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Solving COVID: December 9, 2020

9 December 2020


Britain begins COVID-19 vaccination drive with 90-year-old grandmother


The U.K. started immunizing its general population against COVID-19 on Tuesday morning, and the first person vaccinated in the campaign was Margaret Keenan, a grandmother who turns 91 next week. "I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against COVID-19," Keenan said after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry. "It's the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year." Britain last week became the first country to approve Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. It has secured 800,000 doses of the vaccine so far — enough for 400,000 inoculations with the two-dose vaccine — and expects 4 million more doses by the end of the month. The U.S. government expects to grant emergency-use authorization for the same vaccine later this week.


Biden promises 100 million coronavirus vaccine shots in 1st 100 days


President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday said his administration would administer 100 million coronavirus vaccination shots and reopen most schools during its first 100 days. Biden also repeated his vow to mandate mask use in airliners, federal buildings, and other places controlled by the government. "As a new president, I'm going to speak directly to the American people," Biden said during a Delaware event where he introduced his picks to lead health agencies and the federal coronavirus response. "We need your help. Wear a mask for 100 days. It's the easiest thing you can do to reduce COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths." Biden was joined by his surgeon general pick Vivek Murthy, and Jeffrey Zients, who will coordinate the Biden administration's coronavirus response.


U.K. will test 'mix and matching' COVID-19 vaccines next year


Britain began administering Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to the public Tuesday morning, and assuming U.K. regulators approve another vaccine in the near future, scientists will soon start testing different combinations of vaccines rather than just two shots of the same one, British officials said. The mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna work differently than a vaccine produced by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and the goal is to produce the most robust immune response. "Mix and matching" vaccines, or a heterogeneous boost approach, is "an established process," Kate Bingham, the outgoing head of Britain's vaccine task force, said Tuesday. "It's not being done because of supplies," but rather "trying to trigger the immune response and the durability." Oxford's vaccine, made from a modified chimp cold virus, prompts a strong T-cell response, while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines trigger larger antibody responses. "So you do a prime with one vaccine and then the second — whether it's 28 days or two months or whatever the agreed periods would be — would be with a different vaccine," Bingham said.


Coronavirus vaccines may be less effective for Black and Asian recipients, MIT study suggests


Coronavirus vaccines, including those from Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca, could be less effective at preventing coronavirus infection in Black and Asian people than in white recipients, a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology indicates. All three of those vaccines' phase III trials showed they were more than 90 percent effective. But an artificial intelligence examination of a similar vaccine found a lack of diversity in the trial pools may have led developers to calibrate the vaccine to white people's genes. While less than .5 percent of white trial participants didn't respond strongly to the similar vaccine, nearly 10 percent of Asian participants did not, the study found. Developers could solve this by "adding a small number of additional COVID-19 peptides to a given dose of the vaccine," MIT suggested.


Newly-developed blood test could predict severity of COVID-19 infections


Scientists have developed a blood test that could help doctors predict whether a COVID-19 patient may need intensive care — or perhaps even how likely they are to survive the infection — shortly after they develop symptoms, per The Guardian. The team of scientists initially identified 27 proteins in the blood of COVID-19 patients that were present at different levels depending on symptom severity, and since then they've followed 160 patients who had their blood tested to determine if their protein signature could predict the progression of their illness. If the hypothesis is validated in hospital settings, the test could prove crucial in helping doctors choose whether to provide life-saving treatment in the early stages of infection. The coronavirus has proved challenging because some patients will sometimes report feeling relatively well and then rapidly deteriorate, so the blood test could potentially help catch those cases.

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