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Faster development of COVID-19 vaccine could raise global incomes by $9 trillion, IMF says - ABC News
The head of the International Monetary Fund implored the international community to cooperate in developing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine, saying that speeding up a global economic recovery could add some $9 trillion to global incomes over the next five years. "The value of cooperation right now cannot be overstated," IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said at a news conference Friday. "Faster progress on medical solutions could speed up the recovery -- it could add almost $9 trillion to global income by 2025. This, in turn, could help narrow the income gap between richer and poorer nations." In this Feb. 5, 2020, file photo, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva arrives for a conference hosted by the Vatican on economic solidarity, at the Vatican. In this Feb. 5, 2020, file photo, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva arrives for a conference hosted by the Vatican on economic solidarity, at the Vatican. Georgieva noted that "this has been a crisis like no other that calls for steps to enable a recovery like no other." Her comments come on the heels of the IMF's gloomy October global economic outlook, published earlier this week, that project a deep recession as global gross domestic product is expected to contract by 4.4% in 2020. While the bulk of the outlook contained dismal economic indicators and projections, including that 90 million people are expected fall into extreme poverty just this year, the economists noted that some of the worst could be avoided if countries work together to combat the virus. Gita Gopinath, the IMF's chief economist, said at a news conference that "greater international collaboration is needed to end this health crisis." "Tremendous progress is being made in developing tests, treatments and vaccines, but only if countries work closely together will there be enough production and widespread distribution to every part of the world to end this pandemic," Gopinath added. "Now, we estimate that if medical solutions can be made available faster and more widely relative to our current baseline, it could lead to cumulative increase in global income of almost 9 trillion dollars by end-2025, benefitting all economies and reducing divergence."
Excitement mounts for planned Venus flyby after new discovery hints at signs of life - ABC News
The astronomy community lit up earlier this week with news that hinted at possible signs of life on Venus. Among the most excited about the discovery were researchers at the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency, who just happened to already have spacecraft en route to Earth's planetary neighbor. A team of researchers using telescopes in Hawaii and Chile announced Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy that they spotted what appeared to be phosphine on Venus. Phosphine is a noxious gas that on Earth is only associated with living organisms. While there were many caveats in linking the discovery directly to proof of life on Venus, it still set both the scientific community and the public abuzz with new wonder. Missions to space can be costly and time consuming, but in a complete coincidence, the ESA and JAXA happened to already be planning a flyby of Venus next month as part of the BepiColombo mission to Mercury that launched in 2018. In this photo provided by European Space Agency (ESA), The Ariane 5 rocket carrying BepiColombo lifts off from its launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana, for the mission to Mercury, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. In this photo provided by European Space Agency (ESA), The Ariane 5 rocket carrying BepiColombo lifts off from its launch pad at Kourou in French Guiana, for the mission to Mercury, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. "We are all very excited," Johannes Benkhoff, a scientist for the BepiColombo mission, told ABC News. "It was not expected and we would've never thought about looking for life on Venus using our instruments, because we are going to Mercury," he added. "But nevertheless, when we heard about it, we were all excited and we immediately looked if we can do something." Benkhoff expressed some doubts that all of their equipment that was planned for exploring Mercury will end up being sensitive enough to do research into signs of life on Venus during the flyby, but said they are looking into any ways they can assist. "We had a meeting of our Venus working group and phosphine was one of the topics," he said. "We also had one of the team members who discovered this phosphine joining our meeting." The international space agencies actually have two planned flybys of Venus on their calendars, one slated for next month and one in August 2021. The purpose of these flybys for the BepiColombo mission is to de-accelerate the spacecraft so that it can stay on track to reach Mercury by 2025, according to Benkhoff. "But of course, if we can do a little bit of science, we do that also," he added. Benkhoff said that the BepiColombo mission is in partnership with Japan, but they also have collaborators from the U.S. and Russia, and marveled at how exploring other planets has a way of bringing people on Earth closer together. "That's what I like about space," he said. "It's a very international community and you come together with different cultures."
