A woman with HIV had the coronavirus for 216 days. The virus mutated at least 30 times inside her.

South Africa vaccination
A woman, who is not related to this story, receiving a coronavirus vaccine in Johannesburg, South Africa.

  • A woman living with HIV was found to carry the novel coronavirus for seven months, a new study said.
  • Scientist detected 32 mutations to the virus, including some seen in variants of concern.
  • It suggests that HIV could contribute to variant evolution, but probably in exceptional cases.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A 36-year-old woman with advanced HIV carried the novel coronavirus for 216 days, during which the virus accumulated more than 30 mutations, a new study has found.

The case report, which has not been peer-reviewed, was published as a preprint on medRxiv on Thursday.

The woman, who has not been named, was identified as a 36-year-old living in South Africa.

The coronaviruses gathered 13 mutations to the spike protein, which is known to help the virus escape the immune response, and 19 other mutations that could change the behavior of the virus.

It is not clear whether the mutations she carried were passed on to others, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Some of these mutations have been seen in variants of concern, such as:

  • The E484K mutation, which is part of the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7, which was first seen in the UK).
  • The N510Y mutation, which is part of the Beta variant (B.1.351, which was first seen in South Africa).

If more such cases are found, it raises the prospect that HIV infection could be a source of new variants simply because the patients could carry the virus for longer, Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban and the study’s author, told the LA Times.

But it is probably the exception rather than the rule for people living with HIV, because prolonged infection requires severe immunocompromise, Dr. Juan Ambrosini, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Barcelona, told Insider. Indeed, the woman in the case study was immunosuppressed.

The findings are important for the control of COVID-19 because these patients could be a continuous source of transmission and evolution of the virus, Ambrosini said.

Immunosuppressed patients could carry the coronavirus longer than others

This case could easily have gone unnoticed, de Oliveira told the LA Times.

This was because after the woman was treated in the hospital for her initial symptoms, she displayed only mild symptoms of COVID-19, even though she was still carrying the coronavirus, de Oliveira said.

Scientists only spotted this case because she was enrolled in a study of 300 people with HIV looking at their immune response to COVID-19.

The researchers also found that four other people with HIV had carried the coronavirus for longer than a month, they told the LA Times.

Only one other case of a person with HIV carrying the coronavirus for a prolonged period of time had been published previously.

Some patients who have been immunosuppressed for other reasons have been seen to carry the coronavirus for prolonged periods of time, Ambrosini told Insider. For instance, he said, there have been reported cases of people with kidney transplants testing positive for almost a year.

The finding could be of particular importance for Africa, which had 20.6 million people living with HIV in 2020. The WHO on Friday warned that a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases could turn into a continentwide third wave of COVID-19.

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 coronavirus variants can make people sicker or spread faster, including the variant first found in India. Here’s what variants are, and why experts are so concerned about them.

people wearing masks coronavirus US
People wearing masks in Del Mar, California.

  • There are four coronavirus variants that experts around the world are particularly worried about.
  • These variants were first identified in South Africa, the UK, Brazil, and India respectively.
  • Others coronavirus variants have concerning features, but it’s not yet clear they’re more dangerous.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several coronavirus variants have evolved mutations that mean they spread more easily, make people sicker, escape immune responses, evade tests, or render treatments ineffective.

These are called “variants of concern” by the World Health Organization, and there are four that have spread to the US, including the variant first found in India.

There are various other variants that may have troubling features, which experts are looking into. These are called “variants under investigation.”

They differ from the original virus strain in a number of key ways.

Variants of concern

Alpha (B.1.1.7, first found in the UK)

coronavirus hospital UK
A nurse works on a patient in the ICU in London hospital, UK on January 7, 2020.

Alpha was first detected in two people in south-east England. It was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 14.

It has been identified in 136 countries worldwide, including the US, where there are more than 20,000 reported cases, according to the CDC. It became the most common variant in the US on April 7. Tennessee has the highest proportion of Alpha cases of any state, accounting for 82% of sequenced cases.

Alpha is between 30% to 50% better at spreading from person to person than other coronavirus variants, according to UK scientists.

Alpha could be more deadly, but we don’t know for sure

Alpha could be more deadly. The UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) reported a model on January 21 that showed someone infected with Alpha is 30% to 40% more likely to die than someone with a different variant.

Community-based studies in England, Scotland and Denmark showed that infection with Alpha in the community causes a higher risk of severe disease requiring hospital treatment and death.

But there is a lot of uncertainty around the numbers. Two studies published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases and the Lancet Public Health on April 13 indicated that Alpha was more infectious, but didn’t cause worse illness in hospitalized patients.

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca all appear to protect against Alpha.

Beta (B.1.351, first identified in South Africa)

COVID-19, South Africa
Health worker Vuyiseka Mathambo takes a nasal swab from a patient to test for COVID-19 at a Masiphumelele community centre in Cape Town, South Africa on July 23, 2020.

Beta was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples dating back to the beginning of October 2020. It was reported to the WHO on December 18.

It has been found in 92 countries, including the US, where there are 453 cases reported across 36 states and jurisdictions according to the CDC

Beta is thought to be 50% more contagious than the original strain, according to South African health officials.

It’s not thought to be more deadly. But there is evidence from South Africa that when hospitals came under pressure because of the variant’s spread, the risk of death increased.

Beta may evade the body’s immune response

The variant may evade the body’s immune response, data suggests. Antibodies work best when they attach snugly to the virus and stop it from entering our cells. Beta has mutations called E484K and K417N at the site where antibodies latch on. In early lab tests, antibodies produced by Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines couldn’t attach as well to Beta, compared to the original coronavirus.

In a real-world Qatari study reported on May 6, Pfizer’s vaccine was 75% effective at preventing infection of varying severity caused by Beta after two doses.

And another real-world study from Israel published on April 10 suggested that Pfizer’s vaccine provided less protection against Beta than the original coronavirus. But it was focused on those who have already tested positive for the virus, not total infection rates, so we can’t draw firm conclusions.

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was 64% effective at preventing COVID-19 in trials in South Africa, where 95% infections are caused by Beta, and 72% effective in the US, where Beta accounts for less than 1% of sequenced coronavirus tests.

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine didn’t prevent mild to moderate disease caused by Beta in a trial, and we don’t yet know if AstraZeneca’s shot still protects against severe illness caused by the variant.

It is unlikely that vaccines will become completely useless against the variant. Existing vaccines could be updated and tailored to a new variant within weeks or months, or you may require a booster shot.

Gamma (P.1, first identified in Brazil)

brazil coronavirus
A COVID-19 patient is rushed into a hospital in Brasilia, Brazil on January 11, 2021.

Gamma was first detected in four people in Japan, who had traveled from Brazil on January 2. It was identified by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases on January 6, and reported to the WHO that weekend.

It has been found in 51 countries worldwide, including the US, where there have been 497 cases in 31 states, according to the CDC

Gamma is twice as contagious as the original coronavirus – it was initially detected in Amazonas, north-west Brazil, on December 4, and by January 21, 91% of people with COVID-19 in the region were infected with P.1, according to the WHO.

