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Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advice

A place to post daily news of Kurdistan from valid sources .

Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sat Feb 06, 2021 5:53 am

Spain bans Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for over-55s

SPAIN has refused to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for use by the over-55s

EU 'reputation has been knocked' on vaccine says expert

The country's health chiefs have authorised the use of the drug to inoculate people aged between 18 and 55 but followed France, Germany, Italy and Austria in imposing age restrictions amid concerns over a lack of data on it use on the elderly. Italy also recommends its preferential use for adults of 55 and under, while Germany, France, Austria and Norway will only administer the shot to people younger than 65.

Spain's decision comes just hours after UK drugs regulators received extra trial data from AstraZeneca which supports their view that the vaccine is effective in the elderly.

In an initial phase aimed at protecting care-home residents and workers and front-line medics, Spain has so far administered 1.87 million doses produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

It expects a delivery of 1.8 million AstraZeneca doses this month to speed up the pace of inoculation and help it hit a target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population by summer.

Nearly three quarters of Spaniards are willing to receive a shot as soon as one became available, according to a poll by the Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS) but some remain wary.

AstraZeneca vaccine

Spain has only approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for the under-55s.

Britain has been rolling out the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot among all age groups after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) was the first regulator to approve it in December.

Munir Pirmohamed, Chair of the Commission on Human Medicines' Covid-19 Vaccines Benefit Risk Expert Working Group said British regulators had noticed the smaller number of under-65s in the data when they approved the vaccine.

He said: "Nevertheless, there was no evidence that those people over 65 were not getting evidence of efficacy."

"Since then we've seen more data coming through from AstraZeneca as more people are completing the trial, which highlights again that efficacy in the elderly is seen, and there's no evidence of lack of efficacy."

UK drug watchdogs insist the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in the over 65s

Dr Pirmohamed said elderly people were generating strong immune responses, and said that the most important thing was that both AstraZeneca's vaccine and a shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech were preventing serious disease and deaths.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said that the EU has decided not to compromise on safety as she defends the slower pace of approval of shots in the bloc.

MHRA Chief Executive June Raine defended the regulator's standards when asked if the UK had compromised on safety and efficacy standards.

She said: "I think our position is very clear in terms of the rigorous science that MHRA pursues in the interests of public confidence, public safety, and the effectiveness of these important vaccines."

Trials have also suggested the vaccine is successful against new strains of the virus.

Oxford University said it had found the vaccine had similar efficacy against the variant first identified in Kent as previously circulating strains.

Spain's third wave of Covid-19 infections has been slowing with the country's 14-day incidence rate falling to 751 cases per 100,000 people today from 900 cases in late January.

But officials have warned the confirmed arrival of new strains of the virus could drive another resurgence in cases.

The health ministry recorded 28,565 new cases today, bringing the total above 2.94 million, while the death toll climbed by 584 to 61,386.

https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/13 ... vid-latest
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Mon Feb 08, 2021 2:14 am

Given a choice this is the vaccine I would use - main reasons are because it is so easy to find information about it and it is well documented on Lancet and other places, also it's protection lasts longer than other vaccines

Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19

General information

Sputnik V is the world’s first registered vaccine based on a well-studied human adenoviral vector-based platform. Sputnik V is already registered in more than 15 countries.

The ongoing Sputnik V post-registration clinical trial in Russia involved more than 31,000 volunteers. Phase 3 clinical trials of Sputnik V have been conducting in the UAE, India, Venezuela and Belarus.

Sputnik V is one of the three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%. The Vaccine’s efficacy is confirmed at 91.6% based on the analysis of data on 19,866 volunteers, who received both the first and second doses of the Sputnik V vaccine or placebo at the final control point of 78 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

RDIF jointly with partners and manufacturers is ramping up the production of Sputnik V. The cost of one dose of the vaccine for international markets is less than $10 (Sputnik V is a two dose vaccine). The lyophilized (dry) form of the vaccine can be stored at a temperature of +2 to +8 degrees Celsius, which allows for easy distribution worldwide, including hard-to-reach regions.

Requests for vaccination of more than 1.2 billion people (2.4 billion doses as Sputnik V is a two-doze vaccine) with the Sputnik V vaccine came from more than 50 countries. The vaccine supplies for the global market will be produced by RDIF’s international partners in India, Brazil, China, South Korea and other countries.

A website has been created to provide accurate and up-to-date information about Sputnik V

Russian Health Ministry registration certificate

The vaccine is named after the first Soviet space satellite. The launch of Sputnik-1 in 1957 reinvigorated space research around the world, creating a so called “Sputnik moment” for the global community.

Sputnik V vaccine

How adenoviral vector-based vaccines work

“Vectors” are vehicles, which can induce a genetic material from another virus into a cell. The gene from adenovirus, which causes the infection, is removed while a gene with the code of a protein from another virus spike is inserted. This inserted element is safe for the body but still helps the immune system to react and produce antibodies, which protect us from the infection.

The technological platform of adenovirus-based vectors makes it easier and faster to create new vaccines through modifying the initial carrier vector with genetic material from new emerging viruses that helps to create new vaccines in relatively short time. Such vaccines provoke a strong response from a human immune system.

Human adenoviruses are considered as some of the easiest to engineer in this way and therefore they have become very popular as vectors.

Learn more about how adenovirus-based vector vaccines work

Learn more about the successful experience of the Gamaleya Center on the development of vaccines against Ebola based on an adenovirus vector

Advantages of prime-boost immunization approach

Safety and efficacy

After the start of the COVID-19 pandemic Russian researchers extracted a fragment of genetic material from novel coronavirus SARS-COV-2, which codes information about the structure of the spike S-protein, which forms the virus’ “crown” and is responsible for connection with human cells. They inserted it into a familiar adenovirus vector for delivery into a human cell creating the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine.

In order to ensure lasting immunity Russian scientists came up with a breakthrough idea to use two different types of adenovirus vectors (rAd26 and rAd5) for the first and second vaccination, boosting the effect of the vaccine.

The use of human adenoviruses as vectors is safe because these viruses, which cause the common cold, are not novel and have been around for thousands of years

Efficacy of Sputnik V against COVID-19 was reported at 91.6%. The figure is based on the analysis of data on 19,866 volunteers, who received both the first and second doses of the Sputnik V vaccine or placebo at the final control point of 78 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Sputnik V’s efficacy was validated by internationally peer reviewed data published in The Lancet.

Link to brilliant and informative web site:

https://sputnikvaccine.com/about-vaccine/
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Mon Feb 08, 2021 11:15 pm

The Mystery Of India's Plummeting Cases

The country has seen a dramatic decline in new cases since the fall, but researchers aren't sure why

Last September, India was confirming nearly 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day. It was on track to overtake the United States to become the country with the highest reported COVID-19 caseload in the world. Hospitals were full. The Indian economy nosedived into an unprecedented recession.

But four months later, India's coronavirus numbers have plummeted. Late last month, on Jan. 26, the country's Health Ministry confirmed a record low of about 9,100 new daily cases — in a country of nearly 1.4 billion people. It was India's lowest daily tally in eight months. On Monday, India confirmed about 11,000 cases.

"It's not that India is testing less or things are going under-reported," says Jishnu Das, a health economist at Georgetown University. "It's been rising, rising — and now suddenly, it's vanished! I mean, hospital ICU utilization has gone down. Every indicator says the numbers are down."

Scientists say it's a mystery. They're probing why India's coronavirus numbers have declined so dramatically — and so suddenly, in September and October, months before any vaccinations began.

They're trying to figure out what Indians may be doing right and how to mimic that in other countries that are still suffering.

"It's the million-dollar question. Obviously, the classic public health measures are working: Testing has increased, people are going to hospitals earlier and deaths have dropped," says Genevie Fernandes, a public health researcher with the Global Health Governance Programme at the University of Edinburgh. "But it's really still a mystery. It's very easy to get complacent, especially because many parts of the world are going through second and third waves. We need to be on our guard."

Scholars are examining India's mask mandates and public compliance, as well as its climate, its demographics and patterns of diseases that typically circulate in the country.

Mask and mandates

India is one of several countries — mostly in Asia, Africa and South America — that have mandated masks in public spaces. Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on TV wearing a mask very early in the coronavirus pandemic. The messaging was clear.

In many Indian municipalities, including the megacity Mumbai, police hand out tickets — fines of 200 rupees ($2.75) — to violators. Mumbai's mask mandate even applies outdoors, to joggers on the beach and passengers in open-air rickshaws.

