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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 19th Feb 2021

News Highlights

What the data suggests about the UK reopening

A SAGE advisor has said the UK can expedite lifting lockdown restrictions based on new data because of an effective vaccine rollout. Boris Johnson is expected to finalise the roadmap for ending lockdown over the weekend upon receipt of this latest data, but his government is coming under pressure to end the lockdown more quickly; so Johnson is expected to announce a 'step-by-step' approach leading to a return to normalcy after a few months.

Vaccine stockpiling flagged in report

A report from the ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty advocacy group, has said high-income nations have secured more than one billion COVID-19 vaccines than they need. This is based on an analysis of contracts with five manufacturers and includes; USA, EU, UK, Australia, Canada and Japan. The ONE Campaign found the countries had secured more than three billion doses as opposed to the 2.06 billion they would mathematically require. Meanwhile, lower-income countries are struggling to buy doses.

As the U.S. reopens, variants remain a concern

With COVID-19 case numbers falling a number of U.S. states are starting to relax restrictions such as mask mandates and others on businesses. However, scientistst have said that the emergence of new variants in the U.S. is being overlooked in this decision making process and continued vigilance and caution is still necessary. On the same matter, the Biden administration announced it has earmarked a U.S.$200 million investment in genetic sequencing to identify new variants.

Vaccine efficacy concerns continue

Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines against COVID-19 may need to be updated to prevent against more aggressive COVID-19 variants, based on new research. Pfizer found its vaccine to be two-thirds less potent against the variant first identified in South Africa, while Moderna has said its vaccine's ability to neutralise antibodies against 'a full panel of mutations' dropped sharply following tests. This decreased potency does not necessarily mean less protection against the virus, but now detailed talks about updating the vaccines are diving deeper into details and are ongoing.

Lockdown Exit
Rich nations stockpiling a billion more COVID-19 shots than needed: report
Rich countries are on course to have over a billion more doses of COVID-19 vaccines than they need, leaving poorer nations scrambling for leftover supplies as the world seeks to curb the coronavirus pandemic, a report by anti-poverty campaigners found on Friday. In an analysis of current supply deals for COVID-19 vaccines, the ONE Campaign said wealthy countries, such as the United States and Britain, should share the excess doses to “supercharge” a fully global response to the pandemic. The advocacy group, which campaigns against poverty and preventable diseases, said a failure to do so would deny billions of people essential protection from the COVID-19-causing virus and likely prolong the pandemic. The report looked specifically at contracts with the five leading COVID-19 vaccine makers - Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax.
Experts warn against COVID-19 variants as states reopen
As states lift mask rules and ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses because of falling case numbers, public health officials say authorities are overlooking potentially more dangerous COVID-19 variants that are quietly spreading through the U.S. Scientists widely agree that the U.S. simply doesn’t have enough of a handle on the variants to roll back public health measures and is at risk of fumbling yet another phase of the pandemic after letting the virus rage through the country over the last year and kill nearly 500,000 people. “Now is not the time to fully open up," said Karthik Gangavarapu, a researcher at Scripps Research Institute whose team works closely with San Diego health officials to watch for mutant versions of the coronavirus. “We need to still be vigilant.”
Victoria's statewide lockdown ends. Data can tell us what to do next time
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced today the state’s five-day circuit-breaker lockdown would end at midnight tonight. The state’s health department reported zero new cases overnight from nearly 40,000 tests — the highest number of daily tests recorded in Victoria since the start of the pandemic. Andrews said a five-day lockdown is “infinitely better” than taking a chance and ending up with a five-week lockdown or worse. But in truth, we don’t know for sure what that chance is. The fact Victoria uses comprehensive “contacts of contacts” tracing means we have rich data to explore how testing and tracing would stand up under more dire transmission scenarios involving the UK variant and a multi-case seeding event.
Victoria's snap lockdown is over but it comes at a political cost for Daniel Andrews
Victoria has survived its third lockdown. Cases are contained and restrictions have eased. There has been untold economic damage and fresh concerns for the mental health of Victorians already doing it tough. The snap lockdown was a last resort, the Premier says, but that does not necessarily mean it won't happen again if the virus gets out of control.
Covid 19 coronavirus: Auckland out of lockdown - Jacinda Ardern sounds warning, Professor Des Gorman criticises alert-level response
Staff at a South Auckland workplace where a woman tested positive for Covid-19 have all tested negative for the virus. LSG Sky Chefs, based in Māngere, made the announcement in a statement to media just before 10.30am. "A comprehensive test of all LSG Sky Chefs employees - conducted mainly on site by a task force from the local health authority - showed that no other member of the workforce is infected," a spokeswoman for the company said.
