Covid Virus

From Herd Immunity To Vaccinations, Predictions on Overcoming The COVID-19 Pandemic

SARS-CoV- 2 has been devastating the world for the majority of 2020. Governments across the world are looking to both safeguard both the people and their economies as scientists and researchers rush to create an effective vaccination. Test and Trace policies are in place to better control the virus in the meantime, however, many countries are also hoping that a vaccination will be able to better protect the majority of the population against the virus and allow the world to return to normal. As governing bodies look to maintain and instate protocols and procedures to keep cases down, there is still an ongoing debate as to how COVID-19 could be eradicated, whether completely or reduced to a level that the risk of contracting the coronavirus is minimal.

Herd immunity is the concept that, if enough people are immune to the disease in a community or population, the disease will spread less easily as less people would be able to catch it. Therefore, it offers a protection to those who are not immune, as they are less likely to come into contact with the virus. Herd immunity could be achieved either through effective vaccinations or by a large proportion of the population actually contracting, and recovering from the condition. The idea of herd immunity has bounced around in conversations from the beginning of the pandemic. Some governments having been criticized on their alleged turn to this concept as a strategy against the COVID-19 outbreak earlier in the year.

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National Geographic reported: ‘Some prominent leaders wonder if herd immunity created as people are naturally infected with SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus would be enough to restore society to working order. For evidence, they point to hard-hit epicenters such as New York City, where approximately 20 percent of the residents have been infected and the caseload has been low and steady for months. This sustained recovery must be due to herd protection, they argue.’ Countered with the opinion of Virginia Pitzer, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, who argued: “If we had reached sufficient herd immunity in New York, you would expect incidents to continue going down, not to be holding steady.”

The notion of herd immunity is still a contested and discussed topic at the moment. Recently, an international group of scientists, concerned about the devastating mental and physical impacts of COVID-19 policies (such as restrictions and lockdowns), called on governments to look again at achieving herd immunity. Dubbed ‘the Great Barrington declaration’, the proposal argued to let the virus spread in low risk groups, whilst protecting the most vulnerable with social restrictions. Essentially, groups such as young people would resume life as normal, contract and overcome the virus, until enough of the population is resistant. Many, however are resistant to this strategy, having huge concerns on its ethicality or viability.

The Guardian reported, ‘William Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard, said the declaration seemed to be attacking the idea of mass, ongoing lockdowns, a proposal that nobody was suggesting. “After pointing out, correctly, the indirect damage caused by the pandemic, they respond that the answer is to increase the direct damage caused by it,” he said.’

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Virginia Pitzer, speaking to National Geographic, speaking on herd immunity generally, pointed out: ‘“It’s very unlikely that we’re going to see elimination of COVID-19 altogether from the population simply through the buildup of natural immunity, [But if we add a highly effective vaccine on top of that] then it is theoretically possible that we could eliminate the virus” [or at least control it].’

There are many different vaccinations against COVID-19 being developed, the prediction of their completion was projected to be around mid-2021. According to The World Health Organisation (as of 30th September), 11 vaccinations are in Phase Three of development. Vaccines normally are given years of testing before they are rolled out, but an accelerated scheme has been put in place as researchers race to better protect the world from COVID-19. Phase 3 is the final stage of trials before the vaccination is approved and mass produced. In this phase, the vaccination is given to thousands of people to confirm its safety, efficacy, effectiveness and further side-effects. This trial includes a placebo control group and follows Pre-clinical stage, Phase 1 and Phase 2. According to The Wold Health Organisation and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a COVID-19 vaccine will need to be 50% effective at the very least to be approved for roll out. However, National Geographic writes that this level will be too low to achieve herd immunity.

Quoting professor and executive director of Public Health Computational and Operations Research (PHICOR) at the City University of New York School of Public Health, Bruce Y. Lee, the National Geographic, reported: “It doesn’t mean that a vaccine that’s below this certain threshold will not be useful, but if you want to be in a situation where you don’t have to do social distancing and these other things anymore, then the vaccine really needs to be over 80 percent efficacy.”

Long Covid Virus

New Research Examines ‘Long Covid’ Patients Experiencing Ongoing Coronavirus Symptoms

Scientists are defining “Long Covid” as the long-lasting impact of coronavirus infection for certain patients who continue to feel symptomatic weeks after being deemed negative; which may be affecting people in four different ways. People living with long-term Covid-19 symptoms could have a certain psychological element to the reasoning behind their lingering symptoms, however, new research suggests these patients need more medical support.

