Sunday, January 24, 2021

Proof the Pfizer Covid vaccine works in the real world? Israeli healthcare group says coronavirus infections have PLUNGED by at least 60% among vaccinated over-60s

An Israeli healthcare group on Friday said coronavirus infections had plunged among people aged over 60 who had been vaccinated with the Pfizer Biontech vaccine.

Israel is currently leading the global vaccination drive, with around 30 per cent of its citizens having had at least a single dose of a jab so far. But concern had risen globally over infection, death and hospitalisation rates in the country, which remained stubbornly high.

Out of 82,930 active cases on Thursday, 1,918 were hospitalized. Last week, the hospitalisation figure was just over 1,000.

Officials had hoped that the vaccine drive - which began on December 19 - would start to show an effect by mid-February.

But KSM Maccabi Research and Innovation Center claimed on Friday there had been a 'significant decrease' in the number of coronavirus infections among people aged over 60 who were vaccinated between December 19 and 24.

After analysing data of more than 50,000 patients aged over 60, they also found that hospitalisations in the same group had plunged by more than 60 per cent.

Israel secured access to large amounts of Pfizer's jab by agreeing to provide data about its citizens for the company to track how well the jab works.

The new figures are a sign of hope that nationwide infections, deaths and hospitalisations could soon start to see a sustained fall.

KSM Maccabi Research and Innovation Center's report was based on data 50,777 members of Maccabi who were aged over 60 and were vaccinated 23 days ago.

KSM, which is part of Israeli healthcare provider Maccabi, noted that there was a 'significant decrease within the vaccinated members aged 60+', reaching a decrease of around 60 per cent in new infections.

They added that there was also a 'decrease of slightly more than 60 per cent in the number of new hospitalised patients.'

However, KSM cautioned that 'on this level of efficiency, there should be no exemption from performing Corona tests, isolation, or the enablement of crowded gatherings, until additional convincing data is obtained. 'And of course continue to wear masks and keep social distancing, as recommended'.

It was reported yesterday that a single shot of the Pfizer vaccine had led to a 'major presence' of antibodies in 91 per cent of doctors and nurses who received it in Israel within 21 days.

On Friday, Israel announced a further 6,159 new cases, an 18 per cent increase on the figure of 5,235 announced seven days ago, but down from Wednesdays and Thursdays totals, of 10,213 and 7,027 respectively.

Since the rollout of vaccinations one month ago, more than 2.5 million of Israel's nine-million-strong population have been vaccinated already, the health ministry said on Friday.

Israel began administering vaccines on December 20, beginning with health professionals and quickly proceeding to the elderly, sick and at-risk groups, continuously lowering the minimum age of those entitled to the shot.

On Thursday, the estimated COVID-19 reproduction number in Israel dipped below 1 for the first time since the country launched its vaccination campaign, the government announced.

An 'R' number above 1 indicates infections will grow at an exponential rate, while below 1 points to their eventual halt.

Israel's 'R' number hit 1.3 on Dec. 11. It began vaccinating citizens the following week. With contagion surging, on Dec. 27 it imposed a third national lockdown - which is still in effect.

On Friday, the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said it was too early too draw conclusions from Israel's vaccination drive after alarm that hospitalisations have not yet dropped.


As more countries impose COVID curfews, scientists ask: Do they work?

The NYT:

With coronavirus infections rising and a contagious new variant threatening to accelerate the pandemic, France has implemented a stringent 6pm-to-6am curfew. Citizens nationwide are sequestered indoors, and businesses must close down.

In Quebec, Canadian officials imposed a similar restriction earlier this month, running from 8pm to 5am. It has frayed nerves: Notably, a woman who was walking her boyfriend on a leash at 9pm has argued that this was permitted during the curfew, surely one of the pandemic’s most unexpected moments.

The question for scientists is this: Do curfews work to slow transmission of the virus? If so, under what circumstances? And by how much?

A curfew requires people to be indoors during certain hours. It is often used to quell social unrest — many cities imposed curfews during the George Floyd protests this summer — and following natural disasters or public health emergencies.

