U.S health officials are expected to recommend Covid-19 vaccine booster doses for Americans across all eligible age groups eight months after they received their second vaccine dose, to ensure lasting protection against the coronavirus as the more infectious delta variant spreads across the country partially blunting the efficacy of existing vaccine regimens.
According to the Associated Press, health officials could announce the booster recommendation as soon as this week, just a few days after an additional vaccine dose was recommended for people with weakened immune systems.
The Biden administration could then begin rolling out the third shots as early as mid-to-late September, the New York Timesreported, citing unnamed officials.
The rollout is expected to begin with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at first but officials expect that people vaccinated with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will also require an additional jab as they wait for the results of a clinical trial of a two-dose regimen of the vaccine, the Times report adds.
The first booster shots will likely be administered to nursing home residents, health care workers and elderly Americans who were among the first people in the country to be inoculated.
The Associated Press notes that the formal deployment of the booster doses can only take place after the vaccines have been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration—an action that is expected for the Pfizer jab in the next few weeks.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to fully approve the Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks which will formally open the door for it to be offered as a booster to millions of Americans who have already received two vaccine doses.
59.4%. That’s the percentage of the eligible U.S. popuplation (12 years of age and older) that has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with 70% receiving at least one dose, according to the CDC’s tracker.
An estimated 1.1 million people have already received an unauthorized booster dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, ABC News reported last week, citing an internal CDC document reviewed by the broadcaster. The number is likely an undercount as it only accounts for people who received a third dose of an mRNA vaccine but does not count those who may have received a dose of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and then received a second dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna for people with compromised immune systems. The targeted move was aimed at providing better protection for people who have undergone solid organ transplants or those diagnosed with conditions that are considered to be immunocompromised.
Unlike the eight-month gap being proposed for booster doses for the general population, immunocompromised patients can receive their third dose as early as 28 days after their second shot. The FDA’s decision followed similar moves undertaken by Israel, France and Germany who began administering an additional dose to vulnerable populations amid the threat of the more infectious delta variant of the virus.
As the more infectious delta variant of the coronavirus takes hold across the U.S. questions about the effectiveness or even the necessity of a booster dose remain unanswered. While some vaccines are slightly less effective against the variant, it is still unclear if protection against more severe disease and hospitalizations have been impacted significantly as well.
This makes any decision to authorize booster doses remains a controversial one in the global context as critics decry the fact that developed nations are administering an additional dose at a time when several poorer nations have limited access to vaccines. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September.
I am a Breaking News Reporter at Forbes, with a focus on covering important tech policy and business news. Graduated from Columbia University with an MA in Business and Economics Journalism in 2019. Worked as a journalist in New Delhi, India from 2014 to 2018. Have a news tip? DMs are open on Twitter @SiladityaRay or drop me an email at email@example.com.
When the first cases of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant were detected in the United Kingdom in mid-April, the nation was getting ready to open up. COVID-19 case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths were plummeting, thanks to months of lockdown and one of the world’s fastest vaccination programmes. Two months later, the variant, which was first detected in India, has catalysed a third UK wave and forced the government to delay the full reopening of society it had originally slated for 21 June.
After observing the startlingly swift rise of the Delta variant in the United Kingdom, other countries are bracing for the variant’s impact — if they aren’t feeling it already. Nations with ample access to vaccines, such as those in Europe and North America, are hopeful that the shots can dampen the inevitable rise of Delta. But in countries without large vaccine stocks, particularly in Africa, some scientists worry that the variant could be devastating.
“In my mind, it will be really hard to keep out this variant,” says Tom Wenseleers, an evolutionary biologist and biostatistician at the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium. “It’s very likely it will take over altogether on a worldwide basis.”
Delta, also known as B.1.617.2, belongs to a viral lineage first identified in India during a ferocious wave of infections there in April and May. The lineage grew rapidly in some parts of the country, and showed signs of partial resistance to vaccines. But it was difficult for researchers to disentangle these intrinsic properties of the variant from other factors driving India’s confirmed cases past 400,000 per day, such as mass gatherings.
The Delta variant has been linked to a resurgence of COVID-19 in Nepal, southeast Asia and elsewhere, but its UK spread has given scientists a clear picture of the threat it poses. Delta seems to be around 60% more transmissible than the already highly infectious Alpha variant (also called B.1.1.7) identified in the United Kingdom in late 2020.
