Coronavirus Now: COVID-19 & Vaccine Updates for February 26

As of February 26, confirmed cases of COVID-19 now number more than 113 million around the world, including more than 28 million cases in the United States and more than 516,000 U.S. deaths. You can see a breakdown of coronavirus cases throughout the world and within the U.S. on the map and chart above.

Below you’ll find updates on the latest news about the coronavirus.


February 26 News Updates

Pfizer Vaccine Reduces Asymptomatic Spread After One Dose

Just one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces asymptomatic infections four-fold, according to a finding from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, Independent reported. This can reduce transmission risks. Dr. Mike Weekes, infectious disease specialist at Cambridge University, said: “The Pfizer vaccine not only provides protection against becoming ill from SARS-CoV-2 but also helps prevent infection, reducing the potential for the virus to be passed on to others.”

Canadian Regulators Approve Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine

Health Canada regulators approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which showed an efficacy of 62%, CBC reported. Canada has secured 22 million doses, most of which will arrive from April to September. Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said that AstraZeneca is less effective than Pfizer and Moderna, but is better than not getting any vaccine. Sharma said that all the vaccines are good at preventing hospitalizations and decreasing deaths.

France, meanwhile, has still restricted AstraZeneca to only people under 65 due to limited clinical trials in older age groups. In early February, South Africa halted the AstraZeneca rollout due to lower efficacy against the SA variant, B.1.351, StatNews reported.

Pfizer Vaccine Can Be Stored for 2 Weeks Without Ultra-Cold Storage

The FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for normal freezer storage (temperatures of -25°C to -15°C) for up to two weeks, Time reported. This was in response to new data submitted by Pfizer-BioNTech regarding stability at those higher temperatures. In ultra-cold storage, the vaccine is approved for six months of storage.

Tanya Alcorn, vice president of Pfizer’s BioPharma Global Supply Chain, said this gives people more storage options and flexibility. Doses will still be shipped in ultra-cold containers. You can read the FDA’s news release here.

New Variant Discovered in New York City

A new COVID-19 variant is spreading in New York City, referred to as B.1.526, Intelligencer reported. The Caltech and Columbia study, which is still awaiting peer review, showed the variant accounted for 27% of viral sequences found by Caltech by mid-February, and 12% in samples Columbia sequenced. The strains also have mutations on the spike protein, which can increase infectiousness. The particular mutation might affect monoclonal antibodies like the SA variant does. You can read the paper here.

CDC Launches VaccineFinder to Locate Vaccines Near You

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched a new COVID-19 VaccineFinder tool that allows people from anywhere in the United States to look for a novel coronavirus vaccine near them. To use the VaccineFinder, you can visit the VaccineFinder’s homepage here and click on “Find COVID-19 Vaccines.” The VaccineFinder only includes participating providers, so everyone may not be listed. Learn more in Heavy’s story here.

Additional Vaccine Updates

GettyA woman leaves Life Care Center of Kirkland on February 29, 2020, in Kirkland, Washington.

Pfizer Updates (mRNA vaccine): 

The first dose of the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine delivers about 90% protection after 21 days, The Guardian reported in February. The protection is at about 0 around the two-week mark and then rapidly increases from there.

A peer-reviewed study of about 9,000 people by Sheba Medical Center and published in Lancet in February showed that the first Pfizer dose brings 85% efficacy in preventing symptomatic disease within 15 to 28 days of the shot, The Wall Street Journal reported in mid-February. The new study, however, looked at people who were younger and healthier, one author noted, and didn’t confirm how long protection lasts.

Preliminary results in a preprint revealed that Pfizer’s vaccine reduces the viral load four-fold 12 to 28 days after the first dose, The Scientist reported. This study compared nearly 3,000 vaccinated people with unvaccinated people. You can read the preprint here.

