In an effort to ramp up its vaccination drive, France has confirmed it will open at least 35 giant ‘megacentre vaccinodromes’ across the country by April. Health Minister Olivier Véran this week confirmed: “The health service and the army will work to develop a certain number of giant vaccination centres - we might call them ‘vaccinodromes’ or ‘megacentres’, whatever name you want to use.” Mr Véran stated his goal of having “10 million people vaccinated with at least one dose by mid-April”, with the campaign rollout set to speed up next month “because supplies of the vaccine will rise”. France’s total population is c. 67 million. From Marseille to Toulon to Lyon and Paris, work is ongoing to turn some of the nation’s largest sporting arenas, including Paris’s Stade de France, into mass Covid-19 vaccination centres. However, the health minister has said that his long-term goal is to have “one or two megacenters per department”, which equates to “100 to 200” across the entire country. Once opened, the vaccinodromes will aim to give 1,000 to 2,000 vaccines per day. At present, the average number of doses given at vaccination centres is around 500 per week. Image: Stade de France, courtesy of Zakarie Faibis, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Germany, France, Italy and Spain have joined the list of countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. The countries took the decision after reports have arisen of dangerous blood clots in some recipients. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca and European regulators have said there is no evidence the vaccine is to blame. The AstraZeneca shot is one of three vaccines currently in use in Europe. Nevertheless, the blood clot concerns and subsequent cessation of its use represents another setback for the EU’s vaccination drive – which has already been slow off the mark compared to similar campaigns in the United Kingdom and the United States. The EU’s drug regulatory agency has called a meeting for this week to review experts’ findings on the AstraZeneca vaccine and decide how to proceed. All this comes as much of Europe tightens restrictions on schools and businesses as Covid-19 cases surge. In Germany, the decision to halt the use of the Astrazeneca vaccine was taken following advice from the country’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute. It called for further investigation after blood clots were found in the brains of seven people who had been vaccinated. In response to the situation, Astrazeneca published a press release offering ‘reassurance on the safety of its COVID-19 vaccine based on clear scientific evidence’.
France is working on a digital health pass to allow people to resume leisure activities and travel, a French Government spokesperson said on Wednesday. Speaking after a recent cabinet meeting, Gabriel Attal told reporters that the digital health passes would allow people to resume certain leisure activities in France, such as going to museums, restaurants, sports centres and travelling overseas, in the coming months. The idea is also being considered at a European level to facilitate travel between different countries in Europe and possibly beyond. Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron said introducing vaccine passports would be unfair because they would discriminate against certain groups, such as the young, in particular, who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet. However, Macron said he is in favor of a “health pass” that would also include whether a person has antibodies from getting COVID-19 or the results of a negative test, and could be used to get access to restaurants or other venues. [Related reading: France eyes easing of COVID-19 restrictions from next month]
France is gearing up for a possible easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions from mid-April, as vaccines, to date, are proving effective at lowering infection rates. French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that while the nation is still facing hard times, “For the first time in months, the return to more normal living conditions is in sight.” Attal said vaccinated groups (mainly the elderly) are witnessing falling infection rates, which, he said, is a sign that the country’s vaccination program is working and should be sped up. "It is neither a distant nor uncertain horizon - it is an horizon that is getting closer and closer. We hope maybe from mid-April, and we are preparing for it. "The president (Emmanuel Macron) asked us to submit proposals that could allow for a cautious re-opening of the country soon,” he said. Attal added that the goal of vaccinating the most fragile was to reduce hospitalizations and safeguard the nation’s health care system, which is key to easing restrictions. Earlier this week, Health Minister Olivier Veran said France will retain its current measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, including a nighttime curfew, as a bare minimum for the next four to six weeks. Other measures now in force include the closure of bars, restaurants, museums, sports and music venues. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
People in France aged over 65 with existing health problems will be allowed to be given the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, after the French Government reversed its policy. When the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use by European Union regulators, the French Government said it should only be given to eligible people under 65 because data from trials in older age groups was limited. The AstraZeneca vaccine will now be offered to people up to the age of 74. However, the shot has been hit by a slow rollout and a lack of trust. French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Monday: "Anybody aged 50 or over who is affected by co-morbidities can get the AstraZeneca vaccine, including those between 65 and 74." The announcement has the potential to affect more than two million people. British health authorities released new data on Monday that showed the AstraZeneca vaccine reduced hospitalization from COVID-19 by more than 80%. The vaccine is widely used in the UK but has missed delivery targets in the EU. People aged 75 and over would continue to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines only, Veran said. Meanwhile, Germany still hasn’t cleared the AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65s. This has led to fewer people stepping up for the shot and several doses being wasted. Image courtesy of Marco Verch on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
