It’s been an interesting week! First, there have been a number of reports that both the Russians and Chinese have started vaccination programs in their own populations without waiting for phase 3 results of the vaccines. The Russian effort, called Sputnik 5, is based on a recombinant adenovirus type 26 (rAd26) vector and a recombinant adenovirus type 5 (rAd5) vector, both carrying the gene for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) spike glycoprotein (rAd26-S and rAd5-S). Injections are given 3 weeks apart. The Lancet just published the phase 1/2 results of the vaccine trial. The journal also provided an accompanying editorial and although the number of participants in the trial was small (N=76) and they were primarily young people, the results were generally good. Importantly, the vaccine is available in two versions: frozen and lyophilized, which must be stored at -18⁰C and from 2 to 8⁰C, respectively. That said, this trial is only the first step; much more research will need to be conducted to understand its safety and efficacy, but evidently president Putin has some faith in it as it was reportedly given to his own daughter.
There’s been a lot of hoo-hah about storage of mRNA vaccines in the press the past few weeks. For example, Moderna’s vaccine must be kept at -20⁰C for shipping and longer-term storage of up to six months. But and this is an important but, it can be kept at regular refrigeration temperatures for up to 10 days. So, yes, there will be some shipping issues but not the dire warnings for local distribution I’ve seen in some articles.
Finally, the Economist published a neat graph demonstrating the relationship between a country’s GDP per person and the percentage of the population that believes the vaccine is safe.
In the US and China, it’s 75% but for Russia it’s 45% (yes, it’s an outlier because of prior issues) (first figure). According to the Economist, believability is intertwined with ability to access dodgy conspiracy stuff and whether your country has been the site of other nasty viruses and bacterial plagues in the recent past.
Mr. Trump has also instructed the CDC to tell states and 5 large cities in the US to prepare to receive vaccines in late October or early November despite a huge uproar from the medical community. Perhaps he’s drinking from the Kool-Aid as Mr. Putin and has faith in vaccines but he has a lot of work to do in convincing his own party: According to the Economist, if you identify politically as a Republican, you’re far more likely to believe you should have nothing to do with Covid-19 vaccines (second figure).
Frankly, some days, I think it would be easier to persuade people that the Norwegian Blue Parrot really exists.
At the behest of the White House, the CDC also got itself into hot water over new testing rules, again. Until recently, it said testing was recommended “for all close contacts of persons with SARS-CoV-2 infection.” It was changed to say someone who was in close contact (within 6 feet) of a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes but didn’t have symptoms does not “necessarily need a test.” Due to the blowback it received, CDC Director Robert Redfield then amended this position a few days later to say that those who come in contact with a confirmed or probable COVID-19 patient can be tested, even if they don’t show symptoms. This is so bad, I am reminded of the classic Monty Python sketch about the Piranha Brothers.
Dr. Marissa Carter is an unabashed fan of the BBC series Monty Python’s Flying Circus.