Welcome, one and all, to the last European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) update of les grandes vacances – August ends on Monday, so most (but decidedly fewer than usual) are getting ready fo the grand return to work next week, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.
Before we get on with the main news, be sure and check EAPM’s monthly newsletter, which is now ready, click here. It covers the health news of the past month, and looks forward to key EAPM events that are just around the corner.
But first, a word on the sad demise this week of Irish Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan (pictured), who resigned on Wednesday evening (26 August), following controversy over alleged breaches of COVID-19 guidelines during a trip to his native Ireland, a spokesman for the commissioner said.
Hogan attended a golf dinner last week that outraged the Irish public and led to the resignation of an Irish minister and the disciplining of several lawmakers. He had insisted on Tuesday (25 August) that he had adhered to all rules during the trip, and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, while accepting his resignation, thanked Hogan for his work as trade commissioner and for his successful term as agriculture commissioner in the previous Commission, the Juncker Commission. Von der Leyen described him as a valuable and respected member of the College of Commissioners.
Of course, COVID 19 is a very serious issue, but the question is how the guidelines are applied as well as the lowest common denominator in the application of standards. If we go for the lowest commonest denominator and undermining our way of life, are we giving in to the disease in another way, and are we not losing our humanity in not seeing the issue, in this case the person that Phil Hogan is and the office he once represented?
For this part of the update, I want to highlight the good work that Hogan has done over the years as well as the work that he did on trade. The commissioner championed health care as well, and had spoken at EAPM events.
The fate of Phil Hogan is similar to the issue in the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller, in the sense that everyone acted hysterically about an alleged breach of rules, and political correctness won the day. The play is a fictionalized version of the Salem witch trials and tells the story of a group of young Salem women who falsely accuse other villagers of witchcraft. The accusations and ensuing trials pushed the village into a hysteria between February 1692 and May 1693. More than two hundred people were accused. Thirty were found guilty, nineteen of whom were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men).
Of course, the former commissioner made a mistake, but the issue was blown into the stratosphere by those wanting to say that they are whiter than white, so as to protect the public good and score political points with the broader public.
Clearly, public health guidelines must be adhered to but one must look to each case as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson did, with Cummings. Hogan did have a COVID-19 test, was negative, checked with the relevant website as well as the department but to no avail, he had to bow out...as political correctness won the day. The controversy of what he did or did not do has now fallen silent, as there was really nothing to it in the end. There was no monetary fine, no punishment of any kind, but the fact was that he had to resign ....
By all accounts, he was the right person for the job and in his interaction with EAPM was a very considered and supportive member of the broader health-care community.
A real shame. European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis will take over the trade portfolio temporarily after Hogan’s resignation, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Thursday. The Hogan saga was evidence writ large that von der Leyen has raised the European Commission’s ethical bar — and that may make it harder to clear in future. “As Europe fights to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and Europeans make sacrifices and accept painful restrictions, I expect the members of the College to be particularly vigilant about compliance with applicable national or regional rules or recommendations,” von der Leyen said on Thursday (27 August).
World Health Organization Pandemic Policy Committee meets
The World Health Organization (WHO) Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development met for the first time on Thursday. At its concluding press conference, chairman Mario Monti — former Italian PM and current president of Bocconi University — drew attention to the way COVID-19 has revealed weaknesses in current health systems. “The pandemic has illuminated with a rather dark light the stark inequalities in our modern world,” he said. “But it also has also underlined the truism that no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
Rethinking the PHEIC
And the WHO said on Thursday it was setting up a committee to consider changing the rules on declaring an international health emergency, following criticism of its COVID-19 pandemic response. The World Health Organization declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) over the new coronavirus on 30 January 30 – at which time the respiratory disease had infected fewer than 100 people outside China, and claimed no lives beyond its borders. But under the current International Health Regulations (IHR) governing preparedness and response for health emergencies, there are no lower, intermediate levels of alarm beneath a full PHEIC, either on a global or regional scale. The WHO intends to interact with the new independent review panel looking at the broader response, as well as the WHO’s internal oversight panel, with plans to deliver an update at the World Health Assembly in November, and a final report at that gathering in May 2021.
The EU, Britain and other EU partners such as Switzerland and Norway want a future vaccine to cover 40% of their populations, as opposed to the 20% initially set out by the global procurement mechanism COVAX. According to a document adopted in late July, the countries noted that at-risk groups account for around 40% of the population.
