British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca’s large-scale human COVID-19 vaccine trial has been paused after one of the participants developed an unexplained illness. A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said the pause is “routine” and occurred when the firm’s standard review process was triggered. An independent committee will now review safety data pertaining to the trial. AstraZeneca stressed that an adverse reaction was only witnessed in one study participant, and that pausing trials was a common part of the vaccine development process. No details have been released about the nature of the participant’s illness, but it has been reported that the individual is expected to recover. Right now, all trials of the joint AstraZeneca-University of Oxford developed vaccine, AZD1222, have been halted worldwide, including in the United States, UK, Brazil, South Africa, and India. AZD1222 is one of three COVID-19 vaccines in late-stage Phase 3 trials in the United States. AstraZeneca and eight other drug makers have said they will not seek approval from US government regulators for any vaccine until all data showed it was safe and effective. All of the companies, which include Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, GlaxoSmithKline, Novavax Inc, Sanofi and BioNTech, said “the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals” was their top priority.
With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide now at more than 25 million, any news involving potential vaccines is important, which is why a recent announcement from AstraZeneca Plc is exciting. The British multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company, which has its headquarters in Cambridge, England, says it has begun to enroll 30,000 participants aged above 18 in the United States for a large-scale human trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, AZD1222. The US trial will evaluate whether the vaccine can prevent COVID-19 infection or keep the illness from becoming severe, the National Institutes of Health said in a statement. It also will assess if the vaccine can reduce incidence of emergency department visits due to COVID-19. AstraZeneca says the study is being funded by the US Government and that participants will either receive two doses of either AZD1222 or a saline control (a placebo), four weeks apart. The AstraZeneca shot, which has been developed by researchers from the University of Oxford, is one of the farthest along of numerous COVID-19 vaccines in development. As well as the US trial, a final-stage test of the vaccine is underway in the United Kingdom. Preliminary results from this test could be yielded as soon as next month. Other companies that have COVID-19 vaccines in phase 3 trials include Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc.
If people washed their hands regularly, social distanced, and wore face masks most COVID-19 outbreaks could be prevented, even without a vaccine or additional treatments, a new study has found. According to the research published in the journal PLoS Medicine, which created a COVID-19 prevention and spread model, the steps should work in most western countries. The research found that government-imposed social distancing measures, such as closing business establishments, cancelling in-person events, and advising people to stay at home whenever possible, can delay the peak of a COVID-19 epidemic by up to seven months on their own. However, when coupled with regular handwashing and wearing masks, the peak of the epidemic can be delayed by a further few months. Furthermore, the earlier people adopt such measures, the greater the positive impact. The researchers from the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands said in a country where 90% of the population uses multiple actions, such as hand washing and social distancing, a large outbreak of COVID-19 or a second wave could be averted. Speaking about the findings of the research, Ganna Rozhnova, an infectious disease modeler at the University Medical Center Utrecht, said: “If nearly all [the] population adopted self-imposed measures we would not have to confront the possibility of secondary lockdowns as well as the possibility that we may find our medical systems overwhelmed during the peaks of epidemics.”
A coronavirus vaccine developed by the Universality of Oxford and AstraZeneca appears safe and triggers an immune response that should protect people against infection. According to a trial of the vaccine involving 1,077 participants, the findings of which are published in The Lancet, the vaccine led to individuals making antibodies and T-cells that fight SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus. Within just 14 days of receiving the vaccine, participants’ T-cell levels peaked. After 28 days participants’ antibody levels peaked. Both T-cells and antibodies are crucial in the body’s immune defence of viruses, which is why any effective vaccine needs to induce both in the people who receive it. But while the findings are immensely promising, more research is needed to determine exactly how safe the vaccine is, whether it can indeed provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 and how long any protection would last. Nevertheless, the UK has already ordered 100m doses of the vaccine. Prof Andrew Pollard, from the Oxford research group, told the BBC: “We're really pleased with the results published today as we're seeing both neutralising antibodies and T-cells. “They're extremely promising and we believe the type of response that may be associated with protection. “But the key question everyone wants to know is does the vaccine work, does it offer protection... and we're in a waiting game.” The next step is for more than 10,000 people to take part in the next stage of the trial to further determine how safe the vaccine is. [Related reading: World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine]
As the number of SARS-CoV-2 infections around the world passes eight million, hopes still remain on a vaccine being developed. But what does it mean for a potential vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates? Well, the bottom line is that all viruses mutate, it is part of their life cycle, so there’s a very good chance that SARS-CoV-2 will too. The good news though is that mutations can actually lead to weaker viruses, although the reality is that there’s usually no noticeable difference in the disease’s transmission and fatality rates. This seems to be the case with SARS-CoV-2. Mutations that are currently spreading around places like New York do not seem to be any more infectious or fatal than the original strain that came out of Wuhan, China, in late December. According to the Scripps Research Institute in Florida, any SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that is developed will also likely be effective against mutated forms of the virus. It’s the reason why our very effective vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (which are RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2) still protects us, despite these viruses mutating over the years. So even if SARS-CoV-2 mutates further down the road, while we might see some breakthrough infections, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to a new pandemic. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]