Movie theaters implore studios: Release the blockbusters - ABC News
NEW YORK -- A long time ago in a pre-COVID universe far, far away, blockbusters opened around the globe simultaneously or nearly so. In 1975, Jaws set the blueprint. Concentrate marketing. Open wide. Pack them in. Since then, Hollywood has turned opening weekends into an all-out assault. Staggered rollouts still happen, of course, but the biggest films are dropped like carpet bombs. Anything less risks losing the attention of moviegoers. Global debuts north of $300 million became commonplace. Last year, Avengers: Endgame made well north of $1 billion in a couple days. Hollywood has now gone more than four months without a major theatrical release. While some films have found new streaming homes, the biggest upcoming ones Tenet, Mulan, A Quiet Place Part II remain idled like jumbo jets on the tarmac. The leading chains are still shuttered. Recent coronavirus spikes have forced release dates to shuffle and chains to postpone reopening to August. Now, movie houses say that despite far from ideal circumstances, its time for new movies. Four months of near zero revenue has brought the $50 billion annual business to its knees. While the beleaguered restaurant industry still has takeout and airlines continue to operate with masked flyers, the vast majority of U.S. movie theaters havent punched a single ticket since March. Some have turned to selling popcorn curbside. The problem is, we need their movies, says John Fithian, president and chief executive of National Association of Theater Owners. Distributors who want to play movies theatrically, they cant wait until 100% of markets are allowed open because thats not going to happen until theres a vaccine widely available in the world. The old distribution models of big blockbusters," adds Fithian, need to be rethought. That may mean returning to a more old-fashioned release pattern, opening films overseas first and, in the U.S., opening at different times in different areas. When Warner Bros. earlier this week announced it was delaying the release of Christopher Nolans Tenet because of the rise in cases, Warner Bros. Pictures Group chairman Toby Emmerich said the studio is not treating Tenet like a traditional global day-and-date release. Right now, the biggest movies are getting further away, not closer. AMC, the worlds largest circuit, on Thursday delayed its reopening from the end of July to mid-to-late August. After Tenet earlier this week postponed indefinitely, Disneys Mulan followed suit Thursday. Disney also pushed back numerous releases, including films in the Avatar and Star Wars franchises, back by a year. A Quiet Place Part II also joined the exodus Thursday, uprooting from Sept. 4 to April 23 next year. The coronavirus crisis has ushered in new chapter in the often symbiotic, occasionally quarrelsome relationship between distributors and exhibitors. Splitting ticket sale revenue approximately in half, their fortunes have often been closely linked. The largest studios the Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros., Universal now all have streaming services of their own now, along with television operations. So they have options. The on-demand release of Trolls caused a rift between Universal and AMC. But the two halves of theatrical moviegoing have worked largely in concert through the pandemic thus far. Its in their own self-interest. Studios have been loath to sacrifice billions in box office for their priciest and most popular releases. On Thursday, John Stankey, chief executive of Warner Bros. parent company AT&T said direct release to HBO Max could be option for some Warner Bros. movies but not the $200 million Tenet. With distancing protocols and other measures, cinemas have reopened in parts of Europe, the Middle East and South Korea, where last weekend Yeon Sang-hos Train to Busan action sequel Peninsula debuted with $13.2 million. Theaters in China, the worlds second largest movie market, this week reopened with theaters limited to 30% capacity. North America, usually the main event of a blockbuster release, may have to learn to follow the rest of the world. Despite the virus surge in much of the U.S., exhibitors believe they can operate relatively safely by adhering to health officials, decreasing theater capacity and cleaning in between showings. After initially flip-flopping, AMC will require patrons to wear masks. Some moviegoers, naturally, dont anticipate going, regardless of what comes out. Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, isnt planning to go to the movies this year. It seems prudent to think that indoors is where the lion share of transmission takes place, says Shaman. You could think: well, its a movie theater. If you space people out, its a big room, tall ceilings. If they get the ventilation cranked up, its actually not the most concentrated environment. Its not liked a packed bar with a low ceiling. Its probably not as dangerous as that scenario. But is it more dangerous than sitting home and watching Netflix? Yes, of course it is. But imperfect may be all cinemas and studios have for now. Fithian believes 75% of U.S. theaters could be open within days if they had new movies. (Those currently open are mainly playing older films.) Theaters are closed in California and have yet to reopen in New York despite the states relative success in combating the virus. That removes the two top cities in ticket sales, Los Angeles and New York. The longer this goes, there will be bankruptcy