COVID-19 live updates: Is ‘Deltacron’ a real variant?

  • The coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. 
  • Known as SARS-CoV-2, the virus has resulted in more than 307 millioninfections and over 5.4 million deaths.
  • Keep up to date with the latest research and information about COVID-19 here.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently monitoring five variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron.

01/10/2022 15:00 GMT — Is ‘Deltacron’ a real variant?

According to recent media reports, a scientist from the University of Cyprus claims to have identified a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, which they have dubbed “Deltacron.”

The researcher claims to have identified this variant in 25 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The name is a combination of “Delta” and “Omicron,” since, according to the scientist, this variant exhibits genetic similarities to both Delta and Omicron.

“We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious” than previous variants, Prof. Leondios Kostrikis — who is a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology — told Sigma TV.

Other researchers, however, have cast doubts on the legitimacy of these claims, saying that the so-called combination variant is likely the result of a laboratory error.

“This is almost certainly not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lineages,” says Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

“The apparent Omicron mutations are located precisely and exclusively in a section of the sequence encoding the spike gene […] affected by a technological artifact in certain sequencing procedures,” he says.

Nevertheless, Prof. Kostrikis has defended his initial claim, noting that the samples where the Deltacron variant appeared had undergone genetic sequencing in multiple laboratories from multiple countries.

For the time being, Deltacron’s existence remains subject to continued debate.

01/10/2022 14:46 GMT — COVID-19: Did Omicron evolve in mice?

A recent study published in the Journal of Genetics and Genomics investigates the origin of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

According to the study authors, this variant presents a pattern of mutations that is also typical of a virus that has infected mice. This suggests that Omicron may have evolved in rodents.“

We believe that Omicron likely evolved in a wild mouse population,” the senior author of the study, Wenfeng Qian, Ph.D., told Medical News Today.

Read the story in full here.

01/10/2022 12:47 GMT — Covaxin booster offers long-term protection, Bharat Biotech claims

Bharat Biotech — a biotechnology company based in India — reported on Saturday, January 8, that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, offers long-term protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

According to the Bharat Biotech press release, a phase 2, double-blind, randomized controlled trial demonstrated that, at 6 months after receipt of the second Covaxin dose, a booster dose increased neutralization titres against wild-type and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 fivefold.

Read more about Covaxin here.

01/10/2022 12:20 GMT — Pfizer vaccine can prevent multisystem inflammatory syndrome in 12–18-year-olds

recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can prevent multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) aged 12–18 years.

MIS-C is a serious inflammatory condition reported in some children and teens who have had COVID-19 or who have been exposed to the virus that causes this disease.

The exact causes of this condition remain unknown, but since it can affect many organs — including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain — and can require hospitalization, researchers are keen on finding ways to prevent it.

According to the CDC study, “Receipt of two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective in preventing MIS-C in persons aged 12–18 years.” The effectiveness rate was 91%.

Read about the long-term effects of COVID-19 here.

01/07/2022 09:54 GMT — Some gut bacteria may protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection

Scientists recently investigated whether bacteria from the human microbiome could inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They identified three bacterial metabolites that inhibited infection. Remarkably, these natural bacterial metabolites resemble drugs that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved and that clinical research is exploring as treatments for COVID-19.

Read more about the research here.

01/07/2022 09:28 GMT — IHU variant probably not cause for concern

A new coronavirus variant — the IHU variant, or B.1.640.2 — has been widely covered in the media. In a recent press briefing, Dr. Abdi Mahamud, incident manager for the World Health Organization (WHO), explained that they are monitoring the variant but do not believe it is a cause for concern.

preprint published last month brought attention to the IHU variant, following its discovery in France. However, it had first been identified weeks before Omicron. Despite this head start, the variant remains rare among the population.

The IHU variant is a “phylogenetic sister group” of B.1.640, which the WHO designated a “variant under monitoring” in November 2021. However, it could not compete with the Delta variant.

