Quality news, views and analysis of issues that affect and inform us in the Douglas Shire.

The COVID-19 Report

LOCAL specialist Dr Doug Quarry from International SOS reports in on this week’s developments in the pandemic world. On the bright side, vaccines and non-pharmaceutical interventions are reducing cases across the UK, IUS and Israel, and Boris Johnson unveils his plans for ending restrictions in the UK. Not so positive is that the volume of French COVID-19 intensive care patients is at a 12-week high, and cases in Eastern Europe are escalating.

DR DOUG QUARRY


In this edition:

PART 1: MAINLY ENCOURAGING NEWS 

1. Encouraging news from US nursing homes 

2. Vaccine and NPI’s reducing cases in the UK, US and Israel 

3. Boris Johnson unveils plan to end restrictions in England by 21 June 2021 

4. BBC News: Live music “at the back of queue to reopen” 

5. Fauci says he sees US CDC relaxing some COVID-19 guidelines soon 

6. At least four countries have met the challenge of the B.1.1.7 strain 


PART 2: NEWS THAT IS NOT QUITE SO ENCOURAGING 

1. French COVID-19 intensive care patients at a 12-week high 

2. Eastern Europe, we have a problem! 


PART 3: VACCINE AND VARIANT NEWS 

1. Coronavirus: Human trials are under way for a COVID “booster” vaccine in a pill

2. The “new” New York B.1. 526 variant: another “scariant”? 

3. Moderna variant-specific vaccine ready to study 

4. J&J COVID-19 vaccine cuts transmission 

5. Universal coronavirus vaccine trials to start this year 

6. FDA confirms efficacy of single-dose J&J coronavirus vaccine, especially against severe cases

7. SARS-CoV-2: eye protection might be the “missing key”


PART 1: MAINLY ENCOURAGING NEWS 

1.1 Encouraging news from US nursing homes – the first group to get vaccinated 

The New York Times reports that there has been approximately a 63% reduction in deaths in  US nursing home residents since the US vaccination campaign began. This compares with an  increase of approximately 7% among the general population.


1.2 Vaccine and NPI’s reducing cases: UK, US, Israel 

Vaccine and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) are combining (in different proportions) to reduce the number of cases of COVID-19 in several countries. They have been particularly effective in the UK.  

Daily cases in the UNITED KINGDOM / Population: 68 million 

Daily cases in the UNITED STATES  / Population: 68 million

Daily cases in ISRAEL / Population: 9 million 


1.3 Boris Johnson unveils plan to end restrictions in England by 21 June, 2021 

The rapid reduction in the COVID-19 case numbers has prompted release of a four-step plan for the  phasing-out of restrictions in England.  

Step 1a: 8 March 2021 

• Schools open. Outdoor after school sports allowed  

• Two people allowed to sit together outdoors  

• Care home residents allowed one regular visitor  

Step 1b: 29 March 2021 

• Six people or two households allowed to meet outdoors  

• Outdoor sports facilities open, organized sport allowed  

• Travel outside local area allowed  

Step 2: 12 April 2021

• Non-essential retail and personal care open  

• Hospitality outdoors open  

• Self-contained holiday accommodation open  

Step 3: 17 May 2021

• Outdoors most social contact rules lifted 

• Six people or two households can meet indoors 

• Indoor hospitality and hotels open  

Step 4: 21 June 2021

• All legal limits on social contact removed 

• Hope to reopen final closed sectors of the economy 


1.4 BBC News: Live music “at the back of queue to reopen” 

BBC reports that: “The Chief Executive of a live music trade body has said the industry is “at the back of  the queue to re-open” once coronavirus restrictions are lifted. 

Greg Parmley, Chief executive of “Live”, said his sector “could be months behind the rest of the economy”. 


1.5 Fauci says he sees U.S. CDC relaxing some COVID-19 guidelines soon 

CNN reports Dr Anthony Fauci** as saying: “I believe you’re going to be hearing more of the  recommendations of how you can relax the stringency of some of the things, particularly when you’re  dealing with something like your own personal family, when people have been vaccinated and that will  happen pretty soon.” 


1.6 At least four countries have met the challenge of the B.1.1.7 strain 

The UK, Israel, Portugal, and Ireland have recently had a COVID-19 epidemic wave related to the B.1.1.7  strain. All have successfully combatted the wave, with the UK and Israel using a combination of NPI’s  (lockdown) and vaccinations, and Ireland and Portugal mainly NPIs’ (lockdown).  

