Weekly Coronavirus Update: Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Here is the latest in Coronavirus related research and news. This week I have information on vaccines, gyms/fitness classes, the P.1 variant from Brazil, convalescent plasma treatment, long Covid in the UK, and a world update.

1) Researchers studied the Pfizer vaccine in individuals who previously had Covid-19. The results from two studies published in The Lancet last week indicated that just one dose of the Pfizer vaccine could provide significant protection to those who were previously infected with the virus. The first study tested participants between 19–29 days after the first dose. In those who never had Covid-19 and received one dose, antibody levels were at similar levels to those who previously had Covid-19 (without any vaccine doses; natural immunity). In the group that previously had Covid-19 AND were given a first dose, antibody levels increased more than 140-fold from their peak pre-vaccine levels. The second study showed that those previously infected with Covid-19 who received one dose of the Pfizer vaccine had very strong antibody responses as well as very strong T-cell responses, but in those who never had Covid-19, the levels of both were much weaker after just one dose. The first study recommended that serology testing be conducted before an individual’s first vaccine dose to allow prioritization of booster doses (second dose) for those who had never been infected with Covid-19. The second study also recommended such prioritization. You can read the first study here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00501-8/fulltext and the second study here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00502-X/fulltext

2) Yet another study about the Pfizer vaccine showed that the vaccine was highly effective in its prevention of Covid-19 infections, both symptomatic and asymptomatic. Based on data from over 23,000 healthcare workers in the UK, the study showed that the vaccine was 70% effective in preventing both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections in the first three weeks after receiving the first dose. After the second dose was administered, this rose to 85%. The researchers say this data provides the first evidence that the vaccine may block transmission, which would be extremely important in controlling the spread of the virus. The study has not yet undergone peer review (important disclaimer!), although it has been submitted for peer review to The Lancet. The full text of the pre-print can be found here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3790399

3) In other vaccine news, you’ve probably heard that Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine was recently approved for use in the US. J&J’s vaccine trial data involved nearly 44,000 participants (roughly half in the vaccine group and half in the placebo group). In trials, the vaccine showed 66.1% efficacy after 28 days, and this did not significantly differ based on age, sex, race, ethnicity, or comorbidities. No one in the vaccine group needed medical interventions such as hospitalization or ventilation, compared to five who needed this in the placebo group. Additionally, there were no deaths in the vaccine group and seven in the placebo group. In terms of asymptomatic Covid-19, the vaccine did not show an impact against this up to 28 days after vaccination, but after day 29 the efficacy against asymptomatic infection was 74%. Some participants experienced side effects after receiving the vaccine, such as headache (38.9%), fatigue (38.2%), muscle aches (33.2%), nausea (14.2%) and fever (9.0%). The J&J vaccine was also tested on rats to determine whether there was any impact on fertility, and there was not. Approximately 4 million doses of the vaccine are expected to ship to sites this week, with 20 million doses available by the end of March, and 100 million by the end of June. The full results of J&J’s trials can be found here: https://www.fda.gov/media/146219/download
A handy post written by epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina can be found here: https://yourlocalepidemiologist.substack.com/p/prep-for-fda-meeting-j-and-j-data
A news article about the vaccine including info on production & distribution can be found here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/02/28/johnson-and-johnson-covid-vaccine/

4) A study published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported on a Covid-19 outbreak among participants in high-intensity fitness classes held indoors in a Chicago gym. The classes were at less than 25% capacity. Upon entry, participants were required to wear a mask (though not during the class) and have a temperature and symptom check. Of 81 attendees over the course of a week, 55 (68%) became infected with Covid. Overall, the majority of attendees (76%) reported not wearing a mask during the fitness classes. The authors concluded, “To reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission in fitness facilities, attendees should wear a mask, including during high-intensity activities when ≥6 ft apart.” They also recommended that fitness facilities enforce physical distancing, improve ventilation in the facility, and encourage their members to “isolate after symptom onset or receiving a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result and to quarantine after a potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and while awaiting test results.” Furthermore, the authors stated that exercising outdoors or in virtual classes could also reduce the risk of transmission. You can read the full study here: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7009e2.htm

