Referring to the Oxford vaccine, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for use.

“This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality, and effectiveness.”

Data published in The Lancet medical journal in early December showed the vaccine was 62% effective in preventing Covid-19 among a group of 4,440 people given two standard doses of the vaccine when compared with 4,455 people given a placebo drug.

Of 1,367 people given a half first dose of the vaccine followed by a full second dose, there was 90% protection against Covid-19 when compared with a control group of 1,374 people.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a vial of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine (Image: Getty Images)

The overall Lancet data, which was peer-reviewed, set out full results from clinical trials of more than 20,000 people.

Among the people given the placebo drug, 10 were admitted to hospital with coronavirus, including two with severe Covid which resulted in one death.

But among those receiving the vaccine, there were no hospital admissions or severe cases.

The half dose followed by a full dose regime came about as a result of an accidental dosing error.

However, the MHRA was made aware of what happened and clinical trials for the vaccine were allowed to continue.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot suggested that further data submitted to the regulator showed the vaccine could match the 95% efficacy achieved by the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

“We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else,” he said.

On Monday, Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), described the vaccine as a “game-changer” but said it would take until summer to vaccinate enough people for herd immunity – when the virus struggles to circulate.

“To get the wider community herd immunity from vaccination rather than through natural infection will take probably 70% to 80% of the population to be vaccinated, and that, I’m afraid, is going to take us right into the summer, I expect,” he said.

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Covid vaccine: How does a vaccine get approved?

Receiving The Vaccine

– BBC News

The NHS is carrying out the biggest mass vaccination campaign in its history with a jab that protects against Covid-19. Some people have been surprised to learn how a process which usually takes at least ten years could have been done in less than one.

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UK approves Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine; rollout begins next week

Freezers needed for vaccine en route to Cayman

By Reshma Ragoonath – December 2, 2020

The UK has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, becoming the first country in the world to approve a vaccine for its population in the fight against COVID-19.

The BBC reported early Wednesday morning that Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said the vaccine is safe to be rolled out. It offers up to 95% protection against COVID-19 illness.

Cayman’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee welcomed the announcement in an early morning tweet, saying, “Great news that the UK has licensed the first Covid-19 vaccine.”

He told the Cayman Compass, “I think the whole world is excited that vaccines are now becoming available to help us work our way out of this pandemic. There are still difficult times ahead, especially for countries struggling with rising infection rates, but as we begin to get our most vulnerable vaccinated, so too will we begin to feel more relaxed. The government has been working on its vaccination plans and will share these soon.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week said Overseas Territories like Cayman will benefit from Britain’s purchase of vaccines.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, speaking with the BBC on Wednesday, said the first 800,000 doses will be available in the UK from next week. The bulk of the rollout will come next year.

He said people should wait to be contacted by the National Health Services.

“I’m confident now, with the news today, that from spring, from Easter onwards, things are going to be better. And we’re going to have a summer next year that everybody can enjoy,” Hancock told the BBC.

Johnson also told the BBC, “It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, according to CNN, hailed the emergency authorisation as “a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19”.The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the US and German companies’ collaborative vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate 20 million people, CNN reported.

The BBC reported that elderly people in care homes and care home staff will be the priority, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

It said, “because of the limited stocks and need to store at -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place at hospitals so care home residents may not be immunised until later”.

Meanwhile, here in Cayman, freezers needed to store COVID-19 vaccines are en route to the islands.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement of the UK’s approval of the vaccine, Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez said he expected COVID immunisation doses to begin arriving a few weeks after the vaccine had been formally approved.

Williams-Rodriguez, speaking on the Cayman Compass talk show The Resh Hour last week, said the Health Services Authority has already started preparations to receive the vaccine and is finalising a distribution plan.

The main vaccines in contention worldwide have different storage requirements, with the one from Pfizer/BioNTech needing to be kept at -75 degrees Celsius (-103 degrees Fahrenheit), and the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines maintained at between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

The vaccine Cayman is going to get, Williams-Rodriguez said, is more likely going to be one that needs to be stored at -75 Celsius.

Williams-Rodriguez added in an email to the Compass on Tuesday that the HSA is “in conversations with Public Health England regarding the type of COVID vaccine to be received, once approval is given by the relevant authorities in the UK”.

Williams-Rodriguez confirmed that the HSA has ordered three freezers that are able to store vaccines at -80C, and expects the equipment to arrive in the Cayman Islands in about a week, saying “there are no concerns with our storage capacity”.