Delta is moderately resistant to vaccines, particularly in people who have received just a single dose. A Public Health England study published on 22 May found that a single dose of either AstraZeneca’s or Pfizer’s vaccine reduced a person’s risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms caused by the Delta variant by 33%, compared to 50% for the Alpha variant. A second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine boosted protection against Delta to 60% (compared to 66% against Alpha), while two doses of Pfizer’s jab were 88% effective (compared to 93% against Alpha).
Preliminary evidence from England and Scotland suggests that people infected with Delta are about twice as likely to end up in hospital, compared with those infected with Alpha.
“The data coming out of the UK is so good, that we have a really good idea about how the Delta variant is behaving,” says Mads Albertsen, a bioinformatician at Aalborg University in Denmark. “That’s been an eye-opener.”
Denmark, which, like the United Kingdom, is a world leader in genomic surveillance, has also seen a steady rise in cases caused by the Delta variant — although far fewer than most other European countries. It is only a matter of time before the variant becomes dominant in Denmark, says Albertsen, but the hope is that its expansion can be slowed through vaccination, surveillance and enhanced contact tracing. “It’s going to take over,” he says, but “hopefully in a few months and not too soon.”
Meanwhile, the Danish government is easing restrictions, not re-imposing them: restaurants and bars have been open for months to individuals who have been vaccinated or received a recent negative test, and, as of 14 June, masks are no longer required in most indoor settings. “It is looking good now in Denmark, and we are keeping a close eye on the Delta variant,” says Albertsen. “It can change quite fast, as it has done in the UK.”
Cases of the Delta variant in the United Kingdom are doubling roughly every 11 days. But countries with ample vaccine stocks should be reassured by the slower uptick in hospital admissions, says Wenseleers. A recent Public Health England study1 found that people who have had one vaccine dose are 75% less likely to be hospitalized, compared with unvaccinated individuals, and those who are fully protected are 94% less likely to be hospitalized.
Delta is also on the rise in the United States, particularly in the Midwest and southeast. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it a variant of concern on 15 June. But patchy surveillance means the picture there is less clear. According to nationwide sampling conducted by the genomics company Helix in San Mateo, California, Delta is rising fast. Using a rapid genotyping test, the company has found that the proportion of cases caused by Alpha fell from more than 70% in late April to around 42% as of mid-June, with the rise of Delta driving much of the shift2.
Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health in Shreveport, expects Delta to eventually become dominant in the United States, “but to be somewhat blunted by vaccination”. However, vast disparities in vaccination rates could lead to regional and local variation in cases and hospitalizations caused by Delta, says Jennifer Surtees, a biochemist at the University at Buffalo, New York, who is conducting regional surveillance.
She notes that 70% of eligible New Yorkers have received at least one dose of vaccine — a milestone that triggered the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions last week — but that figure is below 40% in some parts of the state. Communities with high proportions of African American and Hispanic individuals, where vaccination rates tend to be low, could be especially hard hit by Delta. “These are populations that are really at risk of a localized outbreak from Delta, so I think it’s really important to still keep tracking and watch this as much as possible,” Surtees says.
Data from Helix2 on nearly 20,000 samples sequenced since April suggest that the Delta variant is spreading faster in US counties where less than 30% of residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to the counties with vaccination rates above that threshold.
Africa at risk
Delta poses the biggest risk, scientists say, to countries that have limited access to vaccines, particularly those in Africa, where most nations have vaccinated less than 5% of their populations. “The vaccines will never come in time,” says Wenseleers. “If these kinds of new variant arrive, it can be very devastating.”
Surveillance in African countries is extremely limited, but there are hints that the variant is already causing cases there to surge. Several sequences of the variant have been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an outbreak in the capital city of Kinshasa has filled hospitals. The variant has also been detected in Malawi, Uganda and South Africa.
Countries that have close economic links to India, such as those in East Africa, are probably at the greatest risk of seeing a surge in cases caused by Delta, says Tulio de Oliveira, a bioinformatician and director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform in Durban, South Africa. In his country, all of the Delta cases have been detected in shipping crews at commercial ports, with no signs yet of spread in the general community.
De Oliveira expects it to stay this way. South Africa is in the middle of a third wave of infections caused by the Beta variant (also known as B.1.351) identified there last year. This, combined with a lack travel from countries affected by Delta, should make it harder for a new variant to take hold.
