New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two highly contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.
Those variants are causing global concern. They both share a common mutation called N501Y, a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus. That change is believed to be the reason they can spread so easily.
Most of the vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine’s ability to do so.
They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.
The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, a key step for medical research.
But “it was a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation, which was one of the ones people are most concerned about, does not seem to be a problem” for the vaccine, said Pfizer chief scientific officer Dr. Philip Dormitzer.
Viruses constantly undergo minor changes as they spread from person to person. Scientists have used these slight modifications to track how the coronavirus has moved around the globe since it was first detected in China about a year ago.
British scientists have said the variant found in the U.K. – which has become the dominant type in parts of England — still seemed to be susceptible to vaccines. That mutant has now been found in the U.S. and numerous other countries.
But the variant first discovered in South Africa has an additional mutation that has scientists on edge, one named E484K.
The Pfizer study found that the vaccine appeared to work against 15 additional possible virus mutations, but E484K wasn’t among those tested. Dormitzer said it is next on the list.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, recently said vaccines are designed to recognize multiple parts of the spike protein, making it unlikely a single mutation could be enough to block them. But scientists around the world are conducting research with different vaccines to find out.
Dormitzer said if the virus eventually mutates enough that the vaccine needs adjusting – much like flu shots are adjusted most years – that tweaking the recipe wouldn’t be difficult for his company’s shot and similar ones. The vaccine is made with a piece of the virus genetic code, simple to switch, although it’s not clear what kind of additional testing regulators would require to make such a change.
Dormitzer said this was only the beginning “of ongoing monitoring of virus changes to see if any of them might impact on vaccine coverage.”
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.
Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press
COVID-19 variant detected at Ontario long-term care home very concerning, public health officials say – CBC.ca
More than 90 per cent of residents at a Barrie, Ont. long-term care home have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday.
At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have been infected, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday.
Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.
Jeremy Taggart found out on Wednesday that his mother, Beryl Taggart, was one of the residents who had tested positive.
Taggart said only two weeks ago they were assured by the home that the outbreak would be contained.
“Now it’s just this heaving cesspool that’s just, ‘Dare go in there and you’re going to get COVID-19,’ I don’t understand,” he said.
Taggart says his mother has not experienced any symptoms yet but he is frustrated with the communication from the home.
“Clearly, they’re overwhelmed. They’re not admitting they’re overwhelmed, I don’t know why. They’ve needed help for two weeks and it’s a disaster and here I am, just kind of sitting and waiting.”
On Thursday, local public health officials said there is cause for concern for the yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at the home.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.
Fifty-five people at the nursing home became ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, said Dr. Colin Lee, the unit’s associate medical officer of health.
The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.
“The problem is that this spreads so quickly to so many people that ultimately you’re going to have a higher chance of more people severely ill and [more] deaths,” Lee said.
‘I can only wish I could turn the clock back’
Lee told CBC Toronto that the first variant case appears to be in a staff member. He said the person did have close contact with someone who travelled outside the country.
“I can only wish I could turn the clock back if we had a vaccine a month before we went in on Saturday. I think this outbreak would be a lot less severe,” Lee said.
There’s a “very high probability” that the variant detected at the home is one of three known COVID-19 variants — strains from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, said Lee.
Public health officials will be carrying out more testing at the home and will be trying to immunize as many residents and staff at the facility as possible, he said.
An earlier immunization effort saw only 21 residents vaccinated as most others were already infected with COVID-19, he said.
“We went in there on Saturday and immunized as many as we could,” he said.
Primary goal is to prevent further spread
The health unit is trying to reach all close contacts of those infected as quickly as possible so they can self-isolate if needed, said Lee.
“One of our primary goals right now is to prevent the spread further, as it gets into households and other hospitals,” Lee said.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical of health, said public health officials will also be stepping up infection prevention and control at the home.
Yaffe said the source of infection is still hard to determine as the outbreak at the home is still under investigation.
“At this point, we know a mutation is in there. The 501 mutation that’s associated with increased transmissibility … We don’t know which mutant it is, or which variant of concern,” she said.
“So it’s hard to say right now how widespread it is because we don’t even know exactly what it is.”
Last week, the Canadian Red Cross was deployed to Roberta Place to help with the growing outbreak.
Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital, along with other local organizations, has also been asked to help manage it.
The Ministry of Long-Term Care said Thursday that it was working with its health partners to ensure staffing levels at the home were sufficient.
“This development underscores the need for everyone to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19 and help protect our long-term care homes, especially as we find more evidence of new variants in our communities,” said spokeswoman Krystle Caputo.
Taggart says he wants Canadian Forces to come in to help his mother and other patients at the facility in the same way the military assisted a number of Ontario long-term care homes during the first wave of the pandemic.
“They had the military in the spring. What the hell is going on? Where are they? Anything! We need all hands on deck,” Taggart said.
Even with new COVID-19 vaccine approvals, rollout won’t increase before April – Global News
The country’s rollout currently depends on vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, both of which are in short supply amid overwhelming global demand.
