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Solving COVID: 13 January 2021

A new, more transmissible variant of the coronavirus, first discovered in England, is spreading around the U.S. But new research from Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston suggests the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can protect against the new B117 strain. The researchers reported that lab tests on blood samples from 20 vaccinated people showed their antibodies successfully fended off the new strain. The findings are preliminary and haven't yet been reviewed by outside experts, but "it was a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation, which was one of the ones people are most concerned about, does not seem to be a problem" for the vaccine, Pfizer chief scientific officer Dr. Philip Dormitzer told The Associated Press. Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, like most of the others in use worldwide, trains the body to recognize and fight off the spike proteins that the coronavirus uses to infect cells.

BioNTech, the German biotechnology firm that partnered with Pfizer to produce one of the two COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States, is upping its 2021 vaccine delivery target to 2 billion doses, the company announced Monday. Previously, the goal was to distribute 1.3 billion doses, but the use of a special syringe that allows six doses, rather than five, to be extracted from a standard vaccine vial was a driving force in raising the target, Reuters reports. A new production site in Marburg, Germany, will become operational at the end of February, and additional capacity by contractors supplying ingredients and filling the finished substance into vials will contribute to the new distribution goal.

The Trump administration is issuing new guidelines calling on states to open up COVID-19 vaccinations to adults over 65 and all adults at risk of infection due to pre-existing conditions. Additionally, the Trump administration will seek to expand venues where Americans can receive vaccinations and recommend no longer holding back doses of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure Americans can receive a second shot. President-elect Joe Biden's transition team previously announced plans to release almost all available COVID-19 vaccine doses. The new recommendations come amid a slow start to the United States' COVID-19 vaccine rollout and after the Trump administration fell significantly short of its goal of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of 2020.

Britain on Tuesday began a large-scale trial of a new COVID-19 treatment in which patients inhale aerosolized interferon beta proteins into the lungs with a nebulizer. The treatment, developed at Southampton University Hospital and produced by biotech firm Synairgen, cut the odds of COVID-19 patients developing severe symptoms by nearly 80 percent, according to a small phase 2 trial of 100 patients. The new phase 3 study involves more than 600 subjects in 20 countries, half of whom will get the treatment and half a placebo inhalant. The body produces interferon beta to fight off viral infections, but the new coronavirus appears to suppress production of the proteins as part of its mechanism to evade patients' immune responses, BBC News reports. Synairgen hopes a direct shot of aerosolized interferon beta straight to the lungs will provoke a strong anti-viral response. The early results are promising, but experts warn that promising treatments don't always pan out.

Coronavirus is "here to stay" even after the world achieves herd immunity via vaccination, The New York Times reports via a study published Tuesday in Science. While COVID-19 is now often deadly to adults, children have more easily fought it off because they're constantly experiencing pathogens that are new to their bodies. Kids start contracting different coronaviruses that cause the common cold around age 3 to 5, and build up immunity as they're infected again and again over the years. Jennie Lavine, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University, who led the study, told the Times that COVID-19 looks similar to those coronaviruses. So once adults are vaccinated and a few remaining severe coronavirus cases peter out, perhaps years or decades from now, COVID-19 will only live on in the form of a cold-like or asymptomatic infection that affects young children.

Source : The Week Magazine 13 January 2021


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