Gamma has similar E484K and K417T mutations as B.1.351, which means it can evade antibody responses.

This could be the reason Gamma reinfects people who have already caught coronavirus – a study published April 14 showed that previous coronavirus infection only offered between 54% and 79% of the protection for P.1 than for other virus strains.

Gamma’s mutations could also mean that vaccines work less well.

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca probably work against Gamma. Moderna’s hasn’t been tested. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was 68% effective in trials in Brazil, where the variant is the most common strain, compared with its 72% efficacy in the US, where Gamma at the time accounted for 0.1% of sequenced coronavirus tests.

Delta (B.1.617.2, first identified in India)

india coronavirus
Mumbai Police personnel are tested for the coronavirus on October 15, 2020.

Delta is more infectious than the original virus – it’s as least as contagious as Alpha, according to UK data.

Delta remains a “variant of interest,” according to the CDC.

Its mutations include:

  • L452R: May make the virus more infectious or it may avoid the antibody response.
  • P681R: May make it more infectious.

Real-world data from the UK found that both AstraZeneca’s and Pfizer’s vaccines were highly effective against symptomatic COVID-19 caused by Delta when two doses were given. We don’t have enough data on how well COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna or Johnson&Johnson protect against Delta.

No studies to date have found that Delta is deadlier than earlier versions of the virus.

Variants of interest

Epsilon (B.1.427/B.1.429, first identified in California)

pfizer covid 19 vaccine distribution
Medical assistant April Massaro gives a first dose of Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to nurse Alice Fallago at Desert Valley Hospital on Thursday, December 17, 2020 in Victorville, California.

Epsilon consists of two slightly different mutated forms of the virus, called B.1.427 and B.1.429. It is also called CAL.20C, using another naming system. It was first found in California in July and has now been detected across the US and elsewhere, including in Australia, Denmark, Mexico, and Taiwan, according to the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID).

Epsilon is estimated to be about 20% more infectious than the original coronavirus. This is likely because of a mutation called L452R mutation, which in early lab studies was shown to help the virus infect cells.

COVID-19 vaccines haven’t yet been tested against this variant specifically. But early lab experiments showed that antibodies produced by previous COVID-19 infections worked only half as well against the variant as they did with the original coronavirus strain.

The CDC considers Epsilon a “variant of concern”, which means the CDC experts consider that there’s enough evidence that its mutations change its behavior. It remains a “variant under investigation” according to the WHO.

Read more:Experts explain why the mRNA tech that revolutionized COVID-19 vaccines could be the answer to incurable diseases, heart attacks, and even snake bites: ‘The possibilities are endless’

Zeta (P.2, first identified in Brazil)

Zeta was first detected in Brazil in April 2020. It’s a “variant of interest” because it has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades antibody responses. Less than 0.1% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US are Zeta, according to the CDC.

Eta (B.1.525, identified in multiple countries)

covid scientist lab coronavirus testing samples
Scientists work in a lab testing COVID-19 samples at New York City’s health department, April 23, 2020.

Eta was detected in multiple places including the UK, Nigeria and New York in December 2020. It has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades the antibody response. Eta accounts for 0.3% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US, according to the CDC.

Theta (P.3, first identified in the Philippines)

Theta was first detected in the Philippines in February. Theta has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades the immune response. Theta hasn’t yet been detected in the US.

Iota (B.1.526, first identified in New York)

Iota was detected in New York in November 2020. It’s a “variants of interest” because it has mutations that may mean it can escape antibody responses. B.1.526 accounts for less than 8% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US, according to the CDC.

Kappa (B.1.617.1, first found in India)

Kappa was first found in India in October 2020. It may have mutations that mean it can evade tests. It accounts for less than 0.1% of sequenced coronavirus cases in the US, according to the CDC.

Human behavior can help stop them spreading

AOC Elbow bump Houston Food Bank February 20201.JPG
Ocasio-Cortez elbow bumps a volunteer at the Houston Food Bank.

The WHO has said that everyone should double down on precautions that stop the spread of variants, such as social distancing, hand-washing, mask wearing, and avoiding crowds.

“Human behavior has a very large effect on transmission – probably much larger than any biological differences in SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, told Insider.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Activists ask MacKenzie Scott to help fund their efforts to stop Amazon from building its Africa headquarters on sacred native land

mackenzie scott
MacKenzie Scott and Jeff Bezos divorced in 2019.

  • Activists in South Africa asked MacKenzie Scott to help them block Amazon from building on sacred lands.
  • Indigenous Khoi leaders say Amazon’s planned Africa headquarters would have harmful environmental and cultural impacts.
  • The group also wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, but said he hasn’t responded.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Barely two years after Amazon faced backlash over its elaborate public search for a “second” headquarters, the company’s plans to build its Africa headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa, are coming under fire.

This time, indigenous activists and other local community groups have criticized Amazon’s plans to set up its new campus on land that is environmentally and culturally sacred to the first nation Khoi people.

One of those groups, the Observatory Civic Association, is turning to a high-profile source for help in their fight to block the Amazon-led development: MacKenzie Scott, who divorced Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2019.

“We appeal to you to intervene to bring Amazon to its senses,” OCA chairperson Leslie London wrote in an open letter to Scott, adding: “If you wish to assist our struggle for justice in the courts, we will welcome your financial assistance.”

London said the group, which has partnered with more than 60 Khoi and other NGOs and civic groups, also wrote to Bezos, but that he didn’t respond.

Scott and Bezos could not be reached, and Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

The backlash concerns a planned mixed-use development in Cape Town called The River Club, which would span roughly 37 acres, with Amazon set to be the main tenant, according to South African news site IOL. While Cape Town city officials approved an initial concept for the project, it has faced fierce criticism from many native Khoi groups, according to the OCA’s letter and various media reports.

London wrote in her letter the proposed development disregards the history of the land, where the Khoi fought against colonial expeditions and land grabs by the Portuguese and Dutch.

“We think [Scott] can influence Bezos and Amazon to avoid making the biggest business mistake of their lives. Amazon will forever and irrevocably be associated with modern-day colonial dispossession,” London told IOL.

Other tech billionaires, such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have faced criticism for attempts to acquire land originally occupied by indigenous people, with critics calling such moves examples of “neocolonialism.”

But the OCA said Amazon’s proposed headquarters also poses serious environmental concerns and would violate Cape Town’s established climate resilience policies, since it would involve pouring 150,000 square metres of concrete into a flood plain. (Concrete infilling can exacerbate the flood damage caused by heavy storms, for example, like what happened in Houston, Texas, during Hurricane Harvey).

The proposal as it currently stands, London wrote, “must surely be of deep concern to anyone who believes in a world where environmental protection, justice and heritage, particularly for First Nation groups, should be adequately considered in development decisions.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

4 coronavirus variants can make people sicker or spread faster, including the variant first found in India. Here’s why experts are so concerned about mutant strains.

people wearing masks coronavirus US
People wearing masks in Del Mar, California.

