Solving COVID
8:44 a.m.

Researchers in the United Kingdom say they've observed a "significant" decline in the percentage of the population with COVID-19 antibodies, potentially pointing to "waning immunity."

Imperial College London scientists in the study found the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies declined from six percent of the British population in June to 4.4 percent in September, Reuters reports. They came to the conclusion that there has been a "significant decline in the proportion of the population with detectable antibodies" by sending out finger-prick tests to a randomly selected group of over 365,000 people in England, according to CNN.

"On the balance of evidence I would say, with what we know for other coronaviruses, it would look as if immunity declines away at the same rate as antibodies decline away, and that this is an indication of waning immunity at the population level," Wendy Barclay, head of Imperial College London's Department of Infectious Disease, said, per Reuters.

The researchers were specifically looking for IgG antibodies in the study, and CNN notes that some other research has suggested "that other types of antibodies may persist longer than IgG does."

But Imperial College London's Helen Ward told BBC News the study suggests that "immunity is waning quite rapidly." Ward added in a statement, "We don't yet know whether this will leave these people at risk of reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19, but it is essential that everyone continues to follow guidance to reduce the risk to themselves and others." Brendan Morrow

7:44 a.m.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health on Monday ended one clinical trial of Eli Lilly's experimental COVID-19 antibody treatment after finding that the drug, "bamlanivimab, is unlikely to help hospitalized COVID-19 patients recover from this advanced stage of their disease." The trial was suspended Oct. 13 out of "an abundance of caution," but the NIH said Monday it had found no significant safety issue with the monoclonal antibody treatment.

Eli Lilly said it will continue testing bamlanivimab with the NIH on mild or moderately ill COVID-19 patients to see if it reduces hospitalizations and severe symptoms. Eli Lilly is also conducting its own separate trials.

Human bodies make antibodies to fight off infections, and Eli Lilly's experimental drug, like a similar treatment from Regeneron, features concentrated copies of one or two antibodies found to be effective at fighting of COVID-19. President Trump was given Regeneron's version when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, and public health experts have high hopes for monoclonal antibody treatments. Eli Lilly and Regeneron are both seeking emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Peter Weber

October 26, 2020

Another potential coronavirus vaccine is moving along, with especially good news for the elderly.

AstraZeneca announced Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine in development with the University of Oxford has produced a similar immune response in both younger and older adults. The vaccine also results in low adverse responses among older people, the pharmaceutical giant said. That's a standout response considering COVID-19 tends to be more severe in older patients.

Several dozen coronavirus vaccines are in the works around the globe, with AstraZeneca's one of many undergoing clinical testing. It's unclear when AstraZeneca will publish the results of its large ongoing trial that will help determine its vaccine's safety, but it is expected to be one of the first vaccine candidates to seek regulatory approval, Reuters reports. This vaccine is expected to protect people from the coronavirus for about a year. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 24, 2020

Coronavirus vaccine trials conducted by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are preparing to resume, the pharmaceutical companies said Friday.

Both studies were put on hold after two volunteers who enrolled in AstraZeneca's vaccine trial developed a possible neurological side effect, and another person enrolled in J&J's study reportedly suffered a stroke. AstraZeneca, which had already restarted its trial in other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, said independent monitoring committees and international regulators agreed it was safe to resume the trial in the U.S, as well. The Food and Drug Administration reportedly did not find the vaccine candidate to be responsible for the neurological symptoms, but the agency was also unable to definitively rule out a link.

Similarly, investigators concluded the J&J volunteer's illness did not appear to be related to the vaccine candidate, although there was "no clear cause" of the incident. Paul Stoffels, the chief scientific officer at J&J, told Stat News the company could begin enrolling patients for the vaccine study — the only major one to test just a single dose — again early next week. Read more at The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

October 23, 2020

Reopening schools doesn't seem to be a major contributor to coronavirus community spread, data from random testing in the U.S. and Britain reveals. That's especially true of elementary schools, the data shows.