With more evidence emerging that COVID-19 can cause dangerous blood clots in some patients, new research shows that blood thinners could help improve survival rates. According to the study by a team from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, which looked at nearly 2,800 COVID-19 patients admitted to five hospitals across the Mount Sinai Health System, blood thinners were seen to have a positive impact on patient outcomes. The blood thinners were found to be especially helpful for patients who were put on ventilators to help them breathe. The study found that 63% of patients on ventilators who were not given blood thinners died, compared to 23% of patients on ventilators who were given blood thinners. Furthermore, of the patients who died, those who were given anticoagulants did so after spending an average of 21 days in the hospital. In contrasts, those who didn't receive anticoagulants died after an average of just 14 days in the hospital. Finally, the study also revealed that patients who were given blood thinners were not significantly more likely to develop bleeding problems -- one of the risks of taking such drugs. Speaking about the findings of the research, study senior author Dr. Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart and physician-in-chief at the Mount Sinai Hospital, said: “Using anticoagulants should be considered when patients get admitted to the ER and have tested positive for COVID-19, to possibly improve outcomes.” [Related reading: World leaders pledge billions to help develop coronavirus vaccine]
As the number of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) cases globally passes 3.5 million, world leaders have pledged more than $8bn (€7.3bn) to help with the development of a coronavirus vaccine and fund research into diagnosing and treating the disease. The donations came from more than 30 countries, as well as numerous UN and philanthropic bodies and research institutes. Pop singer Madonna was one of the donors, pledging $1.1m (€1m), while Norway matched the European Commission’s contribution of $1bn (€920m) and France, Saudi Arabia and Germany all pledged $500m (€458m). Japan promised to give more than $800m (€733). Russia and the United States, which has suspended funding to the World Health Organization, were notably absent from the online summit hosted by the European Union (EU). Meanwhile, China, where SARS-CoV-2 originated in December, was represented by its ambassador to the EU. The EU said that $4.4bn of the money raised will go towards developing a vaccine, $2bn on the search for a treatment and $1.6bn for producing tests. In an open letter published in newspapers over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the pledged funds would “kickstart an unprecedented global co-operation between scientists and regulators, industry and governments, international organizations, foundations and healthcare professionals”. “If we can develop a vaccine that is produced by the world, for the whole world, this will be a unique global public good of the 21st Century,” they added. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]
When you are infected with a virus, your immune system produces very specific antibodies to try and fight it off. It’s these antibodies that then provide us with immunity from future outbreaks of the same virus. If the virus comes back, the necessary antibodies are swiftly called to action and defeat it before it can make you feel unwell. However, reports emerged in February of a lady in Japan who was apparently given the all-clear having developed COVID-19, but who then tested positive for the virus a second time. But the biggest question this scenario raises is in regards to the reliability of the tests. The bottom line is we simply don’t yet know whether people can become infected with the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, a second time. Small animal experiments suggest reinfection is unlikely, but right now, we don’t have a definitive answer. Perhaps the most obvious place to focus is on related viruses, such as SARS. A 2017 study of SARS patients found that 89% of people who recovered had detectable antibodies two years after the infection had cleared. However, at the six-year mark, this went down to just two out of 23 patients, suggesting people have immunity, but perhaps not indefinitely. Our best hope will be if a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine can be developed which will provide rapid immunity. [Related reading: How long before there’s a coronavirus vaccine?]
With the COVID-19 pandemic still causing chaos in many countries around the world, much focus has turned to developing a vaccine to prevent the horrible respiratory disease. But how far off is a coronavirus vaccine and what’s taking so long? At present, estimates on how long it will take to develop a safe, effective coronavirus vaccine range from one year to 18 months, with some experts warning it would take even longer. The reality is that in vaccine years that is extremely fast and the likelihood is that a coronavirus vaccine will take longer. Right now, no less than 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus. At least four have candidates that they are currently testing in animals. One, produced by Boston-based biotech firm Moderna, will begin human trials very soon. One of the reasons why some companies had a head start creating a vaccine is because coronaviruses have caused two other recent epidemics: the 2002-2004 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak, which was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. In both cases, work began on vaccines, but these were later shelved when the outbreaks were contained. Some of those vaccines are now being repurposed to help in the fight against Sars-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe and effective in humans has been approved, another challenge will be producing it in the vast quantities needed. In the meantime, thoroughly wash your hands regularly and follow COVID-19 advice.