Most individuals who test positive for Covid-19 are told they’ll recover within two to three weeks depending on the severity of infection. Now, new reports from the National Institute for Health Research suggests that there could be thousands of US residents living with “ongoing Covid,” or what feels like a never ending battle with the coronavirus due to consistent symptoms. 

“The fluctuating and multi system symptoms need to be acknowledged. A common theme is that symptoms arise in one physiological system then abate only for symptoms to arise in a different system.”

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The report found recurring symptoms were impacting individuals breathing, brain function, heart/cardiovascular symptoms, livers, and skin. There are four different syndromes that researchers are using to categorize these Long Covid patients; permanent organ damage to the lungs and heart, post-intensive-care syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome, and general continuous Covid-19 symptoms. 

Some of the individuals who have experienced symptoms or any of the syndromes listed above have likely stayed in the hospital for longer than initially anticipated, while others may have never even been tested or diagnosed. That’s the difficulty with a virus that presents itself like the common cold and now seasonal allergies as well. Some individuals won’t even think twice about a runny nose and scratchy throat that lingers for weeks on end because it’s normal for this time of year. 

The report suggests that researchers are working on a way to diagnose “ongoing Covid” as a means of helping these patients access the proper support and resources they need to feel better faster. Dr. Elaine Maxwell is one of the report’s main authors who discussed how those who had been severely sick with Covid-19 would likely be impacted the most with ongoing Covid while individuals at a lower risk of death (younger individuals with no preexisting conditions) were less likely to continue to feel symptomatic. 

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“For some, this is related to their rehabilitation following a hospital admission – but others are reporting life-changing experiences that follow an initial infection that they managed at home, with symptoms becoming more severe over time.”

However, there are also instances appearing with individuals being hospitalized for ongoing Covid symptoms who have previously not tested positive for the virus, while individuals who had to be ventilated for several weeks are fully recovered and not experiencing any lingering symptoms. If anything, this is just another stark reminder that this virus is completely unpredictable, and we all should be taking it as seriously as possible. 

The other major concern that’s intensified with this research is the way that Covid-19 is disproportionately affecting certain parts of the population depending on socioeconomic status. Black and Asian communities alone have seen much higher death rates due to the coronavirus, and there are major concerns for all socially disadvantaged groups that don’t normally have access to proper medical facilities to be tested and treated. These individuals are also suffering for months on end with no recognition simply due to the fact that they can’t afford a standard hospital visit. 

In America alone, there have been close to 8 million confirmed positive cases of Covid-19, with about 217,000 deaths. Those statistics alone should be staggering enough to make you wear your mask, and stay home as much as you possibly can in the coming months until a proper drug treatment or vaccine is established.

Covid Virus

Is Trump’s Regeneron’s Antibody Cocktail Really A Cure For COVID-19?

Whilst claims by President Donald Trump that the Regeneron antibody cocktail administered to him is a ‘cure’ for COVID-19 have been denied by the medical community, growing evidence suggests that the treatment could be effective in reducing viral load and recovery times.

The media has been on tenterhooks since the news broke that President Trump and the First Lady had been diagnosed with coronavirus, along with a spiralling number of aids at the White House. After a swift transfer to Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment, Trump was given the Regeneron antibody cocktail, along with the antiviral Remdesivir, and the steroid Dexamethasone; two of these are still experimental for treating COVID-19. The president’s apparent speedy recovery from the illness and claims of ‘feeling perfect’ have led him to claim that Regeneron’s antibody cocktail is a ‘cure’ for COVID-19 and that he intends to make it available for free to all Americans.

Such claims have been played down by the medical community who have reiterated that even though it is not a cure, it is showing promising signs of use as a therapy for those suffering from the effects of COVID-19.

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The President received an 8g dose of Renegeron’s experimental antibody cocktail drug on Friday 2nd October 2020 following confirmation of his diagnosis earlier in the week. The official name for the drug cocktail is REGN-COV2 and it involves a combination of two laboratory-made antibodies that work to stop coronavirus from entering the cells and multiplying. One of the antibodies derives from the antibodies produced by one of the first US COVID-19 patients and the other is based on the antibody response that mice produce when exposed to the virus. Evidence is building that this approach can help to keep the viral load down, which in turn prevents the immune system from going into overload, a key factor in influencing the severity of the illness in a patient.

