China tests vaccine on PNG ‘guinea pigs’
A Chinese mining company in Papua New Guinea has claimed it immunised its miners against coronavirus.
In what could be the world's first group vaccination attempt, The Australian reports that China may have begun trialling a coronavirus vaccine using employees of the state-owned company as guinea pigs.
PNG Health Minister Jelta Wong says his department will be investigating the claim made by Chinese-owned Ramu Nickel.
The company submitted a "vaccination statement" to the PNG Health Department.
The official statement said: "Forty-eight employees of Ramu Nickel Management Limited have been vaccinated with SARS-COV-2 vaccine on August 10, 2020."
The statement is provided in English and Mandarin and claims that if COVID tests of its employees within a week of the stated vaccination "show positive results", that would be the result of antibodies produced in the vaccine recipient's body - not infection.
"If they need to be tested again for COVID-19, it is suggested to be conducted at least seven days after the vaccination date," it says.
According to The Australian, Ramu NiCo is run by one of China's largest state-owned enterprises, the Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd.
Scott Morrison said on Wednesday he had consulted with PNG Prime Minister James Marape, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Indonesian President Joko Widodo about rolling out an approved vaccine to help the Pacific region.
PNG, which is Australia's largest aid recipient has 347 confirmed cases of coronavirus and three reported deaths with experts fearing the true count is higher.
The Chinese government says it has approved two vaccines for use by state-owned companies and their employees overseas. Another vaccine will be tested on China's military.
US BACKS AWAY FROM COVID-19 TREATMENT
America's Food and Drug Administration was preparing to issue an emergency authorisation last week for blood plasma as a COVID-19 treatment until top federal health officials including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci intervened, saying that emerging data on the treatment was not strong enough to proceed.
The authorisation is on hold until more data is reviewed, according to H. Clifford Lane, the clinical director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
An emergency approval could still be issued in the near future, according to the New York Times.
It comes as Democrats called for a congressional watchdog agency to investigate the way the Trump administration has been collecting coronavirus information.
Democrats said they are concerned that abrupt shifts in hospital reporting requirements are generating flawed data and hampering a national response to the pandemic.
DRUG COMPANY CONTRADICTS MORRISON
Drug company AstraZeneca has denied Prime Minister Scott Morrison's claim that he has reached a deal to secure 25 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University.
The Pharmaceutical company's UK headquarters told pharmaceutical industry newsletter Pharma in Focus all the government has is a letter of intent.
"The LOI doesn't go into any detail about costs or numbers or anything until we have an idea of what the manufacturing capacity is - that's a critical piece in the puzzle," a spokesperson said.
Mr Morrison has also claimed CSL will manufacture the vaccine in Australia, but AstraZeneca says as of now there is no such deal.
"Discussions with CSL are ongoing. They're still looking into whether they have the capability and capacity to produce a vaccine. We're hoping that those discussions will be concluded swiftly, but they're still ongoing," the spokesperson said.
Mr Morrison has made a number of media appearances spruiking the vaccine deal today.
"Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if it proves successful, through an agreement between the Australian Government and UK-based drug company AstraZeneca," he said in a media release.
"Under the deal, every single Australian will be able to receive the University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for free, should trials prove successful, safe and effective."
CSL told News Corp its priority is to produce the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Queensland.
"Development of the UQ vaccine candidate remains CSL's priority. However, we are currently in discussions with AstraZeneca and the Australian Government to assess whether it is possible to provide local manufacturing support for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine, should it prove successful, while protecting our commitment to the UQ vaccine," a spokesperson said.
Both the UK and the US secured deals with AstraZeneca to obtain hundreds of millions of doses of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in May.
They are likely to get it well ahead of Australia, and production of the vaccine is already advanced in the UK.
Mr Morrison's office to the claims by "AstraZeneca has put out a statement on those claims," but did not provide any further detail.
'OVERWHELMING MAJORITY WILL NEED VACCINE'
At least 95 per cent of Australians will need to be vaccinated to protect the nation's most vulnerable from COVID-19 once a successful candidate is available.
