Tag Archives: derail

Could new virus variants derail COVID-19 vaccination efforts? Scientists hope not

After the virus behind COVID-19 spent 2020 wreaking havoc around the globe, this year started with a bit more hope — vaccination efforts were ramping up, after all — and a tinge of fear.

Multiple new coronavirus variants have been discovered across several continents, from Europe to Africa to South America. Confirmed cases keep popping up in dozens of countries, Canada included.

Scientists are now racing to understand these sets of mutations, all while concerns are growing over their ability to infect people more easily or, in some cases, potentially evade the army of antibodies we create after being infected or vaccinated.

And since widespread transmission means this virus has ample opportunities to mutate again and again and again, these variants won’t be the last. They’re just the ones we know about.

“The more opportunity we give to the virus to replicate, to make more viruses, the more opportunity there is to see that variant of concern — one that won’t be mitigated by our vaccines that we’ve developed,” warned Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

After months of work to develop safe, effective vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the scientific community now faces a race against time to ward off that scenario.

There’s also a looming question: What happens if we don’t?

Variants could ‘very rapidly’ become prevalent

Kelvin, one of the many Canadian researchers involved in vaccine development, said preliminary data shows that the sets of mutations identified so far don’t yet seem to be an issue for current coronavirus vaccines.

That’s the good news. It’s the “yet” she finds troubling.

“We have to stay on top of this problem,” Kelvin said.


Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, says preliminary data shows that the sets of mutations identified so far don’t yet seem to be an issue for current coronavirus vaccines. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

But while new variants might throw a wrench in efforts to suppress transmission by popping up like a game of global whack-a-mole, those ongoing mutations were actually expected, not surprising.

That’s because each virus has a singular goal of replicating itself. With tens of millions of people helping move the coronavirus back and forth between hosts, that means countless replications. Some of those contain random, insignificant mistakes. And when the mistakes prove beneficial to the virus, helping it produce more copies, those errors can become a new normal of sorts — a variant.

It’s just evolution at work, said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security in Washington, D.C., and incoming research scientist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“What concerns me the most is that the epidemiological data that goes along with some of these variants suggests they could very rapidly become very prevalent — effectively out-competing the other variants in a given area — in a short period of time,” she said.

WATCH | How countries can control emerging coronavirus variants:

Alongside the use of vaccines, virologist and researcher Angela Rasmussen says countries can strive to control emerging coronavirus variants by beefing up surveillance efforts and encouraging the usual public health measures, from mask-wearing to avoiding gatherings. 1:13

Could new variants decrease immune response?

Researchers speculate that may be what happened with B117. The variant was first discovered in the U.K. late last year and is now the country’s dominant strain of the coronavirus — with various officials suggesting it’s at least 50 per cent more transmissible. (Cases have been confirmed in several provinces in Canada as well, and testing is ongoing.)

In the short term, more transmission means more infections, hospitalizations and deaths, Rasmussen said, which offers an incentive for countries to slow case growth. Doing so would both save lives and cut off channels for the virus to spread and mutate.

“It’s also possible that variants may arise that decrease the effectiveness of our immune response to the virus,” said Matthew Miller, a member of the Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University and the McMaster Immunology Research Centre in Hamilton.

“But also, of course — and perhaps more worryingly — the immune responses elicited by the currently approved vaccines.”

WATCH | A new coronavirus variant spreads through Brazil:

Three COVID-19 variants are now worrying health officials. The ones first identified in Britain and South Africa are already here. The third is spreading fast in Brazil and beyond. It may be better at dodging the immune response, and even reinfecting survivors. 3:36

For scientists in Brazil, there’s already legitimate cause for alarm.

“We have detected a new variant circulating in December in Manaus, Amazonas state, north Brazil, where very high attack rates have been estimated previously,” read the preliminary findings posted online by a research team led by Imperial College London virologist Nuno Faria.

The new lineage, dubbed P1, contains a “unique constellation” of mutations in the crucial spike protein, which helps the virus penetrate human cells, the report continues. The variant was detected in 42 per cent of samples collected during a stretch in December, but not in samples collected in the months before.

Those new cases also appeared even though an estimated three-quarters of people living in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region, had already been infected.

Faria’s report stressed that could mean an increase in transmissibility — the same issue with B117 — or even an ability to reinfect people.

Vaccines ‘modifiable’ in face of new mutations

According to Rasmussen, antibodies seem to have a reduced capacity to neutralize this kind of virus variant based on the spike protein mutations. Echoing Kelvin and Miller’s concerns, she said that’s a key problem, “because if you acquire enough of those mutations, you may get to a point where you have a variant capable of evading vaccine-induced immunity completely.”

But again, it’s not all dire news. Just because antibodies are less effective doesn’t necessarily mean someone would have reduced immune protection, Rasmussen explained, since the body’s immune response is looking at the entire spike protein, not just certain areas that might have a set of mutations.

Miller also noted that while the spike protein tends to be most prone to changing in the face of immunological pressure, there are other vaccine candidates in development that are designed to elicit broader immune responses against a greater array of viral targets to stay one step ahead.