Lockdown over, tennis fans back as Australia says no new virus cases for over 48 hours
Australia said on Thursday it had gone more than 48 hours since detecting the last locally acquired case of COVID-19, as Victoria state ended a lockdown letting thousands of tennis fans back in Melbourne Park for the last days of the Australian Open. Jack Barber, a 25-year-old student, was among 7,477 spectators in the stadium watching Japan’s Naomi Osaka defeat the United States’ Serena Williams to go through to the ladies final. “Yeah, it’s awesome. I wasn’t sure if they were going to put the event on. It’s been really nice to be here. I actually kind of like the lower crowds,” said Barber, with the Rod Laver Arena limited by social distancing restrictions to half its capacity. “It’s kind of nice to be able to walk around and go wherever you want.”
White House announces plans to ramp up COVID testing
The White House announced new efforts on Wednesday to expand and improve testing for the coronavirus, as the United States ramps up efforts to vaccinate Americans. In a news briefing, Carole Johnson, the nation’s new COVID-19 testing coordinator, announced that the federal government would invest $1.6bn to increase nationwide testing. “We need to test broadly and rapidly to turn the tide of this pandemic but we still don’t have enough testing and we don’t have enough testing in all the places it needs to be,” Johnson said during a news briefing. She said the funds would support testing in schools and in underserved populations, increase manufacturing of critical testing supplies, as well as increase genomic sequencing – key to studying virus variants. According to a White House factsheet, $650m will go towards expanding testing capacity for schools, which will assist them in reopening.
Exit Strategies
676,405 coronavirus vaccines delivered to Belgium
A total of 676,405 coronavirus vaccines have been delivered to Belgium up until 14 February, the latest figures from the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP) show. In total, 623,805 Pfizer / BioNTech vaccines were delivered last week, which is some 80,000 more than the week before. As of Wednesday morning, 370,019 people in Belgium have received the first dose of their vaccinations, or 4.01% of the population aged 18 and older. In addition, 203,755 people have received their second dose
Mexico arrests 6 for trafficking false coronavirus vaccines
Police in northern Mexico arrested six people Wednesday for allegedly trafficking in fake coronavirus vaccines. The federal Public Safety Department said the arrests were made in the northern border state of Nuevo León, though they did not say what kind of fake shots were involved or whether they had been offered for sale. “You don't play around with health, and in these moments of pandemic, nobody should be profiteering,” said Public Safety Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez.
Pfizer coronavirus vaccines to arrive in Perth this weekend with high-risk workers a priority for initial 5,000 doses
Western Australia is set to receive its first 5,000 doses of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine this weekend. WA Premier Mark McGowan said quarantine and international border workers would be among the first West Australians to be eligible for the vaccine. "Our quarantine hotel workers, including hotel staff, cleaners, police, security and clinical staff working in our quarantine facilities are at higher risk of contracting the virus, so it makes sense that they are prioritised," he said. "That goes for particular staff at our airports and ports, particularly those who board and spend time on overseas vessels."
Zimbabwe starts COVID-19 vaccinations, vice-president gets first shot
Zimbabwe kicked-off its COVID-19 vaccination programme on Thursday after receiving a donation of 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China earlier in the week. Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who doubles as the country’s health minister, was the first to receive the jab, at Harare’s Wilkins Hospital. Zimbabwe aims to vaccinate around 60,000 healthcare and other frontline workers in the first round of vaccinations. The elderly and those with chronic conditions will follow.
Covid-19 passports aim to streamline travel requirements. But there’s no one-size-fits-all fix.
International travel declined by around 90 percent after the pandemic hit — but those still crossing borders may have begun to encounter a novel concept: “covid-19 passports,” or a mobile platform that proves a traveler meets a country’s requirements, like a negative coronavirus test or, in a few cases, having received the coronavirus vaccine. Also called health passports, these are not official documents granted by governments; rather, they are digital passes issued by apps, and accepted by some companies and countries, that have arisen to meet demands by airlines and governments that travelers have a negative coronavirus status. Instead of showing paper-based proof of a test or vaccination card at an airport — which could either be forged, lost or arbitrarily rejected without a streamlined process — a traveler would be able to store and certify their information via their phone
How Will Covax Deliver Covid-19 Vaccines to Poorer Countries?
Developing countries are falling dangerously behind in the global race to end the coronavirus pandemic through vaccinations. The Covax facility aims to get Covid-19 shots to at least 20% of the populations of the world’s poorest nations. Covax has made deals with most of the big manufacturers, including Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc. But during the first half of 2021, the majority of planned deliveries from the facility are for the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC and Oxford University. For the whole year, the AstraZeneca vaccine is forecast to make up about one-third of Covax supplies, assuming that the shots by J&J and Novavax and other manufacturers get authorized as expected.
COVID-19: Parents of England secondary school pupils 'will be asked to test them twice a week'
Parents of secondary school pupils in England will be required to test their children twice a week once schools return, it has been reported. According to the Daily Telegraph, they will have to use rapid lateral flow tests under government plans to reopen schools as the COVID-19 lockdown is eased. Asked about this report during an interview on Sky News, care minister Helen Whately did not confirm or deny the story. "Next week more will be set out about how the return to school is going to work," she said.