But curfews also have been used as instruments of political repression and systemic racism. Decades ago, in so-called sundown towns in the United States, black people were not permitted on the streets after dusk and often were forced to leave altogether.

As the pandemic unfolded, Melbourne, and many European countries imposed curfews, on the theory that keeping people at home after a certain hour would slow viral transmission. Usually curfews were implemented alongside other measures, like closing businesses early and shuttering schools, making it difficult to tease out the curfew’s effectiveness.

The scientific evidence on curfews is far from ideal. There has not been a pandemic like this one in a century. While curfews make intuitive sense, it’s very hard to discern their precise effects on viral transmission, let alone transmission of this coronavirus.

Ira Longini, a biostatistician at the University of Florida, believes that curfews are, on the whole, an effective way to slow the pandemic. But he acknowledged his view is based on intuition. “Scientific intuition does tell you something,” Longini said. “It’s just that you can’t quantify it very well.”

“In general,” she said, “we expect that staying at home mechanically slows the pandemic, as it reduces the number of interactions between people.”

“The trade-off is that the reduction in economic activity especially hurts many workers and their families in the large service sector of the economy,” she added.

“Assuming that nightclubs and such are already closed down anyway, for instance, prohibiting people from going for a walk around the block with their family at night is unlikely to reduce interactions,” Polyakova said.

Moreover, the virus thrives indoors, and clusters of infection are common in families and in households. So one daunting question is whether forcing people into these settings for longer periods slows transmission — or accelerates it.

“You can think of it like this,” said William Hanage, a public health researcher at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, “what proportion of transmission events happen during the time in question? And how will the curfew stop them?”

One study, published recently in Science, analysed data from China’s Hunan province at the start of the outbreak. Curfews and lockdown measures, the researchers concluded, had a paradoxical effect: These restrictions reduced the spread within the community but raised the risk of infection within households, reported Kaiyuan Sun, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, and his colleagues.

Longini and his colleagues incorporated lockdowns and curfews into models of the pandemic in the United States and concluded that they can be an effective way to reduce transmission. But, he cautioned, models come with a lot of assumptions about the population and how the virus spreads.

“Whether you believe that is a scientific rationale depends on whether you believe the model,” he said.

Jon Zelner, a public health researcher at the University of Michigan, said that there was too little scientific data to know whether curfews are effective, but that such coercive measures rarely work in the long run.

“With respect to curfews, I think that it is hard to understand what the positive impact of them is going to be,” he said. “One of the things I worry about with relatively vague or poorly reasoned orders is that it erodes the trust people need to have to follow these.”

In countries like Japan, which have a much lower incidence of COVID-19 than the United States, the secret seems to be a population that accepts and follows guidelines like social distancing and mask wearing, “rather than a series of rule-like restrictions” like curfews.

That could have happened in the United States, Zelner said, but public health recommendations were “drawn into our broader set of unending cultural and political conflicts.”


UK PM Boris Johnson warns new COVID-19 variant may be more deadly

New evidence is emerging to suggest the UK’s new COVID-19 variant may be more deadly, says prime minister Boris Johnson.

The variant is already known to be more easily spread, and is putting the National Health Service under “intense pressure”, he said in a press conference.

“We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant, the variant that was first discovered in London and the southeast, may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” he said.

The new UK variant is transmitting between 30 per cent and 70 per cent more easily than the original COVID-19 strain.

However Johnson said current evidence showed both vaccines remained effective against old and new variants.

Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has warned that there was some uncertainty about the data, and the evidence suggesting a higher risk of death was not strong at this stage.

“I want to stress that there’s a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it,” he said. “But it obviously is a concern that this has an increase in mortality as well as an increase in transmissibility.”


Hi-tech quarantine solution proposed in Australia

The Queensland State Government is pushing ahead with controversial plans to establish quarantine camps in central Queensland and Toowoomba.

Dr Anseline, together with epidemiologists Professor Marylouise McLaws and Dr