Similar factors could be keeping Delta at bay in Brazil, which is battling another immune-evading variant called P.1, or Gamma, says Gonzalo Bello, a virologist at the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Rio de Janeiro, who is part of a team conducting national surveillance. So far, Brazil has sequenced just four cases of the Delta variant in the country.
While countries gird themselves against the Delta variant — or hope that it passes them by — researchers say we need to watch for even greater threats. “What most people are concerned about are the next variants — if we start to see variants that can really challenge the vaccines,” says Albertsen.
It has mutations in the gene encoding the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein causing the substitutions T478K, P681R and L452R, which are known to affect transmissibility of the virus as well as whether it can be neutralised by antibodies for previously circulating variants of the COVID-19 virus.Public Health England (PHE) in May 2021 observed secondary attack rates to be 51–67% higher than the alpha variant.
On 7 May 2021, PHE changed their classification of lineage B.1.617.2 from a variant under investigation (VUI) to a variant of concern (VOC) based on an assessment of transmissibility being at least equivalent to B.1.1.7 (Alpha variant), first identified in the UK (as the Kent variant). Subsequently on 11 May 2021, the WHO also classified this lineage VOC, and said that it showed evidence of higher transmissibility and reduced neutralisation. The variant is thought to be partly responsible for India’s second wave of the pandemic beginning in February 2021.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is planning to ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow its antibody cocktail to be used as a preventive treatment for COVID-19, the company said Monday.
New results from a clinical trial conducted with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases found the drug reduced the risk of symptomatic infection by 81 percent in people who were not infected at the start of the trial, Regeneron said.
The company has already received emergency use authorization from the FDA to use its antibody drugs to treat adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 and pediatric patients at least 12 years old who have tested positive for the virus and are at high risk of severe disease but are not yet hospitalized.
The trial enrolled 1,505 people who were not infected with the virus but lived in the same household as someone who recently tested positive. The patients were randomized to receive either one dose of the antibody therapy or a placebo administered as injections.
After 29 days, 11 people out of the 753 who received a single 1,200 mg dose of the treatment developed symptomatic COVID-19; 59 people who received a placebo out of 752 participants developed symptomatic COVID-19.
The drug provided 72 percent protection against symptomatic infections in the first week and 93 percent protection in subsequent weeks, Regeneron said. The data has not yet been peer reviewed or published.
Regeneron also said the trial found individuals treated with the therapy who experienced a symptomatic infection resolved their symptoms in one week, compared to three weeks with placebo. Infected individuals also cleared the virus faster with the therapy, the company said.
Adverse events occurred in 20 percent of patients who received the antibody drug and 29 percent of those who received a placebo, Regeneron said, but nobody withdrew from the trial because of them.
None of the participants who received the therapy were hospitalized or went to the ER because of COVID-19 over the course of 29 days; four in the placebo group did so. There were four deaths in the trial — two in the therapy group and two in the placebo group — but none were reported due to COVID-19 or the drug.
“With more than 60,000 Americans continuing to be diagnosed with COVID-19 every day, the REGEN-COV antibody cocktail may help provide immediate protection to unvaccinated people who are exposed to the virus, and we are also working to understand its potential to provide ongoing protection for immunocompromised patients who may not respond well to vaccines,” George Yancopoulos, president and chief scientific officer at Regeneron, said in a statement.
The trial tested the antibody treatment for use as a “passive vaccine,” which involves directly injecting antibodies into the body. Traditional vaccines rely on a person’s immune system to activate and develop its own antibodies.
That means the treatment may provide immediate benefits, in contrast to active vaccines, which take weeks to provide protection. In addition, using injections rather than an infusion could make administering it more convenient than the currently authorized use for antibody drugs.
While much of the attention has been focused on vaccines, experts say therapeutic treatments are just as important to ending the pandemic, which has killed more than 562,000 Americans.
The coronavirus pandemic has a lot of dark sides. Around the world, people get ill and die, schools close, the healthcare system is overloaded, employees lose their jobs, companies face bankruptcy, stock markets collapse and countries have to spend billions on bailouts and medical aid. And for everyone, whether directly hurt or not, Covid-19 is a huge stressor shaking up our psyche, triggering our fears and uncertainties.
