Solving COVID: July 22, 2020

Oxford's vaccine produces dual immune response, ICU deaths fall dramatically, and more

A vaccine.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

1. Oxford vaccine produces dual immune response

A study published Monday in The Lancet found a coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca to be safe, albeit with some mild side effects like fatigue and headaches. The injection also led to a dual immune reaction to the coronavirus. Patients in the trial involving 1,077 people produced both neutralizing antibodies and the less-frequently discussed T-Cells, a type of white blood cell that helps coordinate the body's immune system and destroys infected cells. "We're stimulating both arms of the immune system," said Adrian Hill, the head of Oxford's Jenner Institute. T-Cell and antibody levels peaked at 14 and 28 days after vaccination, respectively, but the study did not run long enough to get a sense of long-term immunity. More trials will be necessary to ensure safety and prove the immune responses reach levels necessary to fight off the virus.

The Lancet BBC

2. ICU death rate for COVID-19 has fallen dramatically since March, study finds

If you are sick enough with COVID-19 to be admitted to a hospital intensive care unit, your chances of survival are much better today than they were a few months ago, researchers report in the journal Anaesthesia. The British study analyzed all published research from around the world on COVID-19 ICU deaths among adults, and it found the fatality rate dropped from 60 percent of ICU patients at the end of March to 40 percent in May, a 33 percent drop. The ICU death rate was more or less constant across all continents. Doctors now have more effective tools, including proven steroids and anti-viral drugs, and they have a better understanding of the new coronavirus and how it affects the body. "As we learn more about this virus and its effect on the critically ill, we become better at treating it and its complications," Dr. Eric Cioe Pena, director of global health at Northwell Health, tells ABC News.

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Anaesthesia ABC News

3. FDA approves pooled coronavirus testing to address logjam

In an effort to ease the diagnostic logjam the United States is facing with the coronavirus surging in various parts of the country, the Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization for pooled COVID-19 testing. Quest Diagnostics will now be able to group up to four samples together. If the batch comes back positive, only then will they test each sample individually. This approach — which has been used in Germany, China, Israel, and South Africa, among other countries — can help save valuable time and resources during the pandemic. The Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Brett Giroir said this approach could help increase the U.S.'s testing capacity to 100 million per month by September. Politico notes, however, that this strategy applies to places where prevalence of the virus is low, and the chances of having a batch where nothing is detected are higher. Places experiencing more severe outbreaks are still better off with individual testing.


4. U.S. orders 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidate from Pfizer and BioNTech

Pfizer and BioNTech have announced a nearly $2 billion agreement with the U.S. government for doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Under the agreement, if the COVID-19 vaccine candidate the companies are developing receives approval or authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. will get 100 million doses after it's manufactured. The U.S. will pay $1.95 billion for the doses, and "also can acquire up to an additional 500 million doses," the announcement said. Americans would receive the vaccine for free. Pfizer and BioNTech said that depending on how studies of the vaccine go, they aim to "be ready to seek Emergency Use Authorization or some form of regulatory approval as early as October 2020," looking to manufacture up to 100 million doses globally by the end of the year and "potentially more than 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021."

The Wall Street Journal

5. New coronavirus treatment may reduce number of intensive care patients

The British biotech firm Synairgen is flaunting not-yet-released clinical trial results that the company says suggest a new coronavirus treatment could reduce the number of intensive care patients, the BBC reports. The trial results reportedly indicated that treating hospitalized patients with a protein called interferon beta cut the odds of those patients developing severe forms of COVID-19 by 79 percent, significantly reduced breathlessness, and shrunk the average hospitalization time from nine days to six. The new drug is a special formulation of interferon beta — a viral defense mechanism that coronavirus seemingly suppresses to evade the body's immune system — delivered to the airways by a nebulizer that turns the protein into an aerosol. The hope is that the direct dose can boost an antiviral response, even in patients with weaker immune systems, BBC notes. Some scientists told BBC they're reserving judgment until they see full results of the small trial.


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