01/06/2022 14:43 GMT — More evidence of SARS-CoV-2 presence in white-tailed deer populations

In a recent study, scientiststested nasal swabs from 360 wild white-tailed deer in six locations within Ohio state. They detected SARS-CoV-2 in 129 animals (35.8%). The results, which appear in Nature, back up earlier research suggesting that white-tailed deer might become a reservoir for the virus.

“No spillback to humans was observed, but these findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 viruses have the capacity to transmit in [United States] wildlife, potentially opening new pathways for evolution,” the authors write.

“There is an urgent need to establish comprehensive ‘One Health’ programs to monitor deer, the environment, and other wildlife hosts globally.”

Read more about SARS-CoV-2 and white-tailed deer here.

01/06/2022 10:43 GMT — Italy: COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for those 50 or older

As Italy experiences a surge in SARS-CoV-2 infections, the government has made it compulsory for people aged 50 or older to get vaccinated.

Additionally, as of February 15, people over 50 who work must present a health pass proving immunization or recovery from COVID-19.

“We are making these choices in order to restrict the unvaccinated as much as possible, as this is what is causing the burden on our hospital system,” says Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza.

The country’s death toll — more than 138,000 to date — is the second highest in Europe, after the United Kingdom. Italy registered 189,109 new SARS-CoV-2 infections yesterday.

Find more live updates here.

01/06/2022 09:52 GMT — Can mental health experts help improve vaccine hesitancy?

Given that uptake of vaccines is low among young adults — and young adulthood is the age of onset for many mental health problems  mental health experts are uniquely suited to help overcome resistance to COVID-19 vaccination. This is the message of a recent opinion column that appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

Read more here.

01/05/2022 13:48 GMT — COVID-19 vaccines do not trigger preterm births, CDC study finds

Having a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of delivering babies prematurely or giving birth to atypically small babies, according to a large study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers analyzed the records of 46,079 pregnant women, of whom over one-fifth had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine dose, typically during their second or third trimester. Most had received an mRNA vaccine, either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

There were no significant differences in preterm or underweight birth rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The study adds to evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women. Furthermore, developing COVID-19 during pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk of hospitalization, intubation, and death.

Read more about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy here.

01/05/2022 11:06 GMT — US, UK break daily COVID-19 case records amid Omicron surge

The United States recorded over a million new COVID-19 cases on Monday, marking the highest figure for any country in the world since the pandemic broke out.

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed 1,082,549 people tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 on that day —around double the previous U.S. record.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Omicron variant accounted for 95.4% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. last week.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the number of confirmed daily COVID-19 cases also hit another record high on Tuesday, with 218,724 people testing positive.

The news comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the government would not impose lockdowns and would continue with its “plan B,” which involves mask mandates, daily testing, and working from home when possible.

Read more COVID-19 updates here.

01/04/2022 12:11 GMT — FDA authorizes Pfizer booster for 12–15-year-olds

On Monday, January 3, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for 12–15-year-olds.

The federal agency also ruled that preteens and teens in this age group would be eligible to receive their booster shot after a 5-month interval from their second vaccine dose.

Furthermore, the FDA approved third COVID-19 vaccine doses for children aged 5–11 years who have a weakened immune system.

According to Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, “Based on the FDA’s assessment of currently available data, a booster dose of the currently authorized vaccines may help provide better protection against both the Delta and Omicron variants.”

01/04/2022 11:37 GMT — Israel reports its first case of COVID-19 and flu coinfection

An unvaccinated pregnant woman has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and seasonal influenza at the same time, according to a report from the Times of Israel.

The patient was discharged from the hospital on Thursday, and her doctors said that she was in good condition.

“The disease is the same disease. They’re viral and cause difficulty breathing, since both attack the upper respiratory tract,” said Prof. Arnon Vizhnitser, the director of the hospital’s gynecology department.

This coinfection has been dubbed “flurona,” and there have likely been other cases elsewhere in the world, as several studies have suggested.

Read more here about the safety of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

01/04/2022 11:11 GMT — New B.1.640.2 variant with 46 mutations discovered in France

A new SARS-CoV-2 variant, identified as B.1.640.2, has been detected in at least 12 patients in southern France, according to reports.

pre-print paper that has not yet undergone peer review found that the variant has 46 mutations compared to the original variant. Data so far suggest the variant could be Cameroonian in origin and spread via travel to Forcalquier, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region.

