Latest coronavirus news as of 5.30pm on 23 July
Longer interval between first and second Pfizer/BioNTech jabs may boost antibody responses
A preliminary study found that a longer gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine may boost the immune response. The study measured coronavirus antibody responses in 503 healthcare workers in England who received two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at different intervals in late 2020 and early 2021, at a time when the alpha coronavirus variant was becoming dominant. They compared a three-week gap and a 10-week gap between the first and second shot, and found that those who had the longer period between the two generated more neutralising antibodies, which can bind the virus and stop it from infecting cells.
Given the current dominance of the highly transmissible delta coronavirus variant, Susanna Dunachie at the University of Oxford, who was involved in the study, told the BBC that an eight-week interval may be best to ensure people can get fully vaccinated as quickly as possible without compromising immunity. “Eight weeks is about the sweet spot for me, because people do want to get the two vaccine [doses] and there is a lot of delta out there right now,” said Dunachie.
The UK government extended the dosing gap for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to 12 weeks in December 2020, but on 15 July NHS England announced it would start asking people to bring forward their second covid-19 vaccine to eight weeks if possible.
Other coronavirus news
Coronavirus infections are rising in all four of the UK’s nations, according to the latest results of a random swab testing survey by the Office for National Statistics. An estimated one in 75 people in England had covid-19 in the week up to 17 July, up from one in 95 the previous week. Equivalent estimates for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in the week up to 10 July were one in 80 people, one in 170 people and one in 210 people, respectively.
New Zealand announced it is closing its travel bubble with all of Australia for at least two months, as a number of states in Australia are experiencing outbreaks of the delta coronavirus variant. The travel bubble allowed people to travel between Australia and New Zealand without quarantining on arrival. Qantas and Air New Zealand said that from 31 July most Australia-New Zealand services would be cancelled, Reuters reported.
The European Union’s medicines regulator approved the Moderna covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 and above. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was approved in the EU for use in children aged 12 and older in May.
Preliminary data from Israel’s health ministry suggests the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine is less effective at preventing coronavirus infection and symptomatic covid-19 caused by the delta coronavirus variant than it is for other variants. However, while the vaccine was found to be just 40 per cent effective against infection and symptomatic disease due to delta, it remained 91.4 per cent effective at preventing severe covid-19.
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 4.13 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 192.7 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, 2.09 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.
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What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus
New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.
The Jump is a BBC radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.
Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.
Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.
Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.
The New York Times is assessing the progress in development of potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.
Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.
Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.
Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.
COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.
The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.
Weekly coronavirus cases and alerts by the NHS Covid-19 app in England are both on the rise
Coronavirus infections are continuing to rise in England, with a record number of people receiving alerts from the NHS Covid-19 app telling them to self-isolate. According to the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace, 259,265 people tested positive for the coronavirus in England in the week up to 14 July – an increase of 33 per cent from the previous week and the highest weekly figure recorded since the week up to 20 January. In the same week, the number of people alerted by the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales increased by 16.8 per cent, hitting 618,903 in the week to 14 July – the highest weekly figure recorded to date.
UK businesses, including supermarkets and retailers, as well as police forces, are reporting staff shortages. UK business minister Kwasi Kwarteng told the BBC on 22 July that the government would release a narrow list of jobs in which fully vaccinated people would be exempt from self-isolating.
“The reason that so many people are receiving notifications is simple, we have a highly transmissible virus that is being allowed to spread throughout the country with the bare minimum of mitigation,” said Stephen Griffin at the University of Leeds in the UK, in a statement. Griffin was one of more than 1200 scientists who backed a letter published in the journal the Lancet criticising the UK government’s plan to lift most coronavirus restrictions on 19 July despite rising cases.
Other coronavirus news
China rejected a World Health Organization (WHO) plan for a second phase of an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, including investigation of the possibility that the virus escaped from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Reuters reported on 22 July. The second phase of investigation proposed by the WHO included audits of laboratories and markets in Wuhan. Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s national health commission told reporters that the WHO plan “in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science”. Last week, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was premature to rule out the possibility that the virus leaked from a laboratory and urged China to cooperate with the WHO’s investigation.
US president Joe Biden said that children under 12 may be able to get vaccinated against covid-19 in the country by the end of August at the earliest. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna both started trials of their covid-19 vaccines in children under 12 in March, with results expected in the coming months. On 21 July, Biden told a town hall in Ohio that his expectation was that “some time, maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, you’ll get a final approval” for vaccinating children.
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 4.12 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 192.1 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, 2.08 billion people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.
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