A single dose of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine reduces a person’s risk of infection by 72%, a new study has revealed. According to Public Health England (PHE), the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine "provides high levels of protection against infection and symptomatic disease.” PHE's Siren Study, which involved healthcare workers aged under 65, found that one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 72% after three weeks. Two doses of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 85%. This high level of protection also includes the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first identified in the UK in December. For the study, health workers were tested for Covid-19 infection every two weeks using PCR tests and twice a week with lateral flow tests. As Dr. Susan Hopkins, strategic response director at PHE, explained, "there was a lot of asymptomatic testing.” "Overall we are seeing a really strong effect to reducing any infection: asymptomatic and symptomatic," Hopkins said during a press conference held by the UK's Science Media Centre on Monday. Promising early data has also shown that people who are vaccinated and subsequently catch Covid-19 are far less likely to die of, or be hospitalized with, the virus. For example, people over the age of 80 who were infected after being vaccinated were 41% less likely to be hospitalized with the virus and 57% less likely to die of it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday gave two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine the green light to be used for emergency use, listing them on its Emergency Use Listing (EUL), paving the way for them to be rolled out globally through COVAX. The vaccines are produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea) and the Serum Institute of India. WHO’s EUL assesses the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and is a prerequisite for COVAX Facility vaccine supply. It also allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer COVID-19 vaccines. “Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, contributing to the COVAX Facility’s goal of equitable vaccine distribution,” said Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products. ‘But we must keep up the pressure to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere and facilitate global access. To do that, we need two things – a scale-up of manufacturing capacity, and developers’ early submission of their vaccines for WHO review.” Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine was listed for emergency use by WHO on 31 December 2020.
Last Saturday, February 6, France reported both a fall in new COVID-19 infections and in the number of patients being treated in hospital. The country registered 20,586 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, down from 22,139 the previous day and marking the third straight daily fall. Meanwhile, hospitals across the country were treating 27,369 people for the disease, down 245 from the previous day, marking the fourth consecutive daily fall. The fall in numbers comes as France continues with its COVID-19 vaccination programme, with 1.86 million people now having received their first dose. Almost a quarter of a million people (247,260) have also received their second dose. At present, France has three vaccines approved for use: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, the latest to be received. The country has taken delivery of 273,600 AstraZeneca, according to the health ministry, with a second batch of 304,800 doses scheduled to be delivered this week. The initial AstraZeneca shots were prioritized for health personnel under 65, with the first injections taking place over the weekend. While the arrival of the AstraZeneca shot will help France accelerate its vaccination programme, the quantities that are expected to be delivered are likely to be less than first thought. Nevertheless, with a third approved vaccine and COVID numbers falling, pressure on the French health system is easing day by day.
Against expectations, France has resisted imposing a nationwide lockdown, choosing to introduce new Covid-19 border restrictions instead. Under the new restrictions, all non-essential travel from outside the EU has been banned and testing requirements for travellers from within the EU have been tightened. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said France's night curfew would also be more tightly enforced and large shopping centres would close. It had been expected that French President Emmanuel Macron would impose a third national lockdown to contain Covid-19. However, the French premiere opted to tighten existing restrictions on travel and shopping instead. The move sees France following a different path than its two biggest neighbours Britain and Germany, at a time when the more contagious UK variant of the disease is spreading rapidly across Europe. [Related reading: Moderna says its vaccine will work against new COVID variants] "Everything suggests that a new wave could occur because of the variant, but perhaps we can avoid it thanks to the measures that we decided early and that the French people are respecting," Health Minister Olivier Veran told the Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper on Sunday. Despite the news of tighter border restrictions, France Surgery’s proprietary telehealth platforms remain open and accessible to all of our international clients, one of the main benefits of remote healthcare.
