Friday, May 7, 2021
A few months ago the talk was about which vaccines were in clinical trials, which were approved for emergency use, and when they would be available. Next we worried about who was eligible and how to get our shots. Now, five months into the vaccination rollout, we have had enough time and experience to move forward in the areas of efficacy, improvements, and global accessibility.
- Breakthrough cases: As the proportion of the vaccinated population increases so does the number of cases where a vaccinated person becomes infected with COVID. Not a surprise, although headlines like to announce them with astounded indignation. According to the CDC, this happens in about 0.01 percent of the time in the United States, or in 9,245 out of 95 million vaccinated Americans. Out of these, there were 835 hospitalizations and 132 deaths. But remember: (1) none of the vaccines claim to be 100% per cent effective, (2) variants are circulating now that weren’t around during the clinical trials, and (3) people’s immune systems vary in their ability to mount an effective response to the vaccine. The effect of these variables and others are under investigation.
- Variants: A recent study in Qatar using current Pfizer vaccines found that people who had two doses of the vaccine were 75% less likely than unvaccinated people to be infected by the B.1.351 (South Africa) variant and 90% less likely to be infected by the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant. Vaccinated people were completely protected against severe disease. Both Moderna and Pfizer are working on vaccines which will be even more effective against the variants.
- Nasal and Oral Vaccines: Wouldn’t you rather have a nasal spray or a pill? There are two vaccine trials taking place right now for pills and seven for nasal sprays. Easier storage, easier distribution, and easier routes of administration are on the way. Vaxart, a San Francisco biotech company, is planning clinical trials for an annual pill in hopes of getting emergency approval in the U. S. this year. Altimmune in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is working on a nasal spray. Israel has gone into production with a broad-spectrum antiviral nasal spray called Enovid that is effective against a wide variety of viruses. Australia had applied to conduct the phase one clinical trial for a nasal spray from Oklahoma City’s Tetherex Pharmaceuticals. I’ll be looking for press releases and hoping for good news soon.
- Children: Four drug companies are currently testing vaccinations against COVID in children: Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax. This week, Canada approved using Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children 12-15 years old. Pfizer is already authorized for 16-18 year olds in the U.S. and emergency approval for 12 to 15 year olds is expected very soon. I see this as good news. People don’t live in age-exclusive bubbles, and the virus can spread between children, adults, and the elderly in schools, camps, or within the household as it seeks any unprotected host.
- Olympic Athletes: This week the International Olympic Committee reached an agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech to donate free vaccines for all the Olympic competitors and staff who will soon be gathering in Tokyo from all over the world for the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
- WHO gives approval for emergency use of Sinopharm vaccine: This week WHO gave the go-ahead for Sinopharm, the first non-western vaccine to get this approval. The vaccine will also be included in COVAX, the global program to get vaccines to the poorest countries. This approval will increase the availability of COVID vaccines to the world. The vaccine requires two shots and has an estimated 79 percent efficacy rate.
- The U.S. backs waiving patent protection on COVID vaccines: Also this week, in an unexpected move, the U.S. announced at the World Trade Organization meeting in Geneva that it supports talks on a waiver on patent protection in order to facilitate the rollout of vaccines to the world. India and South Africa had proposed a wider proposal last October which included treatments, diagnostic kits, and ventilators as well as vaccines. Even restricted to vaccines, however, the process will probably move slowly as all 164 member countries have to agree on the waiver’s exact wording and specific provisions. Opposition has been voiced by pharmaceutical companies, Germany (home of BioNTech), and France (urges exporting doses instead). Canada and the EU gave support to start discussions today. In any case, what is needed is a faster rollout of vaccines to all countries, however this can best be achieved.
Developments are moving very fast in the world of vaccine and COVID prevention. Stay tuned for further news on this front.
Today’s Notable Headlines:
“Here’s what breakthrough infections reveal about COVID-19 vaccines,” Science News, May 4, 2021. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/coronavirus-covid-vaccines-breakthrough-infections-variants
“Pfizer COVID vaccine protects against worrying coronavirus variants,” Nature, May 6, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01222-5
“COVID-19 Special: Nasal spray vaccines and the pandemic,” DW, May 5, 2021. https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-special-nasal-spray-vaccines-and-the-pandemic/av-57438263
“Forget vaccine jabs—next-generation COVID-19 pills and nasal sprays are on their way,” Fortune, May 4, 2021. https://fortune.com/2021/05/04/vaccine-jabs-covid-19-pills-nasal-sprays-vaxart-altimmune/
“‘Life-saving’ nose spray that kills 99.9% of viruses begins production in Israel,” The Times of Israel, March 22, 2021. https://www.timesofisrael.com/life-saving-nose-spray-that-kills-99-9-of-viruses-begins-production-in-israel/
“The U.S. prepares to begin giving COVID-19 shots to 12- to 15-year-olds as Pfizer’s vaccine nears expanded authorization,” Market Watch, May 7, 2021. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-u-s-prepares-to-begin-giving-covid-19-shots-to-12-to-15-year-olds-as-pfizers-vaccine-nears-expanded-authorization-11620412465?siteid=yhoof2&yptr=yahoo
“IOC and Pfizer strike vaccine deal for Tokyo Olympics competitors,” The Guardian, May 6, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2021/may/06/ioc-and-pfizer-strike-vaccine-deal-for-tokyo-olympics-competitors
“UPDATE 2-WHO gives emergency approval to first Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, Sinopharm,” Reuters in Yahoo Finance, May 7, 2021.
“In shock move, US backs waiving patents on COVID vaccines,” Nature, May 6, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01224-3
“WTO vaccine waiver could take months to negotiate, faces opposition -experts,” Reuters, May 7, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/china/vaccine-ip-waiver-could-take-months-wto-negotiate-experts-2021-05-06/
“COVID-19 Breakthrough Case Investigations and Reporting,” CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/health-departments/breakthrough-cases.html
“Effectiveness of the BNT162b2 Covid-19 Vaccine against the B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 Variants,” New England Journal of Medicine, May 5, 2021. https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMc2104974
Why am I doing this?
The coronavirus pandemic will be indelibly written on our memories just as the Great Depression or the Battle of Britain left their mark on past generations. I intend to journal the pandemic experience from three perspectives: as a retired medical technologist, as a historian (Ph.D., 2014), and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.