This ‘super antibody’ for COVID fights off multiple coronaviruses


Scientists have uncovered an antibody that can fight off not only a wide range of SARS-CoV-2 variants, but also closely related coronaviruses1. The discovery could aid the quest to develop broad-ranging treatments and vaccines.

Tyler Starr, a biochemist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and his co-authors set out to shed light on a problem facing antibody treatments for COVID-19: some variants of SARS-CoV-2 have acquired mutations that enable the virus to escape the antibodies’ grasp.

The researchers examined 12 antibodies isolated from people who had recovered from COVID-19 by Vir Biotechnology, a company based in San Francisco, California, that was involved in the study. Those antibodies latch on to a fragment of viral protein that binds to receptors on human cells. Many antibody therapies for SARS-CoV-2 infection grab the same protein fragment, called the receptor binding domain.

The researchers compiled a list of thousands of mutations in the binding domains of multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants. They also catalogued mutations in the binding domain on dozens of SARS-CoV-2-like coronaviruses that belong to a group called the sarbecoviruses. Finally, they assessed how all these mutations affect the 12 antibodies’ ability to stick to the binding domain.

It’s good news that the team has identified antibodies that can bind to a range of sarbecoviruses, says Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. “The biggest question that remains is, what about viruses that we don’t know exist yet?”

Although scientists can’t test an antibody’s activity against an unknown virus, Banerjee adds, pan-sarbecovirus treatments and vaccines would help to prepare the world to fight the next coronavirus that jumps from wildlife into humans.

New Zealands’s first mass vaccination event to be held in Auckland at end of July


The country’s first mass Covid-19 vaccination event will be held in south Auckland at the end of the month.

On Wednesday, Covid-19 Response Health Minister Chris Hipkins announced the event will be held at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau, over the weekend of Friday, July 30 to Sunday, August 1.

More than 15,000 people are set to be vaccinated over those three days, Hipkins said. Another mass vaccination event will be held six weeks later for second doses.

It comes after a mass vaccination event at the centre planned earlier this month was postponed due to tight supply of the vaccine.

Canada to reach 55M vaccine doses by week’s end, catching up to U.S. on second doses


Canada is expecting vaccine shipments to keep rolling in this week as the country inches closer to matching the percentage of people in the United States fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The federal government expects another 1.4 million doses of the shot from Pfizer-BioNTech to arrive in the next seven days.

It also plans to distribute the 1.5 million doses from Moderna that came in last Friday.

By the end of the week, Canadian officials expect to have received a total of more than 55 million doses including the latest shipments, though those figures may change.

The federal government has promised that it would reach 68 million shots delivered by the end of July and says it’s still on track to hit that target.

Canada to donate almost 18 million surplus AstraZeneca doses to low- and middle-income countries


Canada is donating an additional 17.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to help inoculate people in low- and middle-income countries, federal ministers announced Monday.

International Development Minister Karina Gould and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the doses were a part of the federal government’s advance purchase agreement with the company and would be distributed through COVAX.

COVAX is a global vaccine-sharing initiative jointly co-ordinated by the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance.

The program pools funds from wealthier countries to buy vaccines for those countries and ensure that low- and middle-income countries have access to vaccines as well. Canada has already committed $440 million to COVAX.

“As we are now able to donate excess vaccines, the contribution to COVAX of close to 18 million doses will help to meet international needs and end this pandemic,” Anand said in a statement.

Portugal reaches target of 70% of adult population vaccinated with one dose


The goal of having 70% of the adult population vaccinated against covid-19 with at least one dose was reached this Friday, anticipating the commitment made by the Government to have this goal fulfilled by the summer.

“As of yesterday [Friday], 9,504,206 vaccines had already been administered in mainland Portugal. These made it possible to vaccinate, with at least one dose, more than 5.8 million people aged 18 or over, who, in the limit of one month, they will have the complete vaccination schedule. At the moment, almost four million are fully vaccinated”, revealed this Saturday the Ministry of Health, in a note sent to the media.

The evolution of Portugal in the fight against the covid-19 pandemic fits in this Saturday’s announcement by the president of the European Commission, the German Ursula von der Leyen, that the European Union will receive enough doses until Sunday to vaccinate 70% of its adults.

“The country thus fulfills the second of the commitments made in January 2021. It should be remembered that, in March, Portugal had already reached the goal of vaccinating 80% of people over 80 and 80% of health professionals, also aligned with the goals of the European Commission”, the note emphasizes.

EU delivers enough doses to vaccinate 70% of adults, von der Leyen says


The European Union has delivered enough coronavirus vaccine doses to member states to reach a target to fully vaccinate at least 70% of adults in the bloc, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement on Saturday.

Von der Leyen, who had tweeted on May 9 that the EU was on track to meet its goal of inoculating 70% of adults by summer, urged EU countries to increase vaccinations and said about 500 million doses would be distributed across the union by Sunday.

