For the second time this month, there’s promising news from a COVID-19 vaccine candidate: Moderna said Monday its shots provide strong protection, a dash of hope against the grim backdrop of coronavirus surges in the U.S. and around the world.
Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from the company’s still ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own COVID-19 vaccine appeared similarly effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.
Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, welcomed the “really important milestone” but said having similar results from two different companies is what’s most reassuring.
“That should give us all hope that actually a vaccine is going to be able to stop this pandemic and hopefully get us back to our lives,” Hoge told The Associated Press.
“It won’t be Moderna alone that solves this problem. It’s going to require many vaccines” to meet the global demand, he added.
A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend — 1 million of them recorded in just the past week. The pandemic has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, more than 245,000 of them in the U.S.
Still, if the Food and Drug Administration allows emergency use of Moderna’s or Pfizer’s candidates, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year. Both require people to get two shots, several weeks apart. Moderna expects to have about 20 million doses, earmarked for the U.S., by the end of 2020. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech expect to have about 50 million doses globally by year’s end.
Moderna’s vaccine, created with the National Institutes of Health, is being studied in 30,000 volunteers who received either the real vaccination or a dummy shot. On Sunday, an independent monitoring board broke the code to examine 95 infections that were recorded starting two weeks after volunteers’ second dose — and discovered all but five illnesses occurred in participants who got the placebo.
The study is continuing, and Moderna acknowledged the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 infections are detected and added to the calculations. Also, it’s too soon to know how long protection lasts. Both cautions apply to Pfizer’s vaccine as well.
But Moderna’s independent monitors reported some additional, promising tidbits: All 11 severe COVID-19 cases were among placebo recipients, and there were no significant safety concerns.
The main side effects were fatigue, muscle aches and injection-site pain after the vaccine’s second dose, at rates that Hoge characterized as more common than with flu shots but on par with others such as shingles vaccine.
Moderna shares rocketed higher on the announcement and appeared to be headed for an all-time high Monday. The Cambridge, Massachusetts, company’s vaccine is among 11 candidates in late-stage testing around the world, four of them in huge studies in the U.S.
Both Moderna’s shots and the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate are so-called mRNA vaccines, a brand-new technology. They aren’t made with the coronavirus itself, meaning there’s no chance anyone could catch it from the shots. Instead, the vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.
The strong results were a surprise. Scientists have warned for months that any COVID-19 shot may be only as good as flu vaccines, which are about 50% effective.
Another steep challenge: distributing doses that must be kept very cold. Both the Moderna and Pfizer shots are frozen but at different temperatures. Moderna announced Monday that once thawed, its doses can last longer in a refrigerator than initially thought, up to 30 days. Pfizer’s shots require long-term storage at ultra-cold temperatures.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
'A grim milestone': Alta. positivity rate climbs to 10.5 per cent as Hinshaw reports 1828 cases – CTV Edmonton
After setting new records for daily and active cases and hospitalizations multiple times this week, Alberta broke yet another COVID-19 milestone on Friday.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 1,828 cases of the disease from more than 17,200, equalling Alberta’s highest positivity rate of the pandemic so far: 10.5 per cent.
“This positivity rate is a grim milestone and one that should concern us all,” the chief medical officer said.
“I want to stress the seriousness of the rise in cases numbers we are seeing, and how crucial it is that we reduce the spread and bend the curve back down.”
There are now 18,243 coronavirus cases in Alberta, with 99 of 533 hospital patients in ICU.
The province also reported 15 more COVID-19 deaths, raising the fatal count to 590.
Hinshaw encouraged Albertans to behave this weekend, avoid crowds and opt for curbside pickup, if possible.
“By resisting the urge to socialize this weekend and limiting your close contact with others, you are not only protecting yourself and those closest to you from the virus, but you are playing a critical role in helping to break chains of transmission, which can save lives.”
FIELD HOSPITALS AND CONTACT TRACERS
Alberta Health Services is hiring more contact tracers and planning for the scenario of having to open field hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary in case they need more bed space as cases and hospitalizations see a sharp rise.
AHS president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu, who joined Dr. Hinshaw in Friday’s briefing, said there isn’t a current need for these pop-up hospitals and called it a contingency plan.
“It is clear that Alberta’s healthcare system is under significant stress, given the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province and AHS must prepare for all scenarios. This plan is part of our ongoing proactive pandemic response planning and is one of several initiatives that will ensure our healthcare system can meet increased demand caused by COVID-19.”
AHS is also still looking to hire more contact tracers to keep up with new cases. It currently employs 900 and wants to double up that number by the end of the year.