Boris Johnson will soon receive the crucial data which decides the UK’s route out of lockdown
Boris Johnson is due to receive the data which will ultimately determine how quickly the UK can leave lockdown. The Prime Minister will be given the most recent figures available on the impact of the UK’s vaccination programme, which will play a large part in deciding the speed at which existing restrictions can be relaxed.
COVID vaccine data 'so good' that it points to lockdown ending earlier, Sage adviser says
Coronavirus vaccine data is “so good” that it points to an earlier end to the UK’s lockdowns, MPs have been told. Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) adviser Professor Mark Woolhouse said every aspect of the UK’s vaccine rollout has gone so well that ministers should bring forward their plans to begin easing restrictions. As of 15 February, 16.12 million doses had been administered in the UK. According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data website, the UK is third in the world in terms of doses administered per 100 people.
Mass tests for teachers and pupils to be part of England lockdown easing, report says
Teachers, schoolchildren and their families could be tested for coronavirus twice a week under a plan for mass rapid testing that has been touted as key to safely easing England’s lockdown, reports claim. As many as 400,000 rapid lateral flow tests will be sent to homes every day, supported by a public information campaign to encourage people to take tests even if they do not show any symptoms, it is claimed. Boris Johnson is expected to give further details of the scheme when he outlines his roadmap for easing restrictions on Monday.
Boris Johnson refuses to budge on lockdown exit plan
Boris Johnson resisted pressure for a faster easing of lockdown today, despite a strong decline in infections, with a minister saying that it will take “months” to get back to normal. Care minister Helen Whately said there would be a “step-by-step” approach to lifting restrictions when the Prime Minister publishes his Roadmap to Recovery on Monday. Downing Street is waiting for the delivery of key data, expected tomorrow, on how much vaccines can reduce transmission rates before making decisions on how long it will be before pubs and restaurants can reopen.
Boris Johnson plots reopening of UK economy within months
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is plotting a staged exit from lockdown that would see the United Kingdom’s battered economy returning to work over the next five months after leaping ahead of most of the world on vaccinating its people. The novel coronavirus, which emerged in China in late 2019, has killed 2.4 million people worldwide, upended normal life for billions and tipped the United Kingdom into its worst slump in 300 years. After moving faster than all other Western peers bar Israel to vaccinate its population, the United Kingdom’s $3 trillion economy is aiming to be among the first major Western economies to return to some semblance of normality - though still far behind the furnaces of global growth in China.
Switzerland plans cautious easing of pandemic lockdown from March
Switzerland plans to make its first “cautious steps” towards ending its coronavirus lockdown next month, the government said on Wednesday, contrasting with neighbours that are sticking with many restrictions. In the first step, shops, museums and libraries are due to reopen from March 1. Zoos, gardens and sports facilities will also be reopened, with a final decision to come on Feb. 24. Ministers have been caught being caught between health experts supporting stricter limits and struggling businesses calling for a reopening, but a easing in the number of infections has allowed the government to change course. “The efforts of the last few months are now paying off, the population has been very disciplined,” said Health Minister Alain Berset.
AstraZeneca's vaccine contract with the UK is based on 'best efforts,' just like its deal with a frustrated EU
AstraZeneca's contract to supply the UK with 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses commits it to making "best reasonable efforts," the same language used in its deal with the European Union, which critics blamed for the bloc's faltering inoculation program. The details of the contract are contained in a redacted version published online without fanfare months ago, long before the UK and the EU became embroiled in a bitter dispute over vaccine supply. British officials had earlier declined to provide the contract to CNN, making no mention of the redacted version, and have repeatedly refused to give details on the country's vaccine supplies, citing "security reasons."
Macron urges US, EU to rapidly divert COVID vaccines to Africa
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged fellow European nations and the United States to give up to five percent of their current COVID-19 vaccine supplies to developing countries in Africa, warning poorer nations are paying “astronomical prices” for jabs being made in the West. Macron said the current uneven distribution of doses marked an “unprecedented acceleration of global inequality” and cautioned some countries were being charged two or three times the price paid by the European Union for vaccines such as the one produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca. “We are allowing the idea to take hold that hundreds of millions of vaccines are being given in rich countries and that we are not starting in poor countries,” Macron told the Financial Times. “It’s an unprecedented acceleration of global inequality,” he added.
Don't expect Johnson & Johnson's COVID vaccine to quickly lift U.S. supplies. Early shipments will be small, officials say
Johnson & Johnson's easier-to-use, single-dose COVID-19 vaccine is nearing a rollout, theoretically promising a major boost to the frantic U.S. immunization campaign. But J&J's early supplies are extremely limited, a White House advisor said. After the vaccine’s expected FDA emergency authorization in early March, the company will have just “a few million” doses ready to go, President Joe Biden's coronavirus response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, said, as quoted by the New York Times. J&J’s contract with the federal government, inked last summer, calls for the drugmaker to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June. But it's now looking like deliveries will be “back-end loaded,” Zients said.
