Two coronavirus strains first detected in California have now been branded ‘variants of concern’ by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC said the variants could be around 20% more transmissible than the original strain, according to some research. The public health agency also said some Covid-19 treatments may be less effective but stopped short of saying vaccines would stop working against them.
A shipment of Covid-10 antibody treatment headed for California, Nevada and Arizona was recently halted by the US Department of Health and Human Services due to the newly discovered variants.
The agency said the treatment, called bamlanivimab and made by pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company, may be less effective against the strains.
Agency officials noted that another Covid-19 therapy made by Eli Lilly, a combination of bamlanivimab and another drug, etesevimab, can still be ordered if needed.
Early test results demonstrated that the drug combination may significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. A different antibody treatment made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals was also not affected by the HHS action.
Eli Lilly said Tuesday that it is continually monitoring the Covid-19 environment for variants and testing its therapies against a “wide array of emerging mutations and variants.”
“It has always been our view that additional antibodies from Lilly and others will need to be developed to address the evolution of the virus, including emerging variants that can differ by country or even by state,” Eli Lilly said in a statement to CNN last week.
“In fact, this is what drove our work on bamlanivimab and etesevimab together and continues to underpin our strategy moving forward.”
“For individuals who are diagnosed early with COVID-19 that’s early testing and who, although they’re currently doing okay, are really at risk of getting pretty sick, these treatments can make a huge difference in preventing them from developing severe illness from COVID,” Dr Nunez-Smith said at the latest Covid-19 press conference with Dr Fauci.
“In fact, Eli Lilly’s newest monoclonal antibody combination therapy has shown the ability to reduce COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths by up to 87%. So the National Institutes of Health and the Infectious Disease Society of America, that’s an association of over 12,000 physicians, scientists, and public health experts, they specialize in infectious disease and they both formally recommend the use of this treatment in patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of progression to severe disease.”
The European Union’s medicines regulator has announced its conclusion that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is still safe to use after several countries across Europe suspended their rollout efforts following reports that it could be linked to blood clots.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA)’s executive director Emer Cooke said the agency had “come to a clear scientific conclusion: this is a safe and effective vaccine.”
“I want to reiterate that our scientific position is this: this vaccine is a safe and effective option to protect citizens against Covid-19,” Cooke said at a press conference Thursday.
“It demonstrated that at least 60% efficacy in clinical trials and preventing coronavirus disease, and in fact the real-world evidence suggests that the effectiveness could be even higher than that.”
The group was keen to recommend raising awareness of blood clot reports across the continent so that they could be further analyzed before too long. But they also said such reports were rare, and that to date more than 7 million people have received the vaccine in the EU.
Most of western Europe had temporarily stopped using the Oxford shot following a small number of clots being reported, despite a third wave of coronavirus infections across the region.
The death of a person in Austria, a woman in Denmark and a third patient in Norway were the cause of the concern but the decisions were criticized by much of the medical community, and other countries continued to back the use of the vaccine — including the UK, which has given out more than 11 million AstraZeneca doses so far.
“So these recommendations by the NIH and by IDSA send a really strong signal to patients, as well as providers all over the country. A message that these treatments are efficacious. They show enough promise in clinical studies to recommend their broader use during this pandemic to help us save lives,” Dr Nunez-Smith, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine, continued at the press conference.
“And we are certainly tracking all the latest science and updating clinical recommendations as needed. For all Americans, these treatments for COVID-19 are free. And the cost of administering them is covered by Medicare and Medicaid and most private insurance companies. And these therapies are already available across the United States and we’ve shipped these treatments to over 5,000 sites across the country. So that’s hospitals and emergency rooms, urgent care settings, physician’s offices, and infusion centers.”