With reports emerging that several different COVID variants are now circulating around the world, Moderna has released a statement saying it believes its vaccine protects against at least two of the new strains. Moderna Inc said on Monday it believes its COVID-19 vaccine protects against both new variants found in Britain and South Africa. However, the American pharmaceutical and biotechnology company also said it will test a separate booster shot aimed at the South African variant after concluding the antibody response could be diminished. The company said in a press release that it found no reduction in the antibody response against the variant found in Britain. Against the South African variant, Moderna said it found a reduced response but still believed its two-dose regimen would provide protection. The emergence of new COVID variants in Britain, South Africa and Brazil has created some concern that mutations in the virus may make vaccines less effective. Moderna’s announcement will serve to alleviate some of that concern, but the proof will be in the infection numbers going forward. Moderna shares rose nearly 10% off the back of the news during Monday trading. Moderna said it plans to publish data from its tests against the variants on the website bioRxiv.
With Covid-19 vaccines now being rolled out in many countries across the world, a number of tech giants are teaming up to help facilitate the return to "normal". A coalition known as the Vaccine Credential Initiative — which boasts healthcare and tech leaders, including Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, Cerner, Cigna's Evernorth, and the Mayo Clinic (among others) in its ranks — wants to ensure that everyone has access to a secure, digital record of their Covid-19 vaccination. This kind of digital vaccine passport, which can be stored in people's smartphones, could be used for everything from airline travel to entering concert venues. The coalition has even considered those without smartphones. Such individuals will be given a printable QR code containing their record that can be scanned wherever they go. "Just as Covid-19 does not discriminate based on socio-economic status, we must ensure that convenient access to immunization records crosses the digital divide," Brian Anderson, chief digital health physician at non-profit research organization MITRE, a member of the coalition, said in a statement. With such vaccine passports in place, a healthy and safe return to work, school, travel and life in general can be accelerated.
More than 40 countries have banned individuals arriving from the United Kingdom due to concerns about a new variant of coronavirus. France shut its border with the UK for 48 hours, which meant no lorries or ferries could leave from Dover. Meanwhile, flights from the UK have either been suspended or are in the process of being suspended to countries across the world, including Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain and Switzerland. The UK’s postal service, Royal Mail, has also temporarily suspended all services to mainland Europe, due to the "current restrictions around air, road, ferry and train movements from the UK". UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the situation, saying that both sides wanted to resolve "these problems as fast as possible". The ban on UK arrivals came about after a new strain of coronavirus – which is reportedly 70% more transmissible – has been spreading across London and south-east England. However, health officials have said there is no evidence that this new variant is more deadly or would react differently to vaccines. French Europe Minister Clément Beaune is expected to announce today what measures were being introduced "after this phase of emergency and harsh precaution that we had to take". Any measures, he said, would come into effect from Wednesday. [Related reading: France lifts lockdown, opens borders for Covid-safe countries]
The United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) have started national Covid-19 vaccine rollouts, as the pandemic situation in each country continues to worsen. In the United States, the first batches of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine left a Michigan manufacturing plant on Sunday bound for 150 locations across the country. The vaccine will now be given to the most vulnerable Americans, including frontline health workers and long-term care home residents. The United States is slowly approaching the once unthinkable threshold of 300,000 Covid-related deaths. Meanwhile, the UK witnessed its first Covid vaccination last week. It was given to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, with up to four million more expected to follow by the end of December. The UK made history earlier this month when it became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use. The Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the UK comes as the capital, London, witnesses a surge in cases. As a result, London and several other areas in the south-east will this week enter the toughest coronavirus restrictions (tier 3) in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus and reduce infection numbers. The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — enough to vaccinate 20 million people — with the first 800,000 doses coming from Pfizer's facilities in Belgium to the UK this week.