Partisan Exits
Macron urges US, EU to rapidly divert COVID vaccines to Africa
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday urged fellow European nations and the United States to give up to five percent of their current COVID-19 vaccine supplies to developing countries in Africa, warning poorer nations are paying “astronomical prices” for jabs being made in the West. Macron said the current uneven distribution of doses marked an “unprecedented acceleration of global inequality” and cautioned some countries were being charged two or three times the price paid by the European Union for vaccines such as the one produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Angela Merkel's heir says Germany's lockdown treats public like children
The strongest contender to succeed Angela Merkel appeared to suggest that the German chancellor was “inventing” reasons to keep the country in lockdown after her government tightened conditions for lifting the restrictions. Armin Laschet, the chief minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, recently won the leadership of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, traditionally a springboard for the chancellorship. His barely disguised criticism of Merkel is regarded by some observers as an attempt to build an independent political profile but it also reflects widespread unease at the length of a lockdown now well into its fourth month. Last week Merkel, 66, brokered an agreement to extend the measures until at least March 7. The target seven-day infection rate has also been cut from 50 new cases per 100,000 to 35 per 100,000, as the government tries to stop mutant strains of the virus spreading.
Liberal MP Bernie Finn tells anti-lockdown protest Victorian restrictions were 'not about a virus'
Three Victorian Liberal MPs have addressed a group of vaccine conspiracy theorists and anti-lockdown protesters at an online rally, hours before the state's stage 4 restrictions were lifted.
Dutch government races for plan B to uphold nighttime coronavirus curfew
The Dutch government raced on Wednesday to prepare legislation to keep a nighttime curfew in place after a court ordered it to scrap the controversial COVID-19 measure which has become the focus of campaigning a month before a general election. The stakes are high politically as Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the country’s top health officials argue the measure is essential to soften a third wave of infections they say is about to arrive due to variants of the coronavirus. Tuesday’s court ruling found the government’s current justifications lacked sufficient legal basis, sending authorities scrambling to draft a bill and enact it swiftly into law.
COVID rumours hamper Brazil’s efforts to vaccinate Indigenous
Indigenous nurse Almeida Tananta battled heavy downpours of tropical rains as he rode his motorbike for hours across the red-soiled dirt tracks of Tabatinga, a municipality in Western Amazonas, which borders the Amazon rainforest and Colombia, and has the largest concentration of Indigenous Brazilians in the Amazon. Tananta was en route to apply the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to the remote Umariacu villagers, in Alto Rio Solimoes. But when he arrived at the village of wooden-thatched houses skirting the banks of the Amazon river, the nurse’s hopes of vaccinating the 1,037 villagers quickly vanished.
'Horrifying' death toll prompts calls to prioritise jabs for disabled people
People with disabilities in England should be given priority for vaccination against Covid-19, according to leading charities, after official data showed that they accounted for 60 per cent of all deaths from the disease last year. Describing the data as “both illuminating and horrifying”, James Taylor, executive director of strategy for Scope, which campaigns for disability equality, said: “What they show is that there is an urgent need for the government to prioritise disabled people now.” This week, health officials announced that they were moving an extra 820,000 people up the vaccination priority list, including some with severe or profound learning disabilities who will be elevated into the sixth of the government’s top nine groups for receiving the jab.
Erdogan: Turkey to start lifting COVID curbs in March
Turkey will begin a gradual return to normal life on a province-by-province basis from March, according to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who added that nationwide weekend COVID-19 lockdowns would be lifted in some provinces based on infection rates. Turkey imposed curfews, weekend lockdowns and other curbs in December as cases rose sharply. It plans to reopen schools nationwide on March 1 and its vaccination programme has so far administered shots to nearly 5.7 million people using shots developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Continued Lockdown
Covid-19: NI lockdown extended until 1 April
Lockdown restrictions in Northern Ireland will be extended until 1 April, the Stormont Executive has agreed. But children in primary 1 to primary 3 (aged four to seven) will go back to school in Northern Ireland on 8 March. Restrictions were imposed on 26 December to manage the spread of Covid-19. Health officials have said they want to avoid a possible rise in cases around St Patrick's Day on 17 March. Another review of the measures will take place on 18 March. First Minister Arlene Foster said Northern Ireland knew "from experience what looks like success is hard-won, but also fragile". "We need decisions to be safe and sustainable, with a proper sequencing of actions."
COVID-19: Parents who lost teenagers to suicide in lockdown issue warning - 'there's going to be a lot of PTSD'
As authorities wrestle with how to safely reopen schools, there is evidence in the US that closures have taken a huge mental health toll on students and their families. "450,000 people and counting in the US have died of COVID, and that's a terrible thing," said Dylan's father Chris. "I'm fortunate in that I don't know any of those people. But I do know one person who committed suicide.