PM Scott Morrison said he has been advised the overwhelming majority of Australians will need to have the vaccine after revealing he hoped to make it as "mandatory as you can possibly make it".
During a visit to AstraZeneca's manufacturing facility in Sydney, Mr Morrison said the "rapid deployment'' of any effective vaccine was a "key focus" of the government.
"We'll continue to do everything in every area of activity, working with our state and territory partners to ensure that we are combating this virus each and every day and keeping Australians as safe as we possibly can to save lives and to save livelihoods," he said.
"The next step in these arrangements is to see how the trials go, to (finalise) the manufacturing agreements, and they're well advanced and I feel positive about those and then to identify other potential vaccine projects that Australia can partner with."
Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said he believed there would be "very strong take up" of the vaccine.
"There will be very strong campaigns to encourage people," he said.
"The first will be a voluntary call for people and I'm sure there will be long queues - socially distanced, of course - for this vaccine."
Prof Kelly said the vaccine was the "absolute ticket" to get back to "some sort of normal society".
"There will be some who, for medical reasons … may not be able to take the vaccine, but there will be very strong campaigns to encourage people and we've had experience before of linking vaccination with other programs and all of those things will be looked at over time."
Mr Morrison conceded the government would not be able to offer "jelly beans" to adults for vaccinations, referring to the technique used on children, but hoped the community would see its importance regardless of incentive.
"We'll take it one step at a time but we'll take those issues as they present and consider what steps are necessary at that time," he said.
The prime minister also said he is in discussion with leaders in the Pacific region and announced Australia would support the roll out of a vaccine however possible.
"This is not about, frankly, who wins the prize of getting there first. We just need to get there and whoever is going to get there, we need to help them get to that point and make it as widely available as possible, not just in developed countries like Australia but also in developing nations of the world," Mr Morrison said.
"To be honest, in the region, that's expected … we'll do what needs to be done."
"We all know the cost of this, frankly, is not my primary consideration. It's the cost of it not being present now that is devastating our economy and jobs across the country, so I think what Australians, rightly, would expect is that we just do what is necessary to get this done and to get it available."
VICTORIA RECORDS 216 NEW CASES
Victoria has recorded 216 new cases of coronavirus, its lowest number in over a month.
A further 12 deaths have also been recorded in the past 24 hours, bringing the state's death toll to 363. All 12 deaths are linked to aged care outbreaks.
The news comes after Victoria recorded 222 new cases on Tuesday.
During his daily press briefing Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that of the new 216 cases, 82 had no known source and were being treated as mystery cases.
This brings the state's total of mystery cases to 3751.
While the drop in new cases appears promising, Premier Daniel Andrews said there has been a drop of up to 30 per cent in people getting tested.
"The test numbers are too low for us to have clarity about just how much virus is out there," he said.
"The greatest weapon we have in the fight against the pandemic is to keep testing."
Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said that anyone experiencing any flu-like symptoms should be tested for coronavirus immediately.
Meanwhile, NSW has recorded seven new cases of coronavirus overnight. Two of these cases relate to people currently in quarantine.
Following the new cases NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has asked all hospitality workers to wear face masks in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.
GOVERNMENT VACCINE DEAL
While the rollout of the vaccine is still unclear, the agreement, which would ensure the vaccine was manufactured in Australia, is part of a multibillion-dollar federal vaccine and treatment strategy, to be released today and overseen by Health Department secretary Professor Brendan Murphy, who has led the country's pandemic response.
The candidate vaccine is in its stage three trial phase and is widely believed to show the most promise for an effective vaccine against the virus, The Australian reported.
"The Oxford vaccine is one of the most advanced and promising in the world, and under this deal we have secured early access for every Australian," Mr Morrison said.
The Oxford vaccine has entered its third phase of trials, where it is tested on thousands of volunteers to confirm its effectiveness.
It has been considered a frontrunner in the global race for a vaccine, which includes more than 160 candidates.
