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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

January 4, 2021 by Anna Kovacevich

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Last Wednesday, the United Kingdom authorized AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine, giving the candidate its first regulatory greenlight and providing the country with its second vaccination option. The two-dose AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine—of which a two-dose, full-strength regimen showed 62 percent efficacy in clinical trials—is low cost and easy to handle, as it can be stored in refrigerators rather than ultra-cold or freezer temperatures that other vaccines require. The United Kingdom has also updated its distribution strategy and will allocate the first vaccine dose of both vaccines to as many people as possible before circling back within 12 weeks, rather than 3, to provide the second dose, instead of holding large amounts in reserve for the second shot. By providing more people with quicker access to the first dose, the hope is to enable the greatest number of eligible people to receive some level of protection in the shortest time possible. Rollout of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine in the United Kingdom begins today.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday issued an emergency use validation for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, the first COVID-19 vaccine authorization the agency has made. The emergency validation allows some countries to expedite their own regulatory approval processes for the candidate, as well as allows UNICEF and the Pan-American Health Organization to acquire and deliver the vaccine to countries in need. In its statement, WHO also emphasized the need for equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines and urged a global effort to ensure enough vaccine supply for priority populations around the world. The two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was shown to have 95 percent efficacy in clinical trials, requires a strict cold chain that could pose a challenge to distribution in many countries.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Ridgeback Biotherapeutics’ Ebanga drug to treat Ebola. The endorsement makes Ebanga the second FDA-approved Ebola therapeutic, following approval of Regeneron’s Inmazeb in October. The two treatments, both antibody therapies, were tested in a trial conducted during the 2018-19 Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of the Congo against standard-of-care therapies Zmapp and remdesivir for the control arm. Trial data indicated patients who received Ebanga were more likely to survive than those in the control group. Among those receiving the treatment, 35.1 percent died compared to 49.4 percent in the control group. The 11th and most recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was identified in June and declared over in mid-November.

About the author

Anna KovacevichGHTC

Anna Kovacevich is a senior program assistant at GHTC who supports GHTC's communications and member engagement activities.