filings and reorganizations and there will be people who go out of business, says Fithian whos currently lobbying for greater Congressional support for theaters. But if there are no new movies until thats a vaccine, thats a dire situation for a lot of companies. AMC recently raised $300 million in debt relief to help itself remain solvent. Throughout the industry, some 150,000 workers remain furloughed. Jonathan Kuntz, a film historian and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, says Tenet was made for a world that no longer exists. But as much as the familiar kind of worldwide launch is now impossible, the downside of improvising might not be as bad as it seems provided piracy isn't widespread. There will be scant competition. Tenet can take up most screens. Its opening can be spread out through the week. Advertising will be cheaper. Audiences will have little to distract them. Theyre going to have to be very inventive and very nimble to squeeze what they can out of this movie and maybe set a pattern for this kind of COVID theatrical universe were moving into, says Kuntz. If they dont do something, if they just keeping holding the films back, the theaters are going to die. Then everythings going to just be streaming and well have lost something a lot of people not just Christopher Nolan treasure. Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
COVID-19 vaccine candidates show promising early results, but finish line still far ahead - ABC News
A flurry of research, newly released by multiple manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccine candidates, provides reassuring glimmers of hope that scientists are on track to develop an effective and safe vaccine at record speed. On Monday, three research groups separately released early positive results demonstrating that their respective COVID-19 experimental vaccines induced a multipronged immune response that may be important for long-term protection against infection. Those groups included the University of Oxford and its partner AstraZeneca, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech and the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics. Last week, Moderna also released promising early data. Experts caution that these early studies, though promising, will need to be confirmed with larger Phase 3 trials, involving tens of thousands of people, to determine if any vaccine could be truly effective. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are at least 23 COVID-19 vaccine candidates that have progressed to various stages of human studies. So far, several of these candidates have showed promising preliminary data from their early clinical trials, either in peer-reviewed journals, directly online to preprint servers or in press releases. On Monday, new data by Oxford-AstraZeneca, published in the journal The Lancet, suggested that the vaccine is relatively safe and induces an immune response to fight the novel coronavirus. All 1,077 volunteers who received the vaccine in the Phase 1/2 trial developed neutralizing antibodies against COVID-19. These specific antibodies are infection-fighting proteins produced by the body that may prevent the virus from infecting healthy cells. The vaccine also elicited a T-cell response to the virus: another method of defense used by the immune system to bolster protection and attack cells already infected by the virus. Professor Adrian Hill, director of Oxford's Jenner Institute, called the latest data very "encouraging" in an interview with ABC News, adding that experts are "seeing both arms of the immune systems stimulated very strongly by the vaccine." Meanwhile, BioNTech and Pfizer also released results of a Phase 1/2 trial Monday. That study included 60 participants and showed that the vaccine induced both neutralizing antibody and T-cell responses. The results were published in a preprint server, meaning they have not yet undergone the normal scientific review process. A subject receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine by Moderna for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, March 16, 2020. A subject receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine by Moderna for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, March 16, 2020. Ted S. Warren/AP, FILE Also on Monday, CanSino Biologics released data in the Lancet that showed similar results. And last week, the U.S.-based company Moderna released data in the New England Journal of Medicine that also demonstrated this two-pronged effect of neutralizing antibodies and T-cell response. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told ABC News that many of the vaccines with recently-published data look promising. "Their Phase 1 data looks really good," Collins said, referring to Oxford's vaccine. "I wouldn't say it looks distinctly better than what you see for the Moderna trial or the Pfizer trial. They all look good, which is really encouraging to see." Collectively, these early studies indicate that all four vaccine candidates might confer immunity through multiple pathways to fight COVID-19, although experts caution that more research is still needed. Dr. Paul Goepfert, director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic at UAB, said that "distinguishing one vaccine candidate from another is very difficult at this point. They all induce about the same amount of responses. They all induce neutralizing antibody response, which is sort of the gold standard of protection for a lot of vaccines." According