"Every time they fine a person 200 rupees, they also give them a mask to wear," explains Fernandes, a Mumbai native. "Very stereotypically, we [Indians] are known to break rules! You see traffic rules being broken all the time," she says, laughing.

But in the pandemic, when it comes to masks, "the police, the monitoring, enforcement — all that was ramped up," she says.

Authorities reportedly collected the equivalent of $37,000 in mask fines in Mumbai on New Year's Eve alone.

But the fines and mandates appear to have worked: In a survey published in July, 95% of respondents said they wore a mask the last time they went out. The survey was conducted by phone in June by the National Council of Applied Economic Research, India's biggest independent economic policy group.

Awareness is widespread. Whenever you make a phone call in India — on landlines and mobiles — instead of a ring tone, you hear government-sponsored messages warning you to wash your hands and wear a mask. One message was recorded by Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, 78, who battled and recovered from COVID-19 last summer.

The mask and hand-washing messages have now been replaced with new ones urging people to get vaccinated; India began vaccinations on Jan. 16.

Heat and humidity

Aside from mask compliance, there's also India's climate: Most of the country is hot and humid. That too has deepened the mystery. There's some evidence that India's climate may help reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. But there's also some evidence to the contrary.

A review of hundreds of scientific articles, published in September in the journal PLOS One, found that warm and wet climates seem to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Heat and humidity combine to render coronaviruses less active — though the certainty of that conclusion, the review says, is low. Previous research has also found that droplets of the virus may stay afloat longer in air that's cold and dry.

"When the air is humid and warm, [the droplets] fall to the ground more quickly, and it makes transmission harder," Elizabeth McGraw, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University, told NPR last year. (However, the science of transmission is still evolving.)

In a survey of COVID-19 cases in India's Punjab state, Das, the health economist at Georgetown, found that 76% of patients there did not infect a single other person — though it's unclear why.

He and his colleagues examined data collected from contact tracing and found that most patients who did infect others infected only a few other people, while a few patients infected many. Overall, 10% of cases accounted for 80% of infections. One implication, which Das says he's investigating further, is the possibility of making contact tracing more efficient by first testing a patient's immediate family members. If no one at all is infected, the process can end there.

"The temperature, of course, is in our favor. We do not have too cold of a climate," says Dr. Daksha Shah, an epidemiologist and deputy executive health officer for the city of Mumbai. "So many viruses are known to multiply more in colder regions."

But there's also some scientific evidence to the contrary, that India might actually be more conducive to the coronavirus: Research published in December in the journal GeoHealth says that urban India's severe air pollution might exacerbate COVID-19. Not only does pollution weaken the body's immune system, but when air is thick with pollutants, those particles may help buoy the virus, allowing it to stay airborne longer.

A paper published in July in The Lancet says extreme heat may also force people indoors, into air-conditioned spaces — and thus might contribute to the virus's spread. The Natural Resources Defense Council has warned that extreme heat can lead to a spike in other illnesses — dehydration, diarrhea — that might lead to overcrowding in hospitals and clinics already struggling to treat victims of COVID-19.

Prevalence of other diseases

Another point to consider about India is how many other diseases are already rampant: malaria, dengue fever, typhoid, hepatitis, cholera. Millions of Indians also lack access to clean drinking water, sanitation and hygienic food. Some experts speculate that people with robust immune systems may be more likely to survive in India in the first place.

"All of us have pretty good immunity! Look at the average Indian: He or she has probably had malaria at some point in his life or typhoid or dengue," says Sayli Udas-Mankikar, an urban policy expert at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai. "You end up with basic immunity toward grave diseases."

Two new scientific papers support that thesis, though they have yet to be peer-reviewed:

    One study by Indian scientists from Chennai and Pune, published in October, found that low- and lower-middle-income countries with less access to health care facilities, hygiene and sanitation actually have lower numbers of COVID-19 deaths per capita.

    Another study by scientists at India's Dr. Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College, published in August, found that COVID-19 deaths per capita are lower in countries where people are exposed to a diverse range of microbes and bacteria.
But experts warn that these two studies are preliminary and should serve only as a springboard for more investigation.

"They're not based on any biological data. So they're good for generating a hypothesis, but now we really need to do the studies that will result in explanations," says Dr. Gagandeep Kang, an infectious diseases researcher at the Christian Medical College in Vellore. "I hope scientists work more on this soon. We need deeper dives into India's immune responses."

According to Health Ministry figures, the coronavirus has killed 154,392 people in India as of Feb. 1. That's a mortality rate of 1.44% — much lower than that of the United States or many European countries. (But Brazil's death rate is higher than India's, and Brazil and India are both lower-middle-income countries.)

Demographics

India is a very young country as well. Only 6% of Indians are older than 65. More than half the population is under 25. Those who are young are less likely to die of COVID-19 and are more likely to show no symptoms if infected.

A study of nearly 85,000 coronavirus cases in India, published in November in the journal Science, found that the COVID-19 mortality rate actually decreases there after age 65 — possibly because Indians who live past that age are such outliers. There are so few of them.

"Those Indians who do live that long tend to be more healthy than average or more wealthy — or both," says health economist Das.

Serological surveys — random testing for antibodies — show that a majority of people in certain areas of India may have already been exposed to the coronavirus, without developing symptoms.

Last week, preliminary findings from a fifth serological study of 28,000 people in India's capital showed that 56% of residents already have antibodies, though a final report has not yet been published. The figures were higher in more crowded areas.

Last summer, another survey by Mumbai's health department and a government think tank found that 57% of Mumbai slum-dwellers and 16% of people living in other areas had antibodies suggesting prior exposure to the coronavirus.

But many experts caution that herd immunity — a controversial term, they say — would only begin to be achieved if at least 60% to 80% of the population had antibodies. It's also unclear whether antibodies convey lasting immunity and, if so, for how long. More serological surveys are needed, they say.

Timing

India's climate and demographics have not changed during the pandemic. And the drop in India's COVID-19 caseload has been recent. It hit a peak in September and has declined inexplicably since then.

In fact, India's numbers went down exactly when experts predicted they would spike: in October, when millions of people gathered for the Hindu festivals of Diwali and Durga Puja. It's when air pollution is also worst, and experts feared that would exacerbate the pandemic too.

Cases have also declined despite what many thought would be a superspreader event: tens of thousands of Indian farmers camping out on the capital's outskirts for months.

Shah, the epidemiologist, wonders if, just like more infectious variants of the coronavirus have been discovered in the U.K. and elsewhere, perhaps a milder variant may have started mutating in India.

"Some processes must have happened. This is an evolution of the virus itself. In some places there are mutations happening," she says. "We need some more deeper evidence and deeper studies."

The truth is, scientists just don't know

"Three options: One is that it's gone because of the way people behaved, so we need to continue that behavior. Or it's gone because it's gone and it's never going to come back — great!" says Das, from Georgetown. "Or it's gone, but we don't know why it's gone — and it may come back."

That last option is what keeps scientists and public health experts up at night.

So for now, Indians are kind of holding their breath — just doing what they're doing — until they get vaccinated.

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandso ... 2825209231
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Wed Feb 10, 2021 9:47 pm

WHO backs Oxford vaccine

The World Health Organization recommends using the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca even in countries tackling new variants of coronavirus

Some new forms of the virus appear to make vaccines less effective.

The WHO also says the vaccine can be used in people aged over 65, which some countries have advised against.

Spacing out the two doses, as is happening in the UK, makes the vaccine more effective, it advises.

The Oxford vaccine is seen as the "vaccine for the world" as it is cheap, can be mass produced and is stored in a standard fridge.

However, it has attracted controversy about its effectiveness against new variants, whether it should be used in the elderly and how far apart the doses should be given, due to a lack of data.

The WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, known as Sage, has been scrutinising evidence from vaccine trials.

Its interim recommendations say the vaccine is 63% effective overall.

However, early data from trials in South Africa showed the vaccine was offering "minimal protection" against mild and moderate disease in young people.

The WHO's director of immunisation, Dr Katherine O'Brien, said the South African study was "inconclusive" and it was "plausible" the vaccine would still prevent severe disease.

A variant in the country has acquired mutations that seem to help it evade immunity from vaccines and from previous infections.

However Oxford scientists still expect their vaccine to prevent people from becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 and needing hospital treatment.

"There is no reason not to recommend its use even in countries that have circulation of the variant," said Dr Alejandro Cravioto, the chairman of WHO's Sage.

There has been criticism about a lack of data on the effectiveness of the vaccine in the elderly with some countries, including France and Germany, advising against using it in the over 65s.

The WHO said even though there was a small number of over 65s in the trials, other studies showed older people had a nearly identical immune response to younger adults so the vaccine should be used.