  • There are four coronavirus variants that experts around the world are particularly worried about.
  • These variants were first identified in South Africa, the UK, Brazil, and India respectively.
  • Others coronavirus variants have concerning features, but it’s not yet clear they’re more dangerous.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several coronavirus variants have evolved mutations that mean they spread more easily, make people sicker, escape immune responses, evade tests, or render treatments ineffective.

These are called “variants of concern” by the World Health Organization, and there are four that have spread to the US, including the variant first found in India.

There are various other variants that may have troubling features, which experts are looking into. These are called “variants under investigation.”

They differ from the original virus strain in a number of key ways.

Variants of concern

B.1.1.7, first found in the UK

coronavirus hospital UK
A nurse works on a patient in the ICU in London hospital, UK on January 7, 2020.

B.1.1.7 was first detected in two people in south-east England. It was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 14.

It has been identified in 123 countries worldwide, including the US, where there are more than 20,000 reported cases, according to the CDC. It became the most common variant in the US on April 7. Tennessee has the highest proportion of B.1.1.7 cases of any state, accounting for 73% of sequenced cases.

B.1.1.7 is between 30% to 50% better at spreading from person to person than other coronavirus variants, according to UK scientists.

B.1.1.7 could be more deadly, but we don’t know for sure

B.1.1.7 could be more deadly. The UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) reported a model on January 21 that showed someone infected with B.1.1.7 is 30% to 40% more likely to die than someone with a different variant.

Community-based studies in England, Scotland and Denmark showed that infection with B.1.1.7 in the community causes a higher risk of severe disease requiring hospital treatment and death.

But there is a lot of uncertainty around the numbers. Two studies published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases and the Lancet Public Health on April 13 indicated that B.1.1.7 was more infectious, but didn’t cause worse illness in hospitalized patients.

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca all appear to protect against B.1.1.7.

B.1.351, first identified in South Africa

COVID-19, South Africa
Health worker Vuyiseka Mathambo takes a nasal swab from a patient to test for COVID-19 at a Masiphumelele community centre in Cape Town, South Africa on July 23, 2020.

B.1.351 was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples dating back to the beginning of October 2020. It was reported to the WHO on December 18.

It has been found in 84 countries, including the US, where there are 453 cases reported across 36 states and jurisdictions according to the CDC

B.1.351 is thought to be 50% more contagious than the original strain, according to South African health officials.

It’s not thought to be more deadly. But there is evidence from South Africa that when hospitals came under pressure because of the variant’s spread, the risk of death increased.

B.1.351 may evade the body’s immune response

The variant may evade the body’s immune response, data suggests. Antibodies work best when they attach snugly to the virus and stop it from entering our cells. The B.1.351 variant has mutations called E484K and K417N at the site where antibodies latch on. In early lab tests, antibodies produced by Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines couldn’t attach as well to B.1.351, compared to the original coronavirus.

In a real-world Qatari study reported on May 6, Pfizer’s vaccine was 75% effective at preventing infection of varying severity caused by the variant first found in South Africa, called B.1.351, after two doses.

And another real-world study from Israel published on April 10 suggested that Pfizer’s vaccine provided less protection against B.1.351 than the original coronavirus. But it was focused on those who have already tested positive for the virus, not total infection rates, so we can’t draw firm conclusions.

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was 64% effective at preventing COVID-19 in trials in South Africa, where 95% infections are caused by B.1.351, and 72% effective in the US, where B.1.351 accounts for less than 1% of sequenced coronavirus tests.

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine didn’t prevent mild to moderate disease caused by B.1.351 in a trial, and we don’t yet know if AstraZeneca’s shot still protects against severe illness caused by the variant.

It is unlikely that vaccines will become completely useless against the variant. Existing vaccines could be updated and tailored to a new variant within weeks or months, or you may require a booster shot.

P.1, first identified in Brazil, which is twice as contagious

brazil coronavirus
A COVID-19 patient is rushed into a hospital in Brasilia, Brazil on January 11, 2021.

The variant found in Brazil was first detected in four people in Japan, who had traveled from Brazil on January 2. It was identified by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases on January 6, and reported to the WHO that weekend.

It has been found in 45 countries worldwide, including the US, where there have been 497 cases in 31 states, according to the CDC

P.1 is twice as contagious as the original coronavirus – it was initially detected in Amazonas, north-west Brazil, on December 4, and by January 21, 91% of people with COVID-19 in the region were infected with P.1, according to the WHO.

P.1 has similar E484K and K417T mutations as B.1.351, which means it can evade antibody responses.

This could be the reason P.1 reinfects people who have already caught coronavirus – a study published April 14 showed that previous coronavirus infection only offered between 54% and 79% of the protection for P.1 than for other virus strains.

P.1’s mutations could also mean that vaccines work less well.

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca work against P.1. Moderna’s hasn’t been tested. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was 68% effective in trials in Brazil, where the variant is the most common strain, compared with its 72% efficacy in the US, where P.1 at the time accounted for 0.1% of sequenced coronavirus tests.

B.1.617, first identified in India

india coronavirus
Mumbai Police personnel are tested for the coronavirus on October 15, 2020.

The variant first found in India, B.1.617, is in fact three distinct viruses. Collectively, they have spread to more than 17 countries, according to the WHO. All three have been detected in the US, according to GISAID.

The WHO and UK have designated it a “variant of concern” because it’s more infectious than the original virus.

B.1.617 remains a “variant of interest,” according to the CDC.

Its mutations include:

  • L52R: May make the virus more infectious or it may avoid the antibody response.
  • P6814: May make it more infectious.
  • E848Q: May help the virus avoid the antibody response.

No studies to date have found that any of the variants first found in India are deadlier than earlier versions of the virus, or that it can evade vaccines.

Variants under investigation

B.1.427/B.1.429, first identified in California

pfizer covid 19 vaccine distribution
Medical assistant April Massaro gives a first dose of Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to nurse Alice Fallago at Desert Valley Hospital on Thursday, December 17, 2020 in Victorville, California.

The variant first found in California consists of two slightly different mutated forms of the virus, called B.1.427 and B.1.429. It is also called CAL.20C, using another naming system. It was first found in California in July and has now been detected across the US and elsewhere, including in Australia, Denmark, Mexico, and Taiwan, according to the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID).

B.1.427/B1.429 are estimated to be about 20% more infectious than the original coronavirus. This is likely because of a mutation called L452R mutation, which in early lab studies was shown to help the virus infect cells.

COVID-19 vaccines haven’t yet been tested against this variant specifically. But early lab experiments showed that antibodies produced by previous COVID-19 infections worked only half as well against the variant as they did with the original coronavirus strain.

The CDC considers B.1.426/B1.429 a “variant of concern”, which means the CDC experts consider that there’s enough evidence that its mutations change its behavior. It remains a “variant under investigation” according to the WHO.

Read more: COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker: AstraZeneca’s shot proves safe and effective, and is headed to the FDA

B.1.526/ B.1.525, first identified in New York

covid scientist lab coronavirus testing samples
Scientists work in a lab testing COVID-19 samples at New York City’s health department, April 23, 2020.