It is estimated that a child is born every 3 minutes with a cleft lip, cleft palate or both worldwide — about one in 500-750 births. Usually, with surgery, a child born with a cleft can have a new, beautiful smile and live a normal life. However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has meant that affected babies are having even greater difficulty in getting their much-needed cleft treatment. Fortunately, cleft charities are continuing their work by taking advantage of telehealth solutions. One such charity is Smile Train, whose Philippine arm has continued providing ongoing comprehensive cleft care including nutrition, speech therapy and psychological support to patients, despite temporarily postponing surgeries. “This year was a different year because of the Covid pandemic. The last three or four months we saw a drop in the number of cases in many hospital nationwide. Some stopped doing operations. But Smile Train is not just about surgery. What we strive to do is to be able to provide cleft comprehensive care to those who need it whether be it counseling, guidance in terms of how do you breastfeed baby with a cleft or after surgery, what does the child still need, among others,” said Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano, Country Director of Smile Train Philippines, during a virtual media conference. Flaviano said the charity is also providing psychosocial support to older patients via telehealth, to help boost their self-confidence. Since parents of cleft babies aren’t able to visit clinics resulting to unanswered questions, Smile Train is trying to support them through virtual consultations with their partner surgeons or doctors, or through Facebook Live discussions.
Moderna Inc. says its experimental vaccine is 94.5% effective in protecting people from Covid-19. The claims are based on interim data from a late-stage clinical trial. Moderna is the second US company to announce a Covid-19 vaccine this week, following in the footsteps of Pfizer, whose own vaccine boasts a 90% efficacy rate. The Moderna announcement means that there could be at least two vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States in December.As many as 60 million doses could be available by the end of 2020. Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are both built using new technology known as messenger RNA or mRNA. Both represent powerful new ways to combat the ongoing pandemic, which has to date infected 54 million people and killed 1.3 million. Both vaccines also come at a time when Covid-19 cases appear to be surging – especially in the US where new cases of the virus are now totaling more than one hundred thousand per day. Unlike Pfizer’s vaccine, Moderna’s does not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, making it easier to distribute. This is particularly good news for countries like India with hot climates that would struggle to keep Pfizer’s vaccine at the required -70°C. Speaking about the firm's vaccine, Moderna President Stephen Hoge said: “Assuming we get an emergency use authorization, we'll be ready to ship through Warp Speed almost in hours. So it could start being distributed instantly.”
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]
People who have recovered from COVID-19 and gained immunity to the disease could lose it again within months, a new study from the UK suggests. According to the research by a team from King’s College London, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) could reinfect people year after year, much like common colds. Having studied the immune responses of more than 90 patients and healthcare workers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS foundation trust, the researchers found that COVID-19 antibody levels peaked about three weeks after the onset of symptoms. [Related reading: Coronavirus: Immunity levels likely to be higher than antibody tests suggest] Blood tests revealed that while 60% of COVID-19 patients displayed a “potent” antibody response at the height of their battle with the disease, this figure fell to just 17% three months later. In some cases, antibody levels became undetectable. The findings of the study have implications when it comes to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as achieving greater herd immunity. The bottom line is that if antibody levels drop over time and people are able to be reinfected seasonally, a vaccine would not actually provide any long-term benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Dr Katie Doores, lead author from King’s College London, said: “People are producing a reasonable antibody response to the virus, but it’s waning over a short period of time and depending on how high your peak is, that determines how long the antibodies are staying around.”
Experts in the UK say a cost effective and widely available drug can help save the lives of seriously ill COVID-19 patients. The drug, dexamethasone, a steroid, has been around since the early 1960s, and is usually given in low doses to patients with severe asthma, allergies and painful/swollen joints. It is also used to treat autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Dexamethasone’s effect on inflammation and our immune systems is what is believed to make it useful in treating patients with severe COVID-19 infections. The drug is part of the RECOVERY Trial, the largest clinical trial to date aiming to identify treatments that may be beneficial for COVID-19 patients. As part of the trial, researchers studied the effect of dexamethasone in 2,000 patients and compared that to the outcomes in 4,000 patients who did not receive it. Dexamethasone was found to cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators. For those on oxygen, it cut deaths by a fifth. This equates to one life saved for every eight on ventilators and every 20-25 treated with oxygen. One of the biggest benefits of dexamethasone is that it is not cost prohibitive, meaning it could be pivotal for treating COVID-19 in poorer countries. [Related reading: What does it mean for a vaccine if the new coronavirus mutates?]
