COVID-19 News: New Variants, Third Doses and More


Continuing studies and news about COVID-19 around the world keeps coming in. Here’s a look.

Israel: Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Protection Drops, Stays High in Serious Illness

Israel reported that the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine appeared to drop in preventing infections and symptomatic disease but was still highly effective in preventing severe illness. This change seemed to coincide with the rise of the delta (Indian) variant and the dropping of social distancing restrictions in the country. 

Since June 6, the Israeli Health Ministry said that vaccine effectiveness in preventing infection and symptomatic disease dropped 64% but were 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations and serious illness.

The Question of Immune Problems and a 3rd Vaccine Dose

People with weakened immune systems tend not to respond as effectively to vaccines, and COVID-19 vaccines are no exception. There have been instances where people with these immune problems receive a third dose, which appears to do the trick. 

Since April, France has routinely dosed people with certain immune disorders a third dose of a two-dose vaccine. For example, a French research report noted that organ transplant recipients who received the third dose had their antibodies against the virus increased from 40% to 68% four weeks after receiving the third dose. 

This does not seem to have caught on in the U.S., with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommending against event testing for antibody levels. Yet several academic scientists believe there should be studies evaluating the problem.

Yet Another Variant, Lambda, Raising Concern

The World Health Organization (WHO) is raising concerns over yet another COVID-19 variant, Lambda, which was first detected in Peru approximately one year ago. Researchers are concerned Lambda might be resistant to existing COVID-19 vaccines. WHO has dubbed it a “variant of interest.”

“So far we have seen no indication that the lambda variant is more aggressive,” said Jairo Mendez-Rico, a WHO virologist. “It is possible that it may exhibit higher infection rates, but we don’t yet have enough reliable data to compare it to gamma or delta.”

The existing COVID-19 vaccines, however, appear to still be effective against the Lambda variant.

Celltrion’s Antibody Treatment Regkirona Effective Against Brazilian Gamma Variant

Celltrion reported that its COVID-19 antibody therapy, Regkirona, showed efficacy against the gamma variant that originated in Brazil. The study was in 55 laboratory mice infected with the gamma variant. 

“We confirmed virus removal efficacy even when administering Regkirona at a lower dose than the human therapeutic dose, and the survival rate of the Regkirona-administered group was 100%, while the control group’s survival rate was 0%,” the company stated.

Giving COVID-19 to Your Pets

Two recent studies, which have yet to be published or peer-reviewed, suggest that people with COVID-19 can spread it to their dogs and cats, especially if they share a bed with the cats. The animals typically have no or mild symptoms, although a few cases might have been severe diseases. 

The studies will be presented at the virtual European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) from July 9 to 12. The concern isn’t for the pets, who rarely have symptoms, but the possibility of pets becoming reservoirs of the virus and might reintroduce it to human populations. However, no data of pet-to-human transmission has been reported.

Britain Projects Daily COVID-19 Cases this Summer at 100,000

Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid recently told BBC Radio that COVID-19 cases numbers were currently about 25,000 per day, but were expected to double ahead of a July 19 deadline to lift restrictions. But as they go into summer, with the delta variant surging and social distancing and other restrictions dropping, he thinks the cases could go as high as 100,000 per day. That’s a definitely pessimistic projection, because even at its worst in January, daily cases never went higher than 60,000 per day. He did point out, however, that the number of diagnosed cases wasn’t as important as the number of hospitalizations and deaths, which vaccination efforts have dramatically decreased. “Just to put a number on that — at the moment, we are seeing around 25,000 new cases a day. The last time we saw numbers like that, we sadly had deaths of around 500 a day. And now we are at about one-thirtieth of that,” Javid said.

FDA Authorizes J&J Vaccine Batch After Safety Review

The FDA authorized another batch of the main ingredient of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine after a safety review. This ingredient was manufactured at a Baltimore facility run by Emergent BioSolutions. An earlier problem at the facility ruined several previous batches and resulted in a broad safety review and the shifting of manufacturing of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine (not authorized for distribution in the U.S.) to a different facility. So far, the FDA has authorized four batches of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine substance produced at the Emergent facility, or enough for about 40 million doses.

Oxford University: Longer Time Between AstraZeneca Shots Still Provides Protection

A study from Oxford University found that a longer time between doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine can still provide protection. WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said this was “very reassuring” for countries with problems with the supply of the vaccine. The study found that the second dose could be delayed up to 45 weeks and still provide an enhanced immune response.

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