2021 COVID-19 News: COVID-19 Possible Spread in Vehicles, US to Share AZ's COVID-19 Vaccine Globally, and More

CV Update_April 27_2021

News information is not all-inclusive and updates are published once a week on Tuesdays.

Here's a look at some of the top COVID-19 news over the past week. 

New studies indicate that COVID-19 might possibly be spread through aerosols in passenger cars and vans. One study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that van drivers in Cleveland most likely spread COVID-19 to their passengers. In two separate trips using the same van, limited ventilation was used while windows were closed and heaters were operated. During the ride, fluorescent microspheres were transported by airflow from the front to the back of the van.  In another study, published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, researchers at the University of Florida instructed a driver with mild COVID-19 not to wear a mask while running air conditioning with the windows closed. Scientists detected the driver transmitted infectious viral RNA 0.25 to 0.5 micrometers while driving the car for 15 minutes. 

As reported by Reuters, the U.S. plans to share up to 60 million of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine doses to others counties. This should happen as soon as next week.

As vaccinations against COVID-19 continue across the U.S., there appears to be an increase in cases in younger populations. The cause may be that this is the part of the population that has not received vaccines in general. 

As a massive COVID-19 surge continues to rage on throughout India, scientists and public health officials scramble to determine whether currently authorized vaccines in the country can provide a mitigation effect to this unprecedented spread. A new study published online has provided some hope, with researchers suggesting that the Covaxin vaccine, developed by Bharat Biotech and Pennsylvania-based Ocugen, could neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 variant leading the second wave in India.

Ocugen’s plan to bring a COVID-19 vaccine developed by India-based Bharat Biotech later this year remains on track following an interim analysis of Phase III data that shows the vaccine demonstrated a 78% efficacy against mild to moderate infection and 100% efficacy against severe COVID-19.

Sanofi will use its manufacturing capabilities to support the development of 200 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine beginning in September. The company is boosting the number of authorized vaccines while researching the development of its own preventative medicines. Sanofi’s partnership with Moderna marks the third vaccine program the France-based company is backing with manufacturing. 

On Friday, April 23, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lifted the restrictions on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The announcement came after the FDA’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met for a second time to discuss the data. They decided that the benefits outweighed the risks.

Leaked documents from provincial and municipal governments in China reveal a slew of previously unreported severe adverse events related to COVID-19 vaccines made and administered in China. Tellingly, one of the documents listing the reactions came with an admonishment to not share that news with the public, according to a report in The Epoch Times.

A new study suggests that many patients with long-term COVID-19 symptoms still experience health issues six months following infection, are survivors with "long haul" disease have a greater risk of dying and use a more significant number of medications than patients who have fully recovered from the virus. This new study, which enrolled over 74,000 veterans, represents the largest studies to date that featured "COVID-19 long haulers" – people who still experience symptoms for weeks or months following the onset of initial symptoms. 

Swiss biotech company Molecular Partners announced it has filed for a $100 million initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S., funding which will go toward supporting the company's work in the development of protein-based treatments for COVID-19 and various cancers. 

One of the mysteries of COVID-19 is why people have such different responses to the disease, with some being asymptomatic, some with mild syndromes, and others who get severe disease. Researchers with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and several other universities culled data from the Human Cell Atlas to analyze cells in COVID-19 patients. They performed single-cell sequencing from approximately 800,000 individual immune cells, as well as detailed analysis of cell surface proteins and antigen receptors on immune cells in the blood. They found differences in several types of immune cells involved in the response to COVID-19 infection. They published their research in the journal Nature Medicine.

Two new studies point to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines as effective against variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Both studies suggest the antibodies stimulated by the vaccines are only slightly less potent against the variants than against the Wuhan wildtype strain.

Inovio announced plans for a primarily ex-U.S. Phase III trial of INO-4800, its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. 

Roche has culled two more Phase II COVID-19 programs. The Swiss pharma giant quietly announced the cuts this morning in a breakdown of its first quarterly financial report. Roche said it removed a monoclonal antibody licensed from Amgen, as well as an IL-22 inhibitor, both of which were being assessed against COVID-19-related pneumonia.

A small study by researchers in Israel published in the journal Rheumatology identified six cases of patients developing herpes zoster rashes (shingles) after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The study found six cases out of 491 people, or 1.2%. A total of six patients had mild cases of autoimmune inflammatory rheumatic diseases. All were under the age of 50. Several media outlets, including Fox News, have inferred with their headlines that herpes infections and shingles infections may be linked to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This is a gross and misleading description of the study.

Italian researchers from the University of Genoa, University Hospital San Luigi, University of Bari and numerous others presented a study on the use of interferon in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. They found that using interferon might reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 in these patients, while anti-CD20 therapies may increase the risk.

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