He said he anticipated vaccine doses to arrive in Cayman by the end of December or early January.

“This vaccine has gone through all the safety protocols by international organisations, so we feel that these vaccines are safe, and they will be used for all those persons that are at risk,” Williams-Rodriguez said.

The vaccine will be distributed free to the public, he said, adding it will not be mandatory.

“It will be strongly recommended, especially if you have a chronic condition and you’re a high-risk person, or you have a family member in the household who is high risk; it is strongly recommended that person [receives] the vaccine,” he said.

Williams-Rodriguez expressed confidence in the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, saying he and his family will be taking it.

“We’ve got to be prepared once the vaccine gets here that we will have everything in place, all the necessary arrangements that are needed, and we will have a plan ready to go that we can start vaccinating,” he said.

On Monday, The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, of which the UK has secured 40 million doses, is set for regulatory approval within days which could allow hospitals to start immunising frontline health workers as soon as 7 Dec.

“The government has secured 100 [million] doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and has asked the regulator to assess it for emergency deployment,” the report in The Guardian said. “A further 2 [million] doses of the US Moderna vaccine have also been ordered, bringing its total to 7 [million] for the UK. All three vaccines involve two doses received several weeks apart.”

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CCRIF SPC Provides US$250,000 (J$35 Million) to The University of the West Indies for Scholarships and Tuition Fees

The following is a release from CCRIF SPC as dated, that is of particular interest, to the left behind students from Montserrat, those with the desire to move up with higher education, but cannot because of the absence of the necessary resources so to do.

Kingston, Jamaica, December 1, 2020. On November 26, CCRIF SPC (formerly the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility) presented a cheque for US$250,000 (J$35 million) to The University of the West Indies (The UWI) for scholarships and for covering the tuition fees of students who are in need of financial support this academic year.

L-R: Pro-Vice Chancellor Professor Dale Webber; UWI Mona Guild President Sujae Boswell; University Registrar Dr. Maurice Smith; CCRIF Scholar Matthew Arnold; CCRIF Technical Assistance Manager and Corporate Communications Manager Elizabeth Emanuel; and CCRIF Board Member Mrs. Saundra Bailey at the handing over of US$250,000 (J$135 million) for scholarships and tuition support to The UWI

Approximately US$108,000 or J$15 million of the US$250,000 (J$35 million) is already allocated for scholarships for 2020/21 at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels and this is about the usual amount that CCRIF has been providing to The UWI annually since 2010 and can be considered merit scholarships since they are based largely on the performance of students. The remaining US$142,000 or J$20 million has been provided to cover the tuition fees of the most needy students, who due to the COVID-19 pandemic are finding it difficult to pay tuition and who are at risk of either being de-registered or not completing their studies. This latter support is part of the Facility’s COVID-19 response geared to supporting our members and other key stakeholders.

According to Saundra Bailey, CCRIF Board Member “Since 2010, CCRIF has provided The UWI with 71 scholarships totalling US$761,230 or almost J$107 million. CCRIF continues to view its investments in scholarships as critical to building a cadre of individuals who possess the knowledge and skills to advance the resilience of the small island and coastal states of our region.”

Outside of support to students at The UWI, graduates of The University also have benefited from CCRIF scholarships to study for postgraduate degrees in the USA and the UK as well as internships at national and regional organizations involved in disaster risk management and meteorology and at a number of departments and centres of The University itself such as the Disaster Risk Reduction Centre, Climate Studies Group Mona, and the Seismic Research Centre.

University Registrar, Dr. Maurice Smith in acknowledging CCRIF’s contributions, commented that both The UWI and CCRIF have had a longstanding relationship and today’s handing over ceremony is significant as it is an expression of support not only for the regional institution but the talented students who are pursuing programmes related to CCRIF’s mandate.

Professor Dale Webber, Principal of the Mona Campus and Pro-Vice-Chancellor with responsibility for Climate Change and Disaster Preparedness, signaled his gratitude for the tuition support for students in civil engineering, geography, and geology. He asked CCRIF to consider students pursuing programmes in actuarial science, computer science, and social work as these areas are critical to strengthening the region’s response to disaster management.

Earlier this year, CCRIF expanded its partnership with The UWI even further when the two organizations signed a new memorandum of understanding which went beyond offering scholarships and established a framework for the promotion and facilitation of disaster risk management, including modeling, disaster risk financing, and climate change adaptation as well as research, capacity-building and resilience-building initiatives that will support and advance the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM’s) ambition of making the Caribbean the world’s first climate-resilient zone.

