Moderna says possible allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccine under investigation

(Reuters) – Moderna Inc said on Tuesday it had received a report from California’s health department that several people at a center in San Diego were treated for possible allergic reactions to its COVID-19 vaccine from a particular batch.

The company’s comments come after California’s top epidemiologist on Sunday issued a statement recommending providers pause vaccination from lot no. 41L20A due to possible allergic reactions that are under investigation.

“A higher-than-usual number of possible allergic reactions were reported with a specific lot of Moderna vaccine administered at one community vaccination clinic. Fewer than 10 individuals required medical attention over the span of 24 hours,” the epidemiologist said in a statement.

The vaccine maker said it was unaware of comparable cases of adverse events from other vaccination centers which may have administered vaccines from the same lot or from other lots of its vaccine.

A total of 307,300 doses from the lot remain in storage, Moderna said, of the total 1,272,200 doses that were produced in the batch.

Moderna said it was working closely with U.S. health regulators to understand the cases and whether pausing the use of the lot was warranted.

Nearly a million doses from the lot have already been distributed to about 1,700 vaccination sites in 37 states, Moderna said.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi and Shinjini Ganguli)

Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine faces U.S. FDA expert panel review

(Reuters) – A panel of outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to endorse emergency use of Moderna Inc’s coronavirus vaccine during a meeting on Thursday, as the nation prepares to roll out a second vaccine.

The panel vote on whether the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks is likely to come some time after 3 pm ET (2000 GMT), with an FDA authorization expected as soon as Friday.

This is the same committee of expert advisers that last week backed the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE, clearing the way for the FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) a day later.

That vaccine is being distributed throughout the country. A massive inoculation program began at U.S. hospitals on Monday.

The Moderna vaccine uses similar messenger RNA technology but with less onerous cold storage requirements than the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, making it a better option for remote and rural areas. Both vaccines were about 95% effective in preventing illness in pivotal clinical trials.

The FDA advisory committee is likely to discuss Moderna’s reports of side effects from its 30,000-person trial, which were more frequent than those reported by Pfizer. These were primarily relatively short-lived reactions to the vaccination rather than serious adverse events.

SVB Leerink analysts said the Moderna vaccine appears less tolerable than the Pfizer/BioNTech shot, but noted that is not a proper comparison across trials and unlikely to stand in the way of an EUA.

The FDA staff did not raise any serious concerns about safety in documents published on Tuesday in preparation for the meeting. It said a link between Bell’s palsy, which causes temporary paralysis of facial muscles, and the vaccine could not be ruled out after some cases were reported in trials of both vaccines.

Pfizer and BioNTech said those cases occurred at the same rate as in the general population.

Moderna is seeking authorization for people aged 18 and older. That could sidestep the lively discussion last week among panel members about whether there was enough data to authorize use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in adolescents aged 16 and 17. They ultimately voted to back that vaccine for those 16 and older.

Initial Moderna vaccine supply would likely go to the United States, which has signed deals to secure as many as 200 million doses and is expecting the first 20 million this month. The vaccine is administered in two doses about four weeks apart.

The company has also signed supply deals with Canada, the European Union and the UK. The vaccine is undergoing a “rolling review” by regulators for all three.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. COVID deaths smash daily record amid pleas to trim back Christmas

By Susan Heavey and Maria Caspani

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The daily U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has surpassed 3,000 for the first time, prompting pleas for Americans to scale back Christmas plans even with vaccines on the cusp of winning regulatory approval.

COVID-19 deaths reached 3,253 on Wednesday, pushing up the U.S. total since the start of the pandemic to 289,740. A record 106,219 people were hospitalized with the highly infectious respiratory disease.

Healthcare professionals and support staff, exhausted by demands of the pandemic, have been watching patients die alone as millions of Americans refuse to follow medical advice to wear masks and avoid crowds to contain the spread.

Nursing home residents and staff have also felt the burden.

“This is a pandemic that no one has ever experienced in our lifetimes,” Stephen Hanse, president of the New York State Health Facilities Association and the New York State Center for Assisted Living, told Reuters on Thursday.