The prime minister said the agreement would mean that Australians would be poised to become the first people in the world to have access to a vaccine if the Oxford trials passed muster and went to market.
He cautioned that more work was needed to assess whether the drug was viable and safe, and said the government would work up a portfolio of potential vaccines among the 167 under trial worldwide.
"If this vaccine proves successful, we will manufacture and supply vaccines straight away under our own steam and make it free for 25 million Australians," he said.
"However, there is no guarantee that this, or any other vaccine will be successful, which is why we are continuing our discussions with many parties around the world while backing our own researchers at the same time."
The Government has also signed a contract with pharmaceutical company Becton Dickinson to supply 100 million needles and syringes.
"We are taking advice from Australia's best medical and scientific expertise to ensure that the government's work to select, produce and purchase COVID-19 vaccines and treatments is based on the best available knowledge," Mr Morrison said.
SUNSHINE COAST VACCINE 'PROMISING'
The University of the Sunshine Coast is calling on healthy members the community to take part in a clinical phase two trial for another potential coronavirus vaccine.
Associate Professor of USC's Clinical Trial Centre Sue Thackwray told News Corp they are hoping to have 80 people aged between 18 and 84 participate in the trial as part of the US Government's Operation Warp Speed.
"We're very excited about this," A/Prof Thackwray said.
Should phase two prove successful, phase three could commence as early as October, with a potential roll out of the vaccine by early to mid 2021.
The trial will consist of three injections spaced out over a period of weeks and months, with varying doses being given to participants so that researchers can gain greater insight into how the vaccine might be delivered long-term.
A/Prof Thackwray said that following the Prime Minister's announcement this morning regarding the Oxford vaccine, the best case scenario is that there is more than one viable vaccine option.
"I hope that we do have more than one so that we have options. If we have more vaccines that work, even if it's in slightly different ways, it's better for everybody and provides more options."
It comes as global cases reached 21.95 million on Tuesday, and the global death toll rose to almost 776,000.
According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States leads the world with more than 5.45 million cases and more than 170,000 lives lost.
It's followed by Brazil (3.36 million cases and 108,536 deaths), India (2.7 million cases) and Mexico (57,023 deaths).
WOOLIES STAFF POSITIVE
A number of major Melbourne supermarkets were affected by COVID-19 earlier this week.
Four Woolworths staff members returned positive tests for COVID-19 on Tuesday, with the employees working shifts at Mornington East, The Glen in Glen Waverley, Dan Murphy's Collingwood and Plenty Valley.
The worker was last in the Mornington East supermarket on August 5. Woolworths has confirmed the store has since been deep cleaned.
The infected Glen Waverley employee last worked on August 13, while Dan Murphy's Collingwood and Plenty Valley staff members who tested positive last worked on August 12 and August 9 respectively.
In a statement, Woolworths confirmed the risk of transmission to customers and other team members was "low".
"As a food retailer, we already have very high standards of cleaning and hygiene in place," it said.
"We're making contact with our team members and providing our full support to those required to self-isolate in line with advice from the health authorities."
All four stores have returned to normal trading.
SCIENTISTS SAY HERD IMMUNITY COULD BE 'CLOSER'
New scientific research has suggested the world may not have to wait as long as originally thought for humans to develop herd immunity against COVID-19.
Herd immunity has been a controversial concept since the pandemic swept across the world, with some governments supporting the idea, such as Sweden, while other countries have attempted to eradicate the virus via strict lockdowns, such as Australia and New Zealand.
The theory of herd immunity is that eventually, the virus will be unable to find enough hosts to survive and will gradually fade out.
To achieve herd immunity - the point at which the virus can no longer spread widely because there are not enough vulnerable humans - scientists have suggested that perhaps 70 per cent of a given population must be immune, through vaccination or through antibodies developed through surviving the infection.
But some researchers are theorising that the threshold could be much lower than 70 per cent.
More than a dozen scientists told the The New York Times the threshold could be as low as 50 per cent.
