COVID-19 Update: Super-Immunity, Booster Shots, Mu and Moderna
Heading into fall, with the COVID-19 pandemic surging again and researchers tracking new variants, there’s plenty of news. Here’s a look.
Some People Appear to Have Super-Immunity Against COVID-19
Several research studies suggest that some people have unusually strong immunity, which some call “superhuman immunity” or “bulletproof” immunity against COVID-19. Not only do these people generate high levels of antibodies, but they seem to be very flexible in how they do it, which allows them to fight off variants.
Researchers out of Rockefeller University, led by Paul Bieniasz, a virologist, found that these people created antibodies that strongly neutralize the six variants of concern, including Delta and Beta, as well as other viruses that are cousins to SARS-CoV-2, including one in bats, two in pangolins, and the virus that causes SARS, SARS-CoV-1.
“One could reasonably predict that these people will be quite well protected against most — and perhaps all of — the SARS-CoV-2 variants that we are likely to see in the foreseeable future.”
The people who have this “hybrid immunity” have likely had multiple exposures to the virus, were probably infected with the virus in 2020 and then immunized with mRNA vaccines this year. They don’t know if everyone who had COVID-19 and then received one of the mRNA vaccines has this strong, flexible response since it’s only been tested in a few patients. They suspect it’s more common because they saw the same thing in all 14 patients tested. Other published studies support the same conclusions.
AstraZeneca Chief Thinks Boosters in the UK Shouldn’t Be Rushed
Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca, wrote in the Telegraph that a third booster shot may not be needed for everyone. He is concerned that hurrying into a nationwide booster distribution may put too much pressure on the UK’s National Health Service (NIH).
“We need the weight of the clinical evidence gathered from real world use before we can make an informed decision on a third dose,” he wrote. He added that “mobilizing the NHS for a boosting program that is not needed would potentially add unnecessary burden on the NHS over the long winter months.”
COVID-19 Cases in U.S. Pass 40 Million
Over the Labor Day weekend, the U.S. passed 40 million cases of COVID-19, the largest total in the world. In addition, the number of people hospitalized is doubled what it was a year ago on Labor Day.
Six states have more than 90% intensive care unit (ICU) beds occupied: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. Two more states, Oregon and Idaho, have reported they are running low on ICU beds and hospitals are short-staffed in the face of COVID-19 surges. Both states have deployed the National Guard to help hospitals.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s COVID Data Tracker indicated that as of September 4, 53.2% of Americans were fully vaccinated. To date, the vaccines are available for anyone over the age of 12.
Mu Variant Observed in 49 States
Although unsure if the Mu variant is more dangerous than Delta, the strain (B.1.621), which has been classified as a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization (WHO), has now been identified in 49 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The only exception is Nebraska.
The variant has been detected in less than 1% of samples, with the Delta variant accounting for more than 99% of cases. Mu is not considered an immediate threat, and the CDC has not classified it as a “variant of interest” yet, although most experts agree it’s worth keeping track of. Some of the mutations in Mu suggest it might be able to evade certain antibodies, but more studies are needed to decide if it is more contagious, deadly or resistant to vaccines and other treatments.
75% of U.S. Adults Have Received at Least One Vaccine Dose
According to the White House, 75% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of September 7. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden is scheduled to make a speech on September 8 to outline a “six-pronged strategy” to “get the pandemic under control.”
Despite the wide availability of free shots, vaccine hesitancy has left the U.S. behind many other countries in terms of vaccinations. Vaccination efforts appear to be gaining some momentum, driven by the resurgence of the Delta variant, growing employer mandates, and the full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August.
Psaki suggested there would not be a new or expanded vaccine mandate as part of the White House initiative, even though the federal government believes it has the authority to do so. Bloomberg notes, “The U.S. response to the pandemic remains a patchwork and a political battleground, with some prominent Republican governors downplaying the importance of vaccines and blocking public health measures such as mask mandates.”
Third Person Dies After Receiving Contaminated Moderna Vaccine
A third man in Japan has died after receiving a shot of a contaminated Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Health regulators say no link between the contamination and the deaths has been found. The third individual was a 49-year-old man who received his second shot on August 11 and died on August 12. His only health issue was a buckwheat allergy.
There was a recall of 1.63 million Moderna vaccines on August 26. The shot for the third man came from one of three batches in the recall but not from one of the batches identified as having fragments of stainless steel. The batches were manufactured in a facility in Spain contracted by Moderna.
In a joint statement with local distributor Takeda Pharmaceutical last week, Moderna wrote, “the rare presence of stainless steel particles in the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine does not pose an undue risk to patient safety and it does not adversely affect the benefit/risk profile of the product.”
The two earlier deaths were also men, both in their 30s with no known underlying health conditions. They died shortly after receiving their second shots of the Moderna vaccine.