Pfizer says its antiviral pill slashes risk of severe COVID-19 by 89 percent

Pfizer announced Friday it will soon ask the US Food and Drug Administration and international regulators to authorize its pill, which is taken twice a day for five days. (AP)
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Updated 05 November 2021

Pfizer says its antiviral pill slashes risk of severe COVID-19 by 89 percent

  • Pfizer's pill, with the brand name Paxlovid, could secure U.S. regulatory approval by the end of the year
  • President Joe Biden said the U.S. government has secured millions of doses of the Pfizer drug

DUBAI: Pfizer Inc’s experimental antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 was shown to cut by 89 percent the chances of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of developing severe disease, the company said on Friday.
It also comes as an offer to what could be a promising new weapon in the fight against the pandemic.
The trial’s results suggest that the oral drug surpasses Merck & Co. Inc’s pill, molnupiravir, which was shown last month to halve the risk of dying or being hospitalized for COVID-19 patients at high risk of serious illness.
Pfizer’s pill, with the brand name Paxlovid, could secure US regulatory approval by the end of the year. The Pfizer trial was stopped early due to its high success rate. Full trial data is not yet available from either company.
President Joe Biden said the US government has secured millions of doses of the Pfizer drug.
“If authorized by the FDA we may soon have pills that treat the virus in those who become infected,” Biden said. “The therapy would be another tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of COVID.”
Shares in Pfizer, which also makes one of the mostly widely used COVID-19 vaccines, were up 9 percent to $47.82, while Merck’s were down 9.3 percent to $82.09. Shares of vaccine makers took a hit, with Moderna Inc, Pfizer’s German partner BioNTech SE and Novavax all down 13-21 percent.
The pill is given in combination with an older antiviral called ritonavir. The treatment consists of three pills given twice daily. It has been in development for nearly two years.
Pfizer is in discussions with 90 countries over supply contracts for its pill, Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said in an interview.
Bourla said Pfizer expects to price its treatment close to where Merck has priced its pill. Merck’s US contract price for its pill is around $700 for a five-day course of therapy.
Even with the potential offered by the Pfizer and Merck pills, preventing COVID-19 infections through broad use of vaccines remains the best way to control a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people worldwide, including more than 750,000 in the United States, according to infectious disease experts.
“Vaccines are going to be the most effective and reliable tool that we have in this pandemic,” said Dr. Grace Lee, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. “These oral medications are going to augment our ability to really reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death, which is huge, but it won’t prevent infection.”
While more than 7 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, that has covered only about half the world’s people. In the United States, 58 percent of all people, including 70 percent of adults, are fully vaccinated. There are more than 400,000 new COVID-19 cases daily worldwide, with infections rising in 50 countries.
Mizuho analyst Vamil Divan forecast a “very minor impact” from the Pfizer drug on vaccination among people who do not want the vaccine or a booster shot as recommended by US health regulators.
“I think there’s a small percentage of people that may decide not to get vaccinated, now that there are good treatment options,” Divan said.
Pfizer said it plans to submit interim trial results for its pill to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before the US Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 25.
The company said it expects to manufacture 180,000 treatment courses by the end of this year and at least 50 million courses by the end of next year, including 21 million in the first half of 2022.
Antivirals need to be given as early as possible, before an infection takes hold, to be most effective.
The planned analysis of 1,219 patients in Pfizer’s study examined hospitalizations or deaths among people diagnosed with mild to moderate COVID-19 with at least one risk factor for developing severe disease, such as obesity or older age.
Among those given Pfizer’s drug within three days of symptom onset, the pill lowered the chances of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of developing severe COVID-19 by 89 percent compared to patients who received a placebo. Among these patients, 0.8 percent were hospitalized and none died by 28 days after treatment, compared to a 7 percent hospitalization rate and seven deaths in the placebo group.
Rates were similar for patients treated within five days of symptoms: 1 percent of the treatment group was hospitalized, compared to 6.7 percent for the placebo group, which included 10 deaths. Pfizer said that works out to being 85 percent effective at preventing hospitalization or death.
An FDA panel of outside experts is scheduled to meet Nov. 30 to discuss Merck’s pill, which was approved by British regulators https://www.reuters.com/business/health care-pharmaceuticals/britain-approves-mercks-oral-covid-19-pill-2021-11-04 in a world first on Thursday. Pfizer said it did not know if Paxlovid would be reviewed at that meeting.
Pfizer did not detail side any effects but said adverse events happened in about 20 percent of both treatment and placebo patients. Possible side effects include nausea and diarrhea.
Pfizer is holding discussions about a license for generic manufacturing of the pill for low-income countries, Unitaid’s Medicines Patent Pool said in a statement.


India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

Updated 03 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

  • Sanna Irshad Mattoo was to travel for a book launch, photography exhibition
  • The photojournalist is one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason. 

In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020. 

"Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said. 

She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally. 

There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities. 

Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team. 

She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan. 

Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019. 