Covid crisis: 1.9m people in UK 'have not worked for more than six months'
Almost 2 million people in Britain have not worked for more than six months during the coronavirus pandemic, amid growing risk to workers from long-term economic damage caused by the crisis. The Resolution Foundation said up to 1.9 million people in January had either been out of a job or on full furlough for more than six months, revealing the lasting impact on employment caused by Covid and multiple lockdowns. Highlighting the risks to workers from long-term unemployment, it called on the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to use next month’s budget to extend targeted support for sectors of the economy hardest hit by the crisis. The report warned that while the outlook for the economy was steadily improving thanks to the vaccination programme and as the government prepares to roll back Covid restrictions, many workers remained concerned about their job prospects.
Covid: NI schools set to return but lockdown extended
Northern Ireland's lockdown restrictions will be extended until the start of April, First Minister Arlene Foster announces. But some primary school children will return to classes on 8 March under the plans and there will be another review of measures on 18 March. Covid has exposed deep inequalities and injustices in society, Labour leader Sir Keir says as he unveils a plan for a British Recovery Bond scheme
Dad says Covid lockdown was behind 12-year-old son’s suicide
Brad Hunstable lost his 12-year-old son Hayden to suicide four days before his 13th birthday in April 2020. Hayden hung himself after a battle with depression that his father says was brought on by the lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Mr Hunstable's youngest daughter Kinlee found Hayden in his room on April 17, 2020, in Aledo, west of Dallas, Texas. Mr Hunstable told Metro UK: "Covid killed my son. I think Hayden would still be alive today if Covid had never happened. "I had no idea he was struggling or depressed, he was such a happy kid and loved his friends and family. But Covid is a perfect storm for suicide and depression. I think everything just got on top of him, he felt overwhelmed and he made a tragic decision."
Canada's largest city, Toronto, wants lockdown extended
Canada’s largest city asked the Ontario provincial government on Wednesday to extend a lockdown order to at least March 9. Restrictions placed on Toronto by Ontario’s government are currently scheduled to be removed on Feb 22. But Dr Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said she has never been more worried about the future because of new coronavirus variants. She has written the province's top health official to request the lockdown last at least two weeks longer. She said there are 345 confirmed variant cases in Toronto and said the city is facing exponential growth. She noted the experience of Germany, whose health minister said Wednesday the virus variant first detected in Britain last year now accounts for more than a fifth of all positive tests in his country, rising from 6% in just two weeks. “By the time the confirmed counts are big enough to shock us, it will be too late to do anything; we will be in a third wave as bad as anything we’ve been through thus far,” she said.
Danish supermarket to help small, shuttered businesses survive lockdown
Danish supermarket cooperative Kvickly has pledged to set aside some of its extra proceeds made while smaller retailers were shut down by coronavirus restrictions and use it for marketing to help them reopen successfully. Supermarkets, but not smaller retailers, in the Nordic country have been allowed to stay open during a lockdown introduced in December to curb the spread of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain. Kvickly said it would donate its proceeds from sales of non-food items to shuttered shops for use in marketing campaigns as they reopen for business. That would amount to at least 7-10 million Danish crowns ($1.14-$1.63 million) - but more if the current coronavirus lockdown is extended beyond March 1.
Scientific Viewpoint
Zambia study casts doubt on the assumption that COVID-19 skipped Africa
A new study concluding out of Lusaka, Zambia last summer has found that as many as 19% (almost 1 in 5) of recently-deceased people tested positive for COVID-19. A new Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) study in Lusaka, Zambia's capital, challenges the common belief that Africa somehow "dodged" the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings indicate that low numbers of reported infections and deaths across Africa may simply be from lack of testing, with the coronavirus taking a terrible but invisible toll on the continent. Published in The BMJ, the study found that at least 15% and as many as 19% of recently-deceased people arriving at Lusaka's main morgue over the summer had the coronavirus, peaking at 31% in July. Despite most having had COVID symptoms, few were tested before death.
Japan finds more than 90 cases of new COVID-19 virus strain: media
Japanese health authorities have found more than 90 cases of a new strain of the COVID-19 virus, the Mainichi newspaper reported on Friday. The variant is believed to have come from overseas but is different from strains that originated in Britain and South Africa, according to the report which cited Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases. Japan has reported 151 cases of variants from Britain, South Africa and Brazil, according to the health ministry. The nation has had more than 400,000 cases of COVID-19 with 7,194 fatalities.
