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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.

November 8, 2021 by Anna Kovacevich

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The World Health Organization (WHO) last week issued an emergency use listing for the Covaxin COVID-19 vaccine, developed by Indian pharmaceutical company Bharat Biotech, making it the eighth vaccine to receive WHO authorization. Covaxin, which is formulated from an inactivated SARS-CoV-2 antigen, was found to be 78 percent effective against COVID-19 of any severity 14 or more days after the second dose. WHO review groups determined the vaccine meets standards for protection against COVID-19, with benefits far outweighing the risks, and recommended it be used in two doses with a dose interval of four weeks for people 18 and above. The WHO approval makes Covaxin eligible for distribution through the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, and the vaccine’s easy storage requirements make it especially suited for global distribution.

Merck’s oral COVID-19 treatment, molnupiravir, received approval from its first regulatory body Thursday when the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency authorized its use for individuals with mild to moderate COVID-19 and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness. The treatment—the first antiviral medication for COVID-19 that can be taken as a pill rather than injected or given intravenously—cut the risk of hospitalization or death by about half in clinical trials. Given twice a day, starting within five days of symptoms developing to be most effective, the pill targets an enzyme that the virus uses to replicate, preventing it from multiplying—an approach that should make the treatment equally effective against new variants of the virus as it evolves, according to Merck.

On Friday, Pfizer released results from a late-stage clinical trial of its antiviral pill to combat COVID-19 showing it to be highly effective at preventing severe illness among at-risk individuals who receive the drug shortly after the onset of symptoms. The pill cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent when given within three days of exhibiting symptoms, according to data from the trial, which an independent board of experts recommended be stopped early because the drug’s benefit to patients had proved so convincing. Pfizer plans to submit the data as soon as possible to the US Food and Drug Administration to seek authorization for the pill to be used in the United States.

About the author

Anna KovacevichGHTC

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