Canada is set to receive a combined six million doses by the end of March, enough to vaccinate three million Canadians on the vaccines’ respective two-dose regimens.
Federal officials confirmed Thursday that a delay in Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipments to Canada will cause short-term delays across the country. They also released a table showing how many people would be able to be vaccinated with the addition of all of the yet-to-be approved vaccines for which Canada has signed procurement deals.
Vaccine shortage to travel bans, doctor answers top COVID-19 questions
If other vaccines apart from the Pfizer and Moderna products are approved in the coming months, 10 million more Canadians could be vaccinated by the end of June, making for a collective total of 23 million. However, the approvals would not boost supply in Q1, which spans January to March.
Despite hiccups in the supply chain, Canada continues to be “on track” to receive the allotted four million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech by the end of March, deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said.
“We will have enough supply,” Njoo said, highlighting all vaccinations are on track to be completed in Canada by the end of September.
Supply chain expert says countries can learn lessons from COVID-19 vaccine rollout disruptions
Major-General Dany Fortin, head of the country’s vaccine distribution efforts, said despite some provinces being “disproportionately” impacted by the Pfizer-BioNTech shortage, Canada has managed to distribute 1.1 million vaccines across provinces and territories.
Fortin further maintained that such “losses” will in time be “rebalanced” once the supply picks up.
Canada has administered some 700,000 shots – that accounts for roughly 1.7 per cent of the population who have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna products. In Ontario, about 40,000 people have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
Meanwhile, Health Canada regulators are still reviewing clinical trial data for both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson products. Three other vaccine candidates included in Thursday’s vaccine supply projection are not yet in the rolling review phase.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Vaccine delay left Barrie’s Roberta Place home vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreak – The Globe and Mail
The slow rollout of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination program to people living and working in the province’s virus-ravaged nursing homes has left one facility where an unidentified variant has been detected vulnerable to a devastating outbreak.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit got the go-ahead to roll up its mobile immunization unit to Roberta Place last Saturday – days after an outbreak began ripping through the long-term care home in Barrie, north of Toronto, infecting nearly every resident.
Colin Lee, Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officer of health, said residents and staff should have received the vaccine well before the outbreak began.
Vaccine maker Moderna delivered 168,000 doses to Canada at the end of December. The Ontario government earmarked the Moderna vaccine for Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex, the four areas with the highest COVID-19 transmission rates.
Dr. Lee told reporters on Thursday that the four regions received the Moderna doses that were destined for Simcoe Muskoka. “We were planning to go straight to the long-term care homes with it,” he said.
Health authorities say an unidentified variant of COVID-19 is behind the outbreak at Roberta Place, which began on Jan. 8 after one staff member tested positive during routine screening.
The staffer was in close contact with someone who travelled internationally, but not to the United Kingdom, Brazil or South Africa. Dr. Lee said the staffer’s swab is one of six that contains an unidentified variant. It’s a “very, very high probability,” he said, that the variant will turn out to be the strain from one of those three countries.
Forty-eight hours after the outbreak began, 55 residents and staff were sickened with the virus. As of Thursday, 122 of the home’s 130 residents had tested positive for COVD-19, including 25 who have died. Another 72 staff and two essential visitors were also sickened with the virus.
The health unit immunized 21 residents on Saturday with the Pfizer vaccine, but testing subsequently revealed that most of them were already infected with COVID-19, Dr. Lee said.
“Unfortunately, the ability to move the vaccine came a little bit late,” he said.
The health unit has a small amount of the Pfizer vaccine, which it must juggle between administering a second dose to long-term care residents and staff who’ve received their first shot and to those in retirement homes, who have yet to be vaccinated, Dr. Lee said.
“There are some difficult choices we have to make,” he said.
Fourteen cases of a COVID-19 variant have been found in Ontario as of Jan. 16, according to the province’s weekly epidemiologic summary. Roberta Place is the first known case of a highly contagious variant finding its way into a long-term care home in Canada – a sector that has been hard hit by the coronavirus.
Ontario has deemed residents of long-term care homes the province’s most vulnerable citizens. To date, 3,256 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19.
These residents were supposed to be at the front of the line for the vaccine. An expert committee that advises the Public Health Agency of Canada on immunization recommended that the first shots go into the arms of residents and staff in long-term care homes.
But in Ontario, that is not what has happened. The first dose of a vaccine has made its way to only 40 per cent of the province’s 626 long-term care homes, according to Alexandra Hilkene, press secretary for Health Minister Christine Elliott.
In addition to the Moderna vaccine, Canada has also approved one made by Pfizer. Ontario opted to distribute its first doses of the Pfizer shot only through hospitals with access to freezers capable of keeping vials at -70 C, as the vaccine maker suggested.
“I can only wish I could turn the clock back,” Dr. Lee said. “If we had vaccines a month before we went in on Saturday, I think this outbreak would be a lot less severe.”
With a report from Laura Stone in Toronto
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