‘Half-measure’ Virus Vaccine Intrigues Experts

Evidence suggesting an initial half dose of the vaccine being developed by drugs firm AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford is more effective than a full dose is counterintuitive, and even took the researchers by surprise.

Why would less be better than more when it comes to triggering an immune response?

Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, described the findings from the Phase 3 clinical trial as “intriguing”.

They showed that the vaccine had an efficacy of 62 percent among the people given two full doses a month apart.

But this rose to 90 percent for another group who received a half-dose first and then a full dose after a month.

“I think all of us expected that the two high doses would be the best response,” said Pollard, who noted researchers had only seen the details of the results over the weekend and would now start digging into the data.

“We think that by giving a smaller first dose, that we’re priming the immune system differently. We’re setting it up better to respond,” he told a press briefing.

Sarah Gilbert, professor at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, said the better result with a smaller initial dose could be because this better “mimics what happens in a real infection”.

Essentially a vaccine uses a safe method to trick the immune system into believing it is dealing with a dangerous infection, triggering an immune response and an immune memory that can activate if the body comes across the real pathogen.

“It could be that by giving a small amount of the vaccine to start with and following up with a big amount, that’s a better way of kicking the immune system into action and giving us the strongest immune response,” Gilbert told reporters.

Clinical trials suggested that an initial half-dose was better than a full one Clinical trials suggested that an initial half-dose was better than a full one Photo: AFP / JUAN MABROMATA

The Astra/Oxford vaccine employs what is known as a “viral vector”, using engineered viruses to deliver genetic cargo into cells, giving them instructions on how to fight SARS-CoV-2.

The strategy uses the transporting virus as a “Trojan Horse”, said Colin Butter, Associate Professor at the University of Lincoln.

It is “complex and usually achieved experimentally: a luxury not available in the present situation”.

The technology itself may be the reason why an initial half-dose could work better, according to several scientists commenting on the results, with the immune system acting against the virus being used as a delivery vehicle.

“It may seem confusing that a higher initial dose gives a less favourable response, but this may just be due to a residual response in some patients to the disabled ‘vehicle’,” a snippet of chimpanzee virus used to deliver the vaccine “payload”, said Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds.

But he said this could be “easily fixed” by using the adjusted dose.

Pollard said researchers would be looking to find out if the issue was the quantity or quality of the immune

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Hundreds of bodies from New York virus surge still stored in freezer trucks

Hundreds of bodies remain in storage in freezer trucks in New York months after their deaths during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring, The Wall Street Journal reported.



a man riding on the back of a truck: Hundreds of bodies from New York virus surge still stored in freezer trucks


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Hundreds of bodies from New York virus surge still stored in freezer trucks

City officials told the Journal that there are about 650 bodies in storage on the 39th Street Pier in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the bodies are largely those of people who could not afford a burial or whose next of kin could not be located.

Such bodies would ordinarily have been buried on Hart Island, according to the newspaper, but Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) pledged in April that those burials would not occur during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 230 victims’ relatives have not yet been located, the chief medical examiners’ office said. Officials said relatives have not had the money to collect the bodies in other cases.

The city nearly doubled the burial subsidy it offers in May, the Journal noted, but the $1,700 offered is still far short of the $9,000 average cost for a traditional burial or the $6,500 cost of a service and cremation.

Dina Maniotis, the chief medical examiner’s office’s executive deputy commissioner, told the newspaper that while anyone has the right to request a free burial on Hart Island, numerous family members are not clear on their options.

“This has been traumatic,” she said. “We are working with them as gently as we can and coaxing them along to make their plans. Many of them will decide they want to go to Hart Island, which is fine.”

Aden Naka, the office’s deputy director of forensic investigations, added that the unit is only equipped to handle about 20 deaths per day, about one-tenth of those it was faced with at the height of the pandemic in the city.

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All gatherings pose virus spread risk

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gatherings large and small are likely to blame for a slight uptick in daily coronavirus cases in California’s largest county, according to a top health official who warned Monday that upcoming holiday parties pose a risk for renewed spread and a spike in hospitalizations.



FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers fans celebrate outside of Staples Center in Los Angeles, after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals to win the championship. Gatherings large and small are likely to blame for a slight uptick in daily coronavirus cases in California's largest county. That's according to a top Los Angeles County health official who warned Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, that upcoming holiday parties pose a risk for the renewed spread and a spike in hospitalizations. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa, File)


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FILE – In this Oct. 11, 2020, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers fans celebrate outside of Staples Center in Los Angeles, after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in Game 6 of basketball’s NBA Finals to win the championship. Gatherings large and small are likely to blame for a slight uptick in daily coronavirus cases in California’s largest county. That’s according to a top Los Angeles County health official who warned Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, that upcoming holiday parties pose a risk for the renewed spread and a spike in hospitalizations. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa, File)

There’s been a steady increase in the number of residents of Los Angeles County who have been getting together with people from outside their households, according to weekly survey data from the University of Southern California Center for Social and Economic Research.

That may be partly because of championship runs by the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers in recent weeks that brought fans together through watch parties and celebrations.

“With our case numbers already on the rise, we are concerned about the upcoming holiday gatherings and cooler weather, where people are more likely to gather indoors are perfect conditions for spreading COVID-19,” said Barbara Ferrer, the county’s public health director. “And while it’s easy to believe that the virus won’t spread among your family and friends, and that none of you are infected, there are so many examples that prove otherwise.”

For the week ending Oct. 20, more than 10% of respondents reported that they’d been at a gathering of 10 or more people in the past seven days, Ferrer said. She warned that if just 10% of Los Angeles County’s 10 million residents attended a gathering outside their households, that translates to about a million people.

“And if we assume that 2% of people can be infected, we could possibly have 20,000 people capable of infecting others who are milling about at these gatherings, each week,” she said.

Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous, reported more than 1,400 new cases Monday for a total of 310,595. There have been more than 7,000 deaths in the county.

The state is moving more slowly than the reopening last spring that brought with it a dramatic spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. California, the most populous state, is second in the nation with more than 930,600 confirmed cases. There have been a total of 17,672 deaths in the state.

Statewide hospitalizations have increased by about 11% in the last week to 2,537 while the seven-day daily average is 4,231 confirmed cases, down about 1% from previous week.

Many businesses remain closed as Los Angeles County remains in California’s most restrictive tier, purple.

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Understanding the Virus and Its Unanswered Questions: QuickTake

1. How is this virus different?

Unlike the coronavirus responsible for the 2002-2003 outbreak in Asia of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, this new one can spread via people who are infected but have yet to develop symptoms, or don’t at all. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40% to 45% of SARS-CoV-2 infections occur without symptoms. A study by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health’s Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis found “silent” transmitters are responsible for more than half of the cases in Covid-19 outbreaks. What’s more, the new virus has a relatively long incubation period — the time between infection and the appearance of symptoms — enabling it to spread silently in a community before being detected. The interval is about five to six days compared with two days for the flu, which spreads the same way and is the most common cause of pandemics. The stealthy nature of the coronavirus wasn’t well understood at first and contributed to the staggered and uneven quality of the response.

Read more: Why ‘Silent Spreaders’ Make Coronavirus Hard to Beat: QuickTake

2. Why wasn’t it contained?

On Jan. 23, China imposed the most extensive quarantine in known history in Hubei province, where the outbreak began in the capital Wuhan, an industrial city of 11 million. By then, however, the virus had been seeded in other places. Starting in early February, many countries introduced travel bans but not before the virus had reached around the world. Governments issued stay-at-home orders and mandated “social distancing” to “flatten the curve” of new infections. But the economic toll propelled reopenings that in many places brought a surge in new cases, sometimes followed by new movement restrictions. It took months for some governments to recommend or mandate that people wear masks in public to counter the virus’s silent spread, and many still haven’t done so.