The one-day death toll exceeded the number of lives lost from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, underscoring the human toll and the call for Americans to redouble efforts.

“No Christmas parties. There is not a safe Christmas party in this country right now,” Dr. Michael Osterholm told CNN on Thursday.

“It won’t end after that but that is the period right now where we could have a surge upon a surge upon a surge,” Osterholm said.

Potentially helping to rein in the outbreak, a vaccine could start reaching healthcare workers, first responders and nursing home residents within days in what Hanse called “light at the end of the tunnel.”

A panel of independent medical experts was due to decide on Thursday whether to recommend to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a vaccine from Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE for emergency use authorization.

A vote was expected some time after 3:10 p.m. EST (2010 GMT).

FDA consent could come as early as Friday or Saturday, followed by the first U.S. injections on Sunday or Monday, Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine development program, told Fox News.

A second vaccine developed by Moderna is a week behind.

Biden, who succeeds President Donald Trump on Jan. 20, has set a goal of vaccinating 100 million people within the first 100 days of his administration.

In the meantime, intensive care units at hundreds of hospitals across the country were at or near capacity, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed.

Ten mostly rural counties in California reported having no ICU beds on Wednesday, according to state health figures analyzed by Reuters.

Besides the human cost, the pandemic has forced millions out of work as state and local officials impose restrictions on social and economic life to contain the outbreak.

Congress, meanwhile, has struggled to end a months-long stalemate over economic assistance.

Disagreements remain over business liability protections demanded by Republicans and aid to state and local governments sought by Democrats before a final deal is reached on pandemic assistance.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Maria Caspani, Sharon Bernstein and Lisa Shumaker; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Steve Orlofsky and Tom Brown)

Two coronavirus vaccines available in U.S. in coming weeks: health secretary

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The first two vaccines against the novel coronavirus could be available to Americans before Christmas, Health Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday, after Moderna Inc became the second vaccine maker likely to receive U.S. emergency authorization.

The Food and Drug Administration’s outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to consider authorizing Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine. That vaccine could be approved and shipped within days, with Moderna’s following one week behind that, Azar said.

“So we could be seeing both of these vaccines out and getting into people’s arms before Christmas,” Azar said on CBS’ “This Morning.”

The federal government will ship the vaccines through its normal vaccine distribution system, with state governors determining where they should go first, Azar said.

“They will be determining which groups to be prioritized. I would hope that the science and the evidence will be clear enough that our governors will follow the recommendations that we will make to them,” Azar said.

He said he and Vice President Mike Pence will speak to all the nation’s governors later on Monday to discuss the vaccines and which groups of people should be prioritized to get them first.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Russia says its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine is 92% effective

By Polina Ivanova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective at protecting people from COVID-19 according to interim trial results, the country’s sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday, as Moscow rushes to keep pace with Western drugmakers in the race for a shot.

Russia’s results are only the second from a late-stage human trial, following on swiftly from data released on Monday by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech, which said their shot was also more than 90% effective.

While experts said the Russian data was encouraging and reinforced the idea the pandemic could be halted by vaccines, they warned that the results were only based on a small number of trial volunteers who had contracted COVID-19.

The analysis was conducted after 20 participants developed the virus and examined how many had received the vaccine versus a placebo. That is significantly lower than the 94 infections in the trial of the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

“I assume there was political pressure after the press release from Pfizer and BioNTech earlier in the week to now draw level with their own data,” said Bodo Plachter, deputy director of the Institute of Virology at the Mainz University. “What is missing for now is an analysis of statistical significance.”

To confirm the efficacy rate of its vaccine, Pfizer said it would continue its trial until there were 164 COVID-19 cases.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which has been backing Sputnik V’s development, said the Russian trial would continue for six months.

Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the vaccine, said the interim results demonstrated that Sputnik V was effective and mass vaccinations would be rolled out in Russia in the coming weeks.

European stocks and U.S. stock futures extended their gains slightly after Russia’s announcement though the reaction was far more muted than after Pfizer’s results.