5) Despite the fact that 76% of the population in Manaus, Brazil had been infected with Covid-19 by October 2020 (above the threshold most would consider for herd immunity), there has been a recent resurgence of the virus there. Several recent news articles have detailed this, and a commentary published in The Lancet showed data that Covid-19 hospitalizations in Manaus sharply increased in January 2021. Another article from the BMJ hypothesized that the new infections in Manaus are due to the P.1 variant of Covid-19 (sometimes referred to as the Brazilian variant), which has evolved quickly, could be more transmissible, and could have evolved to evade antibodies from previous variants of the virus. New research that has not yet undergone peer review (important disclaimer) found that the P.1 variant was twice as transmissible as other variants and was able to evade 25–61% of the protective immunity developed through previous Covid-19 infection. The P.1 variant has been detected in more than 25 countries thus far. The pre-print of the study has not yet been made available to the public, but numerous news outlets have reported that the paper concludes, “Our results further show that natural immunity waning alone is unlikely to explain the observed dynamics in Manaus, with support for P.1 possessing altered epidemiological characteristics.” The pre-print is expected to be published today, but at the time of writing this it is not yet available on Medrxiv.
You can read the article from The Lancet here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00183-5/fulltext
The BMJ article can be found here: https://www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n394
And a news article about the pre-print study can be found here: https://www.ft.com/content/51cf718d-e701-4292-a9dd-dd36c1b1c5ea

6) In treatment news, a peer-reviewed study published in the journal JAMA examined whether treatment with convalescent plasma was associated with positive clinical outcomes. The authors conducted a meta-analysis of four published studies using randomized clinical trials involving 1,060 patients treated with convalescent plasma. Results were compared with control groups and revealed that “no significant associations with benefit were shown for hospital length of stay, mechanical ventilation use, clinical improvement, or clinical deterioration.” Additionally, there was no significant association between decreased mortality and convalescent plasma use. You can read the full study here: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2777060

7) A report published by the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) on the prevalence of long Covid (experiencing ongoing effects of Covid-19) revealed that 22.1% of the general population experienced at least one Covid-19 symptom at five weeks post-infection and 9.8% still had symptoms 12 weeks post-infection. After five weeks the most common symptoms included fatigue (12.7%), cough (12.4%), headache (11.1%), loss of taste and/or smell (10.4%), and myalgia (8.8%). Females (23.6%) were slightly more likely to experience these symptoms at five weeks than males (20.7%). In terms of age, the 35–49 age group were the most prevalent for experiencing symptoms (26.8%), followed by those aged 50–69 (26.1%), and then the 25–34 age group (24.9%). The researchers are working to develop a risk prediction model that will help define which groups “might be at greatest risk of experiencing prolonged symptoms, comprising factors such as demographics, occupation, pre-existing health status, and COVID-19 viral load and variant at the time of infection.” In the US, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced it will launch a study to better understand long Covid as well. You can view the full ONS report here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/962830/s1079-ons-update-on-long-covid-prevalence-estimate.pdf
And here is an announcement about the NIH study: https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/who-we-are/nih-director/statements/nih-launches-new-initiative-study-long-covid

8) Now for your world update. In the US, the number of new daily cases has dropped 21% over the past two weeks. Yesterday there were 56,672 new cases. Deaths have also decreased 17% and yesterday there were 1,425 new deaths. Hospitalizations are also down by 29%. Per capita, New York leads the nation in new daily cases, followed by New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Connecticut. In terms of vaccinations, 15% of the US population have now received at least one dose and 7.7% have been fully vaccinated.
— In the UK cases and deaths are also dropping. Over the past two weeks, the number of daily new cases has dropped 37% (yesterday there were 5,455 new infections) and the number of daily deaths has dropped 52% (with 104 deaths yesterday). In terms of vaccines, 30.4% of the population have received at least one dose. An ONS report released today showed that one in four people in England have some antibody protection against Covid-19, whether through previous infection or vaccination.
— Elsewhere, Germany announced it will extend its current lockdown until 28 March with some restrictions easing starting on 8 March. Globally, Covid-19 infections rose last week for the first time in seven weeks. The World Health Organization (WHO) made a statement/warning that Covid-19 would not be over by the end of this year. A WHO spokesperson, Dr Michael Ryan, said, ““It will be very premature, and I think unrealistic, to think that we’re going to finish with this virus by the end of the year.”
US numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html
US vaccinations: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/covid-19-vaccine-doses.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage
UK numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/world/europe/united-kingdom-coronavirus-cases.html
UK ONS report: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19infectionsurveyantibodydatafortheuk/2march2021
World information: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2021/mar/02/coronavirus-live-news-who-says-covid-wont-be-over-this-year-france-and-germany-fight-astrazeneca-concerns?page=with:block-603dd9888f0875da1a29d9af#block-603dd9888f0875da1a29d9af
WHO statement: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/02/coronavirus-crisis-unlikely-to-be-over-by-the-end-of-the-year-who-warns

That’s all for this week. I will be back next week with another update. Until then, please stay safe, wear a mask (or two), and continue to practice social distancing!




Weekly wrap-up of the latest Coronavirus research and news for those who want a one-stop shop for peer-reviewed research findings written in a way that is easy to understand.

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Andrea Geurin

Andrea Geurin

Social scientist with a Ph.D. and a journalism background.

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