US companies Pfizer and Moderna plan to seek authorization for their Covid-19 vaccines by the end of November in the United States, which would mark an all-time speed record for vaccine development, nine months after the first death from coronavirus in the country. But the eventual launch of vaccination by the New Year will be too small to contain the outbreak on its own, which is in its third rebound in the United States.
The official toll exceeded eight million cases on Friday, a figure certainly far below the reality, since antibody studies have revealed that about 10% of the American population had been infected, which would correspond to about thirty millions of inhabitants. Contamination, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise; the current rebound is all the more rapid as the wave has started again from a high plateau, the country of Donald Trump having never succeeded in stemming the circulation of the virus.
The US president was hoping for a vaccine before the November 3 election, but the industry agreed to wait a few more weeks, at the request of health officials, to detect possible serious side effects among the tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. Trials should answer two questions: Does the vaccine protect? And is it safe? Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, a partner of German company BioNTech, has announced that he expects evidence of efficacy by the end of October, but that he will wait until the third week of November to file with the Medicines Agency (FDA) an emergency authorization request, “Assuming the data is positive”. Moderna, a biotechnology company, is counting on November 25. It remains to be seen how long FDA experts will take to study the data and give, or not, the green light, and for what categories of the population.
The government is already preparing the huge logistics chain that will be necessary, with the aim of launching the distribution of the first doses within 24 hours of any authorization. On Friday, officials of the government operation “Warp Speed” announced a partnership with the giant pharmacy networks CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccines in the 50,000 retirement homes and retirement homes nationwide.
Either way, Americans should not expect an imminent return to “normal”, warned the director of the Institute of Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci. Everything will depend on the effectiveness of the vaccines, and their acceptance in the population. “We may not be able to find crowded cinemas or stadiums full of spectators for months and months in 2021, if not later”, he said on Friday in an interview with Johns Hopkins University.
Pfizer and Moderna received $ 1.95 billion and $ 2.48 billion respectively in public money, and they bet on the same new technology, messenger RNA. The method involves inserting genetic instructions into the body to trigger the production of a protein identical to that of the coronavirus (its recognizable spike), and elicit an immune response. This response was seen in initial trials with volunteers, but the real test is to see if vaccinated people are actually avoiding Covid-19, in real life. A vaccine will be considered effective if the number of vaccinated participants falling ill with Covid-19 is reduced by at least 50% compared to the placebo group. Ten experimental vaccines are in final stages of testing worldwide, but these two are the only ones currently active in the United States.
The epidemic’s first peak occurred in April, when it hit New York and the Northeast hard. Then the South and West contributed to the second peak in July, and it is now the Midwest and the North that are the most affected. 37,000 people are now hospitalized and 950 deaths were recorded on Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Compared to France, and reported to the population, the United States has fewer new cases but more deaths per day. “The contaminations seem to occur during gatherings inside people’s homes, not just in bars and restaurants like this summer”, explains Thomas Tsai, researcher at Harvard. Experts are already worried about the approach of Thanksgiving at the end of November, the biggest family holiday in the country. For Dr. Fauci, families will have to “Seriously think about the level of risk they are prepared to accept”.
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