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 the number of confirmed coronavirus cases now topping 4 million globally, the urgency to develop a vaccine has never been greater. Now something that’s been witnessed throughout this pandemic is the way COVID-19 seems to hit some people harder than others. Whether a COVID-19 patient is hospitalized and requires more serious medical interventions, like ventilation, often depends on several risk factors. Age In the United States, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths have occurred in patients aged 65 and older. The reason for this is thought to be because elderly individuals have more chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Diabetes A recent meta-analysis of 13 separate studies found that people with diabetes were nearly 3.7 times more likely to have a critical case of COVID-19 or to die from the disease than patients without any underlying health conditions. Heart disease and hypertension The American Heart Association says people with cardiovascular issues, including heart disease and hypertension, generally tend to suffer worse COVID-19 complications than those with no pre-existing conditions. Smoking A study from China found that 12.3% of current smokers were admitted to an ICU, were placed on a ventilator or died. This compares to 4.7% of non-smokers. Obesity Being obese has been linked to an increased severity of COVID-19 in younger patients. Furthermore, a separate study from China – which has not yet been peer-reviewed – found that obese individuals were more than twice as likely to develop severe pneumonia as compared with patients who were normal weight.
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.
A significant rise in the number of mumps cases being confirmed in England in the first quarter of this year has led to calls for people to ensure they are vaccinated. In the first three months of 2019, there were 795 cases of mumps in England. This compares to 1,031 throughout the whole of 2018. Public Health England said that just one person missing their mumps vaccine was “too many”. Mumps is a contagious viral infection that used to be common before the MMR vaccine was introduced. It is perhaps best recognised by the swelling it causes on the side of a person’s face under their ears, resulting in the distinctive “hamster face” appearance. In rare circumstances, mumps can lead to viral meningitis and swelling in the ovaries or testicles. Most mumps cases are linked to teenagers going to university for the first time and the most prominent reason why it’s a problem right now is because many of the students who are attending university were born during the height of the MMR-autism scare. This has since been completely disproved, but it still caused a drop in vaccination rates at the time. Speaking about the situation, Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “If you're going to university, now's the time to catch up if you missed out as a child.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria in 87 countries, which resulted in 435,000 deaths – many of which were children. It remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of a child every two minutes. That’s why a new vaccine against the deadly mosquito-borne disease is being hailed as a landmark. The first vaccine of its kind, the RTS,S vaccine trains the body’s immune system to attack the malaria parasite. It is being given to children as part of a large scale pilot programme being conducted in Malawi. Previous, smaller trials showed that nearly 40% of 5-to-17-month olds who received the RTS,S vaccine were protected from malaria. The vaccine comes at a crucial time as malaria cases appear to be rising once more after decades of success in combatting the disease. Speaking about the pilot, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death. “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.” Malawi is the first of three countries, along with Ghana and Kenya, where the vaccine will be rolled out. The aim is to immunize 120,000 children aged two years and below. Malawi, Ghana and Kenya were chosen because despite operating large programmes to tackle malaria, including promoting the use of mosquito nets, they still have high numbers of cases. The RTS,S vaccine has been more than three decades in the making.
Children in Italy have been told not to go to school unless they can prove they have been properly vaccinated. Any children under six who cannot show that they have received mandatory vaccines will be turned away from school, while parents of older kids (six to 16) risk being fined up to €500 ($566) if they send their unvaccinated children to school. The policy comes as a worrisome decline in vaccines has been seen across Italy and a measles outbreak was witnessed last year. Speaking about the new policy, Health Minister Giulia Grillo said the rules were now simple: “No vaccine, no school.” She added that parents have had adequate time to ensure all their children’s vaccines were up to date by now. Under Italy’s so-called Lorenzin law, children must receive a range of mandatory immunizations before attending school. These include vaccinations for chickenpox, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. Italian officials say the compulsory vaccine law has led to inoculation rates for measles reaching the 95% population coverage rate recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) – the threshold for “herd immunity.” The deadline by which children had to be vaccinated was March 10 (after a previous delay). And despite calls for it to be extended, the Health Minister has stood firm on the issue.