Bus crash kills at least 20 in southwest Pakistan — official

Updated 03 July 2022

Bus crash kills at least 20 in southwest Pakistan — official

  • Poor road infrastructure and rash driving often cause deadly road crashes in Pakistan

QUETTA: A passenger bus plunged into a ravine in southwestern Pakistan on Sunday killing 20 people, a government official said.
The road crash also injured another 13 people aboard the bus that was traveling from garrison city of Rawalpindi to Quetta, the capital of southwestern Balochistan province, said Ijaz Jaffar, deputy commissioner of Sherani district.
The ravine is some 350 kilometers north of Quetta.
Poor road infrastructure and rash driving often cause deadly road crashes in Pakistan.
The province is home to several Chinese projects under an investment plan in which Beijing is seeking road and sea trade linkages with the world. 


Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine

Updated 03 July 2022

Blasts kill 3 in Russian border city, lawmaker blames Ukraine

  • At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy
  • Since Russia launched it invasion on Feb. 24, there have been numerous reports of attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine

At least three people were killed and dozens of residential buildings damaged in the Russian city of Belgorod near the Ukraine border, the regional governor said, after reports of several blasts in the city.
At least 11 apartment buildings and 39 private houses were damaged, including five that were destroyed, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov posted on the Telegram messaging app.
Gladkov said earlier the “incident” was being investigated, adding, “Presumably, the air defense system worked.”
At least four people were injured and two hospitalized, including a 10-year-old boy, Gladkov said.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate reaction from Ukraine to the reports.
Belgorod, a city of nearly 400,000 some 40 km (25 miles) north of the border with Ukraine, is the administrative center of the Belgorod region.
Since Russia launched it invasion on Feb. 24, there have been numerous reports of attacks on Belgorod and other regions bordering Ukraine, with Moscow accusing Kyiv of carrying out the strikes.
Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for previous attacks but has described the incidents as payback and “karma” for Russia’s invasion.
Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and its allies in the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.


Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest

Updated 03 July 2022

Uzbekistan scraps plans to curb Karakalpak autonomy after protest

  • If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms

ALMATY: Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev on Saturday dropped plans to curtail the autonomy of the country’s Karakalpakstan province following a rare public protest in the northwestern region, his office said.
Friday’s rally was called to protest constitutional reform plans that would have changed the status of Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic home to the Karakalpak people — an ethnic minority group with its own language, Uzbek authorities said.
Police dispersed the protesters after some of them tried to storm local government buildings in the region’s capital, Nukus, following a march and a rally at the city’s central market, local and government officials said.
Mirziyoyev later issued a decree proclaiming a state of emergency in Karakalpakstan for a month “in order to ensure the security of citizens, defend their rights and freedoms and restore the rule of law and order” in the region.
Under the current Uzbek constitution, Karakalpakstan is described as a sovereign republic within Uzbekistan that has the right to secede by holding a referendum.
The new version of the constitution — on which Uzbekistan plans to hold a referendum in the coming months — would no longer mention Karakalpakstan’s sovereignty or right for secession.
But in a swift reaction to the protest, Mirziyoyev said on Saturday during a visit to Karakalpakstan that the changes regarding its status must be dropped from the proposed reform, his office said in a statement.
Karakalpakstan’s government said in a statement earlier on Saturday that police had detained the leaders of Friday’s protest, and several other protesters who had put up resistance.
The changes concerning Karakalpakstan were part of a broader constitutional reform proposed by Mirziyoyev, which also includes strengthening civil rights and extending the presidential term to seven years from five.
If the reform is endorsed in the planned referendum, it would reset Mirziyoyev’s term count and allow him to run for two more terms.


Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash

Updated 02 July 2022

Waterways in Brazil’s Manaus choked by tons of trash

  • From January to May, city workers have removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could have been recycled instead of being thrown in the river

MANAUS: In Manaus, the largest city in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, tons of stinking trash fill the canals and streams, giving one the feeling that they’re visiting a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

On the west side of the city, in a poor neighborhood where homes have been erected on stilts, a worker uses an excavator to scoop up a bucket-load of bottles, pieces of plastic and even home appliances that have been tossed in the water.

Not far from the city’s main port, municipal workers wearing orange uniforms gather garbage from a boat and pile it onto a big barge floating on the Rio Negro, one of the Amazon River’s main tributaries.

With the rising water levels signaling an end to the rainy season, the mounds of trash are often intermingled with leaves and tree branches.

Each day, nearly 30 tons of debris is plucked from the water. In some areas, the water is almost completely covered.

The massive influx of trash to Manaus’s waterways occurs around this time every year, but city authorities believe the situation has gotten worse in recent weeks.

From January to May, city workers have removed 4,500 tons of trash, most of which could have been recycled instead of being thrown in the river.

“The people who live on the water’s edge throw garbage straight into the streams... few people put it in the trash,” says Antonino Pereira, a 54-year-old Manaus resident who complains that the stench is unbearable.

According to the city’s undersecretary of sanitation, Jose Reboucas, if the population was more aware of the costs associated with littering, the city could save $190,000 per month.

“The awareness of the population will be very beneficial for our city and especially for our environment,” he said.

The Amazonian region is also facing a major threat from deforestation, with more than 3,750 square kilometers of jungle chopped down since the beginning of the year.