When coronavirus vaccines are ready, who will get them first?
Several coronavirus vaccine candidates have reached the final phase of human trials and others are not far behind, but who will benefit from them once they are ready for general distribution remains to be seen. The World Health Organisation and political leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping have called for Covid-19 vaccines to be treated as a global public good. But in reality, many countries are striking deals with pharmaceutical firms to make sure they are the first to benefit. One of the vaccines near the head of the pack, developed by researchers at the University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca, could
‘Viral sovereignty’: Why countries don’t always share virus samples
When a deadly disease breaks out and threatens the world, countries are obliged to share laboratory samples and other information to help fight it, right? Wrong. In 2007, Indonesia refused to give the World Health Organization samples of an H5N1 influenza strain from an outbreak in the country until it was guaranteed fair access to any vaccines created from the material. Welcome to the world of “viral sovereignty.” The ownership of pathogens and related data that emerge in one country is part of a long-standing debate that touches an exploitative colonial nerve: wealthy countries plundering the natural resources – including biodiversity – of poorer nations and profiting from it. With the co
This Covid-19 vaccine is still in trials, but an Indian firm is already producing it
Serum, the Indian drug maker, is putting its faith in a Covid-19 vaccine being developed at the University of Oxford by starting mass production before it has been declared ready for use. It is a calculated risk backed by the deep pockets behind the world’s largest vaccine maker. Chairman Cyrus Poonawalla has a net worth of $10.6 billion and is known as India’s “vaccine king.” His company hopes to produce 40 million doses of the vaccine by September, the same deadline by which Oxford is aiming to complete human trials of the ChAdOX1 vaccine. About 1,100 people in Britain will be injected with the vaccine, as part of a trial funded by the British government that was started after promising re
Why Trump officials don’t want to cut tariffs on Chinese medical supplies
Hardliners within the Trump administration are trying desperately to avoid reducing tariffs on imported medical supplies from China, hoping to stave off mounting pressure from health care workers and a panicked public as the coronavirus death toll mounts. After an extended US-China trade war and President Donald Trump’s signing of an initial agreement in December, hawks within the administration are loath to set a precedent.  Their concern is that emergency concessions could undercut their hawkish trade stance toward Beijing, which Trump sees as a cornerstone accomplishment leading up to the November elections, say former officials and analysts. “There will be inexorable pressure to relax t
‘I am just exhausted’: Chinese doctors press on after coronavirus whistle-blower died
Liu Wen was hauled into a police station after he alerted his colleagues more than a month ago to a disease outbreak at a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. He has no regrets. Liu, a doctor at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Hannan district, sent the warning through a WeChat messaging group on December 30, he told Chinese news service Caixin. He said he sent the warning because the hospital was close to the seafood market. The next day, hospital management called him in and asked him where he got the information. And two days after that, he was questioned by police, according to the report. His treatment is similar to that meted out to Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor who also c
One in three Hongkongers are traumatized amid unrest, study says
More than 2 million, or almost one in three, adults in Hong Kong have shown symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder during the prolonged civil unrest in the city, a study published in a leading medical journal has found. The number was six times higher than four years ago, just after the pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution protests had ended. Researchers urged the government to step up its mental health provisions. The research, conducted by the University of Hong Kong, also suggested that up to 11% of the city’s adult population was affected by probable depression last year, five times higher than the figure collected from 2009 to 2014, when it was just 2%. The research, published in an ar
Murder of doctor highlights tensions over China healthcare
The murder of a doctor in Beijing has overshadowed the passage of a law designed to improve basic health care services in China, and has put a spotlight on the problems the law is trying to fix.  The fatal stabbing was the latest in a string of attacks on medical staff by angry patients and their relatives. Tensions are being fueled by a lack of resources and limited services at many medical facilities. In the latest incident, the doctor Yang Wen was stabbed in the neck on Christmas Eve following a row with the relatives of a 95-year-old stroke victim at the Civil Aviation General Hospital in Beijing. She died the following day. Doctors said the patient’s family had dismissed repeated sugge
Cancer patients suffer brunt of new experimental drug law in China
After Wu Xianfa was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, he had surgery to remove part of his lower left lung. When his doctor recommended chemotherapy to wipe out any remaining cancer cells, Wu refused. Colleagues who had also had lung cancer had died after getting chemotherapy straight after surgery. Following a friend’s recommendation, the 50-year-old from Shanghai started taking an experimental drug. He signed an agreement with Shanghai Spark Pharmaceutical in April last year to join its trial – and says it has been a boon to his health. “I get no other treatments besides the drug,” Wu says. “I get regular checks at hospitals and send the reports about my cancer index and other medical
How does China get global big pharma to cut prices?
China has added the largest ever batch of new products to its list of subsidized drugs, in a move that will cut the costs of many drugs in half.  Seventy drugs were added to the national reimbursement list at the end of November, many of them cancer and anti-infection treatments, after extensive negotiations with pharmaceutical companies. “The number of new drugs and the total amount of medications negotiated have reached a new record. Many imported drugs will have the lowest price in the world,” the National Healthcare Security Administration said. High drug prices, especially for cancer drugs, have long been a problem in China. The issue was highlighted by the hit film Dying to Survive, re
Why China’s cancer patients have great sympathy for convicted ‘drug god’
Zhai Yiping clearly broke the law. But is what he did wrong? The question has been raised as part of a discussion of China’s health care system after Zhai was punished for selling foreign drugs to cancer patients in a country where those medications are unavailable or expensive. After being diagnosed with liver cancer in 2014, Zhai devoured news of the latest cancer drugs released around the world. In 2016, he found two new overseas medicines that were more effective than similar medications in China and cost less.  Zhai spread the news to other patients in China and, eventually, the demand became so high that he started to smuggle these drugs from Germany. He charged a 5% markup. He would b