The scientific advisers also said giving two doses eight-12 weeks apart increased the vaccine's effectiveness and provided greater protection.

Initially, the WHO had recommended a gap of up to six weeks between doses, only in exceptional circumstances.

Prof Sarah Gilbert, the chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: "It is excellent news that the WHO has recommended use of the Sars CoV-2 vaccine first produced in Oxford.

"This decision paves the way to more widespread use of the vaccine to protect people against Covid-19 and gain control of the pandemic."

Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, said he welcomed the WHO's support for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and for the longer interval between doses.

In the UK, more than 13 million people have now received a vaccine to protect against Covid-19. On Wednesday, another 1,001 deaths were reported within 28 days of a positive test for coronavirus.

Globally, there have been more than 2.3 million deaths with the disease during the pandemic

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-56011981
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sat Feb 13, 2021 6:27 pm

Iraq to impose curfew next week

A national health and safety committee decided on Saturday to impose restrictions on movement and social gathering in Iraq as cases of the coronavirus in the country grow in number, state media has reported

A curfew will be in place from 8 pm to 5 am for two weeks beginning February 18, a source told state media of the national committee’s decision.

Schools, universities, salons, parks, wedding and funeral venues and sites of religious congregation will be closed from February 15 until further notice, the source said, with schools and universities to return to virtual teaching.

An official statement on said measures has not been released. However, Iraq’s health ministry expressed concern over the rise in coronavirus case numbers in a statement released Saturday.

“At a time when coronavirus infections are escalating, a second wave of the pandemic may be harsher than the first,” the statement read.

The health ministry also criticized the decision by some to hold large gatherings “without turning to the gravity of these gatherings on the growing extent of the pandemic and its serious consequences for the health of citizens.”

Coronavirus cases have spiked in Iraq in recent weeks, with 2,190 cases in 24 hours announced by the health ministry on Saturday. The country has so far registered over 600,000 cases, according to the ministry.

Though daily coronavirus cases in the Kurdistan Region have been in the double digits for some weeks, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) health ministry also warned of a new wave of coronavirus infections amid the rapid spread of new variants worldwide.

“Unfortunately there is a feeling among citizens that there is no coronavirus anymore, and that there is no risk to people’s lives,” read the KRG health ministry statement.

A curfew for the Kurdistan Region has yet to be decided upon, Aso Hawezi, a spokesperson for the KRG health ministry told Rudaw English on Saturday, but "decisions could change according to the circumstances.”

Last month, Iraq announced a travel ban to prevent the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom. No new cases of the variant have yet been registered in Iraq.

The president of Iran, the country neighboring Iraq, warned on Saturday of a "fourth outbreak" of the disease in the country, according to a presidency statement. Tehran is to impose new measures to combat spread of the virus as the Persian New Year approaches, president Hassan Rouhani said during a meeting with the National Task Force Against Coronavirus.

https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/130220211
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Mon Feb 15, 2021 3:43 am

Messenger RNA

The next act for messenger RNA could be bigger than covid vaccines

On December 23, as part of a publicity push to encourage people to get vaccinated against covid-19, the University of Pennsylvania released footage of two researchers who developed the science behind the shots, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman, getting their inoculations.

The vaccines, icy concoctions of fatty spheres and genetic instructions, used a previously unproven technology based on Messenger RNA and had been built and tested in under a year, thanks to discoveries the pair made starting 20 years earlier.

In the silent promotional clip, neither one speaks or smiles as a nurse inserts the hypodermic into their arms. I later asked Weissman, who has been a physician and working scientist since 1987, what he was thinking in that moment. “I always wanted to develop something that helps people,” he told me. “When they stuck that needle in my arm, I said, ‘I think I’ve finally done it.’”

The infection has killed more than 2 million people globally, including some of Weissman’s childhood friends. So far, the US vaccine campaign has relied entirely on shots developed by Moderna Therapeutics of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, in partnership with Pfizer. Both employ Weissman’s discoveries. (Weissman’s lab gets funding from BioNTech, and Karikó now works at the company.)

Unlike traditional vaccines, which use live viruses, dead ones, or bits of the shells that viruses come cloaked in to train the body’s immune system, the new shots use Messenger RNA—the short-lived middleman molecule that, in our cells, conveys copies of genes to where they can guide the making of proteins.

The message the mRNA vaccine adds to people’s cells is borrowed from the coronavirus itself—the instructions for the crown-like protein, called spike, that it uses to enter cells. This protein alone can’t make a person sick; instead, it prompts a strong immune response that, in large studies concluded in December, prevented about 95% of covid-19 cases.

Drew Weissman’s work with messenger RNA led to successful covid-19 vaccines.

Beyond potentially ending the pandemic, the vaccine breakthrough is showing how Messenger RNA may offer a new approach to building drugs.

In the near future, researchers believe, shots that deliver temporary instructions into cells could lead to vaccines against herpes and malaria, better flu vaccines, and, if the covid-19 germ keeps mutating, updated coronavirus vaccinations, too.

    But researchers also see a future well beyond vaccines. They think the technology will permit cheap gene fixes for cancer, sickle-cell disease, and maybe even HIV
For Weissman, the success of covid vaccines isn’t a surprise but a welcome validation of his life’s work. “We have been working on this for over 20 years,” he says. “We always knew RNA would be a significant therapeutic tool.”

Perfect timing

Despite those two decades of research, though, messenger RNA had never been used in any marketed drug before last year.

Then, in December 2019, the first reports emerged from Wuhan, China, about a scary transmissible pneumonia, most likely some kind of bat virus. Chinese government censors at first sought to cover up the outbreak, but on January 10, 2020, a Shanghai scientist posted the germ’s genetic code online through a contact in Australia.

The virus was already moving quickly, jumping onto airplanes and popping up in Hong Kong and Thailand. But the genetic information moved even faster. It arrived in Mainz at the headquarters of BioNTech, and in Cambridge at Moderna, where some researchers got the readout as a Microsoft Word file.

Scientists at Moderna, a biotech specializing in Messenger RNA, were able to design a vaccine on paper in 48 hours, 11 days before the US even had its first recorded case. Inside of six weeks, Moderna had chilled doses ready for tests in animals.

Unlike most biotech drugs, RNA is not made in fermenters or living cells—it’s produced inside plastic bags of chemicals and enzymes. Because there’s never been a Messenger RNA drug on the market before, there was no factory to commandeer and no supply chain to call on.

When I spoke to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel in December, just before the US Food and Drug Administration authorized his company’s vaccine, he was feeling confident about the shot but worried about making enough of it. Moderna had promised to make up to a billion doses during 2021. Imagine, he said, that Henry Ford was rolling the first Model T off the production line, only to be told the world needed a billion of them.

Bancel calls the way covid-19 arrived just as messenger RNA technology was ready an “aberration of history.”

In other words, we got lucky.

Human bioreactors

The first attempt to use synthetic messenger RNA to make an animal produce a protein was in 1990. It worked but a big problem soon arose. The injections made mice sick. “Their fur gets ruffled. They lose weight, stop running around,” says Weissman. Give them a large dose, and they’d die within hours. “We quickly realized that Messenger RNA was not usable,” he says.

The culprit was inflammation. Over a few billion years, bacteria, plants, and mammals have all evolved to spot the genetic material from viruses and react to it. Weissman and Karikó’s next step, which “took years,” he says, was to identify how cells were recognizing the foreign RNA.

As they found, cells are packed with sensing molecules that distinguish your RNA from that of a virus. If these molecules see viral genes, they launch a storm of immune molecules called cytokines that hold the virus at bay while your body learns to cope with it. “It takes a week to make an antibody response; what keeps you alive for those seven days is these sensors,” Weissman says. But too strong a flood of cytokines can kill you.

The eureka moment was when the two scientists determined they could avoid the immune reaction by using chemically modified building blocks to make the RNA. It worked. Soon after, in Cambridge, a group of entrepreneurs began setting up Moderna Therapeutics to build on Weissman’s insight.

Vaccines were not their focus. At the company’s founding in 2010, its leaders imagined they might be able to use RNA to replace the injected proteins that make up most of the biotech pharmacopoeia, essentially producing drugs inside the patient’s own cells from an RNA blueprint. “We were asking, could we turn a human into a bioreactor?” says Noubar Afeyan, the company’s cofounder and chairman and the head of Flagship Pioneering, a firm that starts biotech companies.