These two variants were detected in New York in late 2020. They are “variants of interest” because they have mutations that could evade antibody responses. B.1.525 accounts for less than 0.5% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US, according to the CDC.

B.1.526, first identified in New York

These two variants were detected in New York in late 2020. They are “variants of interest” because they have mutations that may evade antibody responses. B.1.526 accounts for under 9% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US, according to the CDC.

P.2, first identified in Brazil

P.2 was first detected in Brazil in April 2020. It’s a “variant of interest” because it has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades antibody responses. Less than 0.2% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US are P.2, according to the CDC.

P.3, first identified in the Philippines

P.3 was first detected in the Philippines in February. P.3 has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades the immune response. P.3 hasn’t yet been detected in the US.

B.1.525, first found in UK and Nigeria

B.1.525 was first found in the UK and Nigeria in December 2020. It has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades the antibody response. Less than 0.5% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US, according to the CDC.

B.1.617, first found in France

B.1.617 was first found in France in January. It hasn’t been detected in any other countries. It may have mutations that mean it can evade tests.

Human behavior can help stop them spreading

AOC Elbow bump Houston Food Bank February 20201.JPG
Ocasio-Cortez elbow bumps a volunteer at the Houston Food Bank.

The WHO has said that everyone should double down on precautions that stop the spread of variants, such as social distancing, hand-washing, mask wearing, and avoiding crowds.

“Human behavior has a very large effect on transmission – probably much larger than any biological differences in SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, told Insider.

Read the original article on Business Insider

3 coronavirus variants can make people sicker or spread faster – and experts are monitoring others, including one spreading in India

people wearing masks coronavirus US
People wearing masks in Del Mar, California.

  • There are three coronavirus variants that experts around the world are worried about.
  • These include variants first identified in South Africa, the UK, and Brazil.
  • Others variants, like one first found in India, have concerning features, but it’s not yet clear they’re more dangerous.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several coronavirus variants have evolved mutations that mean they spread more easily, make people sicker, escape immune responses, evade tests, or render treatments ineffective.

These are called “variants of concern” by the World Health Organization, and there are three that have spread to the US.

There are various other variants that may have troubling features, which experts are looking into. These are called “variants under investigation,” and include a variant first identified in India.

They differ from the original virus strain in a number of key ways.

Variants of concern

B.1.1.7, first found in the UK

coronavirus hospital UK
A nurse works on a patient in the ICU in London hospital, UK on January 7, 2020.

B.1.1.7 was first detected in two people in south-east England. It was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 14.

It has been identified in 114 countries worldwide, including the US, where there are more than 20,000 reported cases, according to the CDC. It became the most common variant in the US on April 7. Michigan has the highest proportion of B.1.1.7 cases of any state, accounting for just under 70% of sequenced cases.

B.1.1.7 is between 30% to 50% better at spreading from person to person than other coronavirus variants, according to UK scientists.

B.1.1.7 could be more deadly, but we don’t know for sure

B.1.1.7 could be more deadly. The UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) reported a model on January 21 that showed someone infected with B.1.1.7 is 30% to 40% more likely to die than someone with a different variant.

Community-based studies in England, Scotland and Denmark showed that infection with B.1.1.7 in the community causes a higher risk of severe disease requiring hospital treatment and death.

But there is a lot of uncertainty around the numbers. Two studies published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases and the Lancet Public Health on April 13 indicated that B.1.1.7 was more infectious, but didn’t cause worse illness in hospitalized patients.

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca all appear to protect against B.1.1.7.

B.1.351, first identified in South Africa

COVID-19, South Africa
Health worker Vuyiseka Mathambo takes a nasal swab from a patient to test for COVID-19 at a Masiphumelele community centre in Cape Town, South Africa on July 23, 2020.

B.1.351 was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples dating back to the beginning of October 2020. It was reported to the WHO on December 18.

It has been found in 81 countries, including the US, where there are 453 cases reported across 36 states and jurisdictions according to the CDC

B.1.351 is thought to be 50% more contagious than the original strain, according to South African health officials.

It’s not thought to be more deadly. But there is evidence from South Africa that when hospitals came under pressure because of the variant’s spread, the risk of death increased.

B.1.351 may evade the body’s immune response

The variant may evade the body’s immune response, data suggests. Antibodies work best when they attach snugly to the virus and stop it from entering our cells. The B.1.351 variant has mutations called E484K and K417N at the site where antibodies latch on. In early lab tests, antibodies produced by Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines couldn’t attach as well to B.1.351, compared to the original coronavirus.

We don’t know yet whether this impacts the vaccines’ effectiveness in real-life. A real-world study from Israel published on April 10 suggested that Pfizer’s vaccine provided less protection against B.1.351 than the original coronavirus. But it was focused on those who have already tested positive for the virus, not total infection rates, so we can’t draw firm conclusions. Pfizer has published some data suggesting its vaccine may help protect people against this variant.

Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was 64% effective at preventing COVID-19 in trials in South Africa, where 95% infections are caused by B.1.351, and 72% effective in the US, where B.1.351 accounts for less than 1% of sequenced coronavirus tests.

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine didn’t prevent mild to moderate disease caused by B.1.351 in a trial, and we don’t yet know if AstraZeneca’s shot still protects against severe illness caused by the variant.

It is unlikely that vaccines will become completely useless against the variant. Existing vaccines could be updated and tailored to a new variant within weeks or months, or you may require a booster shot.

P.1, first identified in Brazil, which is twice as contagious

brazil coronavirus
A COVID-19 patient is rushed into a hospital in Brasilia, Brazil on January 11, 2021.

The variant found in Brazil was first detected in four people in Japan, who had traveled from Brazil on January 2. It was identified by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases on January 6, and reported to the WHO that weekend.

It has been found in 40 countries worldwide, including the US, where there have been 497 cases, according to the CDC

P.1 is twice as contagious as the original coronavirus – it was initially detected in Amazonas, north-west Brazil, on December 4, and by January 21, 91% of people with COVID-19 in the region were infected with P.1, according to the WHO.

P.1 has similar E484K and K417T mutations as B.1.351, which means it can evade antibody responses.

This could be the reason P.1 reinfects people who have already caught coronavirus – a study published April 14 showed that previous coronavirus infection only offered between 54% and 79% of the protection for P.1 than for other virus strains.

P.1’s mutations could also mean that vaccines work less well.

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and AstraZeneca work against P.1. Moderna’s hasn’t been tested. Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was 68% effective in trials in Brazil, where the variant is the most common strain, compared with its 72% efficacy in the US, where P.1 at the time accounted for 0.1% of sequenced coronavirus tests.

Variants under investigation

B.1.427/B.1.429, first identified in California

pfizer covid 19 vaccine distribution
Medical assistant April Massaro gives a first dose of Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to nurse Alice Fallago at Desert Valley Hospital on Thursday, December 17, 2020 in Victorville, California.