Pfizer to test COVID-19 vaccine engineered for South African variant
A top Pfizer Inc scientist said on Thursday the company is in intensive discussions with regulators to test a booster shot version of its coronavirus vaccine specifically targeted for a highly contagious variant that is spreading widely in South Africa and elsewhere. A laboratory study released on Wednesday suggested that the South African virus variant may reduce protective antibodies elicited by the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by two-thirds, but it is not clear how much that reduces the shot's effectiveness against this version of the pathogen. Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer's top viral vaccine scientists and a co-author of the study, said in an interview he believes the current vaccine is highly likely to still protect against the concerning variant first discovered in South Africa. "A level of neutralizing antibodies that may be on the order of between a third and a half the level of neutralizing antibodies you see against the original virus does not mean you have only a third to half of the protection level, you may well have full protection," he said.
Pfizer says South African coronavirus variant could reduce efficacy of vaccine by two-thirds
The South African coronavirus variant may reduce protection from the Pfizer vaccine by two-thirds, according to a new laboratory study from Pfizer and BioNTech. Though it is not clear if the shot is effective against the mutation, the study did find the vaccine is still able to neutralise the virus – and there isn’t real-world evidence from human trials yet that the vaccine is ineffective against the variant. But the companies are still making investments and talking to regulators about developing an updated version of their mRNA vaccine or a booster shot, if needed.
Zambia study casts doubt on the assumption that COVID-19 skipped Africa
A new study concluding out of Lusaka, Zambia last summer has found that as many as 19% (almost 1 in 5) of recently-deceased people tested positive for COVID-19. A new Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) study in Lusaka, Zambia's capital, challenges the common belief that Africa somehow "dodged" the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings indicate that low numbers of reported infections and deaths across Africa may simply be from lack of testing, with the coronavirus taking a terrible but invisible toll on the continent. Published in The BMJ, the study found that at least 15% and as many as 19% of recently-deceased people arriving at Lusaka's main morgue over the summer had the coronavirus, peaking at 31% in July. Despite most having had COVID symptoms, few were tested before death.
Covid: Johnson & Johnson's vaccine may actually be TWO doses
Johnson & Johnson's one-dose COVID-19 vaccine was hailed as a way to increase supply and more quickly vaccinate the U.S. population But on Thursday, Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor on COVID-19 response, said the company is testing the effectiveness of its shot with a booster It's unclear whether this will delay the vaccine being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization Worldwide, J&J's was 66% effective at preventing COVID-19 illness, including 72% effective in the U.S., but just 57% effective in South Africa
Pfizer coronavirus vaccine may be less likely to protect against South African variant
The Pfizer vaccine may be less likely to protect against infection from the South African variant than other strains, a laboratory study has found, although experts believe that it should still stop severe illness. Blood taken from people who received the vaccine produced two thirds fewer neutralising antibodies against a virus with the key South African mutations compared with the previous variant.
These Doctors Want to Pick Their Covid-19 Vaccine, Fearing Reactions, Lower Efficacy
Health-worker unions in Europe say thousands of their members refuse to take one of the three Covid-19 vaccines available in the region because of concerns over efficacy and reports of side effects, the latest setback for the continent’s slow vaccine rollout. Organizations representing health professionals across Europe said this week that doctors and nurses shouldn’t be forced to take the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca PLC because it was shown to offer less robust protection against Covid-19 than the other two currently authorized in the European Union. They also expressed concern over reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine appeared to cause stronger reactions in recipients.
Covid: Ethnicity vaccine gaps in over-70s
Black and mixed heritage people in their 70s are being vaccinated against Covid-19 at much lower rates than white people, GP records suggest. And fewer Bangladeshi and Pakistani people had been jabbed by 11 February. This follows data from earlier in the vaccination programme showing similar gaps among the over-80s. A discrepancy was not seen in the over-70s at that point, but this is most likely because very few were being vaccinated at that stage. The findings come from a study called OpenSafely, run by the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The team has access to completely anonymised medical records covering 40% of GP practices in England.
More than half of South Africans infected by Covid-19, says insurer
More than half the population of South Africa may have been infected by Covid-19, the head of the country’s largest health insurer has said. The nation of 58 million people has been hit by a huge second wave of infections after a new and more contagious variant raced through the population. South Africa has recorded nearly half of the Covid-19 deaths and a third of cases in Africa, although rates of testing are limited in many countries.
Delayed Second Dose versus Standard Regimen for Covid-19 Vaccination
Case Vignette - You chair the Governor’s task force on rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine. Given concerns about the limited availability of the two-dose mRNA vaccine, you have been asked to weigh in on the debate regarding the most effective use of the currently available doses. Should people who have already received a first dose of vaccine have their second dose delayed by a number of months until there is a greater supply, so that more people can receive a first dose? Or should those who have gotten the first dose receive the second dose according to the standard schedule, 3 to 4 weeks after the first dose, as recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? You must consider the benefits and risks of the two approaches, on both individual and population levels, and decide what to recommend to the task force.
How have COVID-19 pandemic school closures impacted the health of children globally?