China’s Sinopharm, which is running large-scale late-stage clinical trials for two COVID-19 vaccine candidates, said on Wednesday that its data was better than expected, though it did not give further details.

‘NOT A COMPETITION’

Successful vaccines are seen as crucial to restoring daily life around the world by helping end the pandemic that has killed more than 1.26 million people, shuttered businesses and put millions out of work.

However, experts said knowledge about the Russian trial’s design was sparse, making it hard to interpret the data.

Scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Moscow has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for the shot and launching mass vaccinations before full trials to test its safety and efficacy had been completed.

“This is not a competition. We need all trials to be carried out to the highest possible standards and it is particularly important that the pre-set criteria for un-blinding the trial data are adhered to avoid cherry picking the data,” said Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh.

“Anything less than this risks a public loss of trust in all vaccines, which would be a disaster.”

The results are based on data from the first 16,000 trial participants to receive both shots of the two-dose vaccine.

“We are showing, based on the data, that we have a very effective vaccine,” said RDIF head Kirill Dmitriev, adding that it was the sort of news that the vaccine’s developers would talk about one day with their grandchildren.

The so-called Phase III trial of the shot is taking place in 29 clinics across Moscow and will involve 40,000 volunteers in total, with a quarter receiving a placebo shot.

The chances of contracting COVID-19 were 92% lower among people vaccinated with Sputnik V than those who received the placebo, the RDIF said.

That’s well above the 50% effectiveness threshold for COVID-19 vaccines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The RDIF said data from the study would be published in a leading medical journal following a peer review. The results of the early-stage Russian trials were peer reviewed and published in September in The Lancet medical journal.

Experts said that as with the Pfizer results, it was not yet clear how long immunity would last after taking the Russian vaccine, nor how efficient it would be for different age groups.

“We certainly need longer-term observations to draw valid conclusions about efficacy and side effects. The same goes for Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s numbers,” said Plachter in Mainz.

As Moscow seeks partners abroad to boost output, China’s Tibet Rhodiola Pharmaceutical Holding announced a deal soon after the results to released to make, sell and test the shot in China.

SPUTNIK V

The Russian drug is named Sputnik V after the Soviet-era satellite that triggered the space race, a nod to the project’s geopolitical importance for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia registered the vaccine for public use in August, the first country to do so, ahead of the start of the large-scale trial in September.

So far, it has inoculated 10,000 members of the public considered at high risk of contracting COVID-19 such as doctors and teachers, outside of the trial.

The vaccine is designed to trigger a response from two shots administered 21 days apart, each based on different viral vectors that normally cause the common cold: human adenoviruses Ad5 and Ad26.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) technology and is designed to trigger an immune response without using pathogens, such as actual virus particles.

Russia is also testing a different vaccine, produced by the Vector Institute in Siberia, and is on the cusp of registering a third, Putin said on Tuesday, adding that all of the country’s vaccines were effective.

RDIF said as of Nov. 11 no serious side effects had been reported during the Sputnik V Phase III trial.

Some volunteers had short-term minor adverse events such as pain at the injection site, flu-like syndrome including fever, weakness, fatigue, and headache, it said.

In late October, the vaccination of new volunteers was temporarily paused due to high demand and a shortage of doses.

Russia’s deputy prime minister said on Wednesday that the Vector Institute vaccine was expected to start post-registration trials on Nov. 15.

She also said that Russia would produce 500,000 doses of Sputnik V in November, lower than a previous forecast of 800,000 doses given by Trade and Industry Minister Denis Manturov.

Russia reported 19,851 new coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours and a record high of 432 deaths. At 1,836,960, its overall case tally is the fifth largest in the world, behind the United States, India, Brazil and France.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Additional reporting by Kate Kelland, Ludwig Burger, Josephine Mason and Thyagaraju Adinarayan; Editing by David Clarke)

AstraZeneca pauses coronavirus vaccine trial

LONDON (Reuters) – AstraZeneca has suspended global trials of its experimental coronavirus vaccine after an unexplained illness in a participant, knocking the British drugmaker’s shares on Wednesday as prospects for an early rollout dimmed.

