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  /  News   /  Coronavirus Update: Pfizer’s positive antiviral news raises hopes for a new easy-to-take treatment for COVID-19, and cases start to rise again in California

Coronavirus Update: Pfizer’s positive antiviral news raises hopes for a new easy-to-take treatment for COVID-19, and cases start to rise again in California

Pfizer shares soared Friday after the company released interim data from a late-stage trial of its COVID-19 antiviral that showed it to be highly effective, raising hopes that a new treatment for the virus that is easy to administer may soon be allowed.

Pfizer
PFE,
+7.89%

said its oral antiviral called Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in non-hospitalized high-risk adults treated within three days of symptom onset in a Phase 2/3 trial. The company said the interim data set came from 1,219 adults who were enrolled in the trial by Sept. 29. The trial stopped recruiting patients at about 70% of the 3,000 planned patients from trials across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, with 45% of patients located in the United States.

There were no deaths in patients who received Paxlovid, while 10 people on placebo died. The company is planning to submit the data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as part of a rolling submission for an emergency use authorization as soon as possible.

 Merck
MRK,
-8.89%

said last month that its experimental treatment called molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 50% in a late-stage trial. It has already submitted an application to U.S. regulators for authorization and on Thursday won an EUA from the U.K.

Experts have said oral treatments for COVID-19 would be a game-changer as they would allow patients to be treated at home, while current treatments need to be conducted in a clinical setting using intravenous or subcutaneous infusion.

Mizuho analysts said the news was positive for Pfizer’s long-term growth and dismissed concerns an antiviral might compete with Pfizer’s vaccine.

“We believe the vast majority of people who are willing and able to
get vaccinated will still get vaccinated,” analysts led by Vamil Divan wrote in a note to clients. “However, the oral treatments will be an important option for patients who are either unvaccinated or vaccinated and looking to reduce their risk of severe illness, especially if they are at high risk for severe illness.”

The U.S. is still averaging more than 1,100 COVID deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, although cases and hospitalizations are declining. However, hot spots like Colorado remain, and hospitals there are struggling. And cases are starting to climb again in California and New Mexico, the tracker shows.

Read: Biden’s vaccine mandate for companies with 100+ employees to take effect Jan. 4

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 193 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 58% of the population, and still below the 70% threshold experts say is needed to stop the spread.

Globally, the vaccine push reached an important level overnight that allows for some optimism:

Elsewhere, Emergent Biosolutions
EBS,
-38.60%

disclosed that the U.S. government has canceled a contract with the vaccine manufacturer. Emergent’s Baltimore facilities were found in March to have contaminated millions of Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
-0.67%

COVID vaccines, causing production delays that lasted months.

The company made the disclosure on a conference call following its earnings and in a separate 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission and said the value of that dropped contract was $180 million.

See now: COVID vaccinations for kids begin in California with toys and gifts

Apple Inc. will no longer require customers to wear masks at many of its stores starting Friday, according to Bloomberg News, citing an internal memo it had obtained. Face masks for customers — whether they’re vaccinated or not — will no longer be required at more than 100 of the 270 Apple Stores in the U.S. starting Friday, with more stores being added in the coming days.

In overseas news, there are growing concerns that the Indian Diwali festival — or festival of lights — will create another wave of cases as millions gather for the celebration, the New York Times reported. That’s what happened last year and created a crisis that overwhelmed hospitals and crematories.

See: WHO warns Europe could see 500,000 more COVID-19 deaths by February amid uneven vaccine take-up, and U.S. starts to give kids as young as 5 their shots

Germany set another record for new cases in a single day, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute. The country counted 37,120 new infections on Friday, beating the record of 33,949 set a day earlier.

Rapid home Covid-19 tests promise convenience and speed, but the accuracy of the tests depend on how and when you take them. WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explains everything you need to know about at-home testing and how to get accurate results. Illustration: David Fang and Jacob Reynolds

In England, one if 50 people had COVID in the week to Oct. 30, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, or a total of more than 1.1 million.

Japan will reopen its borders for business people and students starting Monday, the Nikkei reported. But restrictions on overseas tourist arrivals will remain in place for now.

See now: Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine sales in the third quarter disappoint investors, and its stock takes a hit

Latvia’s parliament has passed a law allowing employers to fire unvaccinated workers as it struggles to stem a rising wave of COVID infections, Reuters reported. About 61% of Latvian adults are fully vaccinated, less than the European Union average of 75%.

The new law allows businesses to suspend the unvaccinated without pay if they refuse to either get the COVID-19 jab or, if possible, to get transferred to remote work. They can then fire the employees if they do not get the vaccine in three months of the suspension.

See: Sales of Gilead’s COVID-19 drug jumped in conjunction with the surge in delta cases this summer

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 248.7 million on Friday, while the death toll edged above 5.03 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. continues to lead the world with a total of 46.3 million cases and 751,569 deaths.

India is second by cases after the U.S. at 34.3 million and has suffered 459,873 deaths. Brazil has second highest death toll at 608,671 and 21.8 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has the most fatalities at 239,943 deaths, followed by the U.K. at 141,826.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 110,042 confirmed cases and 4,809 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively understated.

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