One of the first outputs of this new MOU was the development of a new course called Fundamentals of Disaster Risk Financing for Advancing Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which is currently being offered through The UWI Open Campus. Over 30 students are members of the first cohort to take this Continuing and Professional Education Certificate course, which offers four continuing education units.

Including today’s contribution, CCRIF’s overall support to The UWI over the period 2010 – 2020 has totalled over US$1 million (J$140 million), through programmes for scholarships and internships and the current MOU as well as two grants to the departments of Food Production and Geography at the St. Augustine campus for community-based disaster risk reduction projects, support to the Seismic Research Centre towards establishing and maintaining a new accelerometric network in the Eastern Caribbean and Jamaica to enhance the capability for identifying and mitigating seismic risk in the Caribbean, and a contract with Lumin Consulting for work related to the CCRIF-Caribbean Development Bank Integrated Sovereign Risk Management Project.

CCRIF also used the occasion to launch its Technical Paper Series #4, A Collection of Papers and Expert Notes on Disaster Risk Financing and Disaster Risk Management … Highlighting academic papers prepared by a selection of CCRIF scholarship winners”. This collection of papers highlights research conducted by nine recipients of CCRIF scholarships between 2010 and 2017. The academic papers include papers completed as part of course work, extracts from dissertations, as well as complete dissertations – all submitted as part of their degree requirements. The papers demonstrate the diversity of research topics undertaken by CCRIF scholarship recipients – which range from social issues such as a discussion of whether disaster scenes should be “off-limits” to victims’ relatives, and climate and risk communication to an analysis of the financial services sector responses to climate change risks to more technical discussions such as seismic analysis.

Elizabeth Emanuel, CCRIF Technical Assistance Manager and Corporate Communications Manager presents a synopsis of the new publication, A Collection of Papers and Expert Notes on Disaster Risk Financing and Disaster Risk Management … Highlighting academic papers prepared by a selection of CCRIF scholarship winners”. Copies of the publication will be provided to all campuses of The University of the West Indies.
Mrs. Saundra Bailey, CCRIF Board Member; Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal of UWI Mona, Professor Dale Webber; and Elizabeth Emanuel, CCRIF Technical Assistance Manager and Corporate Communications Manager, peruse the publication “A Collection of Papers and Expert Notes on Disaster Risk Financing and Disaster Risk Management … Highlighting academic papers prepared by a selection of CCRIF scholarship winners”.

According to Mrs. Bailey, “During this pandemic, CCRIF has both levelled up and pivoted to ensure that our members and key partners and stakeholders are able to better confront and address the many challenges posed by climate change and COVID-19, with The UWI being one such partner.”

Website: | Email: |  Follow @ccrif_pr |  CCRIF SPC


CCRIF SPC is a segregated portfolio company, owned, operated, and registered in the Caribbean. It limits the financial impact of catastrophic hurricanes, earthquakes, and excess rainfall events to the Caribbean and Central American governments by quickly providing short-term liquidity when a parametric insurance policy is triggered. It is the world’s first regional fund utilising parametric insurance, giving member governments the unique opportunity to purchase earthquake, hurricane, and excess rainfall catastrophe coverage with the lowest-possible pricing. CCRIF was developed under the technical leadership of the World Bank and with a grant from the Government of Japan. It was capitalized through contributions to a Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) by the Government of Canada, the European Union, the World Bank, the governments of the UK and France, the Caribbean Development Bank and the governments of Ireland and Bermuda, as well as through membership fees paid by participating governments. In 2014, a second MDTF was established by the World Bank to support the development of CCRIF SPC’s new products for current and potential members and facilitate the entry of Central American countries and additional Caribbean countries. The MDTF currently channels funds from various donors, including: Canada, through Global Affairs Canada; the United States, through the Department of the Treasury; the European Union, through the European Commission, and Germany, through the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and KfW. Additional financing has been provided by the Caribbean Development Bank, with resources provided by Mexico; the Government of Ireland; and the European Union through its Regional Resilience Building Facility managed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and The World Bank.

