Study finds Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may offer COVID protection for years, as Australia struggles to contain delta variant

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MarketWatch 28 June, 2021 - 09:54am 47 views

The study, conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, suggests that people vaccinated with those shots may not need boosters, as long as the virus does not mutate or give rise to new, vaccine-resistant variants. It also found that people who have recovered from COVID before being vaccinated “produced the most robust serologic responses,” showing they enjoy a strong immune response.

The study has been peer-reviewed, according to Nature, although it published it before copy-editing and proofing.

Read:The U.K. has vaccinated 80% of adults but Delta variant cases are surging. Why?

The news comes at a time when many countries are struggling to stop the spread of a highly infectious variant of COVID dubbed the delta variant, which was first detected in India but is now in at least 85 countries, according to the World Health Organization. That variant has created clusters in Australia, in what some experts have described as the nation’s most dangerous stage of the pandemic since the earliest days, as the Associated Press reported.

Australia has been relatively successful in containing clusters throughout the pandemic, registering fewer than 31,000 cases since the pandemic began. But the new clusters have highlighted the nation’s slow vaccine rollout with only 5% of the population fully vaccinated.

In a sign of just how fast the delta variant moves, most of the new cases stem from a Sydney limousine driver who tested positive on June 16. The driver, who was not vaccinated, reportedly drove a foreign air crew from Sydney airport, while not wearing a face mask.

Elsewhere, South Africa has reimposed strict restrictions on movement, extended a nightly curfew and banned alcohol sales as it works to contain a surge of delta-driven cases. South Africa recorded more than 15,000 new cases Sunday, including 122 deaths, bringing its total fatalities to near 60,000, the AP reported.

In Russia, both Moscow and St. Petersburg recorded record deaths in a single day from COVID on Sunday, The Moscow Times reported. Moscow counted 124 deaths, while St. Petersburg counted 110. Russia is also struggling with a wave of delta variant cases and is having a tough time persuading its citizens to get vaccinated. Russia has vaccinated just 11.7% of its population, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

In the U.S., vaccine efforts are now firmly focused on persuading unvaccinated people to roll up their arms and the administration of President Joe Biden is rallying senior officials to push the message home, the AP reported. The government is also devising ads for certain markets and enlisting community organizers, reminding people that the delta variant has also taken hold in the U.S. and is infection many young and unvaccinated people.

“We’re not just going to do the mass vaccination sites,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “It’s door to door. It’s mobile clinics. We’re doing vaccinations at church, the PTA meeting, the barber shop, the grocery store.”

Among adults 18-years-or-older almost 59% are fully inoculated, while 66% have received at least one dose.

Read now: Rethinking your career during the COVID-19 pandemic? You’re not alone

See: Moderna and Pfizer are already developing COVID-19 vaccine boosters. Do we need a third shot?

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness headed above 181 million on Monday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while deaths climbed above 3.9 million.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases at 33.6 million, and by deaths that total 603,967. 

India is second in total cases at 30.3 million and third by fatalities at 396,730, although those numbers are expected to be undercounted given a shortage of tests.

Brazil has the third-highest caseload at 18.4 million, according to JHU data, and is second in deaths at 513,474.

Mexico has fourth-highest death toll at 232,564 and 2.5 million cases.

In Europe, Russia has overtaken the U.K. by deaths. Russia has 131,671 fatalities, while the U.K. has 128,364, making Russia the country with the fifth-highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 103,727 confirmed cases and 4,847 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

Tesla will need to implement a software fix on more than 285,000 cars in China. This may be a big test on whether the auto maker can set things right in the key Asian market.

Ciara Linnane is MarketWatch's investing- and corporate-news editor. She is based in New York.

Read full article at MarketWatch

Fact check: Claims about WHO guidance for vaccinating children are missing context

USA TODAY 28 June, 2021 - 11:02am

Social media posts on the WHO's recommendations for vaccinating children against COVID-19 are misleading.

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First lady Dr. Jill Biden joined up with Dr. Anthony Fauci to visit a pediatric hospital in Washington, D.C. to promote vaccinating young Americans as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic moves into a new stage. (May 20) AP Domestic

Some social media users are sharing purported guidance from the World Health Organization that children should not be vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

The WHO, founded in 1948 as an agency of the United Nations, advises countries on how to respond to global health emergencies. The agency has become a target of misinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

"The WHO Says Children Should Not Receive COVID-19 Vaccines," reads a June 23 Instagram post with more than 1,400 likes. 

On June 22, a Facebook user shared a similar version of the claim, linking to a WHO page that purportedly said, "Children should not be vaccinated for the moment." 

USA TODAY reached out to the Instagram and Facebook users for comment. 

Among those who shared the claim was Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who tweeted, "The WHO says 'children should not be vaccinated.'"

But there is more to the WHO's vaccination guidance than the social media posts suggest. The WHO guidance was less about safety than about availability of the vaccine around the world.

The organization's site has been updated to reflect new information about the Pfizer vaccine for children age 12 and older. 

A June 22 archive of the WHO's site shows the page did at one point say, "Children should not be vaccinated for the moment."