No matter how serious and sad all of this is, there are upsides as well. Therefore, along the Monty Python song “Always look on the bright side of life” let’s not forget those and make the best of what the crisis gives us. As the good old SWOT analysis tells us, there are not only threats, but also opportunities. With opportunities I don’t mean that the crisis provides extra business for companies like Zoom and Go to Webinar that enable virtual meetings, or for Amazon, which is planning to hire another 100,000 employees. The latter is probably more a threat than an opportunity for most, especially for the mom & pop stores that go through difficult times already.
With opportunities I mean general opportunities that are available for most people affected by the crisis. The current crisis offers at least seven of them:
Opportunity 1: More time
In today’s overheated economy time is often seen as the most valuable and sparse thing we have. Covid-19 shows why: because we have stacked our week with social gatherings and entertainment such as going to the theater, birthdays, cinema, restaurant, bar, sportclub, gym, music, festivals, concerts and what is more. Suddenly, all of that is cancelled or forbidden, giving us significant amounts of extra time. And still, live goes on. This shows us how easy it is to clear our calendars. Obviously this doesn’t apply to the health-care sector and other crucial sectors, but beyond those it applies to a large majority of sectors.
The opportunity is that we can spend this time on other things—or even better, on nothing and enjoy the free time. Looking at the crowded parks, waste collection points, garden centres and DIY stores in the last week, many people seem to have a hard time with the latter. Instead of enjoying the extra free time, they fill it immediately with other activities. To seize this first opportunity though, re-arranging how you spend your time and reserving time for nothingness is key. Not just during the crisis, but also after it. The advices in my previous article on the Covid-19 crisis could help in realizing this.
This offers a great opportunity to rethink our habits and routines and make changes. Now that you haven’t been able to go to the restaurant twice a week, commute 2 hours per day, hang out with your friends or go to a party every weekend, you can reflect on whether you really want to continue doing so after the crisis. The virus forces you to make changes to your daily life that you might actually want to keep also after the crisis.
Opportunity 3: Speed and innovation
Many organizations suffer from slow procedures, complex bureaucracies and rigid hierarchies making organizational life less than pleasant. The coronavirus has forced many of them to break through these rigid systems and act instantly. Suddenly procedures can be skipped or accelerated, rules can be side-tracked and decisions can be made more autonomously without formal approval. And suddenly employees are allowed to work from home without direct supervision.
Covid-19 shows that, as soon as there is a strong enough stimulus, things can change. This leads to remarkable innovations. Not being allowed to open their doors, restaurants, for example, are shifting to delivery mode. And schools suddenly do much of the teaching and even some of the testing online. This brings the opportunity to create innovations now that can be maintained after the crisis. And it also can help to keep the current speed and innovation mode afterwards.
Opportunity 4: Better meetings
As referred to in an earlier article, people spend up to 23 hours per week in meetings, half of which are considered a failure or waste of time. The current crisis has forced us to rethink how we deal with meetings. Because in many countries it is not allowed anymore to meet with a group of persons, many meetings are cancelled. And when they still take place they are mostly virtual and shorter.
As such, it provides an excellent opportunity for resolving one of the most disliked parts of organizational life. The technology for this is already present and mature for a couple of years, but the coronavirus triggers a sudden need for it. The real opportunity here is to make systematic changes so that meetings will be more effective, also after the crisis.
Opportunity 5: Reconnect and help
Challenging times offer a great opportunity for social bonding and other ways of connecting to and helping people. Of course, not being able to visit friends or family has increased isolation and feelings of loneliness in some cases. But the feeling of “we’re in this together” has also triggered interesting ways of connecting. Some of those have gone viral—such as Italians singing together from their windows and balconies—but there are many small, local initiatives too to connect and help people who need it.
In the individualized societies many of us live in, this provides opportunities to reconnect and create more social coherence. Not only during the crisis, but also afterwards. This opportunity comes with a big caveat though. Parallel to these nice initiatives we also witness how far people go to protect themselves and their families. People hoard food, medicine, toilet paper and guns without thinking a second of others. However, while it triggers self-serving egocentric behavior too, the Covid-19 crisis does provide us the opportunity to reconnect and show our social side.