For the first time ever, a commercial drone has been used to deliver an important vaccine to a remote island. Unicef arranged for the drone to carry the vaccine 40km (25 miles) across rugged mountains in Vanuatu, a small Pacific island. The vaccine was given by local nurse Miriam Nampil to 13 children and five pregnant women. While it’s not the first time that a drone has been used to deliver medicine to remote areas, it is a first for a country to reach out to a commercial drone company to help with vaccine delivery. Approximately 20% of all children in Vanuatu do not receive vaccines because getting them there is too difficult. Following the successful trial flight at the beginning of December, Unicef now hopes that drones will play an important role in facilitating remote vaccination programmes going forward. “Today's small flight by drone is a big leap for global health,” said Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore. “With the world still struggling to immunize the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child.” Vaccines have to be kept cool, which presents several challenges when transporting them long distances. If undertaken on foot, the journey would have taken several hours. By drone, however, with the vaccine stored in a styrofoam box with ice packs and a temperature logger to monitor conditions, the delivery took just 25 minutes. Follow this link to Twitter to see some footage of the drone in action: https://twitter.com/UNICEFPacific/status/1070603704414298112
Les vaccins destinés aux nourrissons sont très rarement remis en question mais ceux contre la grippe saisonnière et l’hépatite B suscitent des réticences. En 2016, trois Français interrogés sur quatre se sont déclarés favorables à la vaccination en général, selon une étude de Santé publique France rendue publique mercredi. L’enquête, menée en métropole en 2016 auprès de près de 15.000 personnes, montre toutefois que plus de 40% des personnes sont défavorables à une ou plusieurs vaccinations en particulier. Alors que 90% des personnes interrogées étaient favorables à la vaccination selon les enquêtes de 2000 et 2005, elles n’étaient plus que 60% en 2010. La vaccination avait ensuite retrouvé ses lettres de noblesses en 2014, année où 79% des Français étaient convaincus de son intérêt. Cette confiance s’est légèrement érodée dans les deux années qui ont suivi, puisque 75% des personnes interrogées en 2016 ont déclaré être favorables à la vaccination. Seulement 2,4% de la population interrogée est défavorable à la totalité des vaccins, un taux stable depuis 2010. La défiance, héritage des polémiques passées La vaccination contre la rougeole, les oreillons et la rubéole (vaccin ROR), le BCG et la vaccination contre la diphtérie, le tétanos et la poliomyélite (DTP) suscitent peu d’avis défavorables (moins de 2% des personnes). «Les réticences concernent très peu les vaccinations pour nourrissons, mise à part celle contre l’hépatite B qui cristallise encore des réticences», relève le Dr Christine Jestin de l’agence sanitaire Santé publique France qui publie ce numéro du BEH consacré aux vaccinations. Par contre, la vaccination contre la grippe saisonnière est celle qui recueille le plus d’opinions défavorables (15% de l’ensemble des personnes interrogées âgées de 18 à 75 ans), devant la vaccination contre l’hépatite B (13%) et celle contre les infections à papillomavirus (5,8%). «En France, les différentes polémiques touchant certains vaccins au cours des deux dernières décennies - hépatite B en 1998, grippe A(H1N1) en 2009 et, dans une moindre mesure infections à papillomavirus humains (HPV) en 2013 - ont sans doute contribué à faire de la France un pays où l’innocuité des vaccins est mise en doute par la population», notent les auteurs de l’étude. Une confiance variable selon le type de vaccin Les avis défavorables à la vaccination contre l’hépatite B sont plus nombreux chez les 55-64 ans. «Le souvenir de la polémique autour des effets secondaires du vaccin contre l’hépatite B, qui avait notamment entraîné fin 1998 la suspension de la campagne de vaccination à l’école, pourrait expliquer ce résultat», indiquent les chercheurs. Concernant la vaccination contre les infections à papillomavirus humains, les réticences sont plus nombreuses chez les 18-24 ans, qui ont vécu la controverse de 2013. Les 25-34 ans y sont beaucoup plus favorables. «Il est possible que les femmes de cette tranche d’âge, qui ont commencé à bénéficier du dépistage du cancer du col, comprennent aussi beaucoup mieux les enjeux de cette vaccination», analysent les auteurs. L’étude montre que la confiance dans les vaccins diffère selon l’âge. Ainsi, les personnes les plus favorables à la vaccination sont les 18-24 ans, tandis que les jeunes adultes (25-34 ans) comptent la proportion la plus importante de personnes qui y sont défavorables. L’adhésion à la vaccination diffère également en fonction de la catégorie socioprofessionnelle. En 2016 comme en 2010, les personnes les plus défavorables sont celles avec les niveaux de diplômes et de revenus les plus faibles. Selon les auteurs, il est nécessaire de poursuivre «les efforts d’information et de pédagogie auprès de la population générale (...) pour que la vaccination demeure ce qu’elle a toujours été: une des meilleures interventions en santé publique pour améliorer la santé de la population.»
