Solving COVID: April 14, 2021
Antibody cocktails show promise, Pfizer seeks authorization for vaccine for adolescents, and more
Where things stand
While India, parts of South America, and other areas of the world are experiencing another wave of COVID-19, the U.S. appears to be treading water with new cases and continuing a downward trend in deaths. According to The Washington Post's tracker, the seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths was 765 on Tuesday, a slight uptick from the weekend but a rate last seen Oct. 20. A running count by economist Patrick Chovanec put Tuesday's seven-day average at 748, the lowest rate since Oct. 17. While deaths have declined 2 percent in the past week, hospitalizations rose 2.6 percent and new cases were up 11 percent, the Post reports. Some parts of the U.S., notably Michigan, are faring much worse, with per capita cases up 18 percent to a new high and deaths rising 32 percent. Overall, 563,449 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. And 122.3 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including 75.3 million people — or 23 percent of the U.S. population — fully vaccinated.
Pfizer asks FDA to authorize vaccine for adolescents 12 to 15
Pfizer announced Friday it submitted a request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech for use among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15. The request came after the companies said a phase 3 study showed the vaccine, which has already been approved for those 16 and over, to be 100 percent effective in this age group. The companies also said the vaccine demonstrated "robust antibody responses, exceeding those recorded earlier in vaccinated participants aged 16 to 25 years old, and was well tolerated." Pfizer's goal, it said, is to make the vaccine available to adolescents between 12 and 15 before the start of the next school year.
Regeneron says antibody cocktail reduced risk of symptomatic COVID-19
Regeneron announced Monday that its monoclonal antibody cocktail reduced the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 infection by 81 percent in a phase 3 trial. The trial consisted of 1,505 people who lived in the same household as a person who tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous four days. Regeneron says it will ask the FDA to expand the emergency use authorization given to the antibody cocktail, which is now used for high-risk people infected with COVID-19. "These antibodies may be particularly useful in individuals who are not yet vaccinated, and may also have potential in those who are immunosuppressed and may not respond well to vaccines," Dan H. Barouch, the trial's co-principal investigator, said.
GE aims to develop a microchip that can detect coronaviruses
General Electric is developing a new sensor which could detect the coronavirus and other viruses in the air, on a surface, or on someone's breath, Fast Company reports. The National Institutes of Health awarded the company a two-year research grant to work on the project, which will build upon two papers published by GE's principal scientist, Radislav Potyrailo, and his team. The sensor that would detect the virus would be a microchip "smaller than a dime," Fast Company reports. Potyrailo is hopeful about the long-term prospects of the project, but he acknowledged the system is difficult to build because it needs to be small enough to keep larger contaminants like pollen out, so only the right particles are detected. If a prototype is available in the next couple of years, GE envisions the sensors in grocery stores, hotel rooms, and perhaps even within individuals' phones and watches.
Israel may have already achieved COVID-19 herd immunity, experts say
About 56 percent of Israel's 9.2 million citizens are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and another 15 percent have recovered from the disease, putting Israel squarely in herd immunity territory, Israeli public health experts tell the news and travel site Israel21c. Herd immunity, or the point at which enough people in a population have developed antibodies to a disease that non-immune people are protected, is estimated to kick in at about 65 percent to 70 percent with COVID-19, explained Dr. Eyal Leshem at Israel's Sheba Medical Center, the country's largest hospital. "We're seeing a decline in the number of cases now despite the return to mass gatherings and schools following the third lockdown, because most of the people the infected person will meet are immune by now," Leshem said. Israel has an aggressive, very successful immunization program, but children aren't yet vaccinated and neither are all adults, so it isn't out of the woods entirely.