Website: | Email: |  Follow @ccrif_pr |  CCRIF SPC

About The UWI

For over 70 years The University of the West Indies (The UWI) has provided service and leadership to the Caribbean region and wider world. The UWI has evolved from a university college of London in Jamaica with 33 medical students in 1948 to an internationally respected, regional university with near 50,000 students and five campuses: Mona in Jamaica, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, Cave Hill in Barbados, Five Islands in Antigua and Barbuda and an Open Campus. As part of its robust globalization agenda, The UWI has established partnering centres with universities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe including the State University of New York (SUNY)-UWI Center for Leadership and Sustainable Development; the Canada-Caribbean Institute with Brock University; the Strategic Alliance for Hemispheric Development with Universidad de los Andes (UNIANDES); The UWI-China Institute of Information Technology, the University of Lagos (UNILAG)-UWI Institute of African and Diaspora Studies; the Institute for Global African Affairs with the University of Johannesburg (UJ); The UWI-University of Havana Centre for Sustainable Development; The UWI-Coventry Institute for Industry-Academic Partnership with the University of Coventry and the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research with the University of Glasgow.

The UWI offers over 800 certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree options in Food & Agriculture, Engineering, Humanities & Education, Law, Medical Sciences, Science & Technology, Social Sciences and Sport. 

As the region’s premier research academy, The UWI’s foremost objective is driving the growth and development of the regional economy. The world’s most reputable ranking agency, Times Higher Education, has ranked The UWI among the top 600 universities in the world for 2019 and 2020, and the 40 best universities in Latin America and the Caribbean for 2018, 2019 and 2020. The UWI has been the only Caribbean-based university to make the prestigious lists.  For more, visit

(Please note that the proper name of the university is The University of the West Indies, inclusive of the “The”, hence The UWI.)

#ccrifspc #uwi #scholarships #covid-19 #donation #disasterriskfinancing  #parametricinsurance #theuwi

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Covid: Vaccine or no vaccine, we have to get through this first

Nick Triggle, Health correspondent @nicktriggleon Twitter

Bus in Liverpool

After the euphoria of a vaccine breakthrough, it did not take long for the virus to provide a reality check. Within days of the news that an effective vaccine may have been found, it was being announced the UK was the first European country to pass the grim milestone of 50,000 deaths. This was quickly followed by a record rise in new cases with 33,400 reported on Thursday.

Both are a clear reminder, if we needed one, that there are many more difficult days to come. So what’s in store?

The vaccine is no magic wand

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has promised the NHS will be ready to start rolling out the vaccine from 1 December if its passes its final regulatory hurdles.

But that doesn’t mean the epidemic will be brought to a sudden halt. There is a huge logistical exercise in vaccinating large numbers of people – the UK has bought enough for 20 million people. And don’t forget, unlike the flu vaccine, this one requires two doses.

Health and care workers along with older age groups will be prioritised. But given it takes a month from the first dose for an individual to get the full protection and the fact there are 12 million over 65s – nine in 10 deaths have been in this age group – winter is likely to be well gone by the time significant numbers are protected.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam was unequivocal this week when he said he didn’t see the vaccine “making any difference” this winter.

Infection rates are high

In the meantime, infection rates remain high. Despite seeing over 30,000 cases on Thursday, the UK is averaging over 20,000 confirmed infections a day.

However, estimates from the government’s surveillance run by the Office for National Statistics suggests the true figure may be double that.

Chart tracking daily cases and seven-day average

The situation has left hospitals dangerously close to capacity in the most hard-hit regions. NHS trusts in Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and Bradford have all announced the cancellation of non-urgent work to free up beds.

Chris Hopson, of NHS Providers, which represents hospital managers, warns staff are “exhausted” and “traumatised”. If hospital cases keep rising it will quickly begin to affect non-Covid work even more, he says.

Lockdown may be followed by… lockdown

We were always warned lockdown, which is underway in England, would take time to have an impact. The good news is that cases had started to stabilise before it came in, with strong evidence the regional tiers had begun to have an impact.

If the rise in cases on Thursday is a blip – there are suggestions it may be linked to a last bout of socialising before lockdown came in – the expectation is the number of infections will soon start to drop. Friday’s figures were 6,000 cases down on the day before,

Prof Tim Spector, who runs the Covid Symptom Study, an app which one million people use, believes the crucial R number – the measure of how many people an infected person passes the virus on to on average – is now below one. This would mean the epidemic should start to shrink.

But no-one knows exactly what sort of impact lockdown will have. There have been suggestions the number of infections could be reduced by three-quarters.

But the early evidence from Wales’ 17-day fire-break is that it stemmed the rise in cases rather than significantly shrinking it. There could be a delayed impact and England’s lockdown is longer, but clearly, nothing is guaranteed. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has just extended some of its national restrictions because of concern about infection levels.