to Goepfert, antibodies protect against infection, while T-cells -- especially a specific subtype known as killer T-cells -- attack previously-infected cells and are very good at preventing disease. "So ideally, you want everything. The more the merrier," said Goepfert, "The more types of immune responses you can induce with the vaccine, and the higher amount, we think that's the best thing you can have." But he warned that this is not always the case. Some effective and already widely-used vaccines, like the Hepatitis B vaccine, do not induce any killer T-cell response but are still highly effective. Although the results reported this week are promising, it's still too early to predict which one of the vaccines will be the most effective. Early Phase 1 and Phase 2 studies mainly examine vaccine safety, tolerability and immune response, but Phase 3 trials will provide answers to these much-anticipated questions about efficacy. Even Hill admitted that the Oxford team still doesn't have the data to determine how well their vaccine will actually work. "The truth is that we don't know when we'll have a final result or how well the vaccine works," Hill said. "It's likely to be months. We were aiming for September, October... I still think that's a realistic aspiration but we can't be certain." When it comes to large Phase 3 studies, Oxford is slightly ahead of the pack, having already enrolled over 10,000 people in Brazil, South America, the U.K. and, soon, in the U.S. "We're aiming to vaccinate, in total, around about 50,000 people over the coming months, so that's promising, but you know it's not really a race against other vaccines, it's a race against time," Hill added. "But at the moment we're probably ahead in terms of Phase 3 trials and hoping to get a result certainly this year." Among European and North American vaccine efforts, Moderna is following right behind, scheduled to begin its Phase 3 trials next week. Similarly, Pfizer-BioNTech is on track to launch its Phase 2/3 trial later this month. Among Chinese companies, two have already begun Phase 3 trials: Sinovac and Sinopharm. According to CanSino Biologics' executive director, Qiu Dongxu, the company is expected to begin Phase 3 trials "soon," but a clear start date is yet to be publicly released. Biopharmaceutical companies across the world have now pivoted their efforts to primarily support the development of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. Progress has been made at record speeds, and during an unprecedented time, the U.S. government is taking unprecedented measures, ramping up the development of some of these vaccines before even confirming their efficacy. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor, "If everything works out the way we hope and we don't get any unpredictable potholes and bumps in the road, we should know, as we get into the mid to late fall, early winter, probably late fall, whether we have candidates that really are safe and effective." Many scientists and researchers have been working nonstop for the past six months to find a vaccine against COVID-19. "We feel that there's urgency and pressure really every day," Hill said. "People are working day and night and we're not going to stop until we get an answer." Eden David, who studied neuroscience at Columbia University and is matriculating to Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai later this year, is a member of the ABC News Medical Unit. Sabina Bera, M.D., M.S., a psychiatrist in New York, and Shantum Misra, M.D., a senior resident in internal medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, are contributors to the ABC News Medical Unit.
Asymptomatic and presymptomatic people transmit most COVID-19 infections: Study - ABC News
Silent transmission of the novel coronavirus could account for more than half of infections, according to one new mathematical model by U.S. and Canadian researchers. The researchers utilized data on asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission from two different epidemiological studies and estimated that more than 50% of infections were attributable to people not exhibiting symptoms. Since the study is based on a mathematical model, the 50% finding is an estimation based on probabilities and approximations, rather than a precise figure. The findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A different study, published in June in the journal Nature, found that in one Italian town in which the majority of residents were tested for COVID-19 while the town was under a 14-day quarantine, approximately 40% of individuals who tested positive had no symptoms. The findings could have real-world implications for leaders deciding how to rein in outbreaks in their respective countries or regions. Widespread testing, isolating infected people, and ordering a community lockdown stopped the Italian outbreak in its tracks, the authors of the Nature study concluded. "Even if all symptomatic cases are isolated, a vast outbreak may nonetheless unfold," the PNAS study's authors wrote. "Understanding how silent infections that are in the presymptomatic phase or asymptomatic contribute to transmission will be fundamental to the success of postlockdown control strategies," they said. What to know about the coronavirus:
Mary Kay Letourneau, teacher jailed for raping student, dies - ABC News