Researchers say it is too early to speculate about the variant’s severity or transmissibility.

Experts, such as Prof. Francois Balloux, have said the variant does not explain the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the same region, nor is it associated with ICU cases.

Health experts have not yet detected the variant in other countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has not classified it as a variant of concern (VOC).

Read more here about how we may be contributing to new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

12/23/2021 12:49 GMT — Young people less likely to have long COVID than early studies suggested

meta-analysis of studies has indicated that long COVID might be less of a risk for young people than previously thought.

Although children and young people often report persistent symptoms after SARS-CoV-2 infection, researchers found similar symptoms in those who had tested positive and negative for the virus.

However, children who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were slightly more likely to have some lingering symptoms.

Read more about the study here.

12/23/2021 12:07 GMT — COVID-19 may have a molecular link with Parkinson’s

study has found that the N-protein of SARS-CoV-2 can speed up the formation of the amyloid fibrils responsible for Parkinson’s.

The study joins a few case studies suggesting a link between COVID-19 and Parkinson’s after three relatively young people were diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease following a COVID-19 infection.

However, as this was a test-tube study, there is no evidence that this can happen in the human brain. Researchers remain skeptical.

If future studies support this finding, it could have implications for the development of next-generation vaccines against the virus.

Read more about it here.

12/23/2021 11:54 GMT — 3 in 10 COVID-19 patients not fully recovered after 1 year

A recent study found that fewer than 3 in 10 people felt they had fully recovered 12 months after leaving hospital following treatment for COVID-19.

Furthermore, researchers found that females and people with obesity, systemic inflammation, and more severe symptoms during the initial infection had an increased risk of having long COVID and related health impairments.

Read MNT‘s coverage of the study here.

If you would like to read a first-hand account of a doctor’s struggle with long Covid, head here.

12/23/2021 11:45 GMT — UK daily COVID-19 cases top 100K for the first time

The United Kingdom recorded 106,122 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection on Wednesday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The surge has been largely fueled by the more infectious Omicron variant.

The figure showed a 35% increase, compared with the past week. The previous record came on December 17, with
93,045 cases.

On Thursday, the Office for National Statistics said 1 in 45 people in England had COVID-19 last week, a rate that rose to 1 in 30 in London.

The case data comes a day after the country had administered a record 968,665 boosters and third doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

This week, the U.K. also moved to offer clinically vulnerable 5–11-year-olds a lower, pediatric dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A final decision awaits approval by ministers.

Read more about vaccines and Omicron here.

12/23/2021 11:27 GMT — US authorizes first COVID-19 pill for at-home treatment

On Wednesday, the United States authorized Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid — its first oral COVID-19 treatment — for at-home use for people aged 12 years and older at risk of severe illness.

Paxlovid had an efficacy of almost 90% in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients deemed high risk. Pfizer has also said its trials suggest the pill remains effective against Omicron. 

The move comes as the U.S. is experiencing a surge in Omicron cases, which now make up over 73% of all infections.

Health experts also predict Merck’s antiviral pill will get approval for use soon.

Read more about Paxlovid here.

12/22/2021 10:47 GMT — Israel set to give 4th vaccine dose to over-60s in world first

Israel could become the first country to trial a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Tuesday that the booster would be offered to anyone over the age of 60 and at-risk groups, including medical teams and people with weakened immune systems.

Eligible people will be able to receive their booster 4 months after their third dose.

“The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose, as well,” he said.

The move comes after the country’s first reported death from the Omicron variant and its rapid global spread.

Data so far do not indicate a necessity for a fourth dose, though research is ongoing.

Read more here about how vaccines stand the test against Omicron.

12/22/2021 10:27 GMT — England drops self-isolation from 10 days to 7 for those who test negative

People who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and are currently in self-isolation in England will be able to get out of their quarantine up to 3 days early if they test negative twice, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced.

To be able to end self-isolating, people will have to provide negative lateral flow test results from days six and seven.