Opportunity 6: Cleaner environment
The virus caused a shutdown or dramatical decrease of industrial activities. Factories are closed or operate far below their capacity, road traffic has reduced radically and air traffic collapsed, and the lack of tourism has emptied the streets in overcrowded cities like Venice, Amsterdam and New York. While this may be bad news for most people and especially those working in the affected industries, this is also good news for our planet. Covid-19 causes a significant reduction in green house gasses and other air, water and land polluting outputs. In Venice this has allegedly led to dolphins return after just a couple of weeks (although some argued this to be a hoax).
Whether the particular example is a hoax or not is not so relevant. The fact is that the shutdown and lockdown of large parts of our economy is good for nature—at least on the short term. The opportunity this provides, is to keep parts of this in place also after the crisis to make long-term improvements. Along the line of the previous opportunities, the current crisis provides us an opportunity to reconsider our lives and reorganize it in a way that has less impact on our planet.
Opportunity 7: Modesty and acceptance
The final opportunity that the Covid-19 crisis offers, is a chance to create awareness for the moderate role we play on this planet and accept that things cannot always go as we want them to go. The Covid-19 pandemic is a global crisis chat is unprecedented in modern peace time. We had other pandemics like SARS, but their impact was less substantial. And we had the 1973 oil crisis, but that was a man-made crisis. The coronavirus is not man-made and yet disrupts lives across the planet.
As such, the virus shows us that, no matter how well-planned and organized we are and no matter how much we live in the Anthropocene—the era characterized by significant human impact—we are not in control. One simple virus is disrupting everything. This offers a great opportunity. In almost every aspect of life we want to be in control. Whether it is health, airline safety or our calendars, we live in the illusion that full control is possible. The virus can help us create awareness that this is not the case. It provides an opportunity to take a more modest role and accept that many things are simply beyond our control.
Once again, the Covid-19 crisis has a large dark side. But as these seven opportunities show, it has positive sides as well. Since all seven opportunities require a quite fundamental change in how we approach the world, seizing them can take substantial time. In that sense, and if we keep on looking at the brighter sides of life, the longer the crisis lasts, the larger the opportunities are and the bigger the chances are of actually making changes to our deeply rooted habits and convictions. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.
I help companies do strategy through training, mentoring and consulting. My drive is to bring you and your organization to the next level with strategy approaches that work. I wrote “Strategy Consulting,” “Nor More Bananas,” and “The Strategy Handbook.” Reach out to me via jeroenkraaijenbrink.com, LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org
Pat Flynn 282K subscribers 26 million Americans are without a job right now, and that’s just in the U.S. alone. It’s a terrible situation, one that I’m all too familiar with myself having gotten laid off during the recession in 2008. These are tough times, but there are opportunities within them, too. I was able to build a business back in 2008 as a result of getting laid off, and I imagine that those who focus on the future, and the ability to create something new now, are the ones who are going to come out of this dire situation best.
The emergence of variants is linked to ongoing surges since infections give viruses the chance to mutate and spread.
Many variants of the coronavirus are circulating around the world, but scientists are primarily concerned about three. How many variants of the coronavirus are there?
There are many circulating around the world, but health experts are primarily concerned with the emergence of three. As a virus infects people, it can mutate as it makes copies of itself. Some mutations can be harmful to a virus, causing it to die out. Others can offer an advantage and help it spread.
“Not every mutation is created equal,” said Dr. Mary Petrone, who studies infectious diseases at Yale University. “The virus is going to get lucky now and again.”Monitoring variants is important because of the possibility that they could make vaccines and treatments less effective, or change the way they infect people.
A mutation early in the pandemic fueled the spread of the virus around the world, but there had been no notable changes since — until recently, said Ohio State University biologist Daniel Jones.
One of the three main variants experts are watching was discovered in the United Kingdom late last year and has been detected in dozens of countries since. Health officials initially said it didn’t seem to cause worse disease, but some newer information suggests it might — that remains unknown at the moment. It does appear to spread more easily, which could lead to more hospitalisations and deaths.
The variant might become dominant in the US by March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other variants first detected in South Africa and in Brazil also appear more contagious, experts say.
Data so far suggests current vaccines should still protect against these variants, though there’s some concern their effectiveness may be slightly diminished. There is some evidence that some antibody treatments may be less effective against certain variants.
There are ways to adjust vaccines and treatments to maintain their effectiveness, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert.The emergence of variants is linked to ongoing surges since infections give viruses the chance to mutate and spread. It’s another reason experts stress the importance of mask wearing and social distancing.