New figures show that rates of tuberculosis (TB) in England are at their lowest level in 35 years, having fallen by a third in the last six years. According to data from Public Health England, tuberculosis rates have declined by 38% since 2012. In fact, there was a 9.3% decline in 2017 alone, highlighting how the country’s efforts to eradicate the disease are proving effective. Improved diagnosis, treatment and awareness are being credited for the decline. However, despite the fall, England still has one of the highest rates of TB in Western Europe, with 5,200 people affected in 2017. Dr Sarah Anderson, head of the National TB Office at Public Health England, said: "People often think that TB is a Victorian disease that is no longer a problem in England, but in fact it still affects over 5,000 people a year and there is still a lot to do until the target to eliminate TB is met.” TB is a bacterial infection that primarily affects a person’s lungs and it is spread through coughs and sneezes. But despite its infectious nature, it is actually quite difficult to catch. Nevertheless, it can be fatal if left untreated. Another issue is that TB is becoming resistant to some of the major drugs used to treat it, which is why the BCG vaccine that offers protection against TB is recommended for babies, children and adults alike who are at risk of catching the disease.
Older individuals who do lots of exercise can prevent their immune systems from declining and protect themselves against infection, scientists say. For the research, scientists from King’s College London followed 125 long-distance cyclists, some of who were in their 80s. They found that some had the immune systems of much, much younger individuals. For example, Prof Norman Lazarus, 82, of King's College London, who co-authored the research and took part in it, was found to have the immune system of a 20-year-old. "If exercise was a pill, everyone would be taking it. It has wide-ranging benefits for the body, the mind, for our muscles and our immune system,” he said. Speaking about the research, Prof Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham and co-author, said people’s immune systems decline at a rate of about 2-3% a year from the age of 20. That’s why older individuals are more susceptible to infections, rheumatoid arthritis and, potentially, cancer. Because the cyclists were found to have the immune systems of much younger people, they have added protection against conditions that tend to affect older individuals. Furthermore, the researchers believe that physically active, older individuals respond better to vaccines, meaning they are also better protected against influenza. The good news is that you don’t need to be a competitive cyclist to reap the benefits. Just being more active and puffing yourself out from time to time can help.
A vaccine that helps lower cholesterol will now be trialled on humans following successful studies in mice. Researchers from the Medical University of Vienna will now test the safety of their experimental treatment – which stops fatty deposits clogging the arteries – on 72 volunteers. If the trials are successful, the vaccine would offer an alternative for people who currently take pills on a daily basis to reduce their risk of angina, stroke and heart attack. Writing about their cholesterol-lowering vaccine in the European Heart Journal, Dr Guenther Staffler and colleagues from The Netherlands Organisation of Applied Scientific Research say it will take many more years of tests before it is known whether the treatment is safe and effective in humans. In studies of mice, the treatment cut low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (bad cholesterol) by as much as 50% over 12 months and appeared to stop the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries. Regardless of whether the vaccine becomes available in the future, the researchers were keen to stress that it should not be seen as an excuse for people to avoid exercise and eat lots of high-fat food. Nevertheless, the treatment could be useful for individuals who have high cholesterol due to an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolaemia.
The world's first vaccine against malaria will be introduced in three countries - Kenya, Ghana and Malawi - starting in 2018; a move that the World Health Organisation (WHO) says has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. The RTS,S vaccine, as it's known, trains the body's immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is transmitted to people through mosquito bites. However, it is not yet known if the vaccine will be feasible to use in the poorest parts of the world where access to healthcare is often very limited. This is because the vaccine needs to be given four times over an 18-month period. The concern is that while the vaccine schedule could be followed in a closely-controlled and well-funded clinical trial, real-world situations may prove more difficult - especially in poorer countries. It's the primary reason the WHO is running trials of the vaccine in the three aforementioned countries. It is thought that high risk areas will be targeted first in each of the three countries, all of which already run large programmes to tackle malaria. The trial will involve more than 750,000 children aged between five and 17 months. In the clinical trial, the vaccine prevented nearly four in 10 cases of malaria in this age group. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said: "The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. "Information gathered in the pilot programme will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine. "Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa."
