Coronavirus morning recap: Latest on vaccines, virus mutation, and mask allergens

LATEST SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

READ | Moderna says its coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective against Covid-19

A second experimental coronavirus vaccine has succeeded at preventing Covid-19 in the final stage of clinical research, marking a victory in the fight against the pandemic.

The upstart biotech Moderna announced the success Monday morning in a press release, saying its vaccine was 94.5% effective at preventing Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. An independent group of experts found clear signs of effectiveness after reviewing preliminary data from an ongoing 30 000-person study, Moderna said.

Moderna's shot is the second major vaccine program to announce success in a late-stage trial. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech said on November 9 that their vaccine was more than 90% effective at preventing Covid-19 in an early review of an ongoing study.

Both announcements provide much-needed good news, as the pandemic surges across the world, though it could be weeks before regulators review the shots and decide whether to make them more widely available. The US is now averaging more than 140,000 cases a day, and the healthcare system is showing troubling signs of strain as hospitalisations and deaths rise.

"Those are two excellent vaccines that are going to help a lot of Americans and help a lot of people around the world," Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a video interview with Business Insider.

Moderna's release showed its vaccine is broadly similar to Pfizer's. Moderna said its vaccine appeared to be 94.5% effective, while Pfizer said its shot was more than 90% effective. Moderna's analysis was based on 95 Covid-19 cases, while Pfizer's review included 94 cases. Neither company's data has yet been published in a scientific journal, and both are still collecting more information on how safe their shots are.

READ | A common Covid-19 virus mutation may make it more susceptible to vaccines

The new coronavirus has a complex biology, and, according to ScienceMag, accumulates about two changes per month in its genome (the genetic material).

Now, a new study by scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison has revealed that, while SARS-CoV-2 has mutated in a way that's enabled it to be more infectious than other coronaviruses, the spike mutation may also make it more susceptible to a vaccine.

The findings, published in Science, note that the new strain, called D614G, emerged in Europe and has become the most common in the world.

"The D614G virus outcompetes and outgrows the ancestral strain by about 10-fold and replicates extremely efficiently in primary nasal epithelial cells, which are a potentially important site for person-to-person transmission," study author Ralph Baric, professor of epidemiology at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and professor of microbiology and immunology at the UNC School of Medicine, said in a UNC news release.

However, despite the D614G strain replicating faster and becoming the most common worldwide, the research team found that it is slightly more sensitive to neutralisation by antibody drugs.

READ | Case study: Allergens that cause common skin condition found in masks 

Cloth face masks have been used as a key tool in the fight against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. However, one 60-year-old man ended up in the emergency room (ER) because of his mask.

At this year’s virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, doctors delivered a report on the case.

"We treated a 60-year-old Black man with adult-onset eczema, contact dermatitis and chronic nasal allergies in our clinic after he presented three times to our hospital emergency room (ER) because of an uncomfortable face rash," allergist Yashu Dhamija, MD, ACAAI member and lead author of the paper, said.

"Up until April 2020, his skin conditions had been under control, but with mask-wearing, his symptoms began occurring in areas that providers were not yet accustomed to."

Their report was published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Contact dermatitis, Health24 explains, is an acute or chronic inflammation caused by skin contact with certain substances.

CORONAVIRUS CASES LATEST

SA cases update: 

The latest number of confirmed cases is 752 269.

According to the latest update, 20 314 deaths have been recorded in the country.

There have been 695 496 recoveries.

So far, 5.1 million tests have been conducted, with 12 755 new tests reported.

Global cases update:

For the latest global data, follow this interactive map from Johns Hopkins University & Medicine.

Late on Monday evening, positive cases worldwide were more than 54.7 million while deaths were to 1.3 million.

The United States had the most cases in the world - 11.1 million, as well as the most deaths - close to 165 700.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN SA

Latest news:

READ | Pretoria businessman charged with allegedly defrauding UIF Covid-19 TERS of R15m

A Pretoria businessman was arrested after allegedly being caught red-handed bribing a labour department official and defrauding the UIF Covid-19 Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS) of R15 million.

Thabo Simbini, 29, appeared in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on corruption charges on Monday.

In a statement, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said Simbini was arrested in an undercover operation carried out by the Hawks.

"Impossible Solutions, a company owned by Simbini, is alleged to have made fraudulent claims from the UIF Covid-19 TERS on behalf of people that were not in their employment. It is believed the company has already received R15 million," said NPA spokesperson Sipho Ngwema.

The matter was postponed to 18 November for the State to register a fraud docket against Simbini, who remains in custody.

Ngwema said investigations are ongoing and the State is likely to oppose bail.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE REST OF THE WORLD 

Latest news:

READ | Doctors won't enter Texas hospital area, called 'the pit', with sickest Covid patients, nurse says

A travel nurse has described the "horrific" scene at one hospital in El Paso, Texas, a city that has emerged as a new hotspot as the weathers its third and likely deadliest wave of the coronavirus.

In a nearly hourlong Facebook Live video published last Saturday, Lawanna Rivers said that she had served five postings at various hospitals during the Covid-19 pandemic, but her time at the University Medical Center of El Paso was by far the worst.

"Out of all the Covid assignments I've been on, this one here has really left me emotionally scarred," she said. "The facility I'm at has surpassed the one I was at in New York." New York was the epicenter of the US outbreak in the spring.

Rivers was most upset about how the sickest patients at the hospital were treated. She said they were all put into an area called a "pit," where they are essentially left to die.

"My first day at orientation, I was told that whatever patients go into the pit, they only come out in a body bag," Rivers said.

HEALTH TIPS (as recommended by the NICD and WHO)

• Maintain physical distancing – stay at least one metre away from somebody who is coughing or sneezing

• Practise frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as your hands touch many surfaces and could potentially transfer the virus

• Practise respiratory hygiene – cover your mouth with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Remember to dispose the tissue immediately after use.

Image credit: Getty Images

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