At present, the early clinical trials for REGN-COV2 have shown a significantly lower viral load within one week and recovery time appeared to be halved. It is worth pointing out that the trial has only focused on those who were not sick enough to be hospitalized and so it is unclear how effective it would be for the more seriously ill patients. That said, further testing is needed, because in some cases, this kind of treatment ends up having the opposite effect which is called ‘antibody dependent enhancement’. This is when the treatment actually helps the virus to invade the cells, leading to rapid decline. Thankfully, early indications suggest that REGN-COV2 is not having this effect.

The President was also treated with Remdesivir, an antiviral drug by Gilead. He was given a five-day treatment which also began on the Friday after he arrived at Walter Reed. Remdesivir is an existing antiviral therapy which is used to treat Ebola and appears to also stop coronavirus from replicating within the body, though scientists currently are unsure why this is the case.

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Remdesivir has been involved in late-stage clinical trials which have shown that patients are more likely to recover within 11 days if they are given the treatment compared to those who didn’t receive it. It also appears that survival odds were around 40% better which led to the drug being approved for emergency use by the FDA in May. Initially it was just approved for severely ill patients but has now been approved for use in any hospitalized patients. As with all treatments, it does come with some side effects with one of the most serious relating to a harming of the liver function, so any patient on this therapy needs to be closely monitored.

The final part of the President’s treatment includes administering Dexamethason, which is a common steroid priced at just $6 but known to induce psychiatric side effects. It’s primary use is to control inflammation and approved for use in a range of other conditions in the US. Studies in the UK have indicated that using this steroid can cut the risk of death by 36% in patients who are seriously ill and require breathing machines. It also reduced death rates by 18% in those who required supplemental oxygen. That said, it did appear to have more harmful effects when administered to those who were only suffering mildly from the illness. This means that there appears to be a risk of administering this treatment too early in the progression of the illness, which has led doctors to questions whether President Trump was actually very sick, or has been exposed to its potentially harmful neuropsychiatric effects.

It is not known if anyone except the President has received this exact combination of drugs as a treatment for COVID-19 and whilst it appears that he is making a strong recovery, it has been highlighted that we simply don’t know the long term impacts of infection. In addition, the costs associated with his treatment, combined with the potential health risks mean that this is not a treatment plan that could be made available to everyone in the US. Trump is keen to get voters on his side with his promises of a vaccine and a ‘cure’ for COVID-19, but the facts show that we are still some way away from finding a solution that could be rolled out to the mass population.

Water on Mars

Scientists Confirm The Existence of Salt Water Lakes on Mars

In 2018 scientists discovered a large salt water lake under the ice in the South Pole of Mars. Although it could not initially be confirmed as a body of water it was an exciting potential discovery that warranted further investigation. The presence of water on other planets could potentially point to the existence of life elsewhere in the Solar System, whether currently or historically. Many scientists believe that Mars once held bodies of water, in lakes and rivers, but today much of Mars’s atmosphere has changed leaving it drier and harsher. Now however, Scientists have confirmed the existence of these lakes and found more. Quoted in Nature, planetary scientist Elena Pettinelli at the University of Rome and one of the paper’s co-authors, stated: “we identified the same body of water, but we also found three other bodies of water around the main one, It’s a complex system.”

The lakes that were found spread over approximately 75,000 square kilometers (1/5 the size of Germany or the size of Scotland). Surrounded by the three smaller lakes, the largest lake is 30 kilometers wide. Longstanding evidence suggests that Mars was once home to large bodies of flowing water, and although now, Mars mainly harbors ice, scientists hope and believe that this lake is made up of liquid water. Co-author Dr Roberto Orosei, from Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics in Bologna, spoke on these sub-surface lakes to BBC News: “It’s even more likely that these bodies of water existed in the past. Of course, the implication of this is that you would have a habitat or something that resembles a habitat… that lasted throughout the history of the planet, as Mars was undergoing its climatic catastrophe and turning from a relatively warm planet – though it’s not clear how warm – to a frozen waste, there was a place where life could adapt and survive.”