Read more: Mask or No Mask? And Which Kind? What the Experts Say: QuickTake

3. What’s the biggest mystery about the virus?

One major question is whether those who get the coronavirus emerge with immunity. Generally speaking, infections prompt the body to develop antibodies that protect against reinfection, although there are notable exceptions such as HIV and malaria. By mid-year a slew of antibody test kits were available, including some that could be taken at home. Many tests, however, weren’t reliable. What’s more, researchers still don’t know whether the presence of antibodies means someone has immunity, or how long that protection might last. With the main coronaviruses that cause the common cold, immunity generally doesn’t last very long. In Hong Kong, a man tested positive for the coronavirus in late August after recovering from a different strain in April, in what scientists said was the first documented case of reinfection. The man had no symptoms the second time, however, suggesting his immune system provided some protection, according to doctors. Dozens of reinfections have since been reported, according to a tracker maintained by

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Montgomery County testing mosquitoes for West Nile virus after death

Following the confirmation of a West Nile virus related death and Montgomery County’s second possible case, the Precinct 3 Mosquito Abatement Team is on high alert as they continue to test mosquito samples.

On Friday, the Montgomery County Public Health District announced the death of a man in his 70s who lived in the 77381 ZIP code. While the man did have other medical conditions but the death was classified as a probable West Nile virus case. A woman in her 60s who lives in the 77382 ZIP code has been confirmed as the second case.

At this time in 2019, the county had no cases of West Nile virus, health officials said.


Cody Grimes, manager of projects and logistics for the Precinct 3 office, said the announcement of the death and second case did not prompt spraying in those ZIP codes. Grimes explained that due to the time to get the confirmation on the cases, crews had already responded to those ZIP codes when the mosquito sample returned positive.

He noted currently there are no West Nile positive samples in South County.

“We do spray when we get positive mosquito samples,” Grimes said, adding mosquito season is winding down. “There hasn’t been anything abnormal this year.”

West Nile virus can cause serious disease and is commonly spread by infected mosquitoes, according to MCPHD. People typically develop symptoms between three and 14 days after they are bitten. According to the CDC, approximately 80 percent of people who are infected will not show any symptoms at all.

Milder symptoms include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, vomiting and, sometimes, swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back. These symptoms can last up to several weeks. Serious symptoms that account for less than 1 percent of those infected can include high fever, headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, coma, tremors, seizures or paralysis. These symptoms can last for several weeks and neurological effects may be permanent.

Anyone who develops symptoms of severe West Nile virus illness, such as unusually severe headaches or confusion, should seek medical attention immediately. However, the majority of milder illnesses improve on their own.

According to the CDC, the most effective way to avoid West Nile virus is to prevent mosquito bites. Avoid bites by using insect repellants, wearing protective clothing when outdoors and emptying standing water outside of your home.

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A Rapid Virus Test Falters in People Without Symptoms, Study Finds

Mr. Bryant, of Quidel, who received an early copy of the University of Arizona study, praised the results as “very, very good,” citing the Sofia’s ability to root out “people who are infectious.”

Quidel, which is running several studies of its own, does not yet have definitive results that show the Sofia works in people without Covid-19 symptoms. But “based on the data so far, it seems to be applicable to that population,” Mr. Bryant said of his company’s results.

Other experts advised caution.

Although C.T. values do tend to increase as virus levels diminish, exceptions to this trend exist — and there is no universal “magic-number cutoff” for infectiousness, Dr. Dien Bard said.

Failing to grow the coronavirus out of a person’s sample also does not guarantee that individual is not contagious to others, said Omai Garner, the associate director of clinical microbiology in the UCLA Health System, who was not involved in the study.

Several experts noted that the University of Arizona study did not track transmission among its participants, making it impossible to draw conclusions about how, and from whom, the virus spread.

Dr. Harris said that some of the concerns about the Sofia’s accuracy could be overcome with repeat testing. Screened frequently enough with a rapid test, infected people missed by one Sofia would probably be detected with the next, especially if the levels of virus in their bodies were rising, Dr. Harris said. He and his colleagues are now gathering data on University of Arizona athletes, who are tested daily, to investigate this possibility. Quidel has also partnered with the Pac-12 and Big Ten Conferences to conduct daily tests.

People with symptoms or known exposures to the coronavirus should still get the most precise and reliable tests available — those that use P.C.R., said Susan Butler-Wu, a clinical microbiologist at the University of Southern California who was not involved in the study. More data, she added, would be needed to figure out how rapid tests fit into the larger diagnostic landscape.

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Cambodia reopens schools after virus shutdown

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Schools in Cambodia opened on Monday for the first time since March, but class sizes and hours were limited as a coronavirus precaution.