The new estimates result from complicated statistical modelling of the pandemic, and it is not certain that any community in the world has enough residents now immune to the virus to resist a second wave. But in parts of New York, London and Mumbai that have been the most devastated by the virus, it is possible that there is already significant immunity.
"I'm quite prepared to believe that there are pockets in New York City and London which have substantial immunity," said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "What happens this winter will reflect that."
Joel Miller, a mathematical modeller at Australia's La Trobe University, said he thought the virus would struggle to roar through a city like New York a second time.
"Definitely the disease would not spread as well if it gets back into New York. The same level of behaviour change will have more effect on the disease now than it did four months ago."
LEBANON MUST SHUT DOWN TO STOP CORONAVIRUS SPREAD
Lebanon must shut down for two weeks after a surge in coronavirus infections, the caretaker health minister has said as the country continues to reel from the massive Beirut port blast.
The country has recorded 456 new infections and two deaths in recent days, taking the cumulative number of cases to 9,337 since February, with 105 fatalities.
"We declare today a state of general alert and we need a brave decision to close (the country) for two weeks," Hamad Hassan told Voice of Lebanon radio.
Lebanon, already deep in financial crisis, was struggling with a COVID-19 spike before the August 4 explosion, which killed at least 178 people and pushed the government to resign.
The warehouse blast destroyed roughly half of the city's medical centres and overwhelmed existing centres with more than 6,000 people wounded.
"We are all facing a real challenge and the numbers that were recorded in the last period are shocking," Hassan said.
Hassan said authorities would not close the country's airport for the moment, with the rise in infections predominantly stemming from within the country.
"The real danger is the spread within society. Everyone must be on high alert and take the strictest prevention measures," Mr Hassan told Reuters.
RESEARCHERS PINPOINT VIRUS ORIGIN
The coronavirus may not have originated at a Wuhan wet market last year but a thousand miles away in 2012 - deep in a Chinese mineshaft where workers came down with a mysterious, pneumonia-like illness after being exposed to bats.
Virologist Jonathan Latham and molecular biologist Allison Wilson, both of the non-profit Bioscience Resource Project in Ithaca, arrived at their finding after translating a 66-page master's thesis from the Chinese medical doctor who treated the miners and sent their tissue samples to the Wuhan Institute of Virology for testing.
"The evidence it contains has led us to reconsider everything we thought we knew about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic," Latham and Wilson wrote in an article published July 15 on their website, Independent Science News.
Latham told the New York Post that the coronavirus "almost certainly escaped" from the Wuhan lab.
In April 2012, six miners in the Mojiang mine in southwestern China's Yunnan province fell ill after spending more than 14 days removing bat faeces.
Three eventually died.
In his thesis, the physician Li Xu, who treated the miners, describes how the patients had a high fever, a dry cough, sore limbs and, in some cases, headaches - all symptoms now associated with COVID-19, said Latham and Wilson.
How the miners were treated - for example, with ventilation and a variety of drugs including steroids, blood thinners and antibiotics - also resembles how COVID-19 patients are being treated worldwide, they said.
After conducting multiple tests the doctor consulted with various specialists throughout China, including virologist Zhong Nanshan, an international hero who managed the SARS outbreak in 2003 and is considered the country's greatest scientist.
"The remote meeting with Zhong Nanshan is significant," Latham and Wilson said. "It implies that the illnesses of the six miners were of high concern and, second, that a SARS-like coronavirus was considered a likely cause."
The doctor also sent sample tissues from the miners to the Wuhan lab, a focal point of coronavirus research in China.
There, scientists found the source of infection was a SARS-like coronavirus from a Chinese rufous horseshoe bat, according to the thesis.
Latham and Wilson believe the virus - once inside the miners - "evolved" into SARS CoV-2, "an unusually pathogenic coronavirus highly adapted to humans," and the samples somehow escaped from the lab last year, launching what has morphed into the coronavirus pandemic.
Originally published as China tests vaccine on PNG 'guinea pigs'