As the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to challenge public health, most recently by the emergence of new variants of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), schools in many regions of the world continue to be largely closed. It has been estimated that from March to May 2020, this affected up to 1.5 billion children and young people (CYP). A new study by researchers in the US and the UK explores the damage caused by school closures to educational progress, health, and well-being in CYP globally. Surprisingly, the damage appears to be far less than was originally thought. The team has released their findings on the medRxiv* preprint server.
Associations between feelings/behaviors during COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and depression/anxiety after lockdown in a sample of Chinese children and adolescents.
Children and adolescents may be more susceptible to mental disorders due to COVID-19 pandemic than adults. This study aimed to identify correlated factors for depression/anxiety among children and adolescents after COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. An online survey by cluster sampling was conducted after lockdown in 5175 Chinese children and adolescents with informed consents from their parents. The 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire and the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder scales with 10-point cutoff were used to measure depression and anxiety, separately. Stepwise logistic regression was conducted. Stata 15.1 Version was used.
English lockdown reducing COVID-19 infections but prevalence still high, study finds
England’s third national COVID-19 lockdown is helping to reduce infections, a study found on Thursday, but the prevalence of cases remains high as Prime Minister Boris Johnson eyes a cautious route to re-opening the economy. Johnson is due to set out a roadmap out of the lockdown, which began on January 5, on Monday, and has said that it will be a cautious and prudent approach. The study, known as REACT-1 and led by researchers at Imperial College London, found that national prevalence was two thirds lower between Feb 4 and 13 than it had been in the previous survey that covered Jan 6-22.
Thai-developed COVID vaccine to proceed to human trials
Thailand’s second domestically developed vaccine will soon undergo human trials, officials say, adding that the plan was to produce up to five million doses by the end of the year. The vaccine, developed by Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University, had been successful in trials on mice and monkeys and is due to be tested on humans in late April or early May, Kiat Ruxrungtham of the Chula Vaccine Research Center said on Thursday. “By year-end, we should have a production capacity of one to five million doses annually,” Kiat told a news conference, adding this could later rise to about 20 million doses per year. The announcement comes amid criticism that Thailand’s vaccine strategy has been slow and overly reliant on AstraZeneca shots being produced by local manufacturer Siam Bioscience, which owned by the country’s king. The Thai-developed “ChulaCov19” vaccines are initially being produced in California, but will be produced locally in later stages by Thai company Bionet Asia, Kiat said.
Pfizer, Moderna vaccines may be less effective against B1351 variant
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa, although the latter vaccine could offer good protection against the B117 variant first seen in the United Kingdom, according to two letters published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the letter on the Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 coronavirus vaccine, a team led by scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston made three recombinant viruses with different mutations using a SARS-CoV-2 isolate from January 2020. Using 20 serum samples collected from 15 participants in a 2020 trial of the vaccine 2 to 4 weeks after their second dose, they tested the samples' ability to neutralize the 2020 strain and all variants, including B1351 and B117.
Vitamin D not effective in moderate to severe COVID, study finds
Less than a week after JAMA Network Open published a small study showing zinc and vitamin C were not associated with improved mild COVID-19 infections, a 240-person JAMA study also found that a single dose of vitamin D did not have any significant effect on moderate to severe COVID-19 infections. The study, published yesterday by Igor Murai, PhD, a Sao Paul rheumatologist, and colleagues, reported that hospital stay was a median 7.0 days for both those in the intervention and the placebo group, and while there were differences up to 8.4 percentage points across in-hospital mortality, intensive care unit (ICU) admission, and mechanical ventilation needs, they were all statistically not significant.
UK COVID-19 swab study highlights lockdown impact
The latest results from an ongoing study from Imperial College London to track COVID-19 patterns in Britain show that infections have fallen by more than two-thirds since January, likely due to lockdowns. In other global developments, the World Health Organization announced a new battle plan against COVID-19. The research team based at Imperial College London, part of the REACT program, has been using home-based swab tests to tracking virus spread, and their latest results from a preprint study include 85,000 people who were tested between Feb 4 and Feb 13. Infections fell across the country, with steeper drops in London and the South East, and more modest declines in Yorkshire and Humber. Prevalence dipped across all ages at a similar level, suggesting that the pattern is due to the lockdown, rather than vaccination. However, they warned that infections are still high, at about 1 in 200 people, with the highest levels seen in young people ages 5 to 12 and those ages 18 to 24 years old.
Novavax, coronavirus shot data in hand, strikes an eye-popping supply deal with global vaccine consortium
COVID-19 vaccine maker Novavax has at times flown under the radar as some of the world's leading drugmakers dominated headlines and raced toward rollouts. But an eye-popping new supply deal with international players is sure to turn heads. Novavax on Thursday unveiled a memorandum of understanding with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to provide 1.1 billion doses of its coronavirus vaccine candidate to COVAX, a global effort to ensure equitable vaccine distribution. The Serum Institute of India will help produce doses under a prior deal between that company and Gavi. The deal will support work by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization to distribute doses in every country worldwide.
