Germany’s CureVac ditches first-generation Covid jab; UK govt botched initial Covid response: MPs’ probe; Texas governor Abbott bans all vaccine mandates

Wednesday, Oct 13, 2021

Washington: Texas’ Republican governor Gregg Abbott on Tuesday announced he was banning Covid-19 vaccine mandates for any entities in his state, including private companies.

“I issued an Executive Order prohibiting vaccine mandates by ANY entity in Texas,” the governor wrote on Twitter.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is safe, effective & our best defense against the virus, but should always remain voluntary & never forced,” he said.

The tweet included an attachment of the press release announcing the executive order, which stipulated that “no entity in Texas can compel receipt of a Covid-19 vaccination by any individual, including an employee or consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from Covid-19.”

The order came after Democratic President Joe Biden last month announced the government would demand vaccines for federal workers and for businesses with more than 100 employees.

Many leading Republicans have described the mandate as an overreach and an attack on personal freedoms.

Abbott, who had earlier been a forceful opponent of mask mandates, in August tested positive for Covid-19, after attending an indoor public event. The governor is fully vaccinated.

While his anti-mask and anti-vaccine mandate stance has won him support from loyalists of former president Donald Trump, it has drawn strong criticism from Texas Democrats.

Julian Castro, a former Democratic presidential candidate and ex-mayor of the city of Austin, said in August that Abbott “has put his own Republican primary politics before the public health since day one.”

Meanwhile, Germany’s CureVac said on Tuesday it is no longer seeking European regulatory approval for its coronavirus vaccine, and will focus instead on a more promising second-generation jab.

The decision comes after final trial results in July confirmed that CureVac’s first vaccine had an efficacy rate of just 48 percent, well below that of faster rivals Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, whose vaccines are based on the same mRNA technology.

CureVac blamed the disappointing outcome on the many coronavirus strains circulating by then and on the varying immune responses across age groups.

It nevertheless submitted the data to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to seek authorisation for the jab.

That approval request has now been withdrawn, CureVac said.

The biotech firm said EMA had indicated any green light would only come “in the second quarter of 2022”, by which time CureVac’s second-generation vaccine will have progressed to late-stage clinical trials.

“The global fight against the pandemic continues,” said CureVac chief executive Franz-Werner Haas.

“But the requirements to effectively address the virus and emerging variants have changed.”

He said the company would use what it learned from the first vaccine candidate and “focus our resources on advanced second-generation vaccines”.

The second-generation jab is being developed with pharma giant GSK, which said the new vaccine has shown “strong improvement” compared with CureVac’s first effort.

“We welcome CureVac’s focus on the promising second-generation mRNA vaccine technology,” said Rino Rappuoli, GSK’s chief of vaccines research and development.

CureVac had secured a contract from the European Union for 405 million doses should its first-generation jab receive regulatory approval.

This advance purchase agreement “will cease”, CureVac said, but it remains in talks with the European Commission about the second-generation jabs.

Tuebingen-based CureVac was founded 20 years ago by mRNA pioneer Ingmar Hoerr.

The German government last year took a 23-percent stake in CureVac for 300 million euros ($350 million).

Meantime, UK lawmakers said on Tuesday that the government’s response when Covid-19 swept into Europe cost lives and was “one of the most important public health failures” in the country’s history.

In a damning assessment, a cross-party group of MPs found that official pandemic planning was too focused on influenza and had failed to learn the lessons from prior outbreaks of SARS, MERS and Ebola.

The 151-page study, published by two parliamentary committees after months of hearings, comes ahead of an independent public inquiry into the government’s coronavirus handling due to begin next year.

Britain has suffered one of the highest tolls in Europe with nearly 138,000 Covid-19 deaths since March last year, raising questions about why it has fared worse than comparable nations. The MPs said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government had waited too long to act in early 2020.

Leading advisors had pushed a “deliberate policy” to take a “gradual and incremental approach” to interventions such as social distancing, isolation and lockdowns, said the report.

That approach had been proved “wrong” and led to a higher death toll.

“Decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic — and the advice that led to them — rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced,” the lawmakers wrote.