A compound found in the slimy mucus from a particular species of frog in India destroys the influenza (flu) virus, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Immunity. Researchers from the Emory Vaccine Centre and the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in India say the frog slime destroys the H1 variety of influenza viruses. It's hoped that the discovery will lead to powerful new flu remedies being developed in the future. The frog, called hydrophylax bahuvistara, is a type of fungoid frog which was first discovered in 2015 and lives in the forests of south west India. It has an eye-catching orange stripe down the back of its body. For the study, the researchers collected secretions from the frogs' skin before releasing them back into the wild. They then began analysing the different chemicals found in the slime. They managed to isolate small structures that act as "anti-flu peptides", which were used to successfully vaccinate mice against the swine flu virus (Influenza A of H1). The peptides were found to not only blow up the virus, but also leave healthy tissue intact. Speaking to NBC News, Dr Jacob, senior study author and associate professor in microbiology, said: "This peptide kills the viruses. It kind of blows them up. There's no collateral damage." The team decided to call the flu-destroying compound urumin, after an Indian whip-like sword used in martial arts in the south of India called an urumi.
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world and, at present, there is currently no approved vaccine for human use, and condoms are the best form of protection. However, promising new research from Canada published in the journal Vaccine shows that a chlamydia vaccine prototype administered to mice helped the animals fight off the infection. The team of researchers from McMaster University in Ontario gave the mice two doses of the experimental vaccine via their noses. The animals were then exposed to chlamydia bacteria and the researchers found that the vaccinated mice had fewer instances replicating in their systems. Furthermore, the vaccinated mice were found to be less likely to get damaged fallopian tubes as a result of being infected with the bacteria. Prof James Mahony, from the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University, said the results were "very promising". "We will trial the vaccine on other animal models before moving on to human trials," he added. In 2015, there were more than 200,000 chlamydia diagnoses in the UK alone, and over half of those were in young people aged between 15 and 24. Chlamydia often doesn't cause any symptoms, so many people do not even know they have it. If left untreated, it can lead to significant long-term health problems, including infertility, which is why this new prototype vaccine is such an exciting breakthrough.
Flu vaccinations may do a lot more than just reduce your flu risk, if the findings of a new study in Taiwan are anything to go by. That’s because the researchers responsible say that a flu shot can also protect people from a common heart rhythm disorder, which significantly increases the risk of stroke. The study of around 57,000 people in Taiwan found a significant association between the flu and atrial fibrillation (AF or A-fib); a condition that causes a person’s heart to be faster and more irregular. Research has shown in the past that AF increases a person’s risk of stroke by five times. During the study, the researchers discovered that people who had not had a flu shot and got the flu had an 18% greater risk of developing AF than those who did not have the flu. Published in the Heart Rhythm journal, the findings of the research showed that a person’s risk of developing AF was consistently lower when they had received a flu jab. Dr. Tze-Fan Chao and Dr. Su-Jung Chen, of Taipei Veterans General Hospital, who lead the research, said: "Influenza vaccination should be encouraged for patients, especially those who have a high risk of atrial fibrillation, to try to prevent the occurrence of atrial fibrillation and subsequent stroke. However, a further prospective study is necessary to confirm our findings.”
Malaria kills more than half a million people every year, most of whom are children in Africa. But now, a new vaccine, known as RTS,S, has taken the first step to becoming the first licensed Malaria vaccine. The quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine have been assessed by the European Medicines Agency's (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP), which has concluded that it should be given to children in Africa aged 6 weeks to 17 months. The World Health Organisation (WHO) will now review the vaccine further later this year and make a decision whether it should be recommended for use. Approximately 90% of all Malaria deaths each year occur in Africa and 77% of these are in children under five years of age. At present, the most effective preventative measures in Africa to protect against Malaria are bed nets and insecticides which lower the risk of being bitten by a mosquito. Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), which have to be administered within 24-hours of a fever appearing, are also used to combat Malaria. If it wins approval, however, the RTS,S vaccine could be used in conjunction with existing Malaria-prevention measures to further bolster Malaria defences. Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK – which manufactures RTS,S - said: "While RTS,S on its own is not the complete answer to malaria, its use alongside those interventions currently available such as bed nets and insecticides, would provide a very meaningful contribution to controlling the impact of malaria on children in those African communities that need it the most." Photo credit: The Wall Street Journal