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Coronavirus live news: Pfizer says vaccine offers two-thirds less protection from South African variant

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Researchers find two thirds reduction in protective antibodies from Pfizer vaccine for South African variant; 21% of Covid patients with diabetes die within 28 days of hospital admission

12.39am GMT

A laboratory study suggests that the South African variant of the coronavirus may reduce antibody protection from the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE vaccine by two-thirds, and it is not clear if the shot will be effective against the mutation, the companies said on Wednesday.

Reuters: The study found the vaccine was still able to neutralise the virus and there is not yet evidence from trials in people that the variant reduces vaccine protection, the companies said.

Still, they are making investments and talking to regulators about developing an updated version of their mRNA vaccine or a booster shot, if needed.

For the study, scientists from the companies and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) developed an engineered virus that contained the same mutations carried on the spike portion of the highly contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa, known as B.1.351. The spike, used by the virus to enter human cells, is the primary target of many Covid vaccines.

Researchers tested the engineered virus against blood taken from people who had been given the vaccine, and found a two- thirds reduction in the level of neutralizing antibodies compared with its effect on the most common version of the virus prevalent in US trials.

Their findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Because there is no established benchmark yet to determine what level of antibodies are needed to protect against the virus, it is unclear whether that two-thirds reduction will render the vaccine ineffective against the variant spreading around the world.

However, UTMB professor and study co-author Pei-Yong Shi said he believes the Pfizer vaccine will likely be protective against the variant.

“We don’t know what the minimum neutralising number is. We don’t have that cutoff line,” he said, adding that he suspects the immune response observed is likely to be significantly above where it needs to be to provide protection.

Even if the concerning variant significantly reduces effectiveness, the vaccine should still help protect against severe disease and death, he noted. Health experts have said that is the most important factor in keeping stretched healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed.

12.07am GMT

One in five diabetes patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 die within 28 days, research suggests.

PA media: Results from an ongoing study by the University of Nantes in France also showed that one in eight diabetes patients admitted to hospital with coronavirus were still in hospital 28 days after they first arrived.

Diabetes UK said understanding which people with the condition are at a higher risk if they are admitted to hospital with Covid-19 will help to improve care and save lives.

The findings show that within 28 days of being in hospital 577 of the 2,796 patients studied (21%) had died, while almost 50% (1,404) had been discharged from hospital, with a typical stay of nine days.

Around 12% remained in hospital at day 28, while 17% had been transferred to a different facility to their initial hospital.

The authors of the CORONADO (Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and Diabetes Outcomes) study, published in the Diabetologia journal, said: “The identification of favourable variables associated with hospital discharge and unfavourable variables associated with death can lead to patient reclassification and help to use resources adequately according to individual patient profile.”

In May last year, earlier results from the study, based on smaller sample of people, suggested that 10% of Covid patients with diabetes died within seven days of a hospital admission.

Dr Faye Riley, senior research communications officer at Diabetes UK, said the study supports previous research which showed certain risk factors, such as older age and a history of diabetes complications, “put people with diabetes at higher risk of harm if they catch coronavirus”.

“It also provides fresh insight into factors that are linked with a quicker recovery from the virus,” she said.

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