Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German biotech firm BioNTech said that full results from their large-scale vaccine trial showed the treatment to be 95% effective in protecting against COVID-19, better than the 90% initially reported last week. The company said it will seek emergency use authorization within the next few days. No serious safety concerns had been observed; 4% of recipients reported fatigue. The news follows early data showing a vaccine candidate from rival Moderna is also around 95% effective.
Both Pfizer and Moderna utilize a technology known as messenger RNA (mRNA), which uses tiny pieces of genetic code to teach the immune system how to respond in the presence of a full-blown coronavirus infection. It will mark the first time mRNA vaccines will be used for any type of clinical application. The downside of mRNA is it must be kept very cold—Pfizer's vaccine requires almost 100 degrees below zero, Moderna's vaccine can be held at normal freezer
temperatures—posing significant logistical challenges.
US officials hope to have 20 million doses from both companies—enough for 20 million patients, as the vaccines require a two-shot regimen—ready to distribute by late December. The first shots would go to front-line health workers and high-risk groups.
The news comes as the US passed 250,000 cumulative COVID-19 deaths, with more than 11.5 million total cases; see rolling averages here and here. New York City, the nation's largest school district, announced yesterday students would revert from hybrid to fully remote learning after the city hit a 3% test rate, a threshold previously agreed upon with the
Watch Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel pitch mRNA drugs during a Ted Talk nearly six years ago.
737 MAX to Fly Again
The Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday it will allow the Boeing 737 MAX jet to resume flight operations. The decision to rescind the grounding order follows a 20-month review after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia in late 2018 and early 2019 which killed 346 people.
The move means the aircraft can start flying commercially in the US again, once they have completed additional requirements. These include new pilot training and software upgrades to an automatic stall-prevention system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, which played a central role in both fatal crashes. Nearly 400 jets were in service when they were grounded, and nearly 450 have been built since then. Each plane must be inspected by the FAA before being cleared for flight.
Long-simmering tensions have come to a head in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, as the central government began advancing on the region's capital of Mekelle after opposition forces ignored a Tuesday deadline to end fighting. Reports suggest hundreds of civilians have been killed by both sides—with accounts of at least one massacre—and more than 30,000 have fled into neighboring Sudan.
Despite representing just 6% of the country's population, the influential Tigray People’s Liberation Front has enjoyed outsized power in Ethiopia's ethnic coalition government since the early 1990s (see 101). The rise of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led to an effort to move away from ethnic blocs of power and toward nationalized politics, which threatened the TPLF's influence. Tigrayan leadership held independent elections in September; viewed as illegitimate by Ahmed's administration, the standoff spiraled into open conflict.
Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for striking peace with neighboring Eritrea.
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Historybook: President James
Garfield born (1831); President Abraham Lincoln delivers Gettysburg Address (1863); Indira Gandhi, first and only female prime minister of India born (1917); President Ronald Reagan meets Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for first time (1985); Charles Manson dies while in prison (2017).
"Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm."
- Abraham Lincoln
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