The previous guidance said there was not yet enough evidence on the use of coronavirus vaccine in children to make a general recommendation. 

But the page was updated on June 22 to include a June 15 advisory from the WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts that concluded the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is safe for anyone age 12 or older. 

WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told USA TODAY that children ages 12-15 who are at high risk may be offered this vaccine alongside other priority groups. 

"Children and adolescents tend to have milder disease compared to adults, so unless they are part of a group at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers," Jasarevic said via email. 

The WHO has previously explained that vaccine supply is scarce in certain countries, which is why the agency makes this recommendation.

"Except for very few children who are at a high risk, it is not considered to be a priority right now because we have limited doses of vaccines," WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on June 11.  "We need to use them to protect the most vulnerable." 

The WHO's website still notes more evidence is needed on the use of  COVID-19 vaccines in children before making general recommendations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend the coronavirus vaccine for anyone 12 years of age and older. On May 10, the Pfizer vaccine received emergency use authorization in the U.S. for children 12 and above. 

Dr. Amy Edwards, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Rainbow Babys and Children's Hospital, emphasized that the WHO gives recommendations that are "broadly relevant to the entire world," while the CDC's guidance relates specifically to the U.S., where vaccine supply is not limited.

"They both ultimately say the same thing, kids are safe to be vaccinated with Pfizer between the age of 12 and 18, but they place their emphasis slightly differently because of the population they are addressing," Edwards told USA TODAY via email. 

“We strongly encourage everyone age 12 and older...to get vaccinated, as the benefits of vaccination far outweigh any harm.” Read our full statement with @HHSGov, @CDCgov and others from today’s meeting on myocarditis here: https://t.co/ioyFTK9cLa#VaccinesWork#ThisIsOurShot

Jasarevic said vaccine trials for children are ongoing, and the WHO will update its recommendations "when the evidence or epidemiological situation warrants a change in policy."

The claim that the WHO says children should not be vaccinated against COVID-19 is MISSING CONTEXT, based on our research, because without additional details it could be misleading. The information shared in the social media posts is outdated, and the WHO has updated its site to add that the Pfizer vaccine is safe for people age 12 and older. It is also worth noting that advice from the WHO also applies to countries where vaccine supply is limited. The CDC, meanwhile, currently recommends everyone 12 and older get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

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‘It isn’t over for us’: For those with weakened immune systems, COVID-19 vaccines don’t mean the end of the pandemic

USA TODAY 28 June, 2021 - 11:02am

Dr. Robert Montgomery had several reasons for getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as he could. 

As a transplant surgeon at a busy New York hospital, his patients were among the most vulnerable to the disease. 

The pandemic has exacted a terrible toll on transplant recipients. About 20% of those infected died – almost 2,000 in New York City alone last year compared to just one or two transplant patient deaths in a typical flu season, Montgomery said.

He also is a transplant patient himself. The heart beating inside his 61-year-old chest is not the one he was born with. 

So, Montgomery was doubly distressed when his body failed to mount a detectable response to his two-dose COVID-19 vaccine. 

Although COVID-19 vaccines work incredibly well for the vast majority of people, roughly 10 million Americans whose immune systems are compromised because of medication or disease may not be well protected.

"This isn't over for us," said Michele Nadeem-Baker, who has chronic lymphocytic leukemia that's out of remission. She got two shots of the Moderna vaccine in March and April, but is pretty sure she has no protection against COVID-19. 

For Nadeem-Baker, a patient at Dana-Farber in Boston, the pandemic still looks a lot like it did during the worst of the outbreak: She always wears a mask, keeps her distances, avoids crowds.

"It isn't easy to continue living like this," she said. 

Researchers are not yet sure exactly what an adequate immune response looks like – or what level of protection is enough. And once they figure out who is protected, they need to figure out what to do for people like Montgomery and Nadeem-Baker who aren't.

Montgomery's approach was to sign himself up for a clinical trial testing a third vaccine dose.

For him, it worked. After the third shot, testing as part of the trial showed that his immune system made both protective antibodies and longer-shielding T cells.

It's unclear how many of each is enough to safeguard someone against COVID-19, but Montgomery is satisfied he has at least some protection. 

Not everyone can secure that peace of mind.

"Our patients are freaking out – and rightfully so," Montgomery said. "There's no good guidance out there."

Until results from clinical trials are in, Dr. Dorry Segev at Johns Hopkins Medical Center tells his transplant patients to "get vaccinated, act unvaccinated." 

They should take all the precautions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for people with no protection, such as continuing to wear masks and socially distance, he said. 

When the CDC last month abruptly lifted its mask recommendations for vaccinated people, Segev said, "the world quickly got less safe for immunosuppressed people." It's now far more frightening for transplant recipients to do something as simple as grocery shopping, because they don't know which unmasked person near them is actually safe.

He hopes to soon launch a formal interventional trial, providing a third shot in a clinical setting, where he can ensure safety and track participants' response.

A handful of patients already have started getting extra shots – simply showing up at vaccination centers and not admitting that they've already been vaccinated. It would be far safer, Segev said, for them to get that third dose through a clinical trial. He is now looking for volunteers at transplantvaccine.org.