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron said schools might have to be reclosed if any students become infected while attending classes. He said students and teachers must observe safety measures because the virus is still raging in Europe and the United States and a vaccine is not yet available.

Some schools in the capital, Phnom Penh, and parts of eastern Cambodia opened last month in a trial phase, and Hang Chuon Naron said the good results prompted the nationwide reopenings.


“As the government has controlled the COVID situation very well, we have seen that in Cambodia the number of cases has not increased, and especially the border control is every effective,” he told reporters at a school in Phnom Penh.

“We have two objectives — number one is safety for our students, our teachers, as well as the community, and number two is to continue education for everyone,” he said.

Cambodia has reported 292 coronavirus cases with no deaths. The Health Ministry on Monday reported one new case, a Cambodian returning from abroad.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India has added 45,230 new coronavirus infections, continuing a downturn. The Health Ministry also Monday reported 496 more fatalities, raising the death toll to 122,607. With 8.2 million cases, India is the second worst-hit country behind the U.S. But the number of new cases being diagnosed each day is falling steadily even though testing is not declining. In the last week, there have been fewer than 50,000 new cases every day. Many states have been easing restrictions on schooling and commercial activities to spur the economy, but experts fear a resurgence in the winter, particularly as people socialize in the festive season.

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Follow AP’s coronavirus pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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As the Virus Rages, Some Are Convinced It’s Too Late to Stop It

COEUR d’ALENE, Idaho — The congregation of Candlelight Christian Fellowship gathered around tables in the church sanctuary one night last week to sip coffee and grapple with theological questions. From down the hall came the laughter of dozens of children at play.

With a potluck dinner, no masks and plenty of shared hugs, the night felt like a throwback to the pre-pandemic era except for a noticeable exception on the stage: The lead pastor, Paul Van Noy, was addressing the congregation with the aid of supplemental oxygen, piped into his nostrils from a small tank.

About a month ago, Mr. Van Noy, 60, was discharged from a hospital in a wheelchair after a Covid-19 infection brought him to the brink of death. But while that scare ravaged his lungs and rattled the church, it has done little to alter the growing sentiment among many people in northern Idaho that the coronavirus cannot be stopped and efforts to contain it are doing more harm than good.

“I think we just open up and we just let it take its course,” said Nancy Hillberg, 68, as church members mingled after the service. “Just let it be done.”

Amid a record spike of coronavirus cases and the final days of the presidential election, President Trump and his administration have expressed increasing helplessness at containing the virus, focusing instead on improvements in survivability and trying to hold the economy together. While it is a theme welcomed by many of the president’s supporters, it has proved alarming to health officials, including those at the hospital that cared for Mr. Van Noy, who are encountering rising resistance to their calls for unity in combating a pandemic that has already claimed nearly 230,000 Americans and threatens to take many more.

In northern Idaho, which is facing record cases and hospitalizations, the local health board last month repealed a requirement that people wear masks in Kootenai County, where Candlelight Christian Fellowship is.

“I personally do not care whether anybody wears a mask or not,” Walt Kirby, a member of the board, said at a public hearing on the issue. “If they want to be dumb enough to walk around out there and expose themselves and others to this, that’s fine with me.

“I’m just sitting back and watching them catch it and die. Hopefully I’ll live through it.”

In an interview later, Mr. Kirby said that he initially supported the mask mandate as a strategy to contain the virus and that, at age 90, he wears one whenever he is out in public.

But the mask requirement resulted in immense backlash, he said, in a part of the country where many people moved to escape what they see as an overbearing government.

Governors around the country, particularly Republican ones, are following the president’s lead in resisting new restrictions against a virus that has powerfully persisted despite lockdowns in some areas over the spring and summer.

Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota wrote that “there is no way

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In Hunt for Virus Source, W.H.O. Let China Take Charge

As it praised Beijing, the World Health Organization concealed concessions to China and may have sacrificed the best chance to unravel the virus’s origins. Now it’s a favorite Trump attack line.


GENEVA — On a cold weekend in mid-February, when the world still harbored false hope that the new coronavirus could be contained, a World Health Organization team arrived in Beijing to study the outbreak and investigate a critical question: How did the virus jump from animals to humans?

At that point, there were only three confirmed deaths from Covid-19 outside China and scientists hoped that finding an animal source for the coronavirus would unlock clues about how to stop it, treat it and prevent similar outbreaks.