When new infections saw a large increase in recent weeks, Hinshaw did away with contact tracers calling every new case and asked them to prioritize vulnerable Albertans.
Alberta passes 10 per cent positivity rate, another grim milestone in COVID-19 pandemic – Calgary Herald
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Hinshaw urged Albertans to do their part to reduce the spread this weekend by following public-health orders, including a ban on all indoor social gatherings.
“In a difficult year, I know this last month may be the toughest for many,” she said. “This virus can spread quickly from one in many. In a month usually marked by festive gatherings, we feel the restrictions more keenly.
“If you have not been following the rules or if you know that your behaviour could be a little safer, this is the time to change it. This is the time for staying home and staying safe.”
Another 15 deaths from COVID-19 were reported in Alberta since Thursday, including two in the Alberta Health Services Calgary zone. Seven of the newly reported deaths were from one long-term care facility, the Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre.
In total, 590 Albertans have now died of COVID-19, including 238 in the past 30 days.
Admissions to hospitals and intensive-care units continue to rise in Alberta, with 533 now in hospital with COVID-19, 99 of whom are in ICU. It’s an increase of 22 hospitalizations and two ICU admissions from Thursday.
As rates of infections and hospitalization rise in Alberta, the province is looking at contingency plans for patient care if surge capacity is needed.
Dr. Verna Yiu, CEO of AHS, said the province was making plans to erect field hospitals in both Calgary and Edmonton
“While there is not a current need, it is clear that Alberta’s health-care system is under significant stress given the increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province and AHS must prepare for all scenarios,” Yiu said.
What Will It Feel Like to Get a COVID Vaccine? – Lifehacker
Every vaccine has its side effects, but most are mild and/or rare. If you’ve ever had a sore arm after a flu shot, or even a mild headache or fever, you’ve experienced these. The upcoming coronavirus vaccines will have side effects, too, and they might be a little more severe. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
No COVID vaccine has yet been approved in the U.S., but we’re getting closer. One of the top candidates, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, was just authorized for emergency use in the U.K. and could get a similar approval in the U.S. as early as next week. Another, from Moderna, is also under FDA consideration and could also be approved this month. (In both cases, the FDA will consider the safety and efficacy data and make a decision. There’s no guarantee a vaccine will be approved at all, but available information gives us reason to be hopeful.)
Fever and body aches may be common
Makers of both the top vaccine candidates have said that side effects from the vaccine are mild to moderate, which means (if that’s a complete and accurate statement) that they do not pose a serious safety risk. But mild and moderate side effects can still be uncomfortable.
According to the Pfizer vaccine’s UK label, the following side effects are very common, each affecting more than 10% of people who receive the vaccine: pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, and fever. (Note that it’s not necessarily common to have all of these, just that each one is common individually.)
Up to 1 in 10 people may have redness and swelling at the injection site, or experience nausea. And more rarely, people have reported swollen lymph nodes and “feeling unwell,” whatever that means exactly.
For an example of what this looks like, we can look to a few accounts from volunteers in the trials. One person in a vaccine trial—who doesn’t know for sure if she got the real vaccine or a placebo—told MarketWatch that her arm hurt after she got her injection, making her think she probably got the real vaccine. “The day after I got injected, I felt sluggish and tired, with body aches,” she said. “About three weeks later, I received a second injection. Again, my arm felt sore, looked red at the injection site and I had body aches and fatigue.”
At a recent CDC advisory committee meeting, panelists discussed the importance of people understanding that these side effects can happen. You might end up taking a day off from work if you feel crappy, for example. Hospitals and essential businesses may need to account for this fact and, for example, probably shouldn’t vaccinate their entire ICU staff all at the same time.
Side effects mean it’s working
While it might be annoying to experience these symptoms, they’re not a sign of a problem. Vaccines work by spurring our immune systems to react to the faux invader. Fevers, tiredness, and muscle aches are part of our own bodies’ response to an infection, and a mini version of that response often accompanies a vaccine.
COVID is a severe enough disease that the annoyance of these symptoms is, for most of us, well worth the potential benefit of being protected from a severe infection. But if the vaccine is approved and you decide to get it, it’s important to be aware of the possible effects.
Public health experts are afraid that people who experience fevers or tiredness after their first dose might not want to come back for the second. That’s important because most of the vaccine candidates require two doses for full protection. The UK label for the Pfizer vaccine notes that you shouldn’t consider yourself protected until seven days after the second shot. Since the two doses are given at least three weeks apart, this means your protection won’t begin until a month after the first one.
We’ll probably find out more about the vaccines and their side effects around the time of their respective FDA meetings—Dec. 10 for Pfizer and Dec. 17 for Moderna. Stay tuned.
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