The variant first found in California consists of two slightly different mutated forms of the virus, called B.1.427 and B.1.429. It is also called CAL.20C, using another naming system. It was first found in California in July and has now been detected across the US and elsewhere, including in Australia, Denmark, Mexico, and Taiwan, according to the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID).

B.1.427/B1.429 are estimated to be 20% more infectious than the original coronavirus – they have become the most common coronavirus variants in California, accounting for just under 40% of sequenced cases, according to the CDC. This is likely because of a mutation called L452R mutation, which in early lab studies was shown to help the virus infect cells.

COVID-19 vaccines haven’t yet been tested against this variant specifically. But early lab experiments showed that antibodies produced by previous COVID-19 infections worked only half as well against the variant as they did with the original coronavirus strain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers B.1.426/B1.429 a “variant of concern”, which means the CDC thinks there’s enough evidence that its mutations change its behavior. But it remains a “variant under investigation” according to the WHO, which means the WHO’s experts haven’t got enough evidence that it’s more deadly, more infectious or evades the immune response.

Read more: COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker: AstraZeneca’s shot proves safe and effective, and is headed to the FDA

B.1.526/ B.1.525, first identified in New York

covid scientist lab coronavirus testing samples
Scientists work in a lab testing COVID-19 samples at New York City’s health department, April 23, 2020.

These two variants were detected in New York in late 2020. They are “variants of interest” because they have mutations that could evade antibody responses. B.1.525 accounts for 0.5% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US, according to the CDC.

B.1.617, first identified in India

india coronavirus
Mumbai Police personnel are tested for the coronavirus on October 15, 2020.

The variant first found in India, B.1.617 is in fact three distinct viruses. Collectively, they have spread to 17 countries, according to the WHO. All three have been detected in the US, according to GISAID.

B.1.617 is not yet a “variant of interest”, according to the CDC. But the WHO and UK have designated it a “variant under investigation” because it has some potentially worrying mutations.

These mutations could:

  • Make the virus more infectious or it may avoid the antibody response.
  • Make it more infectious.
  • Help the virus avoid the antibody response.

No studies to date have found that any of the variants first found in India are deadlier than earlier versions of the virus, or that it can evade vaccines.

B.1.526, first identified in New York

These two variants were detected in New York in late 2020. They are “variants of interest” because they have mutations that may evade antibody responses. B.1.526 accounts for under 10% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US, according to the CDC.

P.2, first identified in Brazil

P.2 was first detected in Brazil in April 2020. It’s a “variant of interest” because it has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades antibody responses. Less than 1% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US are P.2, according to the CDC.

P.3, first identified in the Philippines

P.3 was first detected in the Philippines in February. P.3 has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades the immune response. P.3 hasn’t yet been detected in the US.

B.1.525, first found in UK and Nigeria

B.1.525 was first found in the UK and Nigeria in December 2020. It has the E484K mutation that may mean it evades the antibody response. Less than 1% of sequenced coronavirus tests in the US, according to the CDC.

B.1.617, first found in France

B.1.617 was first found in France in January. It hasn’t been detected in any other countries. It may have mutations that mean it can evade tests.

Human behavior can help stop them spreading

AOC Elbow bump Houston Food Bank February 20201.JPG
Ocasio-Cortez elbow bumps a volunteer at the Houston Food Bank.

The WHO has said that everyone should double down on precautions that stop the spread of variants, such as social distancing, hand-washing, mask wearing, and avoiding crowds.

“Human behavior has a very large effect on transmission – probably much larger than any biological differences in SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, told Insider.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The US hasn’t authorized AstraZeneca’s vaccine for 2 main reasons. That could change in April.

Veran France vaccination health minister AstraZeneca
French Health Minister Olivier Veran receives the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine on February 8, 2021.

  • The US hasn’t authorized AstraZeneca’s vaccine because its trial is still going.
  • Vaccine experts have also questioned inconsistencies in the company’s global studies.
  • AstraZeneca’s US trial results will likely clear up confusion in April.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After more than a dozen countries paused the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine due to concerns about blood clots, the European Medicines Agency concluded on Thursday that the vaccine doesn’t increase the risk of clotting.

The World Health Organization, too, recommended that countries continue to administer AstraZeneca’s vaccine, since the benefits of the shot “outweigh its risks.”

The US, however, never greenlit the vaccine in the first place, for two main reasons. The first is that AstraZeneca’s US trial is still ongoing. The trial was delayed for nearly seven weeks in the fall due to an adverse reaction in a UK participant.

The second is that AstraZeneca’s initial trial results in November puzzled many experts. The company combined data from its Brazil and UK groups, even though they had different sample sizes and demographics. It also averaged the results of two different dosing regimens, one of which was administered by mistake.

Now, scientists hope that results from AstraZeneca’s US trial will clear up much of the world’s confusion. The findings are expected to be released to the public within the next month.

Currently, the US data is being reviewed by an independent monitoring board. If the vaccine is found to be safe and effective, the FDA could authorize it for emergency use in April, Reuters recently reported.

The US trial has more than 30,000 participants

Even if AstraZeneca’s global trials had been free of inconsistencies, the FDA would most likely still have wanted to see the results of the US trial before authorizing the shot.

The US trial is larger than its predecessors in other countries. The study involves up to 32,000 volunteers – roughly the same number as the clinical trials done by Pfizer and Moderna. And it’s only testing one regimen: two full doses.

“The US study is the one that’s going to be the definitive study to tell us how this vaccine works against severe, hospitalized COVID and symptomatic COVID,” Anna Durbin, a vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told STAT.

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot
Pascal Soriot, executive director and CEO of AstraZeneca, testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on February 26, 2019.

The trial could also shed light on how the vaccine performs among older people. Nearly one-quarter of the US trial participants were over 65, according to Biopharma Dive. Meanwhile, just 12% of participants in AstraZeneca’s UK and Brazil trials were over 55.

Murky data from the UK and Brazil

The FDA requires coronavirus shots to prevent disease in at least 50% of vaccine recipients.

In November, AstraZeneca reported that its shot was 62% effective at preventing COVID-19 among nearly 9,000 volunteers in Brazil and the UK. Those participants received two full doses, but about 2,700 others accidentally got a half dose followed by a full dose. Among that smaller group, the vaccine’s effectiveness rose to 90%.

AstraZeneca averaged the two results, stating that the vaccine was 70% effective.

“To people looking in from the outside, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Dr. Johan Bester, director of bioethics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Medicine, told Insider last month. “We’re either going to give half doses or full doses to people and it will either be one effectiveness or the other.”

AstraZeneca’s shot may be less effective against the variant found in South Africa

In the months since AstraZeneca revealed its global trial results, subsequent analyses have found even more variation in the shot’s effectiveness.

A February analysis that hasn’t been peer reviewed found that the vaccine was 55% effective when doses were given less than six weeks apart, but 82% effective when doses were given at least 12 weeks apart. The results were based on trials in Brazil, South Africa, and the UK with more than 17,000 volunteers in total.

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AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines in storage in Copenhagen, Denmark on February 11, 2021.