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When the potential lake was discovered in 2018 via data from the Marsis Radar, researchers from the Roma Tre University in Italy since set out to confirm its existence, analyzing a much bigger dataset and using different techniques to examine the area, even utilizing methods that have been used to identify subterranean lakes on Earth in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. To do this, Nature reported: ‘the team used a radar instrument on Mars Express called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) to probe the planet’s southern polar region. MARSIS sends out radio waves that bounce off layers of material in the planet’s surface and subsurface. The way the signal is reflected back indicates the kind of material that is present at a particular location — rock, ice or water, for example. A similar method is used to identify subsurface glacial lakes on Earth. The team detected some areas of high reflectivity that they say indicate bodies of liquid water trapped under more than one kilometer of Martian ice.’

The notion that liquid water could exist on Mars is an exciting one, making it a potential habitat for life. However, scientists believe that these lakes could be extremely salty which may prove problematic for sustaining life, just how salty these lakes are is unknown. Some lakes on Earth have reached a salt concentration of 40% and in Nature, environmental scientist John Priscu, noted that in Antarctica, there is not much life in the ‘briny pools’… ‘They’re just pickled’.

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On the saltiness of the lakes, Dr. Roberto Orosei told BBC News, “This is a difficult question to answer, we do not know the thermodynamical conditions down there and we do not know the kinds of salts that are dissolved in the water if they are down there. We expect that water would be close to the saturation point (the stage at which no more salt can be dissolved), because as water stands there, it leaches through rocks and tends to dissolve every salt it meets… we’re talking about several tens of percent [of salt content in the lakes].”

There is still much debate surrounding the existence of these Martian lakes, predominantly around the presence of liquid water rather than ice. Scientists argue that there is a lack of a substantial heat source that would be able to turn the ice on Mars into water. Although this new data supports the 2018 finding that a lake is present, many are still concerned that what has been found may not be liquid water, instead either ice or some sort of slush. However, an upcoming Chinese mission, may be able to check these claims. The Tianwen-1 mission will reach Mars in February 2021 and deploy a rover onto the surface which will carry out some scientific experiments.


Greenland Will Be Shedding Its Ice at a Record Rate by 2100

Fears over the impact of global warming on the world’s ice sheets has been reinforced by news that by 2100, Greenland is expected to be shedding ice faster than at any time in the past 12,000 years.

The report featured in the October edition of Nature and analyzed how the melting ice levels are increasing compared to previous levels. One of the biggest impacts of melting ice is of course rising sea levels, the consequences of which are far reaching. Even though reports suggest that Greenland’s melting ice is contributing to rising global sea levels by just 0.7 millimeters per year, the impact of this over time is extremely significant. In a clear example, some reports have suggested that by 2100, the sea level could have risen by 1.5 meters around the Maldives islands, resulting in a loss of around 77% of its land area.

In order to gain a bigger picture of past, present and future ice loss, colleagues at the University of Buffalo in New York, headed up by glacial geologist Jason Briner, created a detailed timeline of how the ice sheet has evolved over a period of 12,000 years, with projections right up until 2100. In addition, they also conducted a series of climate and ice physics simulations which were noted to be much improved since previous temperature reconstructions, therefore providing a more realistic predictions outline of future events.

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A particular area of interest was a known previous ‘warm period’ which started between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago. During this particular phase, the team estimated that Greenland’s ice was reducing probably at a rate of around 6,000 billion metric tons per century. It appears that this average loss level remained fairly stable over the centuries, however in the past 20 years the pace seems to have accelerated to around 6,100 billion tons per century.

The increase in ice loss and its connection to global warming continues to bring in much debate from both sides of the fence. Some are certain that it is evidence of man’s impact on the world and that our continued exploitation of the natural world and its resources is leading humanity to unimaginable doom. Others are less convinced and believe that this is part of the Earth’s lifecycle, with global warming being a natural and unavoidable part of its evolutionary path. It appears that the predictions provided by the team take into account both perspectives, as the ice loss outcomes for the next century are provided on a spectrum, from slight increases to an almighty surge.

The team are under no illusions that the pace of ice loss will accelerate in the century ahead, whatever happens, but by how much is really dependent on greenhouse gas emissions. If levels of emissions remain at the lower end, the ice loss is likely to be somewhere in the region of 8,800 billion tons per century. But more worryingly, if the emissions are at the higher end, we could be looking at ice loss rates of up to 35,900 billion tons per century. The overriding message here is that an increasing rate of ice loss will happen regardless of what humanity does, but we will play a part in by how much, and how devastating this will be for future generations.