“If we don’t know the source then we’re equally vulnerable in the future to a similar outbreak,” Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergency director, had said that week in Geneva. “Understanding that source is a very important next step.”

What the team members did not know was that they would not be allowed to investigate the source at all. Despite Dr. Ryan’s pronouncements, and over the advice of its emergency committee, the organization’s leadership had quietly negotiated terms that sidelined its own experts. They would not question China’s initial response or even visit the live-animal market in the city of Wuhan where the outbreak seemed to have originated.

Nine months and more than 1.1 million deaths later, there is still no transparent, independent investigation into the source of the virus. Notoriously allergic to outside scrutiny, China has impeded the effort, while leaders of the World Health Organization, if privately frustrated, have largely ceded control, even as the Trump administration has fumed.

From the earliest days of the outbreak, the World Health Organization — the only public health body with a global remit — has been both indispensable and impotent. The Geneva-based agency has delivered key information about testing, treatment and vaccine science. When the Trump administration decided to develop its own test kits, rather than rely on the W.H.O. blueprint, the botched result led to delays.

At the same time, the health organization pushed misleading and contradictory information about the risk of spread from symptomless carriers. Its experts were slow to accept that the virus could be airborne. Top health officials encouraged travel as usual, advice that was based on politics and economics, not science.

The W.H.O.’s staunchest defenders note that, by the nature of its constitution, it is beholden to the countries that finance it. And it is hardly the only international body bending to China’s might. But even many of its supporters have been frustrated by the organization’s secrecy, its public praise for China and its quiet concessions. Those decisions have indirectly helped Beijing to whitewash its early failures in handling the outbreak.

Now, as a new Covid-19 wave engulfs Europe and the United States, the organization is in the middle of a geopolitical standoff.

China’s authoritarian

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Virus Rate Fell to 2% From 34% in One Area. But Did Anything Change?

The urgent calls from doctors to the county department of health began in mid-October, shortly after skyrocketing coronavirus cases had brought a state-imposed lockdown to the community north of New York City.

“Some patients are refusing testing because they do not want D.O.H. bothering them,” a doctor said in a message for the county health commissioner on Oct. 13.

A day later, a caller to a state complaint hotline said in a message, “I would also like to report that there is a widespread effort from the community’s leadership to discourage Covid testing.”

Two weeks after a flurry of similar messages, the positivity rate in Kiryas Joel, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish village in Orange County, plummeted from 34 percent — the highest in the state — to just 2 percent. Last week, citing “dramatic progress” on the rate, the governor eased restrictions in the zone.

The course of events in Orange County has raised deep suspicions among some health experts about the reliability of the data, reflecting broader concerns about whether top officials in New York and around the country are tracking the outbreak in ways that may not accurately capture how much the virus is spreading.

Epidemiologists suggest that officials should rely on many factors when making decisions about reopening, including interviews with health care providers, hospital admission rates and contact tracing, as well as the positivity rate, which is the percent of people who have tested positive over a particular time period.

In New York, senior officials say they use all that data, and refer to the positivity rates as merely a lead measure and shorthand.

Still, the positivity rate has become the de facto gold standard of publicly highlighted measures. For example, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other officials in New York repeatedly refer to the rate in pronouncements and news releases to give the public a sense of how efforts to combat the virus are going.

The concern over misleading positivity rates has come to a head in regards to Kiryas Joel, also called the Town of Palm Tree, a densely populated Hasidic village of 26,000 people that is about 50 miles north of New York City, and among the poorest communities in the state.

In Orange County, the local health commissioner, Dr. Irina Gelman, said she was concerned about easing restrictions because she had serious doubts about whether the suggested decline in virus cases was real. She said that even though more people in the ultra-Orthodox community were reporting to doctors with symptoms or exposure to the virus, fewer of them were agreeing to be tested, reducing the positivity rate.

“This is an alarming trend,” Dr. Gelman said. “Refusing tests, clearly, makes it very difficult as far as gauging the infection prevalence rate within the community.”

“To go from a 34 percent positivity rate down to a 4 percent positivity rate when the “micro-cluster/ hot zone” schools did not actually shut down — and just converted to “child care”— is something many

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