“The fewer humans carrying the virus, the fewer opportunities it has to mutate,” Jones said.The announcement that the coronavirus strain sweeping Britain could be more deadly as well as more transmissible has raised fresh concerns about the variant that has spread to dozens of countries.
Initially British experts said that their evidence suggested the new strain circulating in the UK — one of several to have emerged internationally in recent months — was between 50 per cent and 70 per cent more transmissible.On Friday, however, the government said the new variant could also be 30-40 percent more deadly, although it stressed the assessment relied on sparse data.
What has changed?
In mid-January, two separate studies by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College London were presented to Britain’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).They linked data from people who tested positive for the virus in the community — rather than in hospital — with death data and found a roughly 30 percent increase in the risk of death associated with the new strain.
The groups used slightly different methods, but both matched people with the new variant to those with the older variants, taking into account other variables like age and location and controlling for hospitals being under pressure.Other studies by Exeter University and Public Health England also found higher deaths and both came up with even higher figures.
Based on these analyses, NERVTAG said there was “a realistic possibility” that infection with the new variant is associated with an increased risk of death compared with previously circulating variants.The increase in transmissibility associated to the variant was already causing alarm, because the more people the virus infects the more people will suffer serious illness and the risk of death.
“Unfortunately, it looks as if this virus might be both” more infectious and potentially more deadly, John Edmunds, a professor in LSHTM’s Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, told a press briefing Monday”So it’s really a serious turn for the worse unfortunately,” he said.
How reliable are the findings?
Researchers said there were still uncertainties in the data and said the picture would become clearer in the next few weeks.Edmunds said the findings were “statistically significant”.But he said while the studies used information from those tested in the community, most people who die of Covid-19 go straight to hospital and are tested there.
Researchers do not yet have that hospital information.NERVTAG said this lag in data could be why the studies did not find evidence of an increase in hospitalisations of people with the new variant, which seems at odds with the findings of increased severity of disease.
It also said the mortality data used in the research only covers eight percent of the total deaths during the study period and said the results “may therefore not be representative of the total population”.
Why more deadly?
Researchers think it could be the same set of mutations that has made it more infectious — although all stress more study is needed.One mutation in particular increases the virus’ ability to latch on more strongly to human cells and NERVTAG head Peter Horby, an emerging infectious disease professor at Oxford University, said evidence suggests this means it could make it easier to become infected.
“If it’s then able to spread between cells much quicker within the lungs, that may increase the rate of disease and the rate of inflammation, which may then progress quicker than your body can respond to, so it could explain both characteristics of the virus,” he said.Bjorn Meyer, virologist at France’s Institut Pasteur, told AFP that the issue could be viral load.
“The virus might not have evolved to be more deadly as such, but it might have evolved to grow more or better, which could cause more damage in a patient overall,” he said.
Does this affect treatments?
Horby, who also leads the Recovery trial — which identified the steroid dexamethasone as effective for severely ill hospital patients — said there was “no evidence” that treatments would work less well. Anti inflammatories such as dexamethasone “should work equally as well because it’s not related to the virus, it is related to the host response”, he said.
Horby said overall improvements in therapies and treatments — including things like better strategies for hospital respiratory support — have brought down case fatality rates since the first wave and could even “offset any difference with this new variant”.
As for the vaccines, a preliminary study this month from Britain and the Netherlands found the variant would not be able to evade the protective effect of current vaccines. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have also released early research suggesting their vaccines would still be effective against the strain.
Don’t viruses weaken as they spread?
Scientists have sought to challenge the belief that the virus will become get less virulent as it evolves to become more infectious. The virus that causes Covid-19 is already “very good at its job of getting transmitted” said Emma Hocroft, an epidemiologist at the University of Bern.
“So I don’t think that we can make this assumption that it wants to be less severe. I don’t want to downplay that it is severe for many people, but for the majority of people, it’s not severe,” she told AFP. She said the ability to transmit before it kills was “a really low bar”, citing diseases like measles and HIV that have remained as dangerous.
Graham Medley, a professor of Infectious Disease Modelling at the LSHTM, told the Monday press briefing that despite uncertainties in the new studies on the new variant in the UK, they should dispel the idea that it would become less virulent. “It’s certainly not the case that this is a more benign virus,” he said.