SEATTLE -- Mary Kay Letourneau, a teacher who married her former sixth-grade student after she was convicted of raping him in a case that drew international headlines, has died. She was 58. Her lawyer David Gehrke told multiple news outlets Letourneau died Tuesday of cancer. He did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press. Letourneau was a married mother of four having difficulties with her marriage in 1996 when Vili Fualaau was a precocious 12-year-old in Letourneaus class at Shorewood Elementary in Burien, a south Seattle suburb. At about 1:20 a.m. on June 19, 1996, police discovered them in a minivan parked at the Des Moines Marina. Letourneau, then 34, initially told officers the boy was 18, raising suspicions that something sexual was going on. But back at the police station, Fualaau and Letourneau denied there had been any touching. Instead, they said, Letourneau had been babysitting the boy and took him from her home after she and her husband had a fight. About two months after the marina incident, Letourneau became pregnant with the couples first daughter. Their second child was conceived in 1998, after Letourneau had pleaded guilty to child rape and received a 7 1/2-year prison term. Letourneau and Fualaau married on May 20, 2005, in Woodinville, Washington, after she finished serving time in prison. Fualaau and Letourneau had previously characterized their relationship as one of love, and even wrote a book together Un Seul Crime, LAmour, or Only One Crime, Love. Their story was also the subject of a USA Network movie, All American Girl. King County court records show Fualaau asked the court for a legal separation from Letourneau on May 9, 2017. Seattle attorney Anne Bremner befriended Letourneau in 2002, when she represented the Des Moines police department in a lawsuit brought by Fualaaus mother, claiming the city and school district failed to protect him from the teacher. A jury found against the family in the civil action. Bremner visited Letourneau in prison and would meet her for lunch after her release. She accepted that it was a crime and that she had to serve her time, but when she got out she didnt dwell, Bremner said. She moved forward in a very positive way and raised those girls. She was somebody I rooted for. I really wanted her to do well, and she did. In the civil trial following the multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed by Fualaaus mother, the police department and school district insisted the romance was so bizarre that no one could have predicted it. The districts lawyer said it began off school grounds after the academic year had ended. Police argued that they simply had no evidence of sexual abuse until it was too late. Bremner said of Letourneau and Fualauu's relationship: Everyone said it wouldnt last, but it did, at least for 20 years.
SpaceX opens era of amateur astronauts, cosmic movie sets - ABC News
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- SpaceXs debut astronaut launch is the biggest, most visible opening shot yet in NASAs grand plan for commercializing Earths backyard. Amateur astronauts, private space stations, flying factories, out-of-this-world movie sets this is the future the space agency is striving to shape as it eases out of low-Earth orbit and aims for the moon and Mars. It doesnt quite reach the fantasized heights of George Jetson and Iron Man, but still promises plenty of thrills. Im still waiting for my personal jetpack. But the future is incredibly exciting, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren said the day before SpaceXs historic liftoff. NASA astronaut Nicole Mann, who will test drive Boeings space capsule next year, envisions scientists, doctors, poets and reporters lining up for rocket rides. I see this as a real possibility, she said. Youre going to see low-Earth orbit open up. The road to get there has never been so crowded, with Elon Musks SpaceX company leading the pack. A week ago, SpaceX became the first private company to send people into orbit, something accomplished by only three countries in nearly 60 years. The flight to the International Space Station returned astronaut launches to the U.S. after nine long years. This is hopefully the first step on a journey toward a civilization on Mars, an emotional Musk told journalists following liftoff. Closer in time and space is SpaceX's involvement in a plan to launch Tom Cruise to the space station to shoot a movie in another year or so. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine embraces the idea. He wants NASA to be just one of many customers in this new space-traveling era, where private companies own and fly their own spaceships and sell empty seats. Kind of a changing of the guard in how we're going to do human spaceflight in the future, said Mike Suffredini, a former NASA station program manager who now leads Houston's Axiom Space company. Axiom has partnered with SpaceX to launch three customers to the space station in fall 2021. An experienced astronaut will accompany them, serving as the commander-slash-tour guide. Two private flights a year are planned, using completely automated capsules belonging to SpaceX or Boeing, NASA's two commercial crew providers. The ticket price which includes 15 weeks of training and more than a week at the space station is about $55 million. Besides the three signed up, others have expressed serious interest, Suffredini said. Since last weekend's successful launch, everybodys starting to wonder where their place in line is, Suffredini told The Associated Press on Thursday. "That's a really, really cool position to be in now. Space Adventures Inc. of Vienna, Virginia, also has