Back to school
According to a study by BMJ, COVID-19 has not caused the deaths of any otherwise healthy schoolchildren in the UK. Children's risk of needing hospital treatment for coronavirus is "tiny" and critical care "even tinier", they say. However, black children, those who are obese and very young babies have a slightly higher risk. The BMJ study looked at 651 children with coronavirus in hospitals in England, Wales and Scotland. It covers two-thirds of all children's admissions in the UK due to COVID-19 between January and July and confirms what is already known about the minimal effects of the virus on children. A "strikingly low" 1% of these 651 children and young people - six in total - had died in hospital with COVID-19 compared with 27% across all other age groups, the study found. Eighteen per cent of the children needed intensive care. And the six who had died had had "profound" underlying health conditions that had often been complex and themselves life-limiting. Children with such conditions remained vulnerable to the virus and must take precautions, the researchers said. But for others, the risk was extremely low.
And that is everything for this week – enjoy your weekend, which is possibly your last before returning to work, here is our newsletter again and be sure to check in with EAPM again on Tuesday (1 September).
Therapeutics Strategy - First rolling review of a new COVID-19 medicine
The European Medicines Agency has today (7 May) started the rolling review of sotrovimab (VIR-7831), a monoclonal antibody developed for the treatment of COVID-19. The review follows hot on the heels of the EU COVID-19 Therapeutics Strategy presented yesterday and is a first step towards the Strategy's target of starting seven rolling reviews of COVID-19 therapeutics in 2021. The rolling review launched by EMA will assess sotrovimab's effectiveness in preventing hospitalization and death; safety and quality. A rolling review is quicker than a regular evaluation as data is reviewed as it comes in. Should the European Medicines Agency recommend authorising the treatment at the end of its review, the European Commission will move swiftly to authorize it.
The EU Therapeutics Strategy supports the development and availability of much needed COVID-19 therapeutics and covers the lifecycle of medicines: from research, development and manufacturing to procurement and deployment. It is part of the strong European Health Union, in which all EU countries prepare and respond together to health crises and ensure the availability of affordable and innovative medical supplies – including the therapeutics needed to treat COVID-19. More details on the EU Therapeutics Strategy are available in a press release and factsheet.
Kazakhstan to deliver humanitarian assistance to India
Kazakhstan will provide humanitarian assistance to India due to the sharp deterioration of the epidemiological situation in this country, reported the Akorda Press, writes Zhanna Shayakhmetova.
This was announced at the meeting of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Prime Minister Askar Mamin on May 7.
President Tokayev instructed the government to dispatch 6 million medical masks, 400,000 respirators, 50,000 anti-plague suits, and 105 portable artificial lung ventilation devices made in Kazakhstan.
India observed a record daily rise in coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing total new cases for the week to 1.57 million, according to Reuters.
India is now the second most corona-affected country with the overall cases standing at 21.49 million.
On May 4, Tokayev delivered a message to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express “deep solidarity with the Indian nation over the devastating COVID-19 surge in their country.”
The President noted that Kazakhstan is ready “to unite efforts with our Indian friends to contain the spread of the pandemic and provide every possible assistance in the spirit of enduring friendship and mutual support between our states.”
Earlier, it was reported that Kazakhstan will provide humanitarian aid that consists of 10,000 tons of flour to Kyrgyzstan.
“Guided by the principles of friendship, alliance and strategic partnership with Kyrgyzstan, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev decided to provide humanitarian assistance to the fraternal Kyrgyz people on behalf of the Kazakh people,” President’s spokesperson Berik Uali wrote on his Facebook on May 6.
India: EU mobilizes an initial €2.2 million in emergency funding for the vulnerable during COVID-19
The Commission has announced that it will allocate an initial €2.2 million in emergency funding to respond to the drastic surge in COVID-19 cases in India. The funding will support the World Health Organization (WHO) for a 6-month case management of COVID-19 patients, as well as strengthening laboratory capacity for COVID-19 testing. Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: “We are providing additional EU support towards the fight against COVID-19 in India. This comes on top of the generous and swift assistance from EU member states that stepped up as part of Team Europe to offer critical supplies of oxygen, ventilators and medicines over the last few days. We stand ready to work with the WHO and other partners on the ground to jointly fight this battle at this difficult time – we are stronger together.”
Member states have already mobilized supplies of urgently needed oxygen, ventilators and medicines from Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden to India over the last week via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
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