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Such findings naturally fuel pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are many ideas for how individuals can contribute to a reduction in emissions, including reducing their use of gas-emitting transportation and opting for walking, biking or car-sharing. Another important area that has been gaining greater exposure in recent years has been the consumption of animal products. It is reported that raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is in fact the second highest source of emissions and is greater than all transportation emissions combined. Furthermore, it is estimated to use about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

Many experts and analysts have warned that we are currently at a crossroads for the future of life on earth. There is evidence that if we take the right steps, we could help to slow the rate of global warming and the associated impacts of this, such as the speed at which our ice sheets are melting. Whilst there are those who are skeptical about just how close to crisis the world really is right now, I’m inclined to think that perhaps we should all err on the side of caution and assume the worst case scenario is going to happen, so that we can take steps now to prevent it happening for real. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right?

Doctor with Covid-19 Vaccine

AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Being Reviewed For Approval In Canada And Europe 

U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca has long been leading the race in developing a vaccine to fight off Covid-19. The company partnered with the University of Oxford in the beginning of the pandemic to begin preliminary research on ways to treat and destroy the virus. However, within the last four weeks the team has fallen behind on their trial operations.

AstraZeneca made the announcement in September that they would be temporarily pausing its late-stage clinical studies for the Covid-19 vaccine in the US, Europe and Canada due to participants getting infected with the virus itself. Now, the company has since resumed its trials in multiple countries and is already being reviewed for potential regulatory approvals in Canada and Europe. 

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However, trial operations within the US have slowed tremendously, leaving the nation way behind in its development. Initially, the trial’s were paused after a participant in the U.K. developed an unexplained illness after receiving the experimental vaccine. This pause in trial is rather routine, as most vaccine and drug trials need to do a full investigation when unexplained results appear; like the illness the participant in the U.K. experiences. 

AstraZeneca was obviously transparent in the beginning of this trial that unexpected illnesses and other side effects were to be expected in any sort of medical trial, and luckily the incident with the participant in the U.K. ended up being as routine as any other side effect to appear during a trial; hence the restarting of trials in Europe and Canada. 

Regulators in Brazil, India, South Africa, and Japan have reviewed the findings from AstraZeneca’s trial, and have allowed late-stages clinical trials to resume. This is also occurring in Canada and Europe, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still hasn’t allowed the company to resume their clinical trial.

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AstraZeneca recently claimed that they were working closely with the FDA to provide all the information needed in order for the administration to resume the trial. The FDA has since widened their investigation and are now looking at data from clinical trials regarding similar vaccines developed by the same scientists working on the Covid-19 treatment. 

This process is to determine if similar side effects that occured to the patient in the U.K occured in other vaccine trials developed by the same individuals; it is still unknown how long this data analysis will actually take. However, the agency is under immense pressure from the government to resume the trial process as the election gets closer and closer. 

Back in May the U.S. government agreed to pay over $1.2 billion for AstraZeneca to supply 300 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to the nation. The company won’t be able to send those doses, however, until the FDA gives emergency use authorization, which won’t happen until the trials are able to fully resume. 

For now, residents of the U.S. will have to wait to see how long it takes for the FDA to complete their investigation and restart the trial process to get a vaccine on the streets as soon as possible.

UK Coronavirus Warning Sign

Will The United Kingdom Go into a Second Nationwide Lockdown?

The United Kingdom is currently facing a rapidly growing surge of coronavirus cases. Since mass testing began, on the 24th of September, it was reported that the UK saw the highest single daily rise in cases within 24 hours. Within this period 6,634 people tested positive for the disease, which was an approximate 25% rise in one day according to the BBC. According to official graphs, the United Kingdom is approaching a similar peak as it did in the first wave in March. Recently, the UK coronavirus alert level moved from 3 to 4. Meaning that, out of five levels in the stages of the outbreak, the UK is currently at a ‘high or exponentially rising transmission rate’. The UK government has enforced several new restrictions in order to attempt to slow the rise of cases. However, as things rapidly escalate many more are questioning whether the country should or will go into a second lockdown.