Bring on the boosters: Studies show Pfizer, Moderna COVID vaccines are less potent against aggressive variant
In early January, researchers from the University of Texas and Pfizer published a preprint study suggesting that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could protect against a mutation discovered in the U.K. and South Africa. Two weeks later, though, news emerged that Pfizer and its partner BioNTech were working on booster shots to protect against new variants. Now there’s more evidence that Pfizer’s vaccine—as well as the other authorized mRNA vaccine from Moderna—will need to be updated to fend off aggressive new variants of COVID-19. The data are raising concerns among some analysts of "breakthrough" cases of COVID-19, even in vaccinated people, and the potential for more lockdowns this summer. In a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday, Pfizer and the University of Texas said a lab study showed the vaccine was about two-thirds less potent against the South African variant of COVID-19 than it was against the original virus.
Pfizer study another worry for South Africa's vaccine rollout
Scientists will meet on Thursday to advise South Africa’s government on its next steps after a study suggested the dominant local coronavirus variant may reduce protective antibodies from Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by two-thirds. The laboratory study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is another worry for the country hardest-hit by the pandemic on the African continent after it placed AstraZeneca vaccinations on hold earlier this month. Although its implications on the real-world efficacy of Pfizer’s vaccine are not yet clear, the study comes after clinical trial data on the AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Novavax vaccines showed reduced efficacy against the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant, first identified late last year.
How covid-19 testing is developing and its future
An HSJ and Siemens Healthineers roundtable discussed how the covid-19 testing regime has developed to date, how it will need to evolve further to consistently reach the right person with the right test at the right time, and what its likely legacy will be for the diagnostics sphere as a whole. The words “testing” and “game changer” have frequently been seen together in the months since the pandemic began. Boris Johnson initially applied the phrase to antibody testing and then in September to rapid mass testing of asymptomatic individuals, which he suggested could offer a route to renewed social gatherings even pre-widespread vaccination. But away from such high profile proclamations, how has covid-19 testing actually developed? And how could and should it develop in the longer term?
Coronavirus Resurgence
COVID-19: Another 454 deaths and 12,057 cases in UK - as over 16.4 million have had first vaccine dose
The UK has reported another 454 coronavirus deaths and 12,057 further cases, while more than 16.4 million have now received their first vaccine dose. Today's figures are down on Wednesday when 738 further deaths and 12,718 new cases were recorded. And they represent the lowest daily figure since 424 were announced on 11 December, excluding days when numbers have been artificially low due to delays in reporting caused by weekends and Christmas holidays.
COVID-19 infection rate plummets in England, says Imperial College study
One of the largest and most authoritative coronavirus surveys has found that infections are quickly falling in England, confirming that lockdown is working to suppress the virus. Imperial College London's REACT study found that infections had fallen by more than two-thirds since the last time it reported in mid-January. Last time, REACT found that 1 in 63 people currently had the virus. This time, it estimates that 1 in 196 people are infected.
Italy’s balconies fall silent as singers retreat in face of Covid’s second wave
It seems eons since last March, when Italians kept their spirits high and impressed the world by donning masks and singing from their balconies, spurring hope that Italy would rebound after the lockdown with an explosion of energy similar to that which fuelled the country’s postwar boom. But after Italians brought the virus back home from holiday discos in the summer — ushering in the second spike — new daily cases were peaking at 40,000 by November, more than six times the first wave record of 6,500 reached on March 13. The national rate may have now slowly fallen to about 10,000 but it is already rising again in areas such as Umbria in central Italy where the UK variant is spreading fast.
South Korea warns against lax distancing as daily COVID-19 count hits one-month high
South Korea's Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Wednesday warned against the loosening enforcement of social distancing rules after the number of new coronavirus cases hit the highest levels in nearly 40 days. The government relaxed distancing curbs on Saturday to take effect starting this week, after getting on top of a third wave of COVID-19 outbreaks that peaked at around 1,200 daily cases in late December. But the numbers shot back up in just three days, topping 600 for the first time in 39 days on Tuesday, after a ban on nighttime entertainment facilities was lifted and a restaurant curfew extended by one hour to 10 p.m.
New Lockdown
Covid cases rising, Maharashtra to impose weekend lockdown in Amravati
Owing to a rise in novel coronavirus cases, a weekend lockdown will be imposed in Maharashtra’s Amravati district starting 8 pm on February 20. It will be in effect till 7 am on February 22. “The markets will be shut from Saturday night till Monday morning. For now, this is being implemented for one day,” said Dr Dilip Ranmale, a district health officer in Amravati. Until a month ago, Amravati city was recording less than 70 cases a day. In a month, the spike in cases in the entire district is fastest across the state, worrying officials of an unusual transmission pattern.