If so, the company could easily name 20, 30, or even 40 drugs that would be worth replacing. But Moderna was struggling with how to get the Messenger RNA to the right cells in the body, and without too many side effects. Its scientists were also learning that administering repeat doses, which would be necessary to replace biotech blockbusters like a clotting factor that’s given monthly, was going to be a problem. “We would find it worked once, then the second time less, and then the third time even lower,” says Afeyan. “That was a problem.”

Moderna pivoted. What kind of drug could you give once and still have a big impact? The answer eventually became obvious: a vaccine. With a vaccine, the initial supply of protein would be enough to train the immune system in ways that could last years, or a lifetime.

A second major question was how to package the delicate RNA molecules, which last for only a couple of minutes if exposed. Weissman says he tried 40 different carriers, including water droplets, sugar, and proteins from salmon sperm. It was like Edison looking for the right filament to make an electric lamp.

“Almost anything people published, we tried,” he says. Most promising were nanoparticles made from a mixture of fats. But these were secret commercial inventions and are still the basis of patent disputes. Weissman didn’t get his hands on them until 2014, after half a decade of attempts.

When he finally did, he loved what he saw. “They were better than anything else we had tried,” he says. “It had what you wanted in a drug. High potency, no adverse events.” By 2017, Weissman’s lab had shown how to vaccinate mice and monkeys against the Zika virus using messenger RNA, an effort that soon won funding from BioNTech. Moderna was neck and neck. It quickly published results of an early human test of a new mRNA influenza vaccine and would initiate a large series of clinical studies involving diseases including Zika.

Pivoting to vaccines did have a drawback for Moderna. Andrew Lo, a professor at MIT’s Laboratory for Financial Engineering, says that most vaccines lose money. The reason is that many shots sell for a “fraction of their economic value.”

Governments will pay $100,000 for a cancer drug that adds a month to a person’s life but only want to pay $5 for a vaccine that can protect against an infectious disease for good. Lo calculated that vaccine programs for emerging threats like Zika or Ebola, where outbreaks come and go, would deliver a -66% return on average. “The economic model for vaccines is broken,” he says.

On the other hand, vaccines are more predictable. When Lo’s team analyzed thousands of clinical trials, they found that vaccine programs frequently succeed. Around 40% of vaccine candidates in efficacy tests, called phase 2 clinical trials, proved successful, a rate 10 times that of cancer drugs.

Adding to mRNA vaccines’ chance of success was a lucky break. Injected into the arm, the nanoparticles holding the critical instructions seemed to home in on dendritic cells, the exact cell type whose job is to train the immune system to recognize a virus. What’s more, something about the particles put the immune system on alert. It wasn’t planned, but they were working as what’s called a vaccine adjuvant. “We couldn’t believe the effect,” says Weissman.

Vaccines offered Moderna’s CEO, Bancel, a chance to advance a phalanx of new products. Since every vaccine would use the same nanoparticle carrier, they could be rapidly reprogrammed, as if they were software. (Moderna had even trademarked the name “mRNA OS,” for operating system.) “The way we make mRNA for one vaccine is exactly the same as for another,” he says. “Because mRNA is an information molecule, the difference between our covid vaccine, Zika vaccine, and flu vaccine is only the order of the nucleotides.”

95% effective

Back in March 2020, when the vaccine programs were getting under way, skeptics said messenger RNA was still an unproven technology. Even this magazine said a vaccine would take 18 months, at a minimum—a projection that proved off by a full nine months. “Sometimes things take a long time just because people think it does,” says Afeyan. “That weighs on you as a scientific team. People are saying, ‘Don’t go any faster!’”

The shots from Moderna and BioNTech proved effective by December and were authorized that month in the US. But the record speed was not due only to the novel technology. Another reason was the prevalence of infection. Because so many people were catching covid-19, the studies were able to amass evidence quickly.

Is Messenger RNA really a better vaccine? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. There are some side effects, but both shots are about 95% effective (that is, they stop 95 out of 100 cases), a record so far unmatched by other covid-19 vaccines and far better than the performance of flu vaccines. Another injection, made by AstraZeneca using an engineered cold virus, is around 75% effective. A shot developed in China using deactivated covid-19 germs protected only half the people who got it, although it did stop severe disease.

“This could change how we make vaccines from here on out,” says Ron Renaud, the CEO of Translate Bio, a company working with the technology.

The potency of the shots, and the ease with which they can be reprogrammed, mean researchers are already preparing to go after HIV, herpes, infant respiratory virus, and malaria—all diseases for which there’s no successful vaccine.

Also on the drawing board: “universal” flu vaccines and what Weissman calls a “pan-coronavirus” shot that could offer basic protection against thousands of pathogens in that category, which have led not only to covid-19 but, before that, to the infection SARS and probably other pandemics throughout history.

“You have to assume we’re going to have more,” Weissman says. “So instead of shutting down the world for a year while you make a new vaccine, we’ll have a vaccine ready to go.”
drug production line

Facilities of the biopharmaceutical company Lonza in Switzerland and New Hampshire, which are helping to manufacture Moderna’s vaccine.

Last spring, Bancel began petitioning the government to pay for vast manufacturing centers to make messenger RNA. He imagined a megafactory that “companies could use in peacetime” but that could be quickly reoriented to churn out shots during the next pandemic. That would be insurance, he says, against a nightmare scenario of a germ that spreads as fast as covid but has the 50% fatality rate of Ebola. If “governments spend billions on nuclear weapons they hope to never use,” Bancel argued in April, then “we should equip ourselves so this never happens again.”

Later that month, as part of Operation Warp Speed, the US effort to produce the vaccines, Moderna was effectively picked as a national champion to build such centers. The government handed it nearly $500 million to develop its vaccine and expand manufacturing.

Beyond vaccines

After the covid vaccines, some researchers expect Moderna and BioNTech to return to their original plans for the technology, like treating more conventional ailments such as heart attacks, cancer, or rare inherited diseases. But there’s no guarantee of success in that arena.

“Although there are a lot of potential therapeutic applications for synthetic mRNA in principle, in practice the problem of delivering sufficient amounts of mRNA to the right place in the body is going to be a huge and possibly insurmountable challenge in most cases,” says Luigi Warren, a biotech entrepreneur whose research as a postdoc formed the nucleus of Moderna.

There is one application in addition to vaccines, however, where brief exposure to messenger RNA could have effects lasting years, or even a lifetime.

In late 2019, before covid-19, the US National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced they would spend $200 million developing affordable gene therapies for use in sub-Saharan Africa. The top targets: HIV and sickle-cell disease, which are widespread there.

Gates and the NIH didn’t say how they would make such cutting-edge treatments cheap and easy to use, but Weissman told me that the plan may depend on using messenger RNA to add instructions for gene-editing tools like CRISPR to a person’s body, making permanent changes to the genome. Think of mass vaccination campaigns, says Weissman, except with gene editing to correct inherited disease.

Right now, gene therapy is complex and expensive. Since 2017, several types have been approved in the US and Europe. One, a treatment for blindness, in which viruses carry a new gene to the retina, costs $425,000 per eye.

A startup called Intellia Therapeutics is testing a treatment that packages CRISPR into RNA and then into a nanoparticle, with which it hopes to cure a painful inherited liver disease. The aim is to make the gene scissors appear in a person’s cells, cut out the problem gene, and then fade away. The company tested the drug on a patient for the first time in 2020.

It’s not a coincidence that Intellia is treating a liver disease. When dripped into the bloodstream through an IV, lipid nanoparticles tend to all end up in the liver—the body’s house-cleaning organ. “If you want to treat a liver disease, great—anything else, you have a problem,” says Weissman.

But Weissman says he’s figured out how to target the nanoparticles so that they wind up inside bone marrow, which constantly manufactures all red blood cells and immune cells. That would be a hugely valuable trick—so valuable that Weissman wouldn’t tell me how he does it. It’s a secret, he says, “until we get the patents filed.”

He intends to use this technique to try to cure sickle-cell disease by sending new instructions into the cells of the body’s blood factory. He’s also working with researchers who are ready to test on monkeys whether immune cells called T cells can be engineered to go on a seek-and-destroy mission after HIV and cure that infection, once and for all.

What all this means is that the fatty particles of messenger RNA may become a way to edit genomes at massive scales, and on the cheap. A drip drug that allows engineering of the blood system could become a public health boon as significant as vaccines. The burden of sickle-cell, an inherited disease that shortens lives by decades (or, in poor regions, kills during childhood), falls most heavily on Black people in equatorial Africa, Brazil, and the US. HIV has also become a lingering scourge: about two-thirds of people living with the virus, or dying from it, are in Africa.