This will apply to all people, whether they are fully vaccinated or not. Those who tested positive on Friday or started showing symptoms last week can also benefit from this change in guidance.

Javid said the government was introducing the measure to minimize disruption caused by the rapid surge and spread of the Omicron variant across the country.

Read more COVID-19 updates here.

12/21/2021 14:10 GMT — Omicron now accounts for almost 75% of COVID-19 cases in the US

Omicron, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant, now accounts for 73% of COVID-19 cases in the United States. This is according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The new variant is responsible for even more cases in some parts of the country. About 90% of infections in New York, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest are due to Omicron. 

The CDC also notes that approximately 650,000 Omicron infections occurred in the U.S. last week, according to data released on Monday.

Find out more here.

12/21/2021 13:30 GMT — EU authorizes Novavax vaccine

The European Union has authorized the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine for use across its 27 nations. The vaccine received conditional marketing authorization for people aged 18 years and over on Monday. 

The United States-based manufacturer announced that it is currently testing the vaccine’s effectiveness against Omicron. 

Read the full story here

12/20/2021 13:55 GMT — Moderna preliminary data suggest booster effective against Omicron

On Monday, December 20, pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna published preliminary data about the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine booster against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

According to Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, “These data [show] that the currently authorized Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralizing antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels.” Bancel calls these results “reassuring.”

The United States has authorized a 50-microgram Moderna booster, which contains half the dose of a baseline Moderna COVID-19 shot.

12/20/2021 13:50 GMT — Sinopharm booster may provide little protection against Omicron

Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine booster, BBIBP-CorV — authorized for use in China and the Philippines — provides very little if any protection against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The research has not yet undergone peer review, and these results are available online in preprint form.

According to the study, the Sinopharm booster’s neutralizing antibody activity against Omicron “reduced 20.1-fold compared with its activity against a wild-type strain of the coronavirus.”

“In conclusion, a third booster dose of BBIBP-CorV [led] to a significant rebound in neutralizing immune response against SARS-CoV-2, while the Omicron variant showed extensive but incomplete escape of the booster elicited neutralization,” the study authors write. 

12/20/2021 12:21 GMT — New U.K. report claims Omicron more likely to reinfect

A newly published report from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom claims that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is more likely to reinfect than the Delta variant.

The researchers who authored this report estimate that there is a “5.41 […] fold higher risk of reinfection [with Omicron compared with Delta,” which suggests that an initial infection with the Omicron variant results in weak immune protection.

While this report used real-world data to calculate this estimate, there are nevertheless some caveats regarding these data.

Prof. Penny Ward — an independent pharmaceutical physician and visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, not involved with the report — explains that “the majority of confirmed Omicron infections reported in the dataset are from young adults, many of African descent, primarily in the London region, which is a pattern very different to that observed with Delta variant infections.”

“In particular,” she adds, “the current clustering of cases of Omicron infection in younger age adults, who are inherently less likely to be hospitalized or to die from COVID, limits the extent to which differences in severity of illness following the infection caused by these two variants can be assessed.”

12/17/2021 10:59 GMT — CDC recommends mRNA COVID-19 vaccines over J&J

In a recent statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that, where possible, individuals should choose an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine — Moderna or Pfizer — over Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. This advice is based on the conclusion that mRNA vaccines offer greater protection and fewer risks.

In the statement, the CDC writes:

“The U.S. supply of mRNA vaccines is abundant — with nearly 100 million doses in the field for immediate use. This updated CDC recommendation follows similar recommendations from other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.”

“Given the current state of the pandemic both here and around the world, the ACIP reaffirmed that receiving any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated. Individuals who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine will continue to have access to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.”

Read how mRNA vaccines work here.

12/17/2021 09:46 GMT — Projected impact of Omicron on elective surgery in the UK

A research letter that appears in The Lancet calculates the affects that the Omicron wave might have on surgical backlogs. It concludes that if Omicron causes a spike similar to the one in April 2020, it could lead to the cancellation of an additional 100,273 elective operations in England from December 2021 to February 2022.