Another study that’s still awaiting peer review indicated that the vaccine was just 22% effective against mild and moderate illness caused by B.1.351, the variant first identified in South Africa. As a result, South Africa halted its distribution of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. But that study was small, with roughly 2,000 participants.

When it comes to two other prominent variants – B.1.1.7, initially spotted in the UK, and P.1, first identified at a Japanese airport among travelers from Brazil – preliminary data shows AstraZeneca’s vaccine has the same efficacy: between 60% and 90%.

The US trial may not give any more clarity about how well the vaccine works against these three variants, since it’s not yet known how many volunteers wound up getting exposed to those strains during the study. But the fact the trial is happening later than Pfizer’s or Moderna’s means there’s a greater chance that participants in this one were exposed to new variants.

Even in the worst-case scenario, Bester said, the shot will probably be effective enough to meet FDA standards.

“What we’ve seen is promising,” he said. “It is a moderately to very effective vaccine that is cheaper than the other alternatives and gives us another tool in our arsenal to stop people from dying.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

9 key questions answered about the worrying coronavirus variants spreading around the world, including whether vaccines block them, how contagious they are, and when they reached the US

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Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, puts on a surgical mask while carrying another mask.

  • Experts worldwide are urgently studying three coronavirus variants to understand what risks they pose.
  • One variant first identified in the UK, one in South Africa, and one in Brazil are probably more contagious than the original virus.
  • They have caused cases to surge and the three nations to lock down. Here are nine key questions about the variants, answered.

Experts are urgently investigating three different coronavirus variants – found in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil – that have caused explosive outbreaks and are spreading around the world.

Often, small genetic changes that a virus makes when it replicates, called mutations, don’t affect its behavior. But these three coronavirus variants, each evolved separately, appear to have developed similar characteristics that affect how they spread.

Here’s what we know so far

All the variants contain mutations in the code for their spike protein, the part of the virus that it uses to infect cells. Alterations in this area could enable the virus to infect cells more easily, and the spike protein is the target for COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson&Johnson and AstraZeneca.

With information frequently changing, we’ve compiled a list of everything we know so far about the variants, answering nine key questions, such as whether vaccines work on them and whether they’ve spread to the US.

Read more: What it actually means that a new coronavirus strain is more transmissible – and how that changes your chances of getting sick

The variants were first detected in the UK, South Africa, and Japan 

  • UK – B.1.1.7

B.1.1.7 was first detected in two people in south-east England. It was reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on December 14.

B.1.17 has been identified in 82 countries worldwide, including the US.

  • South Africa – 501.Y.V2

501.Y.V2 was first detected in Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa, in samples dating back to the beginning of October 2020. It was reported to the WHO on December 18.

The UK identified two cases of 501.Y.V2 on December 22, in people who had come into contact with someone who had traveled from South Africa.

501.Y.V2 has been found in 40 countries globally, including the US.

  • Brazil -P.1

The variant found in Brazil was first detected in four people in Japan, who had traveled from Brazil on January 2. It was identified by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases on January 6, and reported to the WHO that weekend.

It has been found in 28 countries worldwide, including the US.

The variants are more contagious

The B.1.1.7 variant, first found in the UK, is thought to be 30% to 50% more contagious than other forms of the virus, according to Public Health England estimates. This means it is 30-50% better at spreading from person to person than other coronavirus variants.

501.Y.V2, the variant found in South Africa, is thought to be 50% more contagious than other variants, because it has spread 50% faster, becoming the most common strain in people with COVID-19 in coastal regions of South Africa.

P.1, found in Brazil, is probably more contagious –it was initially detected in Amazonas, north-west Brazil, on December 4 and by January 21, 91% of people with COVID-19 in the region were infected with P.1, according to the World Health Organization

It’s not known precisely why the variants are more contagious

Research is ongoing, but working theories are that both variants have changes in the spike protein, meaning they can potentially infect cells more easily.  The swabs of people infected with B.1.1.7 and 501.Y.V2 also appear to have more viral particles than the original virus, known as a higher viral load. The more viral particles an infected person expels, the more likely they are to infect others.

The variant first found in South Africa – 501.Y.V2 – has been shown in early lab studies to sometimes avoid antibodies, produced by the body to fight off infection. If this happens in humans, it could mean it infects people more easily and could increase the likelihood of catching coronavirus more than once.

Mutations called E484K and K417T could be responsible for this – the variant found in Brazil have them too. B.1.1.7, the variant first found in the UK, doesn’t have this particular mutation.

pfizer covid 19 vaccine distribution
Medical assistant April Massaro gives a first dose of Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to nurse Alice Fallago at Desert Valley Hospital on Thursday, December 17, 2020 in Victorville, California.

They could be more deadly

The variants first found in the UK and South Africa at present do not seem to cause more severe disease, the WHO said on January 11. However, a more contagious variant could cause more deaths, because more people get sick.  

It is unclear whether or not P.1. is more deadly. This is “under investigation”, according to the WHO on February 21.

Adam Kucharski, an associate professor at the London School for Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, has explained to Insider why the ability to spread more easily could make the variant more dangerous than a deadlier strain.

There is evidence from South Africa that when hospitals became under pressure, the risk of death increased.

The UK government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) reported a model on January 21 that showed someone infected with B.1.1.7 is 30 to 40 per cent more likely to die than someone with a different variant, but there is a lot of uncertainty around the numbers.

Human behavior can help stop them spreading

The WHO has said that because the variants are more contagious, everyone should double down on precautions that stop their spread, such as social distancing, hand-washing, mask wearing, and avoiding crowds.

“Human behavior has a very large effect on transmission – probably much larger than any biological differences in SARS-CoV-2 variants,” Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, previously told Insider.

Vaccines will probably work

It is too soon to know for sure, but it appears unlikely that the mutations will render vaccines totally useless. 

The vaccines available all target the coronavirus spike protein. The spike protein has multiple sites that all cause different immune responses in the body. Mutations could affect some of the sites, but are unlikely to affect all of them.

Pfizer said January 29 that its vaccine should work against some particular mutations that the variants found in South Africa and the UK have, after it tested its vaccine on lab-made variants. Further lab studies on February 18 have shown that Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine worked less well against lab-made viruses that mimicked the variant in South Africa.  The lab-made variants were not the exact variants found in the UK or South Africa.  

Moderna ran similar tests, and announced January 25 that its vaccine held up well against the mutations found in B.1.1.7, but less well against the mutations found in 501.Y.V2, the variant found in South Africa. Again it used lab-made variants.

The one dose COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson&Johnson was less effective in clinical trials in South Africa, where 95% infections are caused by 501.Y.V2. 

Existing vaccines could also be updated and tailored to a new variant within weeks or months. Or you may require a booster shot.

Moderna said January 25 that it will develop a new version of its COVID-19 shot to fight 501.Y.V2, the variant found in South Africa. Pfizer said January 26 that it is already working on booster shots that protect against coronavirus variants. 

  • B.1.1.7 – first found in UK

Experts think the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca will protect people against the B.1.1.7 variant found in the UK. The vaccines haven’t been tested against real-life coronavirus B.1.1.7 variants yet.