Experts quantify that although official records show that the UK has recently seen the highest number of new cases on a single day, the UK’s prior limited testing capabilities meant that records were perhaps not entirely accurate during the first peak of the pandemic. Some estimations suggest that there may have been as many as 100,000 cases a day at the peak. However, the UK is currently facing a deficit of available coronavirus tests and therefore current figures may still be slightly inaccurate. Some sources even suggest that the UK may only be identifying approximately 50% of cases at this time. Concern arises as both hospital admissions and death rates are also rising with the number of cases. If the National Health Service (NHS) becomes overwhelmed with the hospital admissions the coronavirus will become out of control for the country.

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The government has advised the public that it is doing everything it can not to place the country in a second lockdown, in order to preserve jobs, livelihoods and the economy. In another speech addressing the nation on the 22nd of September, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated:

‘And if we were forced into a new national lockdown, that would threaten not just jobs and livelihoods but the loving human contact on which we all depend.

It would mean renewed loneliness and confinement for the elderly and vulnerable, and ultimately it would threaten once again the education of our children. We must do all we can to avoid going down that road again.

But if people don’t follow the rules we have set out, then we must reserve the right to go further. We must take action now because a stitch in time saves nine; and this way we can keep people in work, we can keep our shops and our schools open, and we can keep our country moving forward while we work together to suppress the virus.’

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Therefore, should the new restrictions put in place not prove to be effective it has been suggested by the UK government that they would take further action which could mean another lockdown for the country. The ‘tougher measures’ that have been newly placed in correlation with the Prime Minister’s speech include urging those that can work from home to again do so, stricter measures for face coverings, pub and restaurant curfews of 10 pm with strict table service and banning groups of over six persons. Businesses that are not COVID secure could be shut down, and those that do not generally comply to measures could face fines of up to £10,000. The government has suggested that these new restrictions could be in place for as long as six months. As the UK moves into its colder winter months and ‘flu season’ approaches, experts and Members of Parliament alike are concerned that this will bring an even greater increase in cases. Many have argued that the government’s current restrictions do not go far enough to contain the virus considering the current sharp rise in cases.

Some areas of the UK are seeing heavier increases than others – the north-east of England is currently facing separate and targeted restrictions due to an outbreak. Already, some cities and areas have been placed in local knockdowns as virus containment has got out of control. Britain’s capital city, London has also seen a sharp rise in cases and reports that a lockdown is being considered are beginning to circulate. According to Business Insider ‘Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, warned on Wednesday that London was facing “additional measures” to try and contain the spread of the virus. “It is clear that London has unique needs and challenges and additional measures need to be examined which are suitable for the capital,” said a spokesman for the mayor.’

Covid Studies

Researchers Pressured To Focus On Sex Differences In Covid-19 Studies 

When it comes to medical research in general, unless a disease or virus has proven to only impact one sex over the other, men and women are often grouped together in terms of how doctors experiment to catch and fight new diseases. However, this process can be quite deadly, for example in the late 1990’s a heart drug named digoxin was marketed as being effective and safe, but after a while women were noticing a higher-rate of negative side effects when compared to men who took the drug. 

After further research it was discovered that the drug was actually attributing to a higher mortality rate in women but was decreasing mortality in men. So when it comes to the Covid-19 pandemic, some experts are wondering why there isn’t more of a focus on how this virus affects the sexes differently, if at all. 

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Covid-19 seems to be impacting all demographics relatively equally, however, it’s already been thought of that men are twice as likely to die from the virus as women. That said, the main researchers around the world that are focusing on treatments for this virus are paying little to no attention to the variations in how it impacts an individual based on their biological sex. 

One study showed that only 416 of the 2,484 Covid-19 clinical trials currently occuring around the world account for sex/gender as a criteria for volunteer recruitment. When research around the malaria treatment drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was saturating media timelines a few months ago, studies showed that the drug caused heart-rhythm side-effects that could be deadly. These side effects, however, were mainly occurring in women. 

There is a general recognition today that women aren’t as heavily involved in clinical trials as men. One of the known reasons for this is due to a series of birth defects and other problems resulting from fetal exposure to certain experimental drugs during clinical trials between the 1940s and 1970s. These defects created a massive ripple effect of scientists excluding women from medical trials if they’re at an age when they’re still fertile. 