One of the authors, Dr. Aneel Bhangu, a clinician scientist in global surgery at the National Institute for Health Research and senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, comments:

“Cancellations may mean that patients wait even longer for operations like hip replacements, resulting in deterioration of their symptoms and increased disability. Ringfenced elective hubs are urgently needed to protect elective surgery this winter.”

12/17/2021 09:12 GMT — Autoimmunity may help explain long COVID

A recent paper discusses how antibodies that the body produces after the initial immune response to SARS-CoV-2 may also bind the same target cells as the virus. This, the authors theorize, might help explain why individuals experience long COVID symptoms months after infection.

Read more about the study here.

12/16/2021 11:45 GMT — Omicron multiplies 70 times faster than Delta

According to a recent laboratory study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, Omicron replicates 70 times faster than the Delta variant in cells from the upper respiratory tract. However, the scientists also found that Omicron replicates 10 times less efficiently in lung tissue than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

These findings may help explain why Omicron is particularly transmittable — more virus particles in the upper airways make it more likely to move from one individual to another.

The fact that it replicates less well in lung tissue might hint that it causes less severe disease. However, laboratory studies on cells do not always translate to humans.

Dr. Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, discussed the findings on Twitter. She explains:

“Less efficient replication in the lungs may suggest lower severity, but severity in humans is not determined only by virus replication but also the host immune response.”

“For those asking whether this is good [or] bad news, simple answer: I don’t know. While Omicron may infect the lung cells less efficiently, a higher viral load may worsen immune response,” she concludes.

12/16/2021 10:28 GMT — “No need for a variant-specific booster,” according to Dr. Fauci

Yesterday, at a White House press briefing, the president’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, announced that scientists would not need to change current COVID-19 vaccines to tackle the Omicron variant. “Our booster vaccine regimens work against Omicron. At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster,” he said.

Read more about Omicron here.

12/15/2021 12:10 GMT — Scientists create experimental antiviral against SARS-CoV-2 from ‘deadly carrot’

A Mediterranean plant called Thapsia garganica, more commonly known as deadly carrot, may become a promising alternative way to combat COVID-19, recent research suggests.

In experiments testing the antiviral performance of thapsigargin, a compound in the roots and fruits of the plant, researchers discovered that it blocked all infection with Alpha, Beta, or Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 in human cells.

The compound has been used in folk medicine as a herbal remedy for rheumatic pain and infertility in females.

Read more about the study here.

12/15/2021 11:55 GMT — Fighting COVID-19 with a lettuce-based chewing gum

Researchers have developed a chewing gum derived from lettuce that can neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in saliva, and therefore believe it may help reduce transmission of the virus.

Their study showed that the chewing gum lowered the levels of viral RNA in saliva to almost undetectable levels.

The researchers are now seeking to test the chewing gum in clinical trials.

Read MNT’s coverage of the study here.

12/15/2021 11:45 GMT — Research unmasks the environmental impact of PPE

New research has found that in 11 countries, the number of masks that ended up as litter is as high as 2 million. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was almost no litter related to masks, the study points out.

Similar increases were recorded for other types of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and wipes.

Read more here about the extent of PPE litter during the early months of the pandemic.

12/14/2021 16:01 GMT — Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill has 89% efficacy

In a study including 2,246 high-risk individuals, Pfizer’s antiviral pill — Paxlovid — had an efficacy of 89% at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. However, it is worth noting that the study has not been peer-reviewed.

These data are timely for Pfizer. Yesterday, Merck announced the full clinical trial data for its COVID-19 antiviral drug, molnupiravir. Unlike Paxlovid, molnupiravir had a lower-than-expected efficacy. Initial results showed a 50% reduction in hospitalization, but the latest results show just a 30% reduction.

Andrew Pekosz, M.D., vice chair of microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 

in Baltimore, hopes that Paxlovid is “a really important weapon in our arsenal to fight COVID-19, particularly as we see more variants that are going to be chipping at that efficacy number.”

Read more about molnupiravir here.

12/14/2021 14:47 GMT — COVID-19: ‘Deadly carrot’ compound may be effective antiviral

A new study suggests that an antiviral compound called thapsigargin is able to block coinfection with two variants of SARS-CoV-2 in cell cultures.