And the problem is that once lockdown is lifted in England, cases are likely to take off again. It is, after all, winter, when respiratory viruses tend to thrive.

Does that mean another lockdown in a few months? This is the nagging fear.

Ministers are just “deferring the problem”, says Prof Mark Woolhouse, an expert in infectious diseases at Edinburgh University, who sits on the government’s committee on modelling. Even if we had had the lockdown earlier, as some scientists had argued, we would have already been talking about the next one.

More testing, more tracing, but enough isolating?

Those backing lockdown argued it could be used to fix the test-and-trace system, which identifies close contacts of infected individuals and asks them to isolate. Each nation runs its own tracing service, but all have faced the same problem – such high rates of infection make test-and-trace more difficult and less effective.

In England, councils are working hard to set up local teams to support the national system. But most of these are in their infancy and will take some time to bed in. The government has started piloting mass testing in the hope it could be a way of containing the virus given significant numbers of infected people show very mild, or even no, symptoms. The first pilot in Liverpool has been followed by others being set up in more than 60 local authority areas.

Soldiers talk to people at The Exhibition Centre, in Liverpool, which has been set up as a testing centre as part of the mass coronavirus disease
Soldiers have been brought in to help with the mass testing programme in Liverpool

But some question how effective this approach will be.

The rapid tests being used are “not fit for purpose” says Prof John Deeks, an expert in testing at Birmingham University. He points to evidence suggesting they may miss up to half of Covid cases.

He also says identifying previously undetected cases only works if those that test positive isolate. Evidence on those going through the standard testing process is that they are not always doing this. A need to work and earn money is, understandably, a key issue.

The virus isn’t going away

This brings us back to vaccination. While the breakthrough is great news, the jury is still out as to how much impact it will have. For example, we don’t know how well it works in the elderly, whether it stops people passing it on or simply stops them getting ill or how long immunity lasts.

Even with the vaccine the virus is “not going away”, says Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the government’s Sage advisory group.

Graph of deaths by age

It is, he says, now part of humanity and here to stay. Instead, the most we can hope for is providing some protection to those who are most at risk.

The sad reality is that, despite the vaccine breakthrough, we are still going to have to learn to live with Covid this winter – and beyond.

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Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate.

Indian Billionaires Bet Big on Head Start in Coronavirus Vaccine Race

The world’s largest vaccine producer, the Serum Institute, announced a plan to make hundreds of millions of doses of an unproven inoculation. It’s a gamble with a huge upside. And huge risks.

Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate.
Scientists at the Serum Institute in Pune, India, working on a bioreactor. Inside is a promising coronavirus vaccine candidate. Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times
Jeffrey Gettleman

By Jeffrey Gettleman
Aug. 1, 2020

PUNE, India — In early May, an extremely well-sealed steel box arrived at the cold room of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker.

Inside, packed in dry ice, sat a tiny 1-milliliter vial from Oxford, England, containing the cellular material for one of the world’s most promising coronavirus vaccines.

Scientists in white lab coats brought the vial to Building 14, carefully poured the contents into a flask, added a medium of vitamins and sugar, and began growing billions of cells. Thus began one of the biggest gambles yet in the quest to find the vaccine that will bring the world’s Covid-19 nightmare to an end.

The Serum Institute, which is exclusively controlled by a small and fabulously rich Indian family and started out years ago as a horse farm, is doing what a few other companies in the race for a vaccine are doing: mass-producing hundreds of millions of doses of a vaccine candidate that is still in trials and might not even work.

But if it does, Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive and the only child of the company’s founder, will become one of the most tugged-at men in the world. He will have on hand what everyone wants, possibly in greater quantities before anyone else.

His company, which has teamed up with the Oxford scientists developing the vaccine, was one of the first to boldly announce, in April, that it was going to mass-produce a vaccine before clinical trials even ended. Now, Mr. Poonawalla’s fastest vaccine assembly lines are being readied to crank out 500 doses each minute, and his phone rings endlessly.

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National health ministers, prime ministers and other heads of state (he wouldn’t say who) and friends he hasn’t heard from in years have been calling him, he said, begging for the first batches.

“I’ve had to explain to them that, ‘Look I can’t just give it to you like this,’” he said.

Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive, says that he will split the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses he produces 50-50 between India and the rest of the world.
Adar Poonawalla, Serum’s chief executive, says that he will split the hundreds of millions of vaccine doses he produces 50-50 between India and the rest of the world. Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

With the coronavirus pandemic turning the world upside down and all hopes pinned on a vaccine, the Serum Institute finds itself in the middle of an extremely competitive and murky endeavor. To get the vaccine out as soon as possible, vaccine developers say they need Serum’s mammoth assembly lines — each year, it churns out 1.5 billion doses of other vaccines, mostly for poor countries, more than any other company.

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Everything you wanted to know about COVID-19/Novel Coronavirus

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Overview – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Live from WHO Headquarters – COVID-19 daily press briefing 20 March 2020

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The Corona Virus pandemic reaches the Caribbean

After BA Flight 2157 on Tuesday, March 10, could it be here in Montserrat? (What should we do?

BRADES, Montserrat, March 14, 2020 –  Over the past several days, first we learned that the Corona Virus had been confirmed in several regional territories. Then we learned how the UN Agency, the World Health Organisation, declared a pandemic – a globe-spanning epidemic.  Along the way, we heard of a Jamaican woman who flew home from the UK on March 4th to attend a funeral, and how authorities were taking steps to contain a possible outbreak. Since then schools have been closed as a second case then six more cases were diagnosed, totaling eight. Then,  it was confirmed that someone flying into Antigua from the UK on March 10 (on British Airways 2157), has been diagnosed with the virus.  Over eighty [80] passengers on that same aircraft came on their way to Montserrat, for the St Patrick’s Festival. (UPDATE: There is also a suspected case here, reported on ZJB.)

The Covid-19 virus attacks a cell,in an “isolate” from a patient(Cr: Australian Pharmacist & US CDC)

Suddenly, the Covid-19 Pandemic – global epidemic – is at our doorstep.

As a result:

After this news hit our airwaves on Friday, March 13th, a call went out for these passengers to contact health authorities.

On Saturday the 14th the recently elected Premier Easton Taylor-Farrell summarised this development, stated that the passengers were traced, contacted and told to self-isolate, adding that events with more than fifty people were restricted.

Many churches announced that worship services are suspended.

Schools (which often serve as places where viral infections spread rapidly) are closed until Friday, April 3.

Such measures are to be extended if necessary.

In effect, the 2020 St Patrick’s Festival has been shut down. That’s why promoters for some events then went on radio to announce the cancelation.

Covid 19 is indeed at our doorstep.

Cross-Section of a Corona Virus. In an infection, the S-protein spikes bind to cell surfaces, allowing penetration. The cell is then hijacked to replicate and distribute further copies of the virus using the RNA in the virus (Cr: Wiki & Scientific Illustrations)

What will we do?

Why did it take a case of possible transmission on an eight-hour transatlantic flight to trigger such measures?

(On the worst-case – let us hope, such will not be actual! – that could be shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.)

Especially as, before the event, prominent local Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Jean Kelsick publicly advised us all on February 28:

he virus has surfaced, is spreading and has already killed people . . . . Should our visitors introduce the virus to Montserrat

will have to face some very hard questions over any deaths that may ensue . . . .  the financial cost and disappointment to the island and visitors [if the Festival were to be canceled] would be very unfortunate but a price cannot be put on lives.”

We are now in danger of both possibilities, the worst of both worlds. For, on the facts admitted by Premier Taylor-Farrell, [a] visitors have come who may be exposed AND [b] we are forced to restrict gatherings of more than fifty people. That suggests, that we did not act with sufficient prudence in good time.

Now, given the Covid-19 incubation period of up to two weeks (or possibly more in some cases) we will have to wait to see if the epidemic is here already where this virus can be spread by people before they have obvious symptoms. Also, many mild cases may be confused with an ordinary cold or could even go unnoticed.

In a further complication, there seem to be two strains, L and S. As ABC reports[1]:

“Scientists from China said they’ve identified two strains of COVID-19 linked to the recent outbreak.  Coronaviruses are a large family of RNA viruses, and when RNA viruses replicate quickly, they often mutate. Researchers analyzed 103 sequenced genomes using strains from China, and found that 70% of strains were one type, which they called ‘L.’ The ‘L’ strain was more aggressive than the remaining 30% of strains, which were dubbed ‘S.’”