WATCH | Scientists still researching whether vaccine prevents COVID-19 transmission:

As COVID-19 vaccines are administered around the world, scientists continue conducting research to determine how effective the shots are at preventing transmission of the virus. 4:44

“Even in the worst-case scenario, that we see some of these variants spreading and we get a partial response, it’s probably going to mean that the health-care complications, the deaths, are still going to be greatly controlled by a mass vaccine campaign,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University.

And, thankfully, research teams can also pivot, redeveloping existing coronavirus vaccines to target any variants that may prove capable of evading the ones already rolling out globally.

The novel mRNA vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna options currently approved in Canada, are among those that can be more easily tweaked. Those vaccines provide instructions — messenger RNA — to cells, allowing them to make their own spike protein, which someone’s immune system can recognize and fight off in the future.

“That is their genius, that they’re completely and rapidly modifiable,” Chagla said. “The packaging is there, the delivery method is there, all you need to do is change the mRNA sequence.”


The sooner people get vaccinated, ‘the better’

But while the flexibility of vaccination development is reassuring for the long term, it doesn’t tackle the problem at hand: COVID-19 still has its grip on much of the world, the death toll keeps climbing and vaccination efforts remain a race against time as emerging variants keep throwing a wrench in efforts to curb transmission.

“The sooner that we can get a vaccine into people, the better,” Kelvin said.

To save lives and keep health-care systems from collapsing while vaccination programs scale up, she stressed that Canadians also need to ramp up the basic public health precautions that should now be routine.

Physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, staying away from crowds and enclosed spaces — it all matters, perhaps now more than ever, to slow transmission and give the virus fewer opportunities to spread and evolve.

That buys time for Canada to hit its tenuous goal for 2021: getting everyone vaccinated, without any variants getting in the way.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

CBC | Health News

Alabama Republican Roy Moore says sexual misconduct allegations are intended to derail his Senate bid

A defiant Roy Moore pushed forward Saturday with his U.S. Senate campaign, criticizing as “false” and “an attack on my character” a newspaper report carrying allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Alabama Republican showed no signs of backing down in his first public remarks since the Washington Post on Thursday published interviews with four women who said Moore tried to have sexual or romantic relationships with them decades ago — when they were teenagers and Moore was in his 30s and an established attorney.

A wave of national Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called for Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations are true. Trump, who is in Asia and said he was too busy to keep up with the news about Moore, referred to a prior statement given to reporters that said Trump believes Moore will “do the right thing and step aside” if the allegations are true.

That did not sit well with some Moore supporters.

“I’m really upset at my own party for condemning him so quickly,” said Tom Byars, who came to hear Moore speak at the Mid-Alabama Republican Club at a library in Vestavia Hills, Ala., on Saturday. “Even with the president, you know, he had some trouble, too, and he’s turned around and tried to condemn Roy Moore to step down?”

USA-CONGRESS/MOORE

Protesters await Roy Moore outside the Mid-Alabama Republican Club’s Veterans Day program at a library in Vestavia Hills, Ala. (Marvin Gentry/Reuters)

Moore’s speech in Vestavia Hills on Saturday was his first public appearance since the report, though he had also denied the story Friday to conservative radio host Sean Hannity. Moore used the occasion to accuse the Post of engaging in a “desperate attempt to stop my political campaign for United States Senate.”

The staunch GOP audience — which included state Supreme Court Justice Glenn Murdock and members of Alabama’s Republican National Committee — gave Moore a standing ovation when he finished speaking.

Moore denied claims in the story that he had provided beer and wine to women too young to buy it themselves, or that he’d had sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl.

“I have not provided alcoholic beverages, beer or anything else, to a minor,” Moore said. “I have not been guilty of sexual misconduct with anyone.”

New ‘revelations’ coming

Moore also said it was “strange” that women would wait 40 years to make such accusations shortly before a general election. Moore is running against Democrat Doug Jones to fill the U.S. Senate seat previously held by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Roy Moore

Moore also said Saturday there would be new ‘revelations’ in connection with the Washing Post report that brought allegations of sexual misconduct to light. (Dave Martin/Associated Press)

“That’s not a coincidence. It’s an intentional act to stop the campaign,” Moore said.

But a lawyer for one of the women quoted in the Post report said the women whom Moore victimized were young teenagers while he was a powerful prosecutor.

“They likely feared that he would publicly persecute them … precisely as he has done this week,” attorney Paula Cobia said in an email to The Associated Press.

Before Moore’s speech, his opponents gathered outside the library, carrying signs and chanting anti-Moore slogans.

A group consisting mostly of women gathered to oppose Moore. Cheryl Knowles, a Vestavia Hills Democrat, held up a sign that said “#NoMoore” outside the library where Moore spoke.

“Please tell the people of America that some of us are so embarrassed,” said Knowles.

Moore also said there would be new “revelations” in connection with the newspaper report that brought allegations of sexual misconduct to light.

“In the next few days there will be revelations about the motivations and the content of this article that will be brought to the public,” he said. “We fully expect the people of Alabama to see through this charade.”

A spokesperson for Moore declined to provide further information about what information those revelations might contain.

In the hours following the Post report Thursday, some Republicans speculated that Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey would delay the Dec. 12 special election.

However, Ivey spokesperson Josh Pendergrass said Saturday that Ivey “is not considering and has no plans to move the special election for U.S. Senate.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

CBC | World News