Thapsigargin comes from Thapsia Garganica, a Mediterranean plant commonly known as deadly carrot. The study paper appears in the journal Virulence.

Read our full coverage of this story here.

12/14/2021 11:08 GMT — 2 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine give 70% protection against hospitalization with Omicron

Two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provide 70% protection against hospitalization and severe disease from the Omicron variant, a real-world study in South Africa has revealed.

The data, based on some 211,000 positive COVID-19 test results from mid-November to early December, was released in a briefing by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurance administrator, on Tuesday. MNT has been unable to identify the original report.

The briefing described reduced effectiveness for Pfizer’s two-shot primary series against severe outcomes, which provided 93% protection against Delta.

As for infection, the double shot also provided about 33% protection against Omicron, down from 80% for Delta.

The data support previous findings that a third dose increased antibody titers and provided significant protection against Omicron.

Read more about why Omicron is worrying scientists here.

12/13/2021 15:32 GMT — ‘Science is flawed’: COVID-19, ivermectin, and beyond

In an op-ed for Medical News Today, Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist and writer based in Sydney, Australia, outlines some prominent issues with research that have become increasingly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a case study, he offers the example of ivermectin. “It is likely that more ivermectin has been taken to prevent or treat COVID-19 than any other single medication, except perhaps dexamethasone,” Meyerowitz-Katz writes.“

And yet, we do not know if ivermectin is actually useful in the treatment of COVID-19 at all.”

Read Meyerowitz-Katz’s op-ed in full here.

12/13/2021 15:30 GMT — Pfizer booster increases protection against Omicron 100-fold, Israeli study finds

According to researchers from Israel, receiving the two regular doses of a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine plus a third booster shot can provide “significant protection” against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The findings come from research conducted by the Sheba Medical Center and the Health Ministry’s Central Virology Laboratory in Israel.

This study involved comparing blood samples from 20 people who had received the two regular Pfizer doses 5–6 months previously to that of 20 participants who had received a third booster dose 1 month before.

“The good news is that with the booster dose [neutralization ability against Omicron] increases about a hundredfold,” says Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba Medical Center.

“There is a significant protection of the booster dose.” However, she admits, “[i]t is lower than the neutralization ability against the Delta [variant], about four times lower.”

12/13/2021 15:24 GMT — Could a global ‘vaccine tax’ help achieve vaccine equity?

As of December 9, 2021, more than 8.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, most of these in high income countries.

In low income countries, only 8.35% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose. The most significant barrier that stands in the way of equitable vaccine distribution is the high cost of vaccines, which renders them largely unavailable in countries that cannot afford them.

A new paper in the BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics suggests that one solution to vaccine inequity might be applying a vaccine “tax” based on a purchasing nation’s ability to pay for vaccines.

“For every vaccine bought, a fraction of the price paid for the vaccine is set aside to create a fairer vaccine distribution,” proposes paper author Dr. Andreas Brøgger Albertsen, of Aarhus University in Denmark.

“Under the vaccine tax scheme, the selling firm is responsible for transferring the money raised in this way to COVAX,” the World Health Organization’s (WHO) initiative “for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Read our coverage of this story here.

12/13/2021 12:42 GMT — WHO reiterates warning about Omicron risk

A new technical brief from the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterates that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 could be highly transmissible and asks member states to enhance their pandemic preparedness measures.

“Omicron variant is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, including 26-32 in the spike protein, some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility,” the brief states.

The WHO’s risk assessment concludes that “[t]he overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high for a number of reasons,” including those stated above.WHO’s advice to member states includes:

  • enhancing data collection and research on Omicron and other SARS-CoV-2 variants
  • accelerating vaccination rollouts
  • continuing to maintain basic public health measures, including adequate masking, physical distancing, and ensuring appropriate indoor ventilation.

12/10/2021 09:40 GMT — Boosters now available to 16–17-year olds in US

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided emergency authorization for people aged 16–17 to get a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They will be eligible for the shot 6 months after the second dose.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged this age group to take up the booster shot. “We know protection wanes over time,” she explains, and “we’re facing a variant that has the potential to require more immunity to be protected.”