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Systemic racism in general has also caused a lot of scientists to view caucasian males as the “normal” when it comes to population types, therefore however their bodies react to whatever treatment is being tested will be universal for everyone else. Back in 2001 10 different drugs were pulled from the market after it was discovered that 8 of them were posing greater health risks for women over men due to a lack of inclusion in trials. Londa Schiebinger is a history of science professor who recently discussed the importance of sex analysis in clinical trials. 

“The problem is, if you don’t do sex analysis – if males and females have very different responses – you could miss accurate data on everybody.”

Many research funding agencies now have requirements for sex analysis’ in trials. Women have different hormone types and levels than men. They also have smaller kidneys and more fat tissue which is extremely important when it comes to medical research and dosage information. When it comes to infectious diseases, such as Covid-19, women are proven to have stronger immune systems in general due to their double X chromosomes. So in the same regard, ensuring that equal parts men and women are involved in all Covid trials is imperative for measuring all types of immune responses to this unpredictable virus.

Vaccine Syringe

How Was The First Global Vaccine Discovered?

As the world continues to seek out a vaccine for the novel Coronavirus in record time, we may be a little guilty of taking the whole medical research and development process for granted. We have a great many vaccines available to us to help protect us from some of the most serious diseases and illnesses which have plagued the human race over many centuries. But it wasn’t always the case and vaccines weren’t always so readily available. If anything, COVID has reminded us of this fact and that recent generations have lived in relatively good health compared to our ancestors.

One of the biggest medical innovations was the development of the vaccine for smallpox. It was described as a ‘devastating disease’ which reportedly killed around 3 in 10 people who caught it. Those who survived were often left with visible scarring. It is thought that smallpox has been around since the Egyptian Empire in the 3rd Century BCE and that it slowly spread across the globe as exploration and trade routes expanded.

Historically, the only way to help try and prevent the growth of smallpox was through variolation. This is when the pustules from the smallpox sores are scratched onto the arm of a person who has not had smallpox. The other method was to inhale it in powder form through the nose. These methods resulted in the person gaining some of the symptoms of smallpox such as a fever and rash, but were much less inflicted by it. In addition, far fewer people died from variolation than those who acquired smallpox through normal transmission.

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The process of arm to arm variolation was used to transport the virus across vast areas, even countries. In fact, human chains were created when it was necessary to transport the ‘live’ vaccine across countries via ships. Enough people were enlisted to ensure that the process of transferring the pustules from one person to the next was possible until they reached the desired recipients.

Clearly variolation was effective, but it wasn’t the most efficient way to protect large numbers of people. The first official vaccine was for ‘smallpox’ and was introduced by English doctor Edward Jenner in 1796. He has discovered that milkmaids who had caught cowpox did not catch smallpox and realised that inoculated vaccinia protected them from inoculated variola virus. In order to test his theory about the vaccine, Jenner took some of the fluid from a cowpox blister and scratched it into the skin of a nine year old boy called James Phipps, the son of his gardener This caused a single blister to occur at the scratch site, but the boy quickly recovered. A couple of months later, Jenner did the same thing but this time with smallpox and found that the boy did not become ill. This proved that the vaccine had worked in preventing the boy from developing smallpox.

Jenner submitted a paper to the Royal Society a year later detailing the results of his experiment, but they pushed back telling him that he needed more proof that his vaccine was indeed a suitable preventative measure for smallpox. He went on to vaccinate a number of other children including his own 11-month old son. In 1798 the results of his experiment were published. An interesting fun fact is that Jenner came up with the word vaccine from the Latin ‘vacca’ which means cow. Despite the publishing of the paper, Jenner continued to face opposition from many, including the clergy, who believed that it was ‘repulsive and ungodly to inoculate someone with material from a diseased animal.’ Nevertheless, the results of the vaccine spoke for themselves and eventually the vaccine was soon widely accepted, with Jenner enjoying notable fame for his medical innovation.

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Fast forward to 1959 and smallpox was still proving problematic in some areas, leading the World Health Organization to embark on a mission to ‘globally eradicate it’. Following an intensive vaccination, outbreak control and surveillance program, the last case of smallpox was recorded in 1977 in Somalia, with the patient making a full recovery. By 1986 all countries across the world had ceased their smallpox vaccination programs, as smallpox appeared to be one of only two diseases that humans have been able to wipe out. The other was cattle plague, also known as rinderpest. It is believed that there is no naturally occurring smallpox transmission anywhere in the world, although small quantities of the smallpox virus still exist in several research laboratories in Georgia and in Russia.

