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Coronavirus Update: Moderna, CureVac and Ocugen offer updates on COVID vaccines, while China cracks down on critics of government’s pandemic response

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A flurry of announcements relating to COVID vaccines dominated headlines on the pandemic on Monday, with Moderna telling investors it expects to generate some $5 billion in sales in 2023.

That’s down from $18.4 billion in sales in 2022. The company plans to boost spending on research and development to $4.5 billion this year, up from $3.3 billion in 2022.

Moderna
MRNA,
+1.95%

provided the update in advance of the company’s presentation at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco.

Separately, CureVac
CVAC,
+27.95%

 said preliminary data from its early stage trial for its COVID and seasonal flu shots had positive results to advance to the next stage of clinical testing.

CureVac is developing the shots with GlaxoSmithKline
GSK,
+0.40%

 
GSK,
-0.63%
.
 CureVac said the shot was well tolerated, and that neutralizing antibodies were beginning at the lowest tested dose for younger adults. The seasonal flu shot was also well tolerated with an increase in antibodies compared to those from a flu vaccine comparator in younger adults, CureVac said.

Ocugen announced positive results in a trial of its COVID vaccine Covaxin, which uses the same vero cell manufacturing platform that has been used in the production of polio vaccines for decades. The Phase 2/3 trial involved 491 U.S. adult participants who received two doses of Covaxin or placebo 28 days apart.

“Covaxin, an inactivated virus vaccine adjuvanted with TLR7/8 agonist, has been demonstrated in clinical trials to generate a broader immune response against the whole virus covering important antigens such as S-protein, RBD, and N-protein; whereas currently approved vaccines in the U.S. target only S-protein antigen,” the company said in a statement.

Chief Executive Dr. Shankar Musnuri said the company is hoping the vaccine will offer an option for those who are still hesitant to take an mRNA vaccine, which uses newer technology.

U.S. cases were lower on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker. The seven-day average of new cases stood at 67,246, down 1% from two weeks ago.

The daily average for hospitalizations was up 18% at 47,500., the highest level since last March. The average for deaths was 509, up 19% from two weeks ago.

Hospitalizations are becoming concerning, according to the Times trackers, with the Northeast seeing the highest per capita rates, along with the Southeast.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• China has suspended or closed the social-media accounts of more than 1,000 critics of the government’s COVID response, as the country rolls back harsh anti-virus restrictions and gears up for the coming Lunar New Year holiday, the Associated Press reported. The popular Sina Weibo social media platform said it had addressed 12,854 violations including attacks on experts, scholars and medical workers and issued temporary or permanent bans on 1,120 accounts. The ruling Communist Party had largely relied on the medical community to justify its tough lockdowns, quarantine measures and mass testing, almost all of which it abruptly abandoned last month, leading to a surge in new cases that have stretched medical resources to their limits. The party allows no direct criticism and imposes strict limits on free speech.

Tens of thousands of people resumed travels in and out of China on Sunday as the country lifted almost all of its border restrictions, ending three years of strict pandemic controls. Some travelers expressed relief to be reunited with their families. Photo: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

• Pfizer’s
PFE,
-2.42%

antiviral Paxlovid has not been included in the Chinese government’s national reimbursement list that would have allowed patients to get it at a cheaper price throughout the country, saying it was too expensive, the AP reported separately. Although it is supposed to be prescribed by medical professionals, that hasn’t stopped people from scrambling to purchase it on their own through any means at their disposal—including buying generic Indian versions of the drug through the internet, according to local media reports.

• The union representing a group of nurses at a New York City hospital reached a tentative contract agreement with its management, but close to 9,000 nurses at several other major hospitals were still preparing to go on strike, the AP reported. The New York State Nurses Association and BronxCare Health System said Saturday that a tentative agreement had been reached; the union said it included pay raises every year of its three-year term as well as staffing increases. Another hospital, Flushing Hospital Medical Center, got to a tentative agreement with nurses on Friday evening.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 664.3 million on Monday, while the death toll rose above 6.7 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 101.2 million cases and 1,096,523 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 229.3 million people living in the U.S., equal to 69.1% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

So far, just 48.2 million Americans, equal to 15.4% of the overall population, have had the updated COVID booster that targets both the original virus and the omicron variants.

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