Vaccine maker raises drug prices despite accepting millions from US


10 things we’ve learned about COVID-19


It’s been only nine months since the world learned of a new coronavirus that would trigger a pandemic declaration in March and ultimately disrupt billions of lives.

Here are some things that science has learned – so far – about the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the disease it causes.

1. The disease spreads primarily through the air.

Early advice on how to protect oneself from COVID-19 focused a great deal on surfaces, after initial studies found that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on surfaces for two or three days. But as epidemiologists watched the pandemic unfold, evidence emerged about the disease spreading in crowded rooms – especially at bars, restaurants and churches – suggesting that airborne virus particles were the main cause of transmission.

2. Wearing a mask helps prevent the virus from spreading.

Early advice to not wear masks was based on a lack of understanding about how COVID-19 spreads and the fear that a run on medical-grade masks would place health care workers in danger at a time when protective gear was in short supply.

But it soon became clear the virus was spreading via particles exhaled from the mouths and noses of infected people. “The truth was that we didn’t know how effective fabric masks were or were not, or are or are not. We know now,” said Dr. Emily Landon, executive medical director of infection prevention and control at University of Chicago Medicine.

3. Two metres apart sometimes isn’t far enough.

Researchers have found the virus can be present in much smaller particles called aerosols that are lighter, linger in the air longer and can spread much farther.

Outdoors, where fresh air rapidly disperses the virus, 2 m is likely enough space between people who aren’t wearing masks, but people should wear masks indoors even if they are 2 m apart, Landon said.

4. People without symptoms can transmit COVID-19, giving rise to the term “silent spreaders.”

The spread of COVID-19 primarily by air is especially concerning in light of another unexpected behaviour of SARS-CoV-2: It can infect someone and cause no symptoms, and people can be infected for up to 14 days before symptoms do emerge. That means people can be spreading infected droplets and aerosols and not know it.

5. Some drugs show promise in helping sick people.

Remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral drug, has been found to reduce recovery times. Steroids are believed to help prevent an overreaction of the immune system to the virus that proves fatal in some patients. Plasma, which recently received FDA emergency use authorisation but has its detractors, is taken from recovered patients with antibodies in their systems and given to sick people.

Monoclonal antibodies created in a laboratory have been used to treat other diseases, like Ebola and cancer. They are now being tested in the fight against COVID-19, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, calling it a “promising form of therapy.”

6. Helpful new treatment protocols are emerging.

Treatments that were accepted wisdom at the beginning of the pandemic have been altered. Doctors are no longer placing patients on ventilators early. They are keeping them in a prone position rather than on their backs. Dr Emily Landon mentioned that doctors initially were reluctant to use what are known as high-flow nasal cannulas to deliver oxygen for fear that the greater flow of oxygen would help spread the disease. “But it became very clear that patients did a lot better when they got it,” she said, “so we just changed around the way we did our infection control to make it safe to do that.”

7. Even after they “recover,” many COVID-19 patients have lingering health problems.

Another disturbing discovery about COVID-19 is it can leave people with serious ailments – including damage to the kidneys, nervous system, heart and lungs – for months after the infection clears their system. Other symptoms that can linger include fatigue and loss of smell and taste.

8. Infected children can get very sick.

Early in the pandemic, people were advised that children were far less likely to get sick. That is still borne out by the facts on the ground. But some children do get very ill. And after the infection is cleared from their bodies, some young children and teenagers develop what’s now called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.

9. Wastewater testing can help detect outbreaks.

Scientists say wastewater testing can help by detecting the presence of the virus even before people develop symptoms. The tests search for fragments of the genetic building blocks of SARS-CoV-2 left in human waste and was used to help identify the virus in Apollo Bay, in NSW.

Vaccine maker raises drug prices while accepting millions in taxpayer funds


One of the world’s largest drug companies has been aggressively raising prices even as it received hundreds of millions of dollars of US government aid to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

AstraZeneca, which the Trump administration has celebrated for its vaccine work, boosted prices despite renewed promises by President Donald Trump this summer to keep drug costs in check.

The multinational pharmaceutical firm raised prices in a way that stood out even among other big drug companies. It announced not just one set of price hikes in 2020 but two, often on the same drugs, according to an analysis of drug pricing data by The Los Angeles Times and 46brooklyn Research, a nonprofit that studies the pharmaceutical industry.

AstraZeneca hiked prices on some of its biggest selling medicines by as much as 6 per cent this year at a time when the overall inflation rate is hovering around 1 per cent, the analysis shows. The administration has said nothing about the price increases.

AstraZeneca’s second round of increases came after it secured a $US1.2 billion commitment in May from the US for vaccine development and as the company was reporting more than $US3.6 billion in operating profits in the first half of 2020.

“They clearly made a decision to do their pricing differently, both from their recent past and from their peers, at the same time they were seeking billions of dollars,” said 46brooklyn founder Eric Pachman.

AstraZeneca, which is based in Britain but also has a large US operation, declined to discuss its pricing practices, instead offering a statement noting the company’s assistance programs for people unable to afford its drugs. “We recognise the challenges many Americans are facing and remain committed to ensuring patients are able to access our medicines,” the statement said.

Welcome to the blog

Welcome to the blog for Tuesday 15 September. Here’s what’s happened tonight.

  • Retail giant Wesfarmers has offered to co-design COVID-19 protocols with the Victorian government to enable shops to start opening from September 28, a month earlier than the existing plan.
  • Victoria state is on track to host the Australian Open tennis Grand Slam and the traditional Boxing Day cricket test during the home summer as COVID-19 infection rates fall, Premier Daniel Andrews said on Monday.

  • New Zealand will lift coronavirus restrictions across the country on September 21, except in its biggest city, Auckland.
  • British scientists are beginning a small study comparing how two experimental coronavirus vaccines might work when they are inhaled by people instead of being injected.

  • Just as life in the Indonesian capital was starting to return to normal, Jakarta’s 10 million residents are heading into partial lockdown for the second time.

  • Retail giant Wesfarmers has offered to co-design COVID-19 protocols with the Victorian government to enable shops to start opening from September 28, a month earlier than the existing plan.

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