There is some suggestion that it is possible to catch one strain then the other, in addition to the familiar problem of relapsing if one has not fully recovered from an infection. NewScientist gives background[2]:

Viruses are always mutating . . . When a person is infected with the coronavirus, it replicates in their respiratory tract. Every time it does, around half a dozen genetic mutations occur, says Ian Jones at the University of Reading, UK. When Xiaolu Tang at Peking University in Beijing and colleagues studied the viral genome taken from 103 cases, they . . . identified two types of the virus based on differences in the genome at these two regions: 72 were considered to be the “L-type” and 29 were classed “S-type” . . . . The first strain is likely to have emerged around the time the virus jumped from animals to humans. The second emerged soon after that, says the team. Both are involved in the current global outbreak. The fact that the L-type is more prevalent suggests that it is “more aggressive” than the S-type.”

Further, in a preprint article for the New England Journal of Medicine,[3] researchers have confirmed that “viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel . . .   Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for  multiple hours and on surfaces up to days.”

These specific experimental results are generally consistent with earlier reports that the virus can survive in the air for hours and on surfaces for up to a week or more. That immediately means that we have to be particularly vigilant to protect ourselves. Pix 11 of New York summarises some typical advice[4]:

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

A distance of 6 feet can protect you from droplet transmission via coughs and sneezes.

Stay home if you feel you are sick.

Cough and sneeze into your elbow, or cover [your mouth and nose] with a tissue and immediately wash or sanitize your hands.

They add the US CDC instructions on proper handwashing:

Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.

Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.

Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

We can also note that for typical disinfectants, a “dwell time” of three to five minutes is advisable, to ensure maximum effect.

Of course, by definition a disinfectant can be hazardous, so we should follow instructions. Chlorine Bleach and Ammonia are particularly so, and must not be mixed. Mixing Bleach and detergents is also not advisable as chemical reactions that give off toxic gases are possible.

Alcohols are also toxic – yes, ethanol too . . . drunkenness is actually a first stage toxic reaction. Isopropyl (Rubbing) Alcohol and Methanol (wood alcohol) should not be consumed; even though they look, taste and smell almost like White Rum. Again, follow instructions on the label.

Of course, a good newspaper is the people’s college, so we need to step back up to the policy level. Fair comment: twenty-five years ago, we were imprudent in managing the volcano crisis, often dismissing warnings as likely to cause a panic. Sometimes, we thought or even said that we needed to exercise faith that nothing bad would happen, trotting out scriptures on faith. On June 25, 1997, nineteen people died needlessly. Videos taken a few days before the fatal ash flows show people harvesting ground provisions in a field while hot ash ran down the ghaut next to them. Some of those people died in fatal flows.

We need a sounder approach: yes, we are to have faith and confidence and we must always pray, but we must also be well-informed, prudent and act in good time.

[1]           See ABC

[2]           See NewScientist

[3]           See van Doremalen of US NIH et al

[4]           See PIX11:

Posted in Business/Economy/Banking, Columns, COVID-19, De Ole Dawg, Education, International, Local, Opinions, Regional, Science/Technology0 Comments


Coronavirus: NHS England declares level four incident over outbreak

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The new orders from health bosses come amid predictions that one in five workers could be off sick when the virus peaks.

Tuesday 3 March 2020 22:59, UK

Britain...s prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as he holds a press conference at Downing Street on the government...s coronavirus action plan in London, Tuesday, March 3, 2020.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

Boris Johnson announces coronavirus plans

Why you can trust Sky News

NHS England has declared coronavirus a level four incident – the highest level of emergency preparedness planning.

It comes as confirmed cases in the UK rose to 51 and Boris Johnson unveiled his plan for dealing with the outbreak.

Under the level four alert, all hospitals in England have been told to “assume that they will need to look after COVID-19 cases in due course”.

Where coronavirus has spread in the UK

A national incident management team and coordination centre have been set up for the coronavirus.

NHS regions must report centrally and set up their own incident teams, including having a 24/7 contact for “patient management, alerts, referrals, and tracking”.

Everyone in intensive care with a respiratory infection must also now be tested, as should everyone in a Severe Respiratory Failure centre.

The guidance says it is “now appropriate” to put some patients in “wider infectious disease units” – rather than specialist COVID-19 units – and they could be grouped in “all acute units” if cases continue to rise.

An NHS emergency preparedness adviser, who did not want to be identified, explained: “Level one is a localised incident, like a small fire, where the NHS trust can manage by themselves without any intervention.

“Level two is a larger incident, like a small flood, where the commissioners would have to get involved.”