Clearly there are many successes in our history with regards to fighting illnesses and diseases, and many experts are confident that we will also win the war against the novel Coronavirus. But such medical innovations take time to refine and so despite our innate desires to return to pre-COVID life, we simply have to accept that whilst this is likely to be with us for some time, it certainly won’t be forever. Until then, we must all play our part in keeping our communities safe, clean and virus-free.

Covid Test

UK Faces COVID-19 Test Shortages

The United Kingdom is currently facing an upsurge in coronavirus cases, some areas and cities, or ‘hotspots’, are on enhanced support or have been placed into lockdown due to the rapid rise of cases. As this increase continues many more local lockdowns may prove imminent across the country. Despite insistence that the country will not yet be placed in another nationwide lockdown, due to the growth in cases, UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, recently imposed new restrictions into law, meaning that only six people at any time are allowed to meet or gather. These restrictions will be enforced by the police and fines issued should they be broken. In the North East of England exclusive rules and curfews have also been put into place. In correlation with this, as the weekly number of people testing positive for coronavirus rises, the country is now experiencing testing shortages which may take weeks to resolve.

When the UK government was questioned on the lack of COVID-19 tests, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock stated, “I think we will be able to solve this problem in a matter of weeks… We are managing to deliver record capacity, but as he well knows demand is also high,” pointing to operational challenges as the cause of shortages. The Independent reported that Hancock suggested that the rationing of tests may need to be re-introduced as the testing program may need to prioritise once again. Earlier in the pandemic, the UK government was criticized for both its lack of testing and lack of available tests for both the healthcare services and the general public. It now seems that this again is a problem for the United Kingdom.

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According to New Scientist, ‘between 3 and 9 September, 18,371 people were diagnosed with covid-19, which is “a substantial increase of 167 per cent compared to the end of August,” according to NHS Test and Trace. These may be “the last reliable figures” on the state of the nation’s epidemic for some time because of the reduced availability of tests, said Daniel Lawson at the University of Bristol in a statement.’

Lack of testing not only threatens the stability of the coronavirus response, but it means that millions will have to self-isolate, perhaps even when they do not have the virus, taking them away from key roles in the community. Already, there are reports of NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) staff having to self-isolate as they are unable to access tests for either themselves or their family members. Frontline NHS staff are integral to the fight against COVID-19 and losing staff however temporarily in this area could begin to overwhelm the healthcare service. Lack of testing is therefore of growing concern not only for members of the community but in many aspects in the fight against coronavirus as a whole.

Speaking to The Independent, Layla McCay, a director at the NHS Confederation said: “we are significantly concerned that some people with symptoms of Covid-19, including healthcare workers and their families, are having difficulty in accessing tests due to insufficient laboratory capacity. We need to see concrete evidence that the promised further increases in testing capacity and faster testing are achievable, and we also need immediate action to prioritize testing for key workers.”

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One of the causes for lack of sufficient testing has been That laboratories simply do not have the capacity to quickly process the volume of tests coming in. Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, told Sky News “we’re increasing the number of test centres, we’ve got 400 test centres, getting it up to 500 but clearly there are still real challenges.” According to The Financial Times, “official data have indicated that the UK’s current testing capacity stands at 374,917, and under plans announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week, the government hopes to reach 500,000 tests a day by the end of October,” and leaked health department showed a backlog of 185,000 tests waiting to be processed as of the 11th of September.

New Scientist reported “the time for tests to be returned is also taking longer. The proportion of test results received within 24 hours fell to 14.3 per cent during the same period in September, down from 32 per cent the week before. “Tests which take many days to report and action, are of no value in suppressing the pandemic,” said James Naismith at the University of Oxford in a statement.” Some local Doctors’ surgeries and the website for booking coronavirus test online are both struggling to cope with the amount of people requesting and needing tests. Testing, is an integral part of safeguarding against SARS-CoV-2 hence, the UK government is being urged to quickly resolve this matter in order to both prevent a second wave of the virus and limit the impact that not staying ahead of the coronavirus would cause on the country and economy as a whole.