Experts disagree on whether a second dose can be delayed or not. Professor Ugur Sahin, chief executive at BioNTech, told Sky News that up to six weeks between the first and second Pfizer dose should be fine, but not longer than that. In contrast, two Canadian researchers said in a New England Journal of Medicine letter that because the first dose has 92.6% efficacy, the second Pfizer dose can be delayed, CTV News reported.

The UK warned that people with serious allergic reactions to a vaccine, medicine, or food — or who have had near-fatal allergic reactions — shouldn’t get the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine, AP News reported in early December.

Pfizer/BioNTech is working on boosters specifically against the new coronavirus variants, Newsweek reported in late January. If any variants show resistance to the current vaccine, Pfizer wants to be able to produce a booster “very, very quickly.” A February study at the University of Texas revealed that the Pfizer vaccine still provides substantial protection against the SA variant, The Guardian reported. The researchers did acknowledge limitations, including not having the full set of spike mutations in the test.

A real-world study in Israel of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shows a 94% efficacy in symptomatic infection following two doses, Reuters reported. The efficacy was the same across all age groups and co-morbidities. The study looked at 1.2 million people, and the UK variant was dominant when the study was performed. Efficacy against the SA variant wasn’t part of the study.

Moderna Updates (mRNA vaccine): 

Data released in mid-December shows that Moderna’s vaccine is highly protective, The New York Times reported. The vaccine had an efficacy of 94.1% in a trial with 30,000 participants. Side effects were not dangerous but were unpleasant, including fever, headache, and fatigue. During trials, Moderna (and CanSino) both stopped giving high doses for the second dose because of the side effects, StatNews reported. Moderna’s current vaccine uses a lower dose for the second dose.

Moderna announced on January 25 that individuals who got the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are showing neutralizing antibody activity against the UK and South Africa variants too (B.1.1.7 and B.1.351.) A weaker response was observed for the South Africa variant (B.1.351), but Moderna noted that “neutralizing titer levels … are expected to be protective.” Moderna is advancing work on a variant booster dose against the South Africa strain.

A study of the Moderna vaccine from Emory University and the University of Texas Medical Branch in early February also indicates that it generated neutralizing antibodies against variants, News Medical reported. The study still must undergo peer review.

Moderna is working on a booster vaccine targeted to the South Africa strain, Independent reported in late February. The booster is called mRNA-1273.351. Moderna is looking into different ways to deliver the booster, including as a third dose, as the second in two sets, or mixed with the current vaccine.

Oxford/AstraZeneca Updates:

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is about 62% effective in people who got two full doses, BBC reported in late November. Another trial showed about 90% efficacy in 3,000 people who got a half-dose first and then a full dose the second time rather. The Oxford vaccine is made from an adenovirus that was modified to help human cells create the spike protein so the immune system can recognize it, Nature reported.

AstraZeneca is also testing a component of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in its own clinical trials, according to a press release. The Russian vaccine uses two inoculations based on two different human adenovirus vectors, delivering genetic material from the coronavirus’ spike.

The EU authorized the vaccine, but Germany, Poland, Sweden, Italy, and France are all advising against its use in older residents due to lack of data so far. Ireland stated that mRNA vaccines are preferable for older age groups. Switzerland’s medical regulator, SwissMedic, said that it will not authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine, Irish Times reported.

Meanwhile, South Africa paused its AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine rollout in early February after an analysis revealed the vaccine only provides minimal protection against the B.1.351 South Africa variant, StatNews reported. A small study revealed that the AstraZeneca vaccine may only provide 10% protection against mild to moderate infections of the SA variant, while they had wanted 60% or higher, The Guardian reported.

The AstraZeneca vaccine gives mild side effects like a temperature or a headache, Reuters reported. But French health authorities recommended staggering the shot among health care workers so operations aren’t disrupted. The French medicines safety agency said that the side effects are “known” and described in trials, but should still be surveilled for intensity.

