Solving COVID: October 28, 2020

The Week Staff
·3 min read

1.

A new study that will be published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine found an 18 percentage point decline in mortality among hospitalized COVID-19 patients since March. Another study that will be published in Critical Care Medicine found that the COVID-19 death rate among hospitalized patients in England declined 20 percentage points since the peak of the pandemic. A number of factors may be at play, NPR reports, including doctors improving their ability to treat COVID-19 patients and mask-wearing potentially helping lessen the severity of cases. But Leora Horwitz, one of the authors on the first study, noted that the COVID-19 death rate is "still higher than many infectious diseases, including the flu," and this "does not make the coronavirus a benign illness." [NPR]

2.

Reopening schools doesn't seem to be a major contributor to coronavirus community spread, data from random testing in the U.S. and Britain reveals. That's especially true of elementary schools, the data shows. While it's true that children can and have been infected with COVID-19 and can transmit the virus to adults, it seems they aren't the ones driving coronavirus spikes across the two countries, experts who've seen the data say. The risks among children in middle and high schools are less clear, and there are still more research and protection efforts needed to reopen schools. But with strong safety measures in place, and a plan to shut down if case numbers rise, experts agree younger children can slowly return to school.

3.

Coronavirus vaccine trials conducted by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are preparing to resume, the pharmaceutical companies said. Both studies were put on hold after two volunteers who received AstraZeneca's vaccine candidate developed a possible neurological side effect, and another person who received J&J's shot reportedly suffered a stroke. AstraZeneca said the trial's independent monitoring committees and international regulators agreed it was safe to resume the trial. The Food and Drug Administration reportedly did not find the vaccine to be responsible for the neurological symptoms, but the agency was also unable to definitively rule out a link. Similarly, investigators concluded the J&J volunteer's illness did not appear to be related to the vaccine, although there was "no clear cause" of the incident.

4.

AstraZeneca announced Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine in development with the University of Oxford has produced a similar immune response in both younger and older adults. The vaccine also results in low adverse responses among older people, the pharmaceutical giant said. That's a standout response considering COVID-19 tends to be more severe in older patients. Several dozen coronavirus vaccines are in the works around the globe, with AstraZeneca's one of many undergoing clinical testing. It's unclear when AstraZeneca will publish the results of its large ongoing trial that will help determine its vaccine's safety, but it is expected to be one of the first vaccine candidates to seek regulatory approval. [CNBC, Reuters]

5.

A study found that workers at Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands who received a flu shot during the 2019-20 season were 39 percent less likely than their colleagues to test positive for the coronavirus as of June 1, 2020. The Radboud research team also conducted a laboratory experiment in which they took blood cells from healthy individuals, purified them, and exposed some of them to a flu vaccine. After allowing the cells to grow for a few days, the researchers exposed them to the coronavirus. A day later they found that the vaccinated cells produced more of several kinds of immune molecules that fight off pathogens than those that were initially left alone. The research is preliminary and has not yet been peer-reviewed. It would require larger clinical trails, which may not be ethically feasible since a control group would be compelled to forego a flu shot. [Scientific American]

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