Solving COVID: June 2, 2021
Life-long immunity, a breakthrough on blood clots, and more
Where things stand
The U.S. hit an encouraging new milestone this week, recording a daily average of 17,248 new coronavirus cases. This is the first time that number has been lower than 20,000 since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to The New York Times, "no state is seeing a major increase in cases," and some states have seen their caseloads plummet by half in just two weeks. Sixty-three percent of Americans over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of a vaccine, creeping closer to President Biden's goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the adult population by July 4. Still, experts are worried about new variants spreading rapidly in other parts of the world, and call for widespread vaccination campaigns in vulnerable countries. "If world leaders don't act now, the end of the COVID pandemic may come with a horrible form of herd immunity, as more transmissible variants that are taking hold around the world kill millions," writes Zeynep Tufekci at the Times.
Studies suggest COVID-19 immunity could last 'possibly a lifetime'
Two new studies suggest COVID-19 immunity following infection could last a year, or "possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially following vaccination," The New York Times reported, hopefully allaying "lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived." When taken together, the studies suggest most (but not all) vaccinated individuals who were previously infected with COVID-19 "will not need boosters," wrote the Times. Those who were vaccinated without having previously contracted the virus will likely need the extra dose. Experts expect immunity in these individuals to "play out very differently," as "immune memory" may look different following vaccination compared to natural infection. The results also underscore the idea that previous infection is not enough to protect individuals long-term on its own — even those who have recovered should be vaccinated, wrote the Times.
Scientist believes he's found solution to rare blood clots linked to vaccines
Rolf Marschalek, a professor at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, claims he's identified the cause of rare blood clots linked to the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca. He also believes he's found a way for the producers to modify their shots so the clots no longer occur, the Financial Times reports. Marschalek said his research zeroed in on the vaccines' adenovirus vectors, which "send the spike protein into the cell nucleus rather than the cytosol fluid inside the cell where the virus normally produces proteins." The theory is that once the spike protein enters the nucleus, some parts splice and create mutant versions, FT reports. Hypothetically, those mutant proteins are then "secreted by cells into the body" where they may trigger potentially fatal blood clots. The research, Marschalek argues, suggests the vaccine developers could "modify the sequence of the spike protein" so that it doesn't split apart.
Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine is 100 percent effective in adolescents
Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine was found in a study to be 100 percent effective in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, and the company is set to seek FDA approval for this age group. Moderna said that in the phase 2/3 study that enrolled more than 3,700 participants, there were no COVID-19 cases reported among the group that received two doses of its vaccine, per CNBC. The vaccine was "generally well tolerated," and "no significant safety concerns have been identified to date," the company also said. "We are encouraged that mRNA-1273 was highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in adolescents," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said. "It is particularly exciting to see that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine can prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection." Moderna said it's planning to submit data to the FDA to seek authorization for adolescents in early June.
Dogs are better than tests for detecting COVID-19, researchers say
Dogs are being trained to detect COVID-19 in Thailand, France, Britain, Chile, Australia, Belgium, Germany, and other countries, and preliminary studies "suggest that their detection rate may surpass that of the rapid antigen testing often used in airports and other public places," The New York Times reports. Cells infected with COVID-19 have a specific scent that dogs can sniff out in seconds, even if an infected person doesn't have symptoms. Six labradors being trained at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University accurately detect the COVID-19 virus 96.2 percent of the time in controlled settings, university researchers say, and studies have found results almost that impressive in Germany and the United Arab Emirates. The researchers hope that dogs can be deployed at transportation hubs, stadiums, and other crowded public places to find people infected with COVID-19, or used to sniff out clusters of cases in cities and other communities. Proponents say dogs are not only more accurate at detecting COVID-19, they are also much faster and cheaper than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.