Staff at a Normandy hospital in France believe the side effects are stronger than they saw with Pfizer’s vaccine, even though they are still relatively mild, Reuters reported. Melanie Cotigny, communications manager at Saint-Lo hospital in Normandy, said: “Between 10% and 15% of those vaccinated may have side-effects from this vaccination, but it is only a feverish state, fevers, nausea and within 12 hours it goes away.”

Russia’s Sputnik Updates

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is reported to be 91.6% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% effective against moderate and severe cases, CNN reported in early February. This is reported in interim Phase 3 trials and published in The Lancet. People over age 60 showed a 91.8% efficacy. Serious reactions were rare, and most side effects included mild-flu like symptoms, pain at the injection, and low energy. The analysis hasn’t reviewed asymptomatic cases, transmission, or how long protection lasts.

Russians who receive the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine are being asked not to drink alcohol for two months after, the New York Post reported. This is the amount of time they said it takes the vaccine to be effective and alcohol can be a strain on the body’s immune response, the experts said.

In mid-February, the first 100,000 doses of the Sputnik vaccine arrived in Venezuela, Yahoo News reported. On February 23, AP reported that Mexico received its first shipment of the Sputnik vaccine: 200,000 doses.

Novavax Updates

Novavax announced that in its Phase 1 vaccine trial for NVX-CoV2373, antibodies were induced in 100% of participants, The Motley Fool reported. The vaccine had mild side effects, typically worse with the second dose. On November 9, it was granted fast-track designation by the FDA and is in late-phase clinical development. This is not an mRNA vaccine, ScienceMag reported. Instead, Novavax is using a baculovirus to insert a gene for the spike protein, harvesting the spike proteins and using that in an adjuvant.

In mid-February, FT reported that Novavax was about to finish its U.S. trial of the vaccine in record time, having enrolled 30,000 participants since beginning the trial in late December. A UK trial of the two-shot vaccine found it 85.6% effective against B.1.1.7 and 95.6% effective against the original variant.

Inovio Updates

Inovio is working on a vaccine called the INO-4800 DNA vaccine. Inovio announced positive results from two Phase I clinical trials in early July. The Phase 1 trial was expanded to include older participants in June and July. This is a nucleic-based vaccine that will be stable at room temperature for more than a year and doesn’t need to be frozen.

On January 4, Inovio said it expected to begin a late-stage study of its vaccine in the U.S. in the second quarter of 2021 after finishing mid-stage trials in March, Reuters reported. The vaccine has three mid-stage trials, one in the U.S., one in China with Advaccinek, and one in South Korea. The U.S. Phase III trial had been delayed as the FDA requested more information on the delivery device.

On February 12, Inovio shares traded higher, Seeking Alpha reported. Analyst Hartaj Singh believed Inovio’s vaccine showed promise, noting: “We believe the overall DNA platform by INO should not be overlooked.”

Johnson & Johnson Updates

Johnson & Johnson applied for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine, Stat News reported. If approved, the vaccine might begin being used in early March or even late February. The supply will be limited at first. Johnson & Johnson reported 66% efficacy at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. It was 72% effective in the United States and 57% effective in South Africa, perhaps pointing to a vulnerability to variants. No one who got the vaccine was hospitalized or died.

Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary Janssen applied to the EMA for conditional authorization for its vaccine in mid-February.

Data related to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine shows 66% overall effectiveness: 57% in South Africa (rising to 64% after about a month), 66% in Latin America, and 72% in the United States, CNBC reported. The vaccine group reported no deaths, while the placebo group reported seven deaths. People ages 60 and older with comorbidities had a lower efficacy rate of about 42.3%. You can read the 62-page FDA briefing document from Johnson & Johnson here.

CureVac updates: 

On February 12, EMA began a rolling review of CureVac’s vaccine, CVnCoV, EMA reported. CureVac is conducting clinical trials on safety, immune response, and effectiveness. CureVac utilizes the mRNA vaccination method.

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline Updates

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline vaccine early trials were disappointing, The New York Times reported in mid-December. The vaccines didn’t produce a good immune response in older participants, although they did in people under 50.

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