teamed up with SpaceX. Planned for late next year, this five-day-or-so mission would skip the space station and instead orbit two to three times higher for more sweeping views of Earth. The cost: around $35 million. It's also advertising rides to the space station via Boeing Starliner and Russian Soyuz capsules. Jeff Bezos Blue Origin and Richard Bransons Virgin Galactic are taking it slower and lower with tourist flights. These space-skimming, up-and-down flights will last minutes, not days, and cost a lot less. Hundreds already have reservations with Virgin Galactic. Branson is the only one of the three billionaires planning to launch himself before putting customers aboard at $250,000 a pop. His winged rocketship is designed to drop from a customized plane flying over New Mexico. Blue Origin's customers will launch on rockets from West Texas; the capsules sport wall-to-ceiling windows, the largest ever built for a spacecraft. It's not just rocket rides that have companies salivating. Beginning in 2024, Axiom plans to build its own addition to the 260-mile-high (420-kilometer-high) outpost to accommodate its private astronauts. The segment would later be detached and turned into its own free-flying abode. Space Adventures is marketing flights to the moon not to land, but buzz it in Russian spacecraft. The moon considered the proving ground for the ultimate destination Mars is where it's at these days. NASA is pushing to get astronauts back on the lunar surface by 2024 and establish a permanent base there. Musk's company recently won contracts to haul cargo to the moon and develop a lunar lander for astronauts. But the bigger draw for Musk is Mars. Its why he founded SpaceX 18 years ago and why he keeps pushing the space envelope. I cannot emphasize this enough. This is the thing that we need to do. We must make life sustainably multi planetary. Its not one planet to the exclusion of another, but to extend life beyond Earth," Musk said after last weekend's launch. I call upon the public to support this goal, he added, beckoning to the NASA TV cameras. To fulfill that vision, SpaceX is using its own money to develop a massive, bullet-shaped steel spacecraft called Starship at the bottom of Texas. Prototypes repeatedly have ruptured and exploded on the test pad, most recently on the eve of the companys astronaut flight from Floridas Kennedy Space Center. NASA's Bridenstine said space is currently a $400 billion market, including satellites. Opening up spaceflight to paying customers, he said, could expand the market to $1 trillion. The goal is to drive down launch costs and ramp up innovation, drawing in more people and more business. By NASA's count, 576 people have flown in space, with only the wealthy few footing their own bill. The worlds first space tourist, California businessman Dennis Tito, paid a reported $20 million to the Russians to fly to the space station in 2001 against NASAs wishes. The Canadian founder of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberte, shelled out $35 million for a Russian ticket in 2009. Space Adventures arranged both deals. It really is the billionaire boys club, former space shuttle astronaut Leland Melvin said during last Saturday's launch broadcast. Once prices drop, hed consider returning to space, but not without his dogs. Theyre ready to go, need SpaceX suits for them, he said. Once lunar bases are established, the next step will be Mars in the 2030s, according to Bridenstine. Those are the kinds of things that inspire the next Elon Musk, the next Jeff Bezos, the next Sir Richard Branson. And thats what we have to get back to as an agency, he said. SpaceX still has to get NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken safely back to Earth this summer in its Dragon capsule. But the company already is looking ahead to the next astronaut crew. Crew mission director Benji Reed got a brief taste of this future as he wrapped up a chat with the astronauts Monday. Thank you for flying SpaceX, he chimed. The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
AstraZeneca secures orders for COVID-19 vaccine - ABC News
LONDON -- Drug maker AstraZeneca secured its first agreements Thursday for 400 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, bolstered by an investment from the U.S. vaccine agency. The Anglo-Swedish company reported it had received more than $1 billion from the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for the development, production and delivery of the vaccine, starting this fall. The investment will accelerate the development and production of the vaccine, AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said. It had already joined forces with the British government. We will do everything in our power to make this vaccine quickly and widely available, he said. Pharmaceutical companies including also Moderna and Sanofi are racing to develop and produce a vaccine against the new coronavirus as experts say it will be crucial to allowing countries to ease their lockdowns and restrictions on public life. In a statement as markets opened, AstraZeneca said it has now secured manufacturing capacity for 1 billion doses and aims to secure further agreements to expand capacity further over the next months to ensure the delivery of a globally accessible vaccine.'' The company also finalized its licence agreement with Oxford University for the vaccine, now known as AZD1222. The vaccine was developed by Oxford Universitys Jenner Institute, working with the Oxford Vaccine Group.