Moderna and BioNTech have been selling their covid-19 vaccine shots for $20 to $40 a dose. What if that were the cost of genetic modification, too? “We could correct sickle-cell with a single shot,” Weissman says. “We think that is groundbreaking new therapy.”

There are fantastic fortunes to be made in mRNA technology. At least five people connected to Moderna and BioNTech are now billionaires, including Bancel. Weissman is not one of them, though he stands to get patent royalties. He says he prefers academia, where people are less likely to tell him what to research—or, just as important, what not to. He’s always looking for the next great scientific challenge: “It’s not that the vaccine is old news, but it was obvious they were going to work.” Messenger RNA, he says, “has an incredible future.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/0 ... obal-en-GB
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Mon Feb 15, 2021 11:56 am

Reminder:
Oxford vaccine:
How did they make it so quickly?


Ten years' vaccine work achieved in about 10 months. Yet no corners cut in designing, testing and manufacturing

They are two statements that sound like a contradiction, and have led some to ask how we can be sure the Oxford vaccine - which has published its first results showing it is highly effective at stopping Covid-19 - is safe when it has been made so fast.

So, this is the real story of how the Oxford vaccine happened so quickly.

It is one that relies on good fortune as well as scientific brilliance; has origins in both a deadly Ebola outbreak and a chimpanzee's runny nose; and sees the researchers go from having no money in the bank to chartering private planes.

The work started years ago

We were planning how can we go really quickly to have a vaccine in someone in the shortest possible time

The biggest misconception is the work on the vaccine started when the pandemic began.

The world's biggest Ebola outbreak in 2014-2016 was a catastrophe. The response was too slow and 11,000 people died.

"The world should have done better," Prof Sarah Gilbert, the architect of the Oxford vaccine, told me.

In the recriminations that followed, a plan emerged for how to tackle the next big one. At the end of a list of known threats was "Disease X" - the sinister name of a new, unknown infection that would take the world by surprise.

The Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford - named after the scientist that performed the first vaccination in 1796, and now home to some of the world's leading experts - designed a strategy for defeating an unknown enemy.

"We were planning how can we go really quickly to have a vaccine in someone in the shortest possible time," Prof Gilbert said.

"We hadn't got the plan finished, but we did do pretty well."

The critical piece of technology

The central piece of their plan was a revolutionary style of vaccine known as "plug and play". It has two highly desirable traits for facing the unknown - it is both fast and flexible.

Conventional vaccines - including the whole of the childhood immunisation programme - use a killed or weakened form of the original infection, or inject fragments of it into the body. But these are slow to develop.

Instead the Oxford researchers constructed ChAdOx1 - or Chimpanzee Adenovirus Oxford One.

Scientists took a common cold virus that infected chimpanzees and engineered it to become the building block of a vaccine against almost anything.

Before Covid, 330 people had been given ChAdOx1 based-vaccines for diseases ranging from flu to Zika virus, and prostate cancer to the tropical disease chikungunya.

The virus from chimps is genetically modified so it cannot cause an infection in people. It can then be modified again to contain the genetic blueprints for whatever you want to train the immune system to attack. This target is known is an antigen.

ChAdOx1 is in essence a sophisticated, microscopic postman. All the scientists have to do is change the package.

"We drop it in and off we go," said Prof Gilbert.

January 1

Prof Sarah Gilbert

John Cairns/University of Oxford

We'd been planning for disease X, we'd been waiting for disease X, and I thought this could be it.

While much of the world was having a lie-in after New Year's Eve, Prof Gilbert noticed concerning reports of "viral pneumonia" in Wuhan, China. Within two weeks scientists had identified the virus responsible and began to suspect it was able to spread between people.

"We'd been planning for disease X, we'd been waiting for disease X, and I thought this could be it," Prof Gilbert said.

At this point, the team did not know how important their work would become. It started out as a test of how fast they could go and as a demonstration of the ChAdOx1 technology.

Prof Gilbert said: "I thought it might only have been a project, we'd make the vaccine and the virus would fizzle out. But it didn't."

A lucky break

It sounds strange to say it, almost perverse, but it was lucky that the pandemic was caused by a coronavirus.

This family of viruses had tried to jump from animals to people twice before in the past 20 years - Sars coronavirus in 2002 and Mers coronavirus in 2012.

It meant scientists knew the virus's biology, how it behaved and its Achilles heel - the "spike protein".

"We had a huge head start," Prof Andrew Pollard from the Oxford team said.

The spike protein is the key the virus uses to unlock the doorway into our body's cells. If a vaccine could train the immune system to attack the spike, then the team knew they were odds-on to succeed.

And they had already developed a ChAdOx1 vaccine for Mers, which could train the immune system to spot the spike. The Oxford team were not starting from scratch.

"If this had been a completely unknown virus, then we'd have been in a very different position," Prof Pollard added.

It was also lucky that coronaviruses cause short-term infections. It means the body is capable of beating the virus and a vaccine just needs to tap into that natural process.

If it had been a long-term or chronic infection that the body cannot beat - like HIV - then it's unlikely a vaccine could work.

On 11 January, Chinese scientists published and shared with the world the full genetic code of the coronavirus.

The team now had everything they needed to make a Covid-19 vaccine.

All they had to do was slip the genetic instructions for the spike protein into ChAdOx1 and they were good to go.
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sat Feb 20, 2021 4:01 pm

COVID-19 Heart Damage

Around 50% of patients who have been hospitalized with severe COVID-19 and who show raised levels of a protein called troponin have damage to their hearts. The injury was detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans at least a month after discharge, according to new findings published today (February 18, 2021) in the European Heart Journal

Damage includes inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), scarring or death of heart tissue (infarction), restricted blood supply to the heart (ischaemia) and combinations of all three.

The study of 148 patients from six acute hospitals in London is the largest study to date to investigate convalescing COVID-19 patients who had raised troponin levels indicating a possible problem with the heart.

Troponin is released into the blood when the heart muscle is injured. Raised levels can occur when an artery becomes blocked or there is inflammation of the heart. Many patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 have raised troponin levels during the critical illness phase, when the body mounts an exaggerated immune response to the infection. Troponin levels were elevated in all the patients in this study who were then followed up with MRI scans of the heart after discharge in order to understand the causes and extent of the damage.

Professor Marianna Fontana, professor of cardiology at University College London (UK), who led the research together with Dr. Graham Cole, a consultant cardiologist at Imperial College London, said: “Raised troponin levels are associated with worse outcomes in COVID-19 patients. Patients with severe COVID-19 disease often have pre-existing heart-related health problems including diabetes, raised blood pressure and obesity.

During severe COVID-19 infection, however, the heart may also be directly affected. Unpicking how the heart can become damaged is difficult, but MRI scans of the heart can identify different patterns of injury, which may enable us to make more accurate diagnoses and to target treatments more effectively.”

The researchers investigated COVID-19 patients discharged up until June 2020 from six hospitals across three NHS London trusts: Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and University College London Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Patients who had abnormal troponin levels were offered an MRI scan of the heart after discharge and were compared with those from a control group of patients who had not had COVID-19, as well as from 40 healthy volunteers.

“The recovering COVID-19 patients had been very ill; all required hospitalization and all had troponin elevation, with around one in three having been on a ventilator in the intensive care unit,” said Prof. Fontana.

“We found evidence of high rates of heart muscle injury that could be seen on the scans a month or two after discharge. Whilst some of this may have been pre-existing, MRI scanning shows that some were new, and likely caused by COVID-19.

Importantly, the pattern of damage to the heart was variable, suggesting that the heart is at risk of different types of injury. While we detected only a small amount of ongoing injury, we saw injury to the heart that was present even when the heart’s pumping function was not impaired and might not have been picked up by other techniques.

In the most severe cases, there are concerns that this injury may increase the risks of heart failure in the future, but more work is needed to investigate this further.”

The function of the heart’s left ventricle, the chamber that is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to all parts of the body, was normal in 89% of the 148 patients but scarring or injury to the heart muscle was present in 80 patients (54%).

The pattern of tissue scarring or injury originated from inflammation in 39 patients (26%), ischaemic heart disease, which includes infarction or ischaemia, in 32 patients (22%), or both in nine patients (6%). Twelve patients (8%) appeared to have ongoing heart inflammation.

Prof. Fontana said: “Injury relating to inflammation and scarring of the heart is common in COVID-19 patients with troponin elevation discharged from hospital, but is of limited extent and has little consequence for the heart’s function.

These findings give us two opportunities:

    Firstly, to find ways of preventing the injury in the first place, and from some of the patterns we have seen, blood clotting may be playing a role, for which we have potential treatments.

