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Research Roundup: COVAX releases allocation plans through May, Merck to assist J&J's vaccine manufacturing, and study finds large group of HIV 'elite controllers'
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
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On Tuesday, leaders of the global vaccine platform COVAX announced the initiative’s plans to distribute 237 million doses of the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to 142 countries by the end of May 2021. COVAX’s rollout began with deliveries to India, Ghana, and Cote D’Ivoire two weeks ago, followed by 11 million doses distributed between Angola, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Nigeria last week. Around 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will also be delivered in the first quarter of 2021, in supplement to the new allocation plan. COVAX, led by the World Health Organization; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, with UNICEF as the implementing partner, intends to deliver 2 billion doses to 190 countries by the end of the year.
Pharmaceutical company Merck will partner with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to help produce J&J’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, which was authorized for emergency use in the United States on February 27. The United States has purchased 100 million doses of the vaccine, with 94 million anticipated by the end of May and the full amount by the end of June. The Merck collaboration, announced by President Joe Biden last week, is intended to boost manufacturing capacity of the vaccine but is not expected to significantly impact supply within the next three months. The deal is geared toward the second half of the year, according to an administration official, when the threat of variants could require manufacturing of booster shots and when the United States may turn attention to sending vaccine doses abroad.
Up to 4.3 percent of people with HIV in the DRC were able to naturally suppress the virus without medication, according to a study published last Tuesday in EBioMedicine, a journal published by The Lancet. Typically, so-called “elite controllers” make up less than 1 percent of people with HIV. The new study, among HIV-positive individuals in the DRC tested from 2017 and 2019, found the prevalence of elite controllers to be between 2.7 and 4.3 percent, the largest group detected in a single country. While it remains unknown how elite controllers are able to suppress infection, scientists hope further research could serve as a basis for the development of a vaccine or new treatments to combat the virus. The research team included scientists from Abbott Diagnostics, Université Protestante au Congo, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and University of Missouri—Kansas City