The former emergency department nurse, who was heavily involved in helping the NHS to cope during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, added: “A level three is declared when there is a regional emergency and level four, the highest emergency level, is declared when there is a national medical crisis.”

preview image

COVID-19: Who is most vulnerable?

Twelve new UK cases were identified on Tuesday: eight had travelled from Italy, one from Germany, one from Singapore, one from Japan and on from Iran.

They are from London, Hampshire, Northamptonshire, Bury, Wirral, Greater Manchester, Humberside, and Kent.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS had been “preparing for a pandemic virus for over a decade” and was still in the containment phase.

But he said if global cases continue rising – especially in Europe – “we may not be able to contain the virus indefinitely”.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for assurances that workers not entitled to sick pay would not be forced to choose between self-isolation and earning a living if they get sick.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has detailed the government’s plan to deal with the virus.

He said police could be reduced to just dealing with very serious crimes and maintaining public order, while the NHS could be closed to all but critical care.

Emergency services all have measures in place to “fulfill critical functions” but they would have to reduce services should large numbers of staff become ill.

The government also said plans were in place to draft in the Army, if necessary, to maintain public order.

Mr. Johnson said there were “long-established plans by which the police will, obviously, keep the public safe but they will prioritise those things that they have to do”.

What happens now with the coronavirus quarantine?

Coronavirus quarantine: What happens now?

He added: “And the Army is of course always ready to back-fill as and when, but that is under the reasonable worst-case scenario.”

The 27-page plan also warned of a depletion in workforces across the UK and said one in five workers could be absent when the virus peaks.

The government said it would consider closing schools and universities, encourage working from home and a reduction in large gatherings.

Key points:

  • Police would “concentrate on responding to serious crimes” if they lose a “significant” amount of staff to illness
  • UK has stockpiles of medicines for the NHS, along with protective clothing and equipment for medical staff
  • If coronavirus becomes widespread, there will be a focus on essential services for those “most at risk”
  • The Ministry of Defence will provide support as needed
  • There will be increased government communication with parliament, the public, and the media
  • Social distancing strategies could be implemented, which would include school closures, home-working, and reducing the number of large scale gatherings
  • Non-urgent operations and procedures could be canceled and hospital discharges monitored to free up beds
  • Measures would come into place to help businesses with short-term cash flow problems
  • A distribution strategy for sending out key medicines and equipment to NHS and social care patients
The government has taken extra measures to combat COVID-19
Image: The number of cases in the UK stands at 51

Speaking at a news conference, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, said restricting travel once the epidemic was “everywhere” would make “no difference at all”.

He also said there was “no reason” for people to stockpile food and other goods.

Mr. Johnson told reporters he continued to shake hands with people, adding: “I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were coronavirus patients and I was shaking hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands. The infection numbers in real time Daily updates figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University

“People must make up their own minds but I think the scientific evidence is… our judgment is that washing your hands is the crucial thing.”

The government plan outlines its response in four stages.

They include containing the outbreak, delaying its spread, mitigating the impact of the disease once it becomes established, and implementing a research program aimed at improving diagnostics and treatment.

Officials are hoping to delay the peak of the outbreak until the spring and summer months when health services are less busy.

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Legislation allowing the government to use extra powers to help control COVID-19 is expected to be passed by the end of the month.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has also pledged more funds to fight the virus and has promised more cash in next week’s budget.

Meanwhile, there have been concerns over the viability of events and large gatherings, including the London Marathon just eight weeks away.

The health secretary told MPs that “reacting too early or over-reacting carries its own risk”, saying that the government would, therefore, “seek to minimise social disruption”.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: A woman wears a face mask while waiting for a tube train at Bank underground station on March 01, 2020 in London, England. There has been three more reported cases of the coronavirus - COVID-19 tested positive in the UK, bringing the total to twenty three. (photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
Image: Concerns have been raised about the virus spreading on transport networks

But Mr. Hancock admitted some of the action would be “uncomfortable” but insisted the government was “quite prepared to do that if it’s necessary”.

However, speaking to Sky News’ Kay Burley@Breakfast show earlier, he said the government was seeking “as targeted as an approach as possible” with the focus on the elderly and others likely to suffer most from the virus.

There are currently more than 90,000 cases of coronavirus around the world and more than 3,000 deaths.

Virus Outbreak: Global Emergency – Watch a special Sky News programme on coronavirus at 6 pm weekdays.

Posted in Features, Health, International, Local, News, Regional, Science/Technology, Travel0 Comments

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