“The European Union has kept its word. This weekend we have delivered enough vaccines to member states to be in a position to vaccinate fully at least 70% of the EU adults this month,” von der Leyen said in a video statement.

“But COVID-19 is not yet defeated. We are prepared to deliver more vaccines, including against new variants,” said von der Leyen, who faced sharp criticism at the start of 2021 for failing to ensure companies delivered contracted vaccines.

The EU has a longer-term goal of having enough vaccines to immunise its entire eligible population by the end of September, and said in May it was confident of having enough vaccines to reach that target.

Fauci says all 3 COVID-19 vaccines effective against delta variant


All three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use by the FDA — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are effective against the highly infectious delta variant, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert said during a White House press briefing Thursday.

“The world is understandably worried about the delta virus variant,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said. “The vaccines indeed are effective against it.”

Fauci cited various studies, including three separate real-world studies which showed Pfizer was 79%, 88% and 96% effective against the delta variant.

Fauci noted a study in Scotland, which showed two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 79% protective against the variant. Meanwhile, a study from England showed that in symptomatic infection, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 88% effective. In hospitalizations in England, two doses of the vaccine were shown to be 96% effective.

In one study, researchers in England studied how effective the two-dose AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were against the fast-spreading delta strain compared with the alpha variant that was first detected in the U.K. The vaccines were protective for those who got both doses but were less so among those who got one dose.

“You can make a real-world assumption that our data, applicable to Pfizer, are also applicable to Moderna,” Fauci said.

COVID-19 vaccines still work against delta variant, new research finds


New research from France adds to evidence that widely used COVID-19 vaccines still offer strong protection against a coronavirus mutant that is spreading rapidly around the world and now is the most prevalent variant in the U.S.

Researchers from France’s Pasteur Institute reported new evidence Thursday that full vaccination is critical.

In laboratory tests, blood from several dozen people given their first dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines “barely inhibited” the delta variant, the team reported in the journal Nature. But weeks after getting their second dose, nearly all had what researchers deemed an immune boost strong enough to neutralize the delta variant — even if it was a little less potent than against earlier versions of the virus.

The French researchers also tested unvaccinated people who had survived a bout of the coronavirus, and found their antibodies were four-fold less potent against the new mutant. But a single vaccine dose dramatically boosted their antibody levels — sparking cross-protection against the delta variant and two other mutants, the study found. That supports public health recommendations that COVID-19 survivors get vaccinated rather than relying on natural immunity.

The lab experiments add to real-world data that the delta variant’s mutations aren’t evading the vaccines most widely used in Western countries, but underscore that it’s crucial to get more of the world immunized before the virus evolves even more.

Researchers in Britain found two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, for example, are 96 percent protective against hospitalization with the delta variant and 88 percent effective against symptomatic infection. That finding was echoed last weekend by Canadian researchers, while a report from Israel suggested protection against mild delta infection may have dipped lower, to 64 percent.

Whether the fully vaccinated still need to wear masks in places where the delta variant is surging is a growing question. In the U.S., the CDC maintains that fully vaccinated people don’t need to. Even before the delta variant came along, the vaccines weren’t perfect, but the best evidence suggests that if vaccinated people nonetheless get the coronavirus, they’ll have much milder cases.

“Let me emphasize, if you were vaccinated, you have a very high degree of protection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, said Thursday.

Covid-19 vaccines saved nearly 280,000 lives in the US, new research estimates


Covid-19 vaccines saved hundreds of thousands of lives and prevented more than a million hospitalizations in the United States, according to new estimates from researchers at Yale University and the Commonwealth Fund.

The researchers compared actual trends in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths against a modeled trajectory of what those trends would have been if there had been no vaccinations.

By the end of June, the researchers estimate that there would have been about 279,000 additional deaths due to Covid-19 — about 46% more than there were — and as many as 1.25 million additional hospitalizations if there were no vaccinations. And if vaccinations had progressed at half the pace that they did, about 121,000 more people may have died and more than 450,000 more would have been hospitalized.

Illinois reports no new COVID-19 deaths for first time since March 2020


For the first time in nearly 16 months, Illinois has gone a full day without losing a resident to COVID-19.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported no new COVID-19 fatalities Monday, which hadn’t happened previously since March 16, 2020 — a few days before Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered residents to stay inside their homes as much as possible to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But for now, the end of a miserable 476-day stretch with viral deaths is the latest sign of optimism for a state slowly emerging from the pandemic.

“We all are very, very pleased that our infection rate in the state of Illinois is way down. The number of cases, the number of hospitalizations, the number of deaths — way, way down,” Pritzker said at an unrelated news conference. “The vaccines have done the work. Thank god for the vaccines.”