Vaccine breakthrough with 10m Aussie doses on their way
Health Minister Greg Hunt has welcomed a coronavirus vaccine study that showed a 90 per cent effectiveness rate against the killer bug.
The Australian Government ordered 10 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech candidate last week.
Results from the company released on Monday night showed that it had exceeded expectations.
Mr Hunt told News Corp Australia: "The data on our vaccine candidates continues to be positive. We will examine the evidence carefully but the latest results are heartening news."
Scientists were "near ecstatic" at the results and the news prompted a 5.5 per cent bounce on the British stock market, with hopes that a jab would be able to unlock the crippled world economy.
The results were based on the first interim analysis of a Phase 3 study, which found 94 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in trial participants.
Of those, 86 had been given a placebo, meaning that it was up to 90 per cent effective.
Dr. Bill Gruber, Pfizer's senior vice president of clinical development said: "I'm near ecstatic.
"This is a great day for public health and for the potential to get us all out of the circumstances we're now in.
The Pfizer vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people across six countries without any major side effects being reported.
The company was likely to apply for the vaccine to be registered in the United States by the end of the month.
The mRNA vaccine can be produced at scale quickly and Australia ordered 10 million doses in a deal announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week.
Australia also has orders for the Oxford University vaccine candidate, which was expected to deliver results soon, and a groundbreaking University of Queensland candidate.
Scientists had hoped for a vaccine that would be 50 per cent effective, making the results released on Monday night remarkable.
The Pfizer jab uses the body to create an immune response, but there is no actual virus in the dose so it can be manufactured faster.
If approved, it would be the first mRNA vaccine approved for use in humans, after successful trials in animals.
Albert Bourla, Pfizer's chairman and chief executive, said: "Today is a great day for science and humanity.
"We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing overcapacity and economies struggling to reopen."
The company had already started producing the vaccine before the results of the trials were known and can make up to 50 million doses by the end of the year.
Pfizer has plans to make 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
The trial will continue until there are 164 cases among participants.
GLOBAL VIRUS CASES PASS 50 MILLION
Meanwhile, global coronavirus infections have exceeded 50 million, with a second wave of the virus in the past 30 days accounting for a quarter of the total.
October was the worst month for the pandemic so far, with the United States becoming the first country to report more than 100,000 daily cases. A surge in Europe contributed to the rise.
The latest seven-day average shows global daily infections are rising by more than 540,000.
More than 1.25 million people have died from the respiratory disease that emerged in China late last year.
The pandemic's recent acceleration has been ferocious. It took 32 days for the number of cases to rise from 30 million to 40 million. It took just 21 days to add another 10 million.
Europe, with about 12 million cases, is the worst-affected region, overtaking Latin America. Europe accounts for 24 per cent of COVID-19 deaths.
The region is logging about one million new infections every three days or so, according to a Reuters analysis. That is 51 per cent of the global total.
France is recording 54,440 cases a day on the latest seven-day average, a higher rate than India with a far bigger population.
The global second wave is testing healthcare systems across Europe, prompting Germany, France and Britain to order many citizens back to their homes again.
Denmark, which imposed a new lockdown on its population in several northern areas, ordered the culling of its 17 million minks after a mutation of the coronavirus found in the animals spread to humans.
The United States, with about 20 per cent of global cases, is facing its worst surge, recording more than 100,000 daily coronavirus cases on the latest seven-day average. It reported a record of more than 130,000 cases on Saturday (local time).
The latest US surge coincided with the last month of election campaigning in which US President Donald Trump minimised the severity of the pandemic and his successful challenger, Joe Biden, urged a more science-based approach.
Mr Trump's rallies, some open-air and with few masks and little social distancing, led to 30,000 additional confirmed cases and likely led to more than 700 deaths, Stanford University economists estimated in a research paper.
In Asia, India has the world's second-highest caseload but has seen a steady slowdown since September, despite the start of the Hindu festival season. Total cases exceeded 8.5 million cases on Friday and the daily average is 46,200.
BIDEN PREPARES COVID TASKFORCE
As the US hit a fourth day of record virus numbers, US President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to name a group of top scientists to his coronavirus task force as early as Monday (local time), making the pledge during his first speech since being projected as winner of the US election.
"That plan will be built on a bedrock of science," Mr Biden said during his election victory speech on Saturday night, promising to "spare no effort - or commitment - to turn this pandemic around."
On Sunday (local time), Mr Biden's campaign said that former US surgeon general Dr Vivek Murthy and former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr David Kessler would be co-chairs of the task force.
Dr Murthy was surgeon general during Barack Obama's second term. Dr Kessler was FDA commissioner in the 1990s and is now board chair at the Centres for Science in the Public Interest.
"Our work begins with getting COVID under control," Mr Biden said. "We cannot repair the economy, restore our vitality, or relish life's most precious moments - hugging a grandchild, birthdays, weddings, graduations, all the moments that matter most to us - until we get this virus under control.
"On Monday, I will name a group of leading scientists and experts as transition advisers to help take the Biden-Harris COVID plan and convert it into an action blueprint that starts on 20 January 2021.
"That plan will be built on a bedrock of science. It will be constructed out of compassion, empathy, and concern. I will spare no effort - or commitment - to turn this pandemic around."
RING OF STEEL LIFTED
Australia has experienced another day with no local transmission of coronavirus.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt pointed to the difference between what Australians were going through compared with people overseas.
"Advice from the National Incident Centre of a further day of zero community transmission Australia wide," Mr Hunt said.
"Many thanks to our health workers, public health leaders and the Australian public.
"Every day we see the contrast in outcomes between Australia and that faced by so many others abroad."
Ut comes as the "ring of steel" was lifted in Victoria after the state recorded its ninth consecutive day of zero new coronavirus cases or deaths.
The removal of the border separating metro Melbourne and regional Victoria at 11.59pm on Sunday means people can leave the city for the first time in months.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced the easing of restrictions in his daily press conference.
People will be allowed to meet in larger groups with cafes and pubs having outdoor dining lifted to 70 and 40 for indoors.
Libraries will also be opening and gyms and indoor sporting facilities will open with up to 20 customers.
From November 23, further restrictions will be eased, including those on private gatherings, allowing ten visitors at home.
Hospitality caps will be increased to 100 people indoors and 200 outdoors with space requirements permitting.
Originally published as Global COVID cases pass 50m but PM's approval high