Image Credit / Financial Times


PART 2: NEWS THAT IS NOT QUITE SO ENCOURAGING 

2.1 French COVID-19 intensive care patients at a 12-week high

Reuters reports that: “France’s number of patients treated in  intensive care units for COVID-19 has gone up again, reaching  

a 12-week peak of 3,435 as regional officials urge for a ban on public gatherings and consider a partial weekend lockdown. 

“Unlike some of its neighbours, France has resisted a new national lockdown to control more contagious variants, hoping a  

curfew in place since 15 December could contain the pandemic.” 


2.2 Eastern Europe, we have a problem!


PART 3: VACCINE AND VARIANT NEWS 

3.1 Coronavirus: Human trials are under way for a COVID “booster” vaccine in a pill 

The New Daily reports that US company ImmunityBio has begun human trials of its hAd5 T-cell “second  generation” COVID-19 vaccine. 

The new vaccine targets the mutation-prone outer spike protein (S) – as do all COVID-19 vaccines being  deployed – but it also targets the more stable inner nucleocapsid (N) protein, activating antibodies,  memory B cells, and T-cells against the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This N protein is less prone to  mutation than the spike protein – and immunity to it may negate the effects of the variants of the  coronavirus that are currently compromising vaccine efficacy. 

The new vaccine, in pill form, may serve as a “booster” for all existing vaccines. 

The vaccine has been trialled successfully in monkeys, including the pill version. The Phase 1 trial will  investigate the vaccine’s safety in humans. 


3.2 The “new” New York B.1. 526 variant: another “scariant”? 

Eric Topol*** has, on Twitter, criticized the increasingly common habit of scientists releasing non-peer reviewed pre-prints to news organisations prior to their publication.  

He cites this recent article in the New York Times… 

“A new form of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in New York City, and it carries a worrisome mutation that may  weaken the effectiveness of vaccines, two teams of researchers have found. 

“One study of the new variant, led by a group at Caltech, was posted online on Tuesday. The other, by researchers at  Columbia University, was published on Thursday morning. 

“Neither study has been vetted by peer review nor published in a scientific journal. But the consistent results suggest  that the variant’s spread is real, experts said.” 

…and asks: “Why are academic groups forwarding “pre-prints” that are not posted directly to the media  without the biomedical community having a chance to review? Isn’t a published pre-print enough? Is this a  new “pre-pre-print” trend? Concerning.” 

He says: “The spike mutations have potential impact but still unproven as having functional significance.”

Post Script: the related article has now been published.


3.3 Moderna variant-specific vaccine ready to study 

Moderna has announced that it has completed manufacturing a version of its vaccine to prevent infection  by B.1.351, a variant first identified in South Africa. The company is sending doses of this mRNA 1273.351 booster vaccine to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) for evaluation in a clinical trial.


3.4 J&J COVID-19 vaccine cuts transmission 

A new analysis provided by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in advance of its review of the  Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine suggest the vaccine can reduce the risk of an immunized  person unknowingly passing along the virus to others. 

The single-dose vaccine reduces the risk of asymptomatic infection by 74% at 71 days compared with  placebo, according to documents released on 25 February. 


3.5 Universal coronavirus vaccine trials to start this year 

The New Scientist Daily reports that trials for a universal coronavirus vaccine may start this year. The  vaccine would need to identify a region of the virus that is so important to its survival that it is remains constant across all coronaviruses and does not change as the viruses mutate.  

Several research groups are working on such a vaccine with the first human trials of potential candidates  planned to start later this year.  

Thus type of vaccine would likely be effective against all strains of SARS-CoV-2, SARS-Co1-1 (caused  SARS), MERS, and possibly the coronaviruses that cause some of the “colds” in humans.  


3.6 FDA confirms efficacy of J&J coronavirus vaccine, especially against severe cases 

The Washington Post reports that the one-dose vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has proved  safe and effective in a clinical trial and completely protective against hospitalizations and deaths,  according to a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review released 24 February. 

The FDA is expected to issue an Emergency Use Authorization for the J&J vaccine today (26 February). 


3.7 SARS-CoV-2: eye protection might be the “missing key” 

An interesting article in The Lancet argues the case that protecting the eyes may be the “missing key” to  reduce COVID-19 transmission. According to the authors, this is an under-appreciated route of SARS CoV-2 transmission and they reference an interesting 1919 study with masks and atomized bacteria in  solution. 


**Anthony Fauci: Anthony Stephen Fauci is an American physician-scientist and immunologist serving  as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and chief medical  advisor to President Joe Biden since 2021 

**Eric Topol: Professor of Molecular Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute, and a senior consultant  at the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, California. Editor-in-chief of  Medscape and theheart.org


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