Acting commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock, says, “Vaccination and getting a booster when eligible, along with other preventive measures like masking and avoiding large crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, remain our most effective methods for fighting COVID-19.”

12/10/2021 09:22 GMT — COVID-19: Do windy days reduce transmission?

A recent study investigated the role of wind speed in SARS-CoV-2 transmission in outdoor spaces. Reduced wind speed had associations with transmission rates during warmer spells. However, below a certain temperature, wind speed made little difference, possibly because people were more likely to socialize indoors.

Read more here.

12/09/2021 14:26 GMT — Will COVID-19 vaccines stand the test of Omicron?

Since the emergence of Omicron, one question has been on everyone’s mind: Will the vaccines protect against it? Until more data are available, there are no firm answers, but many are optimistic that vaccines offer at least some protection. Medical News Today investigated the current hypotheses in a new feature.

12/09/2021 11:34 GMT — Pfizer vaccine versus Omicron: Preliminary data

In a press release, Pfizer has outlined preliminary data on how its COVID-19 vaccine fares against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The results of the laboratory work demonstrate that “Three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine neutralize the Omicron variant […] while two doses show significantly reduced neutralization titers.”

The company explains that a third dose increases levels of Omicron-neutralizing antibodies 25-fold.

Levels of neutralizing antibodies following the booster jab are comparable to the levels observed after two doses against wild-type SARS-CoV-2. These levels, Pfizer says, are “associated with high levels of protection.”

Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive officer, Albert Bourla, explains: 

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine. Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

As the press release acknowledges, these data are preliminary, and the company will continue to collect real-world data.

Read more about the Omicron variant here.

12/09/2021 10:33 GMT — FDA authorizes long-acting monoclonal antibodies for preexposure prevention of COVID-19

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an emergency use authorization for AstraZeneca’s Evusheld. The drug will be used to prevent COVID-19 in people with severely compromised immune systems or a history of severe adverse reactions to a vaccine.

According to its press release, Evusheld “is only authorized for those individuals who [currently do not have a SARS-CoV-2 infection] and who have not recently been exposed to an individual [with the SARS-CoV-2 virus].”

Evusheld is administered by two intramuscular injections in quick succession. Each injection contains one of two monoclonal antibodies: tixagevimab or cilgavimab.

The FDA also makes it clear that “Evusheld is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended.”

12/08/2021 14:02 GMT — UK: Omicron cases doubling every ‘2–3 days’

According to Prof. Neil Ferguson from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies in the United Kingdom, Omicron cases are doubling every 2–3 days in the U.K. He explains, “It’s likely to overtake Delta before Christmas at this rate.” Omicron cases are particularly high in London and Scotland.

During the interview, which aired on BBC Radio 4, the interviewer inquired about the likelihood of lockdowns. Prof. Ferguson says:

“Clearly, if the consensus is it is highly likely that the NHS is simply going to be overwhelmed, then it will be for the government to decide what [it]wants to do about that, but it’s a difficult situation to be in, of course.”

Speaking about the severity of disease caused by Omicron, he explains that there is “a little hint in the U.K. data that infections are a little bit more likely to be asymptomatic. But we really need to firm up that evidence at the current time.”

Read more about Omicron here.

12/08/2021 12:09 GMT — Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine offers some protection against Omicron, lab study suggests

A series of small experiments with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has found a drop in protection against the new Omicron variant.

The researchers compared the immune responses of six people who had received the vaccine and six who first developed COVID-19 before receiving the vaccination.

They found that, overall, there was a 41-fold reduction in neutralization against Omicron. However, five of the participants, all of whom had developed COVID-19, maintained “relatively high neutralization [levels] with Omicron.”

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, suggests that people who have had COVID-19 before this vaccine are likely to be better protected. The researchers expect this to be similar for people who have received a booster dose.

Although the findings are worrisome to an extent, scientists point out that looking solely at antibodies paints an incomplete picture of the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 —especially against hospitalization or death.

Read more about Omicron here.

Doctor in analysis lab holding sample of new strain of covid Omicron