The COVID-19 pandemic continues and more and more people around the world are realizing that coronavirus is not fiction, that he will not go anywhere on his own, that we can breathe a sigh of relief only after the appearance of effective vaccines and drugs for this deadly disease. The number of people infected with coronavirus in the world has exceeded 38 million. Nearly 1.1 million patients have died. Almost 28.5 million patients have recovered. The mortality rate is stable at around 4%. But these are all official statistics. The real numbers, many experts say, are much higher.
How far have scientists progressed with the COVID-19 vaccine? When will the mass vaccination start? Are there really drugs that help treat those who are hard to get infected with coronavirus?
US President Donald Trump returned to work after recovering from COVID-19. The disease was difficult and he needed additional oxygen. There was a high temperature. But American doctors put the head of state on his feet in a matter of hours. Trump claims he was helped by a “wonderful cocktail” created by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. The experimental REGN-COV2 preparation was obtained using cells extracted from the tissue of post-abortion embryos. Ironically, the Trump administration is trying to ban any research using such cells.
Now the 45th President of the United States to the whole world declares that the drug “worked incredibly.” “Treatment found!” Trump added. He promises that REGN-COV2 will receive a mass use permit as soon as possible and that ordinary Americans can get it for free. Regeneron’s stock skyrocketed. Company representatives try to be careful. They warn that the drug has not yet passed its third phase of testing.
What is known about REGN-COV2? Regeneron clarified that the molecules needed for the cocktail are produced in hamster ovary cells, the so-called CHO cells. The antibodies were obtained from the plasma of patients who had recovered from COVID-19. Their efficacy was tested using a standardized cell group called HEK 293T. These cells were extracted from the kidney tissue of embryos obtained as a result of abortions in the Netherlands back in the 1970s.
These cells continue to divide in vitro. To create various drugs, specialists also introduce genetic changes and additions into 293 T cells. Regeneron said many laboratories in the United States and other countries around the world use 293T cells to produce viral “pseudoparticles”, which are virus-like structures that contain the coronavirus protein. Thus, it is tested how effectively various antibodies are able to neutralize the virus. The two antibodies used in the Trump cocktail have also been tested with 293T cells.
Nevertheless Regeneron spokeswoman Alexandra Bowie claims that the finished product does not contain embryonic cells. “You can put it in whatever way you like, but the 293 T cell sets we have today cannot be considered as part of embryonic tissue,” She said. Thus, the Trump administration is spared the need to reconsider its attitude towards this kind of research.
American billionaire Bill Gates, who, at the beginning of the pandemic, explained the importance of serum created from the plasma of recovered patients, in an interview with NBC television called REGN-COV2 “The most promising drug”… At the same time, the businessman, whose foundation is actively funding research aimed at combating COVID-19, urged not to call this therapy a panacea. “We cannot say that a method of treatment has been found. This is inappropriate formulation in this case, because such therapy will not help every patient “– emphasized Gates. “Our foundation works with a number of companies that research antibodies. Regeneron and Eli Lilly are among them. They are closest to creating a drug that can reduce mortality. We have reserved production capacity for its release “– said Gates.
The billionaire, as before, insists that only vaccination can defeat the pandemic. He believes that the United States and several other developed countries will be able to return to normal life by the end of 2021. Leading virologists in Germany agree with Gates.
Since 1972, a permanent vaccination commission (Stiko) at the Robert Koch State Institute (RKI) in Berlin has been operating in this country. Its task is to provide an independent expert assessment of registered vaccines entering the market and make recommendations for their use.
“Most of the coronavirus vaccines currently being developed involve two vaccinations. Therefore, in order to vaccinate all the inhabitants of Germany, over 160 million doses will be required ”, – Stiko member told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, Fred Zepp, professor of medicine at the University of Mainz.
The publication reminded that, according to many experts, Germany can immediately count on 5 million doses. Simple arithmetic says that in the first stage, only 2.5 million people in the country will receive protection from coronavirus.
Suppose, the newspaper further writes, that Germany will receive 18 million more doses. This is exactly how much the government purchased in 2020 for the usual fall flu vaccination. That is, this number is not taken from the ceiling. But even this number is not even close enough to provide at least three risk groups: those over 60 (there are 18 million of them in Germany), those with chronic diseases (almost 22 million), and medical personnel (only hospital staffs have hundreds of thousands of workers).
“I believe that we still have to fight the pandemic next year,” – stated in the TV program ZDF Morgenmagazin famous German politician Karl Lauterbach… He is an epidemiologist by profession and is now a member of the Bundestag. Lauterbach is confident that in North America and the European Union, risk groups will not begin to vaccinate until spring – in March-April, and the general population – only in the fall of 2021.
Specialist in pediatric and adolescent medicine Martin Terhardt believes that the process of voluntary mass vaccination against coronavirus in Germany, whose population is 83 million people, could take about eight months. Therefore, the country will return to normal life not earlier than in a year and a half, or even two.
Frankfurter Allgemeine concludes that vaccine manufacturers will be technically unable to meet the huge global demand in a short time. They simply do not have enough production capacity. Therefore, vaccine shortages are inevitable. And then a serious ethical problem arises – who should be vaccinated in the first place?
German Health Minister Jens Spahn believes that the Stiko Commission, together with the German Ethics Council (Deutscher Ethikrat) and the Leopoldina National Academy of Sciences, should answer this difficult question. Apparently, the government is reluctant to take responsibility.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine spoke with the chairman of the vaccination committee, director of the Institute of Virology at the University Hospital of Ulm, Thomas Mertens. He gave an example. If 100 thousand people are vaccinated every day for five months, which is a very ambitious goal, then 15 million vaccinated will appear in the country. But this will mean that in almost six months, only a fifth of the country’s population – 20% – will receive protection from the virus. And in order for a collective immunity to emerge in Germany that can effectively stop the spread of the virus, at least 60% of the population must be vaccinated.
In this regard, Mertens considers the ethical problem to be the most acute. Who is the first person to vaccinate if it turns out that this vaccine causes the strongest immune response in young people? Give it to the elderly, who usually do not have such a wide social circle? Or focus on youth? After all, this can significantly slow down the spread of the virus, but at the same time it will leave the most vulnerable older generation unprotected.
To date, it is only known for sure that children and adolescents will not be vaccinated in Germany yet. The Stiko Commission will simply not allow this to be done, since licensed vaccines are tested exclusively on adults.
Another question – will mass vaccination be purely voluntary or compulsory? In the summer, 55% of people in Germany declared their readiness to get vaccinated. With the arrival of autumn and a sharp increase in the number of new infections, this figure has increased.
Jens Spahn stressed that the government is not going to force vaccinations. The authorities hope that people themselves understand the importance of this measure. Therefore, the Cabinet of Ministers is preparing to organize large centers where vaccinations will be given. Gyms and exhibition centers want to get involved.