    Secondly, detecting the consequences of injury during convalescence may identify subjects who would benefit from specific supporting drug treatments to protect heart function over time.
The findings of the study are limited by the nature of patient selection and included only those who survived a coronavirus infection that required hospital admission.

The convalescent patients in this study had severe COVID-19 disease and our results say nothing about what happens to people who are not hospitalized with COVID, or those who are hospitalized but without elevated troponin. The findings indicate potential ways to identify patients at higher or lower risk and suggest potential strategies that may improve outcomes. More work is needed, and MRI scans of the heart have shown how useful it is in investigating patients with troponin elevation, concluded Prof. Fontana.

The study is also the subject of a discussion between Prof. Fontana and Prof. Eike Nagel, at the Society for Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance annual meeting on Friday 19 February, where it will be presented for the first time.

Prof. Nagel, director of the Centre for Cardiovascular Imaging at Deutsches Zentrum Für Herz-Kreislauf-Forschung (DZHK), Frankfurt, Germany, is the senior author on an earlier paper that found ongoing heart problems in up to 78% of COVID-19 patients who were less sick and most of whom did not require admission to hospital.

https://scitechdaily.com/heart-damage-f ... -hospital/
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sun Feb 21, 2021 10:53 pm

Trials for variant-proof vaccines

Scientists are developing a range of second-generation Covid vaccines aimed at expanding protection against the disease

Candidates include one version that could provide immune defence against many different virus variants, while other researchers are investigating vaccines that would generate responses aimed specifically at blocking transmission of the disease.

Other projects include research into the creation of multiple vaccines that could each tackle different virus strains but would be administered as a single jab in a manner similar to annual flu jabs, which currently combine four vaccines against different strains of the influenza virus.

At present, Covid vaccines are designed to stop infected people becoming seriously ill, to prevent hospitalisations and deaths. It is not known yet how effective they are at blocking viruses passing from person to another.

“There is no indication that any of the new virus variants that have appeared recently are causing more severe disease than the original virus,” said Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at Nottingham University. “However, there is evidence that some of these new variants may be better at infecting and therefore spreading in populations that have existing partial immunity following natural infection or vaccination.”

One possible solution is a vaccine – now under development by a team of scientists including Ball – that targets not just the spike protein on the surface of the Covid virus but also another part of the virus, called the N protein.

“Hopefully this should result in much wider response from immune systems and so provide a much broader immunity to the virus,” Ball told the Observer. “And given what we know now about the emergence of Covid virus variants, that could help us strengthen protection against the disease,” he added.

The project, which also involves the immunology company Scancell and researchers at Nottingham Trent University, has reached a stage where manufacture of the new vaccine has begun.

Ball said it was hoped clinical trials of the vaccine could be launched very soon.

“The plasmid that forms the basis of the vaccine has already been used in other medical treatments and is tolerated well in patients,” he added. “So we are hopeful that we can press ahead with clinical trials relatively soon.”

A different approach is being taken by scientists at Bristol University who have started developing a vaccine that could induce antibodies in the nose and throat.

“That is the route by which the virus infects a person, so if you could aim specifically to generate antibodies in the mucosal linings of the upper airways you could help block the virus from infecting someone or from being passed on,” said Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol.

“In effect, you would be creating the anti-viral equivalent of those United Nations blue helmet soldiers who control war zones and prevent invasions.”

To try to achieve this, Finn and his colleagues are measuring antibody levels in the mucosal secretions of people who have been given different vaccines against the disease.

“By comparing the strength of these immune responses, we may then be able to predict how good they are at preventing transmission,” he added. “And from there, we could identify vaccines that are best able to stop the virus spreading from one person to another – in contrast to current vaccines that are primarily evaluated on how well they prevent Covid symptoms developing.”

This point was backed by Deborah Dunn-Walters, professor of immunology at the University of Surrey: “The vaccines that we have developed over the past year are undoubtedly incredible achievements, but they are not the end of the story.

“We have started with vaccines that maybe give us around two-thirds protection against getting serious disease and maybe 50% protection against passing on the virus. The thing we have to do is to improve on this. There is still a lot of work to be done if we are ​to ​beat Covid.”

Analysing the numbers

After a year of some of the most dispiriting news to afflict the nation in modern times, there has been a dramatic change in accounts about how we are faring in the battle against Covid-19. According to a host of different criteria, the prospects of the United Kingdom emerging from lockdown, in the relatively near future, are looking stronger and stronger.

Numbers of hospitalisations, deaths, and new cases have plunged over the past three weeks, while the UK vaccination programme continues to outstrip those of most other industrial nations. Scientists have urged caution about moving too quickly in response to this barrage of good news. Nevertheless, there is now a palpable feeling that a significant change in the nation’s fortunes is occurring.

This point was summed up by epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University last week: “The data look far better than anyone could possibly have been thinking about two or three weeks ago. So we must surely be able to take a more optimistic stance on what it is now safe to do.”

For good measure, other research suggests that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines - which were designed primarily to prevent serious illness - also reduce transmission of the virus from one person to another - although it is not yet clear by how much. A relatively high level of transmission blocking would have a further significant impact on curtailing the pandemic.

But perhaps the most encouraging of all statistics comes from Israel which has been the planet’s most energetic nation in vaccinating its population. Targeting its most elderly citizens as priorities, it has - as a result - seen hospitalisation rates for the over-60s plummet compared with those for lower age groups. It is a dramatic illustration of the vaccine’s effectiveness and has clear implications for the UK where early signs also suggest Covid jabs - in addition to lockdown measures - are beginning to cut into death rates.

“The performance of the vaccine is really good news,” said Woolhouse. “You never quite know how clinical trials will translate in a true mass vaccination programme. But the numbers are looking very good. The vaccines protect very well against severe disease.”

https://uk.news.yahoo.com/scientists-cl ... 01606.html
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Sat Feb 27, 2021 3:26 am

US Endorse Johnson & Johnson vaccine

U.S. health advisers endorsed a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday, putting the nation on the cusp of adding an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to quickly follow the recommendation and make Johnson & Johnson's shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Vaccinations are picking up speed, but new supplies are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans.

After daylong discussions, the FDA panelists voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for adults. If the FDA agrees, shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday.

More than 47 million people in the U.S., or 14% of the population, have each received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which FDA authorized in December. But the pace of vaccinations has been strained by limited supplies and delays because of winter storms.

While early Johnson & Johnson supplies will be small, the company has said it can deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine protects against the worst effects of COVID-19 after one shot, and it can be stored up to three months at refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to handle than the previous vaccines, which must be frozen.

Effectiveness

One challenge in rolling out the new vaccine will be explaining how protective the Johnson & Johnson shot is after the astounding success of the first U.S. vaccines.

The two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots were found to be about 95% effective against symptomatic COVID-19. The numbers from Johnson & Johnson's study are not that high, but it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. One dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19. After adding in moderate cases, the total effectiveness dropped to about 66%.

Some experts fear that lower number could feed public perceptions that Johnson & Johnson's shot is a "second-tier vaccine." But the difference in protection reflects when and where Johnson & Johnson conducted its studies.

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine was tested in the U.S., Latin America and South Africa at a time when more contagious mutated versions of the virus were spreading. That wasn't the case last fall, when Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were wrapping up testing, and it's not clear if their numbers would hold against the most worrisome of those variants.

Importantly, the FDA reported this week that, just like its predecessors, the Johnson & Johnson shot offers strong protection against the worst outcomes, hospitalization and death.

Studying 2nd dose

While Johnson & Johnson is seeking FDA authorization for its single-dose version, the company is also studying whether a second dose boosts protection.

Panel member Dr. Paul Offit warned that launching a two-dose version of the vaccine down the road might cause problems.

"You can see where that would be confusing to people thinking, 'Maybe I didn't get what I needed,' " said Offit, a vaccine expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It's a messaging challenge."

Johnson & Johnson representatives said they chose to begin with the single shot because the World Health Organization and other experts agreed it would be a faster, more effective tool in an emergency.

Cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically since the January peak that followed the winter holidays. But public health officials warned that those gains may be stalling as more variants take root in the U.S.

"We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, speaking at the White House on Friday. She noted that new COVID-19 cases have increased over the past few days.

While it's too early to tell if the trend will last, Walensky said adding a third vaccine "will help protect more people faster." More vaccines are in the pipeline.