Children, even young ones, can and have been infected with COVID-19 and can transmit the virus to adults. But even as coronavirus surges once again across the U.S. and Britain, random testing data shows young children aren't the ones causing coronavirus spikes, experts who've seen the data say. "The more and more data that I see, the more comfortable I am that children are not, in fact, driving transmission, especially in school settings,” Brooke Nichols, an infectious disease modeler at the Boston University School of Public Health, told The New York Times.

The risks among children in middle and high schools are less clear, experts acknowledge. But they believe "these schools may be able to contain the coronavirus, provided the community prevalence is low and the schools take abundant precautions," the Times reports. It all led Dr. David Rubin, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert at the University of Pennsylvania, to conclude it's worth at least reopening elementary schools in lower-risk areas. "I think there’s a pretty good base of evidence now that schools can open safely in the presence of strong safety plans, and even at higher levels of case incidence than we had suspected,” he said. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 22, 2020

The Food and Drug Administration has given final approval to remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19, making it the first and only fully-approved treatment in the U.S. for the novel coronavirus, CNBC reports. The drug has been permitted in cases of emergency use authorization since May, and was one of the medications used to treat President Trump when he was hospitalized earlier this month.

Remdesivir (sold under the brand name Veklury) is administered via an IV, and is intended for "the treatment of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization," the drugmaker, Gilead Sciences, said in a statement. While it is approved or authorized for temporary use in around 50 countries, a World Health Organization study earlier this month of some 2,750 patients found that remdesivir had "little or no effect" on death rates.

In a separate study by Gilead Sciences of 1,060 patients, the drug was found to prevent people from "getting sicker" and "from going onto more oxygen support," though the drugmaker likewise "did not find a statistically significant reduction in death rates across the entirety of patients treated in the trial," CNBC writes. Jeva Lange

October 21, 2020

A pair of peer-reviewed studies suggest there has been a "sharp" drop in COVID-19 death rates among patients hospitalized with the coronavirus, NPR reports.

One of the two new studies, which will be published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, looked at NYU Langone Health system hospitalizations and found "mortality has dropped among hospitalized patients by 18 percentage points," from 25.6 percent to 7.6 percent, since March, according to the report. Another study that will be published in Critical Care Medicine observed "an unadjusted drop in death rates among hospitalized patients of around 20 percentage points since the worst days of the pandemic" in England, NPR writes.

A number of factors may be contributing to this apparent decline, NPR reports, including doctors improving their ability to treat COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. Leora Horwitz, one of the authors on the first study, also suggested that mask-wearing may help lessen the severity of coronavirus cases.

At the same time, Horwitz pointed out that even with this decline, the COVID-19 death rate is "still higher than many infectious diseases, including the flu," and while "I do think this is good news," it "does not make the coronavirus a benign illness." She added that COVID-19 "still has the potential to be very harmful in terms of long-term consequences for many people." But Bilal Mateen, who conducted research for the second study, told NPR, "I would classify this as a silver lining to what has been quite a hard time for many people." Read more at NPR. Brendan Morrow

October 21, 2020

Most people recover from COVID-19 within four weeks, but one in 20 patients is still ill after eight weeks and one in 40 continues to have symptoms after 12 weeks, a new study from Kings College London found, according to BBC News. The researchers pored over self-reported data in the COVID Symptoms Study app, looking for patterns that could predict if a patient who contracts the new coronavirus will have "long COVID" or recover more rapidly. They found several traits that appeared to increase the risk of longer-lasting COVID-19.

"Having more than five different symptoms in the first week was one of the key risk factors," Dr. Claire Steves at Kings College London told BBC News. Patients with a cough, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell, headaches, and fatigue would be at higher risk than somebody with just a cough, for example. People over 50 also had increased odds of long COVID, as did people with asthma or lung disease, and women.

"We've seen from the early data coming out that men were at much more risk of very severe disease and sadly of dying from COVID, it appears that women are more at risk of long COVID." Steves said. There are no set symptoms for long COVID, but fatigue is common, BBC News notes. You can find more examples in this new PSA on long COVID from Britain's Department of Health and Social Care. Peter Weber

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