  • 501.Y.V2 – first found in South Africa

Studies suggest that the variant can escape some antibodies in the lab – researchers don’t yet know how, or if, this will affect how well vaccines work in people. 

The vaccines haven’t been tested against real-life coronavirus 501.Y.V2 variants yet.

Tulio de Oliveira, who is leading South Africa’s scientific effort to understand the variant, told the Financial Times that his group thinks a vaccine could be a little less effective, but is optimistic. “Between all the varieties of vaccines that are coming to the market, we still have strong belief that some of them will be very effective,” de Oliveira said.

Read more: What’s coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s the latest on 11 leading programs.

The variants could affect more young people 

Experts have said that the B.1.1.7 variant could affect kids more than previous variants, but evidence is still emerging. 

Public health experts in the Western Cape, South Africa have said that the proportion of young people who have been hospitalized and died from COVID-19 in South Africa has remained the same, but there are more young people in hospital, because more people overall are sick.

COVID-19 treatments could still work

There is no evidence currently to suggest the B.1.1.7 mutations mean that COVID-19 treatments are less effective against this variant.

Scientists think that a mutation found in the variant first identified in South Africa could mean that certain antibody drugs do not work as well.

But dexamethasone, a steroid, would probably still work just as well.

All three variants have been identified in the US

In the US, 2400 cases of B.1.1.7 –  the variant first found in the UK – have been identified, according to the CDC. The variant has been found in 46 US states, including New York, Florida, and California. 

The variant identified in South Africa, 501Y.V2, was first detected in the US on January 28.

There is are ten known cases of P.1 in the US, the variant found in Brazil first identified in Japan. It was first detected in Minnesota on January 24. The Minnesota resident who got infected with P.1 had recently traveled to Brazil, the Minnesota Department of Health said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

South Africa halted the rollout of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after new analysis finds it ‘provides minimal protection’ from new variant

astrazeneca vaccine
A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken January 11, 2021.

  • South Africa is halting its rollout of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine.
  • A new analysis suggests the shot “provides minimal protection” against a new variant.
  • The news raises new concerns about B.1.351, the variant first seen in South Africa.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

South Africa is halting its rollout of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, the country’s minister of health said Sunday, following a new analysis that suggests the shot “provides minimal protection” against mild disease caused by the new coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa.

Two top virologists advising the government said during a press conference that the pause was necessary. They said South Africa would institute a new process in which vaccines are initially studied in a research phase to try and determine that each vaccine reduces COVID-19 hospitalizations in South Africa despite the widespread new variant there.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine rollout needs to be put on a temporary halt while we get the clinical efficacy information in,” said Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist at Columbia University and part of a commission advising the South African government. “And the way that we can do that is with the new approach to rollout.”

Barry Schoub, chair of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on vaccines, struck a similar note.

Read more: A primary care startup dismantling discriminatory healthcare just raised $25 million, and its growth reveals a key area of opportunity for other upstarts

“I think we just need to maybe suspend use of AstraZeneca, but investigate it more and more fully to see, can we utilize it more effectively,” he said.

The news heightens concerns about B.1.351, the variant first seen in South Africa, and will also likely lead to discussions about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which is among the least expensive and most widely available of the COVID-19-19 vaccines that have so far been developed. In addition to AstraZeneca, the vaccine is also being made for much of the world by Serum Institute, a large Indian vaccine maker.

However, the data, which were presented in detail during the livestreamed press conference, do not give clear answers. The results involve only small numbers of patients and may not be enough to draw any conclusions. The data were also submitted as a preprint and have not yet been peer-reviewed.

Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand and chief investigator on the new study, said that before B.1.351 became common in South Africa, the vaccine was trending toward reducing mild cases of the disease by 75%. But once B.1.351 became prevalent, that number dropped precipitously, and cases were reduced only 22% based on 42 cases of symptomatic COVID-19.

Those data appear unreliable, however. They were given with confidence intervals, which propose a range of plausible outcomes. For the 22% number, those ranged from -50% to 60%, meaning that more data would be needed to be collected to trust the figure.

Researchers and AstraZeneca emphasized in separate statements that the study was a small one, including only 1,765 volunteers with a median age of 31. AstraZeneca said it believes the vaccine will still protect against severe disease caused by B.1.351. The current study gives no information on whether the vaccine prevents severe disease, hospitalization, or death.

AstraZeneca also said that it and Oxford have started adapting their vaccine to B.1.351, and will advance the new vaccine through development so that it is ready for delivery in the fourth quarter of the year if it is needed.

This is the third vaccine, and the first approved vaccine, to show what appears to be reduced efficacy against B.1.351. Johnson & Johnson said that its vaccine, which was 66% effective overall against moderate-to-severe disease, was 57% effective against moderate-to-severe disease due to the variant. Novavax, another vaccine developer, said that its vaccine was 89% effective against mild-to-moderate disease, but in a separate trial in South Africa was 50% effective.

Karim pointed out that only the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown to reduce severe disease due to B.1.351. He said that when vaccines are rolled out, South Africa will now look at hospitalization rates in the first 100,000 to receive the vaccine in the hopes that this will provide information on whether the vaccine is proving effective.

Madhi warned that it could be “reckless” to simply let doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine expire without giving them, given the possibility that the vaccine could reduce severe disease.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A Baltimore man has the coronavirus variant found in South Africa – the 3rd confirmed US case. He ‘likely’ caught it locally, the state governor said.

Larry Hogan
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

  • Maryland officials said a Baltimore man caught the coronavirus variant first found in South Africa.
  • The man had not traveled abroad and likely caught the variant locally, said Maryland’s governor.
  • The mutant variant is more contagious, but not thought to be more deadly. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US has identified its third case of the more contagious coronavirus variant found in South Africa – this time in a man from Maryland.

The man, from the Baltimore region, had not traveled outside the country, Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement, which means it’s “likely” he caught it in the community.

This is the third case of the variant found in the US: South Carolina state officials announced Thursday the first two confirmed cases of the variant in the country. Neither person had travelled outside the US, and the two cases were not connected, state health officials said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the variant, named B.1.351, can “spread more easily and quickly,” but there is no evidence it is more deadly. The variant has a mutation on its spike protein, which is what the coronavirus uses to invade human cells.

Read more: Coronavirus variants threaten to upend pandemic progress. Here’s how 4 top vaccine makers are fighting back.

Hogan said Maryland health officials were trying to identify and test the man’s contacts, as well as “closely monitoring the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the state.” 

“We strongly encourage Marylanders to practice extra caution to limit the additional risk of transmission associated with this variant. Please continue to practice standard public health and safety measures, including mask wearing, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.”

The man did not need to go to hospital and is recovering at home, Maryland health department spokesman Charles Gischlar told The Washington Post.

Maryland has confirmed 352,726 cases of COVID-19. Nationwide, nearly 26 million cases have been confirmed, and the virus has killed more than 435,000 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Studies suggest vaccines are effective against the variant

The latest evidence suggests that vaccines work against the variant – albeit slightly less effectively than against the original virus. 