On Sunday, a CDC panel is expected to meet to recommend how to best prioritize use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandem ... on-johnson
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Mon Mar 01, 2021 11:40 pm

Overnight curfew imposed in Kurdistan

An overnight six-hour curfew will be imposed daily on “public places” in the Kurdistan Region to prevent the spread of coronavirus starting from Tuesday at midnight, according to the government's top spokesperson. This comes as a new variant of the virus rapidly spreads across the Region

“All public places, including all types, will be closed between 12-6am,” the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) spokesperson Jotiar Adil told reporters late Monday, adding that traffic between the Region and the rest of Iraq will be banned between Thursdays and Saturdays.

The KRG had previously limited the entrance of tourists from other parts of Iraq, where new variants initially appeared. The Iraqi government has also imposed a daily nighttime curfew - from 8 pm to 6 am - to curb the spread of the virus.

The new decisions by the KRG came after the coronavirus-related top crisis cell held its periodic meeting. It had previously decided to reopen schools in early February. Adil said that schools will remain open “on the condition of making the [health] measures more strict.”

The new decisions will be reviewed on March 10

The Kurdistan Region on Monday recorded 197 new cases of coronavirus, as well as two deaths, according to the health ministry. The Region has recorded 109,151 cases, including 103,625 recoveries and 3,521 deaths, since the recording of the first case exactly one year ago.

Aso Hawezy, spokesperson for the health ministry, said on Monday that around 10 percent of coronavirus cases now being recorded in the Kurdistan Region are from people studying or working at schools.

https://www.rudaw.net/english/kurdistan/010320212
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Tue Mar 02, 2021 7:26 pm

Pfizer or Sinopharm? The US or China?

In the Middle East and North Africa, novel coronavirus vaccine orders are driven by diplomatic and logistical considerations, reflecting Beijing's growing regional influence

In recent days, the Israeli government made documents public that showed the extent of its collaboration with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in its vaccination campaign, one of the largest in the world to date, with more than a quarter of its nine million inhabitants already vaccinated.

In return for swift delivery, Israel -- with its vast digitised medical databases -- is giving the company data on the efficacy and potential side effects of the vaccine based on indicators such as age and medical history.

This extensive cooperation is no surprise given Israel is Washington's main strategic ally in the region.

The Jewish state has also ordered millions of doses of the vaccine developed by fellow US firm Moderna, the least ordered vaccine in the region so far.

Other countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman, are also relying heavily on the Pfizer vaccine, developed by the US company in partnership with Germany's BioNTech.

Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, on the other hand, hedged their bets by ordering from both Pfizer and Sinopharm, with the Chinese vaccine now deemed "completely safe" by the UAE.

'Health silk road' For Yahia Zoubir, a specialist in relations between China and the Arab world, vaccine choice rests on considerations such as price and cold storage requirements -- -70 degrees Celsius for Pfizer (-94 Fahrenheit), but two to eight degrees Celsius for Sinopharm.

But politics are never far away, says the professor at Kedge Business School in France.

Since the start of the pandemic, the administration of former US president Donald Trump "closed in on itself, while China has deployed health diplomacy", he told AFP.

"The Chinese have been much more active and much more cooperative."

Beijing has exported millions of masks and gowns to the Middle East and North Africa and elsewhere, as well as providing respirators and holding online seminars with medical authorities in various countries.

"Today, with the new silk road, there is also a health silk road," Zoubir said, referring to China's globe-spanning infrastructure push -- the Belt and Road Initiative.

"Health is becoming a part of China's foreign policy, allowing it to expand its circle of friends" in a region that accounts for half of Beijing's oil imports.

According to Jonathan Fulton, a specialist in Chinese-Middle East relations at Zayed University in the UAE, "there is a lot of pressure on (US) allies and partners not to cooperate with China".

Despite this, he added, as the US floundered in its own response to the pandemic, a "transition took place from China as a victim" to China as a supportive and "credible actor".

With its Belt and Road project, Beijing is "looking to build a forward-looking Middle East presence" but not necessarily to replace the US, he said.

Devalued science

Sinopharm jabs also feature in the vaccine orders of other US allies in the region, like Egypt and Morocco.

Analysts say collaboration could be aimed at ensuring Chinese vaccine production and distribution centres for the region and Africa are established in their territories.

"It seems obvious that Beijing's prestige is on the upswing in an area that has long been one of American dominance," said Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"People in the Middle East have always looked to the United States as the global technological powerhouse and problem solver," he said.

But so far the US "has been mostly absent when it comes to 'vaccine diplomacy'... mostly because of President Trump's America First agenda, which eschewed international cooperation and devalued science," he added.

Sputnik landing

Also in the "vaccine diplomacy" field are the United Kingdom, relying on an AstraZeneca-Oxford University jab that has been ordered by a clutch of countries in the Middle East and North Africa, while Russia promotes its own vaccine, Sputnik V.

Algeria, a longstanding Moscow ally, ordered the Sinopharm jab as well Russia's, which costs less than those of its Western rivals but has had its reliability called into question, with one local media outlet alluding to "Russian roulette".

In Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, which cut ties with the US under the Trump administration, many are awaiting the delivery of Sputnik V doses, while 2.5 million Israelis have already received at least one Pfizer-BioNTech jab, a disparity criticised by rights groups.

Iran, arch-enemy of Israel, has refused Western vaccines and said it will rely on jabs from India, China or Russia, while also working to produce a homegrown shot, as it battles the region's deadliest Covid-19 outbreak.

Even if China appears to be out ahead in "vaccine diplomacy", factors including a new US policy direction under President Joe Biden, an avowed multilateralist, could shift the playing field, according to Fulton.

"I don't think the game is over," he said.

https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/26012021
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Re: Coronavirus: we separate myths from facts and give advic

PostAuthor: Anthea » Tue Mar 02, 2021 7:34 pm

UK has areas with NO virus

More than eight million people in England live in areas where coronavirus may have disappeared

Department of Health data showed 1,065 out of 6,792 neighbourhoods — 15 per cent — recorded 'fewer than three cases' in the week to February 24, and may even have had none at all. Numbers are suppressed when they fall this low because health chiefs fear infected residents could be identified and shamed.

The vast majority of Cornwall and Devon recorded fewer than three Covid infections. But areas with tiny, or non-existent, outbreaks were scattered across the country, including in parts of London.

MPs today called on the Government to justify sticking to the national approach to easing lockdown, saying it was unfair to keep residents in Devon 'cooped up over Easter' because of bigger outbreaks elsewhere in the country. Boris Johnson has pledged that all curbs will be lifted no earlier than June 21.

It comes as separate data today underscored the success of England's huge vaccination drive. Fascinating charts showed how 90 per cent of over-85s — who are most at risk of dying from the virus — now have Covid antibodies, suggesting they have some immunity against the disease. The Office for National Statistics revealed the rate was just 22 per cent at the start of 2021, before the jab roll-out began to rapidly pick up the pace.

Other data from the ONS today also showed Covid deaths have continued to fall in England and Wales. Another 4,079 Covid fatalities were recorded in the third week of February — a 28 per cent drop week-on-week.

And MailOnline analysis revealed eight of the ten neighbourhoods with the biggest Covid outbreaks in England have prisons in them. Experts warned officers are struggling to enforce social distancing inside jails.

Britain's daily coronavirus cases and deaths fell once again today, after another 6,391 infections and 343 fatalities were added to the official tally. Department of Health figures showed cases dropped by a quarter week-on-week while deaths plunged by 37 per cent.

Matt Hancock today said 'freedom is on the horizon' for Britons, adding they were on track to get a first dose to all adults by July. He urged the nation to do 'whatever it takes' to keep coronavirus under control.

The above map shows England broken down into districts defined as Middle-layer Super Output Areas (MSOAs) by statisticians. The dark green areas are where there are fewer than three cases, and possibly none at all

Separate data from the Office for National statistics showed Covid deaths fell 28 per cent in the week to February 19 compared to the previous week after 4,079 were recorded, as the second wave continues to drop

But deaths from all-causes remained above the five-year average in all regions of England, highlighting the immense toll of the outbreak on routine healthcare services

Hancock touts 'incredible' success of vaccines in suppressing Covid

EIGHT OUT OF TEN COVID HOTSPOTS IN ENGLAND ARE IN AREAS WITH PRISONS

Eight out of England's 10 coronavirus hotspots are home to prisons, MailOnline can reveal.

Public Health England data show that the highest infection rate in the country in the third week of February – in the area surrounding a jail in Leeds – was twice as high as the worst outbreak in a non-prison area.

Prisons in Leeds, Hull, Peterborough, Manchester, Birmingham, Dorset, Rutland and Hatfield have all recorded outbreaks that sent local rates rocketing.