The vaccine to combat COVID-19, which AstraZeneca is developing with the University of Oxford, has been described by the World Health Organization as probably the world’s leading candidate and the furthest developed.

However, AstraZeneca said on Tuesday it had paused trials, including late-stage ones, to allow an independent committee to review safety data, and it was working to minimize any potential impact on the timeline.

“It is obviously a challenge to this particular vaccine trial,” Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News.

The stakes are high because AstraZeneca, Britain’s largest drugmaker by market value, has already agreed to supply close to three billion doses to governments across the globe.

This is more than any other vaccine project, but asked whether the pause would set back the development process, Britain’s Hancock said: “Not necessarily, it depends on what they find when they do the investigation”.

Most states will contribute financially to developing the vaccine, even if the trial fails.

‘ROUTINE ACTION’

Britain’s medical regulator said it is urgently reviewing information available to determine whether trials can restart as quickly as possible.

A New York Times report citing a person familiar with the situation said a participant based in Britain was found to have transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome that affects the spinal cord and is often sparked by viral infections.

Whether this was directly linked to AstraZeneca’s vaccine remains unclear, it said. AstraZeneca declined to comment.

A person familiar with the situation told Reuters the illness occurred in the British trial which began in May with more than 12,000 participants, from 5 years old to beyond 70.

The U.S. trial, with a targeted 30,000 participants, was launched last week for the vaccine AZD1222, which is also in late-stage clinical trials in Brazil and South Africa.

Additional trials are planned in Japan and Russia, with a targeted 50,000 participants globally.

South Korea said it would look into the suspension and review its plan to participate in manufacturing the vaccine and health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho added such suspensions of clinical trials were not rare “as various factors interact”.

This was echoed by Germany’s Leukocare, which is working on a vaccine similar to AstraZeneca’s but is at an earlier stage.

“When you are inoculating 20,000 people, it is a foregone conclusion that at some point you will have severe adverse events. As soon as a link to the vaccine can clearly be ruled out, the trial continues,” CEO Michael Scholl said.

Immune related conditions such as inflammations, however, would be subject to particular scrutiny, he added.

The Oxford vaccine is designed to instruct human cells to make distinguishing parts of the coronavirus. That allows the immune system to build an arsenal against future infections.

A harmless virus known as adenovirus is used to bring the genetic instruction into the body, an approach which is also being pursued by China’s CanSino, Russia’s Gamaleya institute or Johnson & Johnson.

Backers of the Gamaleya candidate, the first Russian COVID-19 vaccine, underscored the difference between their jab, based on a adenovirus in humans, and the British contender with an adenovirus found in monkeys.

“We have consistently drawn attention to human adenoviral platform being much safer and much more studied than any other new platform,” the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund Kirill Dmitriev told Reuters.

In choosing a monkey virus, AstraZeneca, as well as Leukocare, are trying to avoid the risk of the immune system attacking the vector, due to a previous bout with an adenovirus.

The decision to put the trial on hold has impacted clinical trials being conducted by other vaccine makers, which are looking for signs of similar reactions, Stat said.

Serum Institute of India said its trials of AstraZeneca’s vaccine were ongoing and had not faced any issues.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, which is providing funding for AstraZeneca’s trial, declined to comment.

Moderna said in an emailed statement it was “not aware of any impact” to its ongoing COVID-19 vaccine study.

Leading U.S. and European vaccine developers pledged on Tuesday to uphold scientific safety and efficacy standards for their experimental vaccines.

Nine companies, including AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer, issued an “historic pledge” after concerns that safety standards might slip under political pressure to rush out a vaccine.

The other signatories were Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, GlaxoSmithKline, Novavax Inc, Sanofi and BioNTech.

(Reporting by Guy Fauconbridge, Estelle Shirbon, Kate Kelland in London, Deena Beasley; Additional reporting by Peter Henderson in San Francisco, Rocky Swift in Tokyo, Sangmi Cha in Seoul and Miyoung Kim in Singapore; Editing by Alexander Smith)