A study published Wednesday showed Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine worked against a lab-made coronavirus similar to the South Africa variant. Performance was slightly lower than against the original virus, but this was “unlikely to lead to a significant reduction” in effectiveness, the drug companies said. Moderna announced similar results of a study on Monday.

There is not yet sufficient data to say whether vaccines work against the variant outside of laboratory conditions.

Some studies have suggested the variant may be able to evade antibodies produced by the body. Both Pfizer and Moderna, who make the two vaccines authorized in the US, are developing new versions of their vaccines to counter the variant.

President Joe Biden has banned travelers from South Africa from entering the US.

The US has also reported cases of mutant variants found in Brazil and the UK. The variant first identified in the UK, B.1.1.7, is the most widespread of the three variants now confirmed in the US, and experts believe it has been circulating in the US for several weeks.

Read the original article on Business Insider

What we know about vaccines and variants

Pills 2 (2)

Hello, 

Man, what an end to the week. The coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa was found in the US, and we got vaccine results from Novavax, and from Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

We’ll get into all that and more, but first – new to our newsletter? You sign up here for daily dispatches from the healthcare team.

Also – we’re hiring another reporter for the team! Are you a journalist looking to dig deep on digital health, break news, and make sense of what’s ahead for the industry? Be sure to apply here!


vaccines
A pharmacist fills a syringe to prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for front-line health care workers at a vaccination site at Torrance Memorial Medical Center on December 19, 2020 in Torrance, California.

We’re learning more about how vaccines work against variants

It’s been a mixed bag of vaccine news this week, kicking off with the news that Merck is dropping out of the race.

With the pharma giant tapping out, all eyes have been on the next wave of results, with more than 200 vaccines still in the works.

Andrew Dunn mapped out what the year ahead looks like for those candidates.

Read the full breakdown here>>

And as new, more infectious variants have emerged around the world, a big question has been around how they’ll interact with vaccines. 

On Monday, Moderna said that it is designing a new version of its COVID-19 shot to fight the variant first found in South Africa

Then on Thursday, Novavax shared results from its UK and South Africa trials, finding that its coronavirus vaccine was highly effective in the UK, but didn’t work nearly as well in South Africa, where a new variant is circulating widely.

The news was followed shortly after on Friday morning with the long-awaited results from Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine. The company said its vaccine is 66% effective against COVID-19 based on a global trial run in places including the US, Latin American and South Africa. 

The results – while not as high as Pfizer and Moderna’s – come with some big questions. For one, having only one dose could be a game-changer. J&J shared that its vaccine was 85% effective at preventing severe disease, across all variants, which would be a big help in curbing the pandemic. 

Read the full story here>>

J&J’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine is 66% effective against COVID-19, raising worries that some variants may lower protection


California COVID vaccine rollout Six Flags Magic Mountain
At a mass vaccination site set up in a California Six Flags, a nurse administers the COVID vaccine. The state has delivered 45% of its allotted vaccines, compared to North Dakota’s 84% and South Dakota’s 75%.

Vaccine rollout is going well – depending on what state you’re in

Meanwhile, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s shots are still rolling out across the US. In some places, usage has been better than others. 

On Capitol Hill, members of Congress have received shots, but essential Hill workers have not, Kimberly Leonard reports. 

Patricia Kelly Yeo spoke to experts in the Dakotas about how they’re approaching administering vaccines. For the more rural areas, having a centralized systems has been a big help.  

For states and cities with bigger populations, she found there are two big takeaways from North Dakota and South Dakota’s experiences. Collaboration is key, and so is keeping the rollout system centralized. 

Read the full story here>>

How the Dakotas are successfully rolling out COVID vaccines – and 2 major lessons for larger states


Rosalind Brewer
In March, Rosalind Brewer will become the third Black woman in modern history to lead a Fortune 500 company.

Walgreens has tapped a new CEO 

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal broke the news that Walgreens had found its next top exec.

Starbucks COO Roz Brewer is leaving the coffee giant to become Walgreens CEO. She’ll be the only Black woman leading a Fortune 500 company.

It’s a move most Wall Street analysts are cheering on, saying Walgreens “nailed” the choice for a successor to Stefano Pessina who will stay on as executive chairman. 

Shelby Livingston has a full look at what analysts think is ahead for the company with the pick. 

Read the full story here>>

‘Nailed it’: 4 Wall Street analysts lay out why Roz Brewer is the best pick to turn around Walgreens


Humana CEO Bruce Broussard
Humana CEO Bruce Broussard

A conversation with Humana CEO Bruce Broussard

Last Friday, Shelby had a chat with Humana CEO Bruce Broussard. 

Broussard told her about competing with some of the health-insurance startups taking on the red-hot Medicare Advantage market, like Oscar and Devoted. 

Humana for its part has its own answer: a new venture called Author. It launched in 2021 in South Carolina, and already has 15,000 members, Broussard told Shelby. 

Read the full scoop here>>

Speaking of the insurance upstarts, Shelby and the graphics team here at Insider took a closer look at Medicare Advantage enrollment heading into 2021. 

While health-insurance startups are gaining a bigger foothold in the lucrative Medicare Advantage market, they’re still no match for established insurers.

(It’s pretty striking to see the enrollment numbers for giants like UnitedHealthcare stacked next to some of the tiny younger players.)

As part of Shelby’s conversation with Broussard, they discussed what led Humana to invest heavily in primary care. The conversation turned into one about the future of health insurers, medicine, and Humana itself. 

Read the full story here>>

The CEO of major health insurer Humana laid out why he’s betting big on primary care


fitbit sense

The latest on Big Tech’s healthcare ambitions

Tech giants are keeping busy, as Blake Dodge has been reporting over the past few weeks. 

That’s especially the case for companies as part of the Alphabet umbrella. She and Alphabet reporter Hugh Langley teamed up over the past week on some dispatches from Google’s parent company. 

One of the pockets of the healthcare industry tech companies seem to be focused on is monitoring health at home. Blake mapped out how those strategies are playing out so far at Apple, Amazon, Verily, and Google (hint: it’s a lot of smart watches). 

Read the full story here>>

Big tech wants to monitor your health at home. From Verily to Amazon, here’s where they’re placing their bets.


insider events future of healthcare 2x1

Talking the future of digital health and biotech

Over in the land of startups and funding, things are always a-buzz. Here’s what you need to know.

With that all in mind, I wanted to let you know about an event Megan is moderating on February 10 at 3 p.m. ET. She’ll be talking to top healthcare VCs about the year ahead for startups trying to make a dent in the $3.8 trillion healthcare industry.

Tune in>>

SIGN UP HERE: Hear from healthcare’s biggest VCs on the future of digital health, biotech, and startups


I hope you all have great weekends! I’ll be spending mine outside, probably double-masking to stay extra safe. 

Tips? Feedback? Find me at lramsey@businessinsider.com. You can reach the entire healthcare team at healthcare@businessinsider.com

– Lydia

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