Professor Seena Fazel, an Oxford University psychiatrist who works closely with inmates, said crowded and poorly ventilated environments make the virus hard to control, and prisons are 'porous' with staff and inmates regularly travelling in and out.

He added that the institutions should not be considered cut off from the surrounding area because they are linked to local communities' health, with staff often living nearby and some inmates eligible for day release or travelling to meet court dates.

Reading University microbiologist Dr Simon Clarke drew a comparison to care homes, saying both have confined people who are at risk of staff bringing the virus in to areas where social distancing is near impossible.

Ministry of Justice figures show that 837 people in 65 prisons were diagnosed with coronavirus in England in the week ending February 22.

The rate of infection was equal to 1.1 per cent of all inmates in the country, compared to a 0.11 per cent infection rate in the general population – meaning cases were around 10 times more common than among the public.

In another day of coronavirus developments:

    France took a humiliating U-turn today saying it will now give the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to over-65s amid a sluggish EU jabs rollout;

    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern comes under fire after criticising KFC worker infected with virus for failing to isolate as Auckland enters another week-long lockdown;

    Britain is set to be included in the EU's vaccine passport scheme in sign of hope for holidays;

    The World Health Organization says it is 'unrealistic' to expect the pandemic to end this year;

    Missing patient who tested positive for the Brazilian variant STILL hasn't been found, minister admits;

    Experts say they fear the next flu season may be worse than ever after barely any cases were recorded this winter thanks to Covid restrictions.
The data — for our revelation on prisons and on the huge disparity of coronavirus cases across the nation — was recorded by Middle-layer Super Output Areas (MSOAs).

These are roughly the same as postcode areas, although some have amalgamated several of them. Each MSOA is home to around 8,000 people, on average.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) population estimates suggest there were 8.05million people living in the 1,065 districts with fewer than three cases during the week ending February 24.

When the areas where broken down by infection rates it showed the vast majority — 4,219 or 62 per cent — had a rate between 50 and 200 cases per 100,000 residents in that seven-day spell.

For comparison, 12 per cent of MSOAs — or 808 — had between 20 and 50 cases per 100,000 residents, while a tenth of districts — or 699 — had an infection rate above 200.

While a large number of areas with tiny outbreaks are in Cornwall and Devon, many are scattered across the country — mostly focused in rural areas.

Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, South Hampshire and Wiltshire all are home to MSOAs where there were no cases of the virus.

Even Kent — which was hit hard by the more infectious variant during the darkest days of January — had several areas that recorded next to no cases.

In London, neighbourhoods in Bexley, Bromley, Kensington and Chelsea and Lewisham recorded fewer than three cases.

Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw today called for restrictions across Devon to be eased faster amid plummeting infection rates.

'Devon’s figures are down to 31 per 100,000 – lower than in Europe’s best performing countries like Finland and Denmark,' he told MailOnline. 'By the end of this month, all our vulnerable groups will have been vaccinated.

'The Government must justify keeping my constituents cooped up over Easter and beyond, unable to see their loved ones, and our local businesses closed, because rates in Middlesbrough remain higher.'

Selaine Saxby, the MP for North Devon, previously told MailOnline that the roadmap was going 'too slowly' for her area.

'I think our cases are low and we could have started local unlocking sooner,' she said. 'But I also think, for tourism, moving at a national pace is important.'

The now defunct Tier system — which twice failed to keep England out of lockdown — saw certain areas enjoy months of lighter curbs, with friends and families allowed to meet in restaurants, pubs and cafes.

No10 has, however, confirmed local lockdowns will come into force in England should case rates spike in areas as restrictions are eased. This would be to ensure that Boris Johnson's roadmap out of restrictions is not delayed.

The number of deaths linked to the virus also fell in all regions of England and Wales, but deaths from all causes remained above the five-year average, which is the number of people expected to die at this time of year

Deaths linked to the virus in care home residents also fell below 1,000 for the first time this year, after 969 were recorded

The North East had the lowest number of fatalities from the virus (165), followed by the South West (268) and Yorkshire and the Humber (320). But deaths from all causes remained above the five-year average in all regions

Eight areas with prisons were featured in the 10 areas worst hit by coronavirus in the week ending February 21, official data show. All of the named prisons had outbreaks reported in local news and saw their local area's infection rate skyrocket

COVID DEATHS FELL 28 PER CENT IN A WEEK, ONS FIGURES SHOW

Covid deaths have fallen by more than a quarter and dropped for the third week in a row, official figures revealed today.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recorded 4,079 fatalities linked to the virus in England and Wales over the seven days to February 19, marking a 28 per cent drop from the previous week. This was also less than half the number of victims recorded during the darkest weeks of January.

Every region in England recorded a dip in the number of people succumbing to the infection compared to the previous week, with the North East and South West registering the fewest fatalities.

And deaths linked to the virus in care home residents fell below 1,000 for the first time this year, with just 969 in the most recent seven days.

But, despite the promising statistics, deaths linked to Covid still accounted for almost a third of all fatalities and had not dipped below the levels at the start of January, when fatalities first spiralled out of control. And deaths from all causes remained above the five-year average by around 20 per cent.

ONS death figures lag behind the daily tallies, which began falling at the end of January. Statisticians analyse the death certificates to identify exactly how many Covid was to blame for. There is a delay of about three weeks between someone getting infected with the virus and succumbing to the disease, meaning it takes time for a dip in cases to show up in death figures.

Amid Britain's fastest vaccine rollout in modern times, the Health Secretary told the Commons today: 'This country is on the road to recovery and we have freedom on the horizon.

'(But) we must proceed with caution because although we're moving quickly, the virus moves quickly too.

'So let's not waver and do whatever it takes to keep this virus under control.'

An ONS report today revealed the stunning success of England's jabs drive as the vast majority of over-85s in England - who are most at risk from the virus - now have Covid antibodies.

Fascinating charts reveal how the proportion of elderly residents testing positive for the disease-fighting proteins — which signal they have a degree of immunity — has changed between the start of January and now.

The figures showed 22 per cent had Covid antibodies at the start of 2021, before the inoculation roll-out began to rapidly pick up pace. But the rate stood at nearly 91 per cent on February 11, according to the most up-to-date estimate.

Data also showed a dramatic rise in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland among the same age group — but the ONS warned its estimates in the devolved nations were not as certain because they involved smaller sample sizes.

The report — which also showed one in four people overall had Covid antibodies in England, one in six in Wales and Northern Ireland and one in eight in Scotland — looked at blood samples taken from 30,000 over-16s across the country.

Rates were highest in London, where the ONS estimated 29 per cent of people had antibodies compared to just 16 per cent in the South West of England, the lowest in the UK.

As well as through vaccination, antibodies are also made in the blood when someone catches and recovers from the virus. But the length of time antibodies remain at detectable levels in the blood is not fully known, given that studies have shown they can fade after a few months.

It comes after Government analysis showed a single dose of the Covid vaccines being rolled out in the UK cut hospital rates in the elderly by 80 per cent. Public Health England research also found the Pfizer and Oxford University jabs stop about 60 per cent of people from falling ill with Covid a month after their first dose.

More than 20million Britons have now received their first dose of Covid vaccines, and about 800,000 people have been given both injections.

ONS data also showed Covid deaths had fallen for the third week in a row, dropping 28 per cent after 4,079 fatalities linked to the virus were recorded in the week to February 17, the latest available.

Their figures lag behind the daily toll published by the Department of Health, because statisticians go through every death certificate to root out all those mentioning Covid.

The North East had the fewest fatalities from the virus (165), followed by the South West (268) and Yorkshire and the Humber (320). It failed to spread rapidly through these areas before lockdown restrictions were imposed at the start of the year, which may have led to a lower death toll.

The highest number of deaths due to the virus was in the South East (636), but this was 34 per cent below the number recorded the week before (974). The East of England had the second highest toll (566) and the North West had the third highest (563).

In the East and South East the more infectious variant took hold before the country was locked down in January, while cases have not fallen as fast in the North West as in other areas.

Boris Johnson has today refused to comment on reports that he is considering setting up a charity to pay for the refurbishment of his official flat, after the Daily Mail reported that the scheme could be funded by wealthy Tory benefactors.

The paper said that it followed reports that the Prime Minister had complained the cost of refurbishing the flat over No 11 by his fiancee Carrie Symonds was 'out of control'.

In response, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'Matters concerning any work on Downing Street, including the residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts. That is where we set out the details of what has happened.

'Downing Street is a working building, as has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishment and maintenance are made periodically.'

'Our vaccines will work': PM downplays threat from Brazil variant

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/articl ... cases.html
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