Could old vaccines for other germs protect against COVID-19? - ABC News
WASHINGTON -- Scientists are dusting off some decades-old vaccines against other germs to see if they could provide a little stopgap protection against COVID-19 until a more precise shot arrives. It may sound odd: Vaccines are designed to target a specific disease. But vaccines made using live strains of bacteria or viruses seem to boost the immune system's first line of defense, a more general way to guard against germs. And history books show that sometimes translates into at least some cross-protection against other, completely different bugs. Theres no evidence yet that the approach would rev up the immune system enough to matter against the new coronavirus. But given that a brand-new vaccine is expected to take 12 to 18 months, some researchers say it's time to put this approach to a faster test, starting with a tuberculosis vaccine. This is still a hypothesis, said Dr. Mihai Netea of Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands. But if it works, it could be a very important tool to bridge this dangerous period until we have on the market a proper, specific vaccine. The World Health Organization issued a stern warning Monday not to use the TB vaccine against COVD-19, unless and until studies prove it works. Already nearly 1,500 Dutch health care workers have rolled up their sleeves for one study that Netea's team is leading. It uses that TB vaccine, named BCG, which is made of a live but weakened bacterial cousin of the TB germ. In Australia, researchers hope to enroll 4,000 hospital workers to test BCG, too, and 700 already have received either the TB vaccine or a dummy shot. Similar research is being planned in other countries, including the U.S. Possibly next in line: Oral polio vaccine, drops made of live but weakened polio viruses. The Baltimore-based Global Virus Network hopes to begin similar studies with that vaccine and is in talks with health authorities, network co-founder Dr. Robert Gallo told The Associated Press. Rapid studies are needed to tell if there could be "long-ranging effects for any second wave of this, said Gallo, who directs the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. At the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers are in early discussions about proposals to study the TB and polio vaccines as a possible COVID-19 defense, said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Routh. Theres a big caution: Live vaccines are risky for people with weakened immune systems, and shouldnt be tried against COVID-19 outside of a research trial, said Dr. Denise Faustman, immunobiology chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, who is planning a TB vaccine study. You cant just roll it out, she stressed. But, its kind of an amazing opportunity to prove or disprove this off-target effect. THE FIRST CLUES Years ago, scientists began noticing with several live vaccines what Dr. Victor Nizet, an immune expert at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, calls an important curiosity that people have been interested in trying to harness. BCG is given mostly to newborns in developing countries, and it offers only partial protection against TB, a bacterial infection. But observational studies showed during childhood, the vaccinated tots had better overall survival, including from respiratory viruses. In 2018, Neteas team published a more direct test. They showed BCG stimulates initial immune defenses enough that it at least partly blocked another virus given experimentally a month later. What about oral polio vaccine? Those clues emerged first from the former Soviet Union, said Konstantin Chumakov, a vaccine specialist at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, who stressed he was not speaking on behalf of the FDA. His mother was a Soviet scientist who in the 1970s published research showing flu cases dropped markedly after oral polio vaccination. In 2015, Danish researchers also found some hints of cross-protection after oral polio vaccinations. The oral drops still are used in developing countries while the U.S. and other areas that have eliminated polio use the inactivated shot for routine childhood vaccines. DIFFERENT KINDS OF IMMUNITY There are overlapping types of immune defenses. The usual goal of a vaccine is to prime the body to recognize a specific health threat and make antibodies able to fight back when that particular bug comes along. But that takes time. So at the first sign of infection, a first line of foot soldiers white blood cells springs into action to fend off the invader in other ways, whats called innate immunity. If they fail, then the body creates its more targeted special forces to join the fight. BCG appears to be reprogramming innate immune cells so they can more readily eliminate the germ up front, said Netea, the Dutch researcher. Scientists not involved in the effort to try these vaccines against COVID-19 say its worthwhile to test. The scientific rationale I think is quite logical, said Nizet, the UC-San Diego immune specialist. The unknown is whether coronaviruses are in the spectrum of things that are efficiently protected" by that first-line innate immunity. Some scientists have theorized that countries with large BCG-vaccinated populations might fare better in the pandemic. But given problems with accurately counting the toll, it's far too early to draw any conclusions, a caution the WHO reiterated Monday. 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