Silver Bullet May 28 - Long lasting immunity, source of black fungus, P.1 drove Manaus surge
A weekly update on all things COVID-19. News, public health guidance, trends, breakthroughs, and thousands of scientific papers distilled down to what you need to know right now.
CDC mask guidance boosts interest in vaccination
The website vaccines.gov, which connects users to vaccinations in their zip codes, saw an immediate and sustained increase in traffic on May 13, immediately following the CDC’s announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most public places, according to data obtained by CNN. Dr. Anthony Fauci said “The decision that the CDC made was not as an incentive to get people vaccinated, but this could actually have the indirect effect of getting people to be incentivized to get vaccinated.” Actual vaccinations also increased around May 13. Some of that bump is due to teens 12-15 getting vaccinated following the FDA’s authorization of the Pfizer shot for that age group. However, the data also show an increase in vaccinations of people 16 and older, after many weeks of declining numbers. According to a survey by UCLA’s Covid-19 Health and Politics Project, 63% of respondents said that they would be likely to get vaccinated if they no longer had to wear a mask, compared to 50% who would even if they still had to wear a mask, a 13% gain. The difference was even greater among Republicans, among whom only 35% would get the shot if they still had to wear a mask. With the incentive of going without a mask, 53% said they would get vaccinated, or 18% more.
Contaminated swabs may be source of Indian ‘black fungus’ outbreak
A fungal infection of the upper respiratory tract known as mucormycosis or ‘black fungus’ has been spreading swiftly amidst India’s massive Covid-19 surge. The fungus is found in soil, plants, and rotting fruit and vegetables, and can infect people with compromised immune systems. Hundreds of people recovering from Covid-19 in India have been hospitalized with mucormycosis and at least 90 are dead (via CNN). The reason was a mystery, as it does not transmit from person to person. Indian health officials now say that contaminated swabs for RT-PCR Covid-19 testing may be to blame. India does not have quality control for the production and handling of swabs.
Evidence mounts for long-lasting immunity after SARS-CoV-2 infection
Gradual loss of antibodies after COVID-19 infection has been widely reported, suggesting that immunity to the virus may be short-lived. A pair of new studies provides evidence that immunity is, indeed, long-lasting. A study published in Nature shows that although antibodies decline, immunity persists in bone marrow cells and in circulating memory B cells, which are capable of producing specific antibodies to pathogens the body has fought off in the past. They conclude that infection with SARS-CoV-2 does produce a long-lasting immune response. And in a preprint, researchers show that people who have recovered from COVID-19 have a persistent T cell response 6 months later.
The war over airborne transmission
Aerosol expert Barry Hunt breaks down the debate over aerosol transmission of novel coronavirus in his detailed Twitter thread. Early in the pandemic, the World Health Organization and CDC designated COVID-19 as a disease primarily spread by droplets, and secondarily by surface contact (fomites). Those organizations consequently failed to recommend airborne precautions against the virus. As evidence mounted, experts have called for a re-evaluation of the transmission of the virus, to which the CDC recently acquiesced in updated guidance including information about how to prevent airborne transmission.
Moderna touts 100% efficacy in teens for is Covid-19 vaccine
There were no cases of Covid-19 starting 14 days after the second dose of vaccine in a group of adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age, and four cases were reported in the placebo group, says Moderna. Using a different definition of illness that identifies milder disease, the efficacy was 93%.
CDC: mask use and ventilation reduce Covid-19 in schools
A CDC report on SARS-CoV-2 transmission in kindergarten through fifth grade showed that the incidence of illness was 37% lower in schools that required teachers and staff to wear masks, and 39% lower in schools that upgraded their ventilation. The report concludes that these measures, in addition to vaccination, can improve safety in schools.
P.1 confirmed as culprit in Amazonas second wave
Last December, epidemiologists around the world were dismayed by an unexpected and devastating second wave of Covid-19 in the Brazilian state of Amazonas. A new report in Nature Medicine concludes that the more transmissible variant P.1 was behind the surge, along with a lack of efficient social distancing and other pandemic mitigation measures (non-pharmaceutical interventions, or NPIs). “Therefore, our results suggest that weak adoption of NPIs represents a risk for the continuous emergence of new variants,” write the authors.
Vaccines are still effective against Indian variant
Researchers from Public Health England have published a preprint manuscript detailing findings that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against the B.1.617.2 variant, which is the dominant strain in India’s current wave of COVID-19. Two doses of Pfizer vaccine were 87.9% effective, and two doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine were 59.8% effective.
Other science news
Researchers from the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, and the Singapore-based biotech company Gero have published a new study in Nature Communications showing that aging is related to the body’s ability to recover from stress. Using blood tests plus data collected by wearable devices, they found that healthy 40-year olds recover from stress in two weeks, whereas that time lengthens to 8 weeks by the age of 90. This decreasing time to recovery can be linearly extrapolated to between 120 and 150 years, at which point it becomes critical and incompatible with life. This corresponds to a theoretical maximum lifespan. This work offers a potential biomarker for the aging process itself that is independent of age-related disease. Such markers are necessary for testing life-extending therapies.
How could anything developed this quickly be safe? by Moon Nahm, MD
“For many Americans, the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines less than a year after the pandemic began is, quite literally, unbelievable. That skepticism, in turn, is contributing to hesitancy to get the shot — especially among those concerned that the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines rely on messenger RNA, or mRNA, to induce protection. This is the first time that any mRNA vaccine has been approved for human use.
“But the development of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 is no overnight success.”
Op-ed: unmask at your own pace by Taison Bell, MedPage Today
Here’s why this doc got a third vaccine dose by Kristina Fiore, MedPage Today
How to help vaccinated patients navigate FOGO (fear of going out) by Eva Ritvo, Medscape
How the Covid pandemic ends: scientists look to the past to see the future by Helen Branswell, StatNews