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COVID-19 UPDATE / Immunity and Vaccine Development

In this edition, Dr Doug from International SOS shares today's latest insights on the development of COVID immunity and vaccine development:

In this edition, Dr Doug from International SOS shares the very latest insights on the development of COVID immunity and vaccine development:

1.     B.1.1.7 variant has a higher R0

2.     What does “Pandemic Level 5” in the UK mean?

3.     What do the English COVID-19 intervention tiers mean?

4.     Study to determine if vaccine reduces or prevents transmission cancelled

5.     Having had COVID-19 protects healthcare workers for at least six months

6.     AstraZeneca & local COVID vaccines given urgent approval in India

7.     India bans export of AstraZeneca vaccine

8.     World Health Organization lists Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use

9.     Which vaccines can be “quickly” modified for a new variant?

1.     B.1.1.7 variant has a higher R0


As England and Scotland move into Tier 4 lock-downs related to the B.1.1.7 variant, a non-peer reviewed paper has estimated that the variant – now designated Variant of Concern 202012/01 (VOC) – has a reproduction number (R0) ranging between 0.4 and 0.7 higher than the non-VOCs.

The paper notes that these estimates of transmission advantage were calculated during a period where high levels of social distancing were in place in England (otherwise they may have been even higher).

Commenting on the paper, Dr Ali Nouri** has tweeted that:

·       Current measures can’t contain the B.1.1.7 variant in the UK. The highly transmissible variant is spreading rapidly among all ages, even more so among the under 20 group

·       Reason for faster spread among youth is unclear

·       The current set of non-pharmaceutical interventions is not enough to control the new variant. Moreover, plans to re-open schools in January should be reconsidered.

** Dr Ali Nouri: Molecular Biologist; President, Federation of American Scientists; National Academy Science Diplomacy Roundtable.


2.     What does “Pandemic Level 5” in the UK mean?

The BBC reports that the UK’s coronavirus alert level is expected to be upgraded to Level Five – the highest level. It means there is now a risk of the NHS being overwhelmed.

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3.     What do the English COVID-19 intervention tiers mean?

A Tier 4 “Stay at Home” alert was issued for England earlier today. It is expected to remain in force until mid-February.

Tier 1: Medium alert

Tier 2: High alert

Tier 3: Very High alert

Tier 4: Stay at Home

Posters describing each tier can be found here.


4.     Study to determine if vaccine reduces or prevents transmission cancelled

The Wall Street Journal reports that a seminal study designed to determine whether and to what extent vaccines prevent transmission has been cancelled. The study of more than 20,000 college students, using the Moderna vaccine, was due to begin in January.

“The researchers weren’t able to secure federal funding for the trial, which would have cost several hundred million dollars, and faced time constraints in getting the complex study up and running so it could yield results before students ended the spring semester.”

International SOS comment:  Until we know whether the various vaccines reduce or prevent transmission, we cannot be sure that “herd immunity” can be achieved.


5.     Having had COVID-19 protects healthcare workers for at least six months

The Journal of Infection has published results of a study in Newcastle, UK, which investigated whether previous confirmed COVID prevented re-infection of healthcare workers during the second COVID wave that occurred from July to November 2020. 

The result was there were no symptomatic reinfections in a cohort of 11,000 healthcare workers and so it is assumed that the apparent immunity to re-infection was maintained for at least six months.


6.     AstraZeneca & local COVID vaccines given urgent approval in India

The Drugs Controller General of India has approved restricted emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin.

·       Covishield is the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

·       Covaxin has been developed by Bharat Biotech, a company based in Hyderabad, with backing from the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)

Reuters reports that Bharat Biotech has submitted its data to the drugs controller, who is expected to share details about it at a news conference.


7.     India bans export of AstraZeneca vaccine

India today reports the Serum Institute of India (SII) CEO, Adar Poonawalla, as saying that India has barred the vaccine maker from exporting the Oxford University-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for several months. SII has also been barred from selling the vaccine on the private market.

“SII – the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer – has been contracted to make one billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations.

“With rich nations reserving most of the vaccines that will be made this year, SII is likely to make most of the inoculations for developing countries. The ban on exports, however, means that poorer nations will probably have to wait a few months before receiving their first shots.”


8.     WHO lists Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use

Reuters reports that: “The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday 31 December Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, in a move seeking to speed access in the developing world.

“The WHO established its Emergency Use Listing (EUL) process to help poorer countries without their own regulatory resources quickly approve medicines for new diseases like COVID-19, which otherwise could lead to delays.

“The WHO’s review found Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine met the ‘must-have’ criteria for safety and efficacy and that benefits outweigh its risks.”


9.     Which vaccines can be “quickly” modified for a new variant?

Reuters reports that “…an advantage of mRNA vaccine technology is that scientists can quickly re-engineer genetic material in the shot to match that of the mutated protein, whereas modifying traditional vaccines would require extra steps.

“In principle, the beauty of the mRNA technology is we can directly start to engineer a vaccine which completely mimics this new mutation,” Mr Sahin, one of the developers of the BioNTech vaccine, said.

“We could be able to provide a new vaccine technically within six weeks. Of course, this is not only a technical question – we have to deal with how regulators … would see that.”

Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and CureVac have all developed mRNA vaccines.


FOR INTERNATIONAL SOS MEMBERS (First login at http://www.internationalsos.com)

·       To view a digest of articles on COVID Immunity and Vaccine development: CLICK HERE

·       To view a digest of articles on COVID Testing: CLICK HERE

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