"It's really important for this to be out there so people know this is happening," he said.

Segev hoped that although transplant patients didn't develop antibodies, they might still have some protection against COVID-19.

Unfortunately, his and other hospitals are starting to admit transplant patients who contracted COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. "That's almost unheard of in the general population," he said. "We're seeing this at a much higher rate in transplantation."

Segev, who recently examined 30 patients who'd had a third shot, said there were no safety issues except in one person who had a low-grade rejection event a week after the final dose. But that problem might have started before the shot. "We don't see a strong signal for it now," he said about possible rejection.

Segev also will look at whether transplant patients who failed to develop a response after two doses of mRNA vaccines – made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna – will fare any better after a booster. (His earlier research suggested that the single J&J vaccine was even less protective for transplant patients than the two-shot vaccines.)

Data can't come in fast enough for people who are worried vaccines may not keep them safe, Montgomery said.

"This is the No.1 problem in our field right now," he said.

Luckily, most other immunocompromised people will get better protection than transplant patients, experts say.

Vaccines appear to be just as safe for them, and most seem to get at least some protection.

The problem is, it's impossible at this point to know how safe someone is. For the general population, which is more than 90% protected by the vaccines, there's no need to worry, experts said.

In everyone, antibodies are likely to decline over time, and it's not clear what level is protective.

Vaccines also generate T cells, often called the soldiers of the immune system, which seem to provide longer-term protection, but there are no commercially available tests to look for them. 

To ensure they are safe, people who are immunocompromised should "build a wall of protection" around themselves, by getting vaccinated and making sure everyone around them also is vaccinated said Dr. Rajesh Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"I don't think we're quite ready to throw caution to the wind," added Dr. Joshua Katz, a neurologist at the Tufts University School of Medicine, also in Boston. He recommends his patients continue to take precautions like masking, and ensuring that people around them are vaccinated. 

Dr. Samir Parekh, a multiple myeloma specialist at The Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai in New York, says immunocompromised patients should talk with their doctor about using accurate antibody testing to identify if they're at particular risk. "We are recommending testing for our myeloma patients who have immune suppression from their cancer as well as chemotherapy treatments," he said.

For patients with irritable bowel disease, vaccines appear to be safe and to provide about 80% protection, which is lower than for totally healthy people but still good, Melmed said.

He runs a registry tracking 1,800 inflammatory bowel disease patients to understand how they react to vaccination. He said it's too soon to know if IBD patients are getting more "breakthrough infections" after vaccination than the general population, but he hasn't seen worse outcomes among his registry members.

Multiple sclerosis patients have been on a "roller coaster ride" for the past year, Katz said, with worries and fears about COVID-19. It turns out they are not an increased risk for catching COVID-19, he said, and vaccination poses no extra risk for someone with the disease.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society encourages everyone with MS to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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Whether vaccination is effective in MS patients seems to depend on which treatment they are on out of the 16-17 available, Katz said. Most people on the drug Mavenclad (cladribine), for instance, were well protected by COVID-19 vaccines, while only about 20% of those on Gilenya (fingolimod) and Ocrevus (ocrelizumab) made antibodies, he said.

Yet in a study of Ocrevus, even those who didn't make antibodies still made extra white blood cells after vaccination, suggesting they got some protection, he said.

For cancer patients, the amount of protection varies by cancer type and where they are in their treatment. 

About 98% of people with solid tumors developed protective antibodies after vaccination, according to one study published this month in the journal Cancer Cell. By comparison, only 85% of blood cancer patients and about 70% of those on strong immune system therapies developed antibodies. 

People should get vaccinated before starting chemotherapy if possible, said Dr. John Zaia, who directs the Center for Gene Therapy at City of Hope, which runs cancer centers in California. If that's not possible, they should delay vaccination until the end of their chemotherapy treatments to get the best response to the shots, he said.

Zaia is leading research into a COVID-19 vaccine developed at City of Hope specifically for cancer patients, using a platform designed for bone marrow transplant patients who lose protection from all vaccines during their transplant. Zaia said he has tested the vaccine so far in 60 healthy people and will next compare its effectiveness against the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

If cancer patients do catch COVID-19, they should consider getting monoclonal antibodies, drugs that help reduce the chances of a severe case of the disease, said Dr. Craig Bunnell, chief medical officer and a breast cancer specialist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. 

Unfortunately, Nadeem-Baker belongs to the group with the least protection from vaccines and the highest risk for catching COVID-19. 

The CDC's decision last month to lift the mask recommendation for those who had been vaccinated made her life worse. Even the unvaccinated took off their masks.

"Dropping the mask mandate heightened my sense of fear," said Nadeem-Baker, a former corporate communications executive-turned blood cancer patient advocate. She's particularly anxious about the variants, which seem to spread more quickly.

The only things she feels comfortable doing, with her doctor's blessing, are taking nature walks or rides with her dog, and dining in the backyard with vaccinated friends. 

Nadeem-Baker wishes strangers would be more understanding of those like her, who have to keep wearing a mask. "We're doing the best we can," she said. "I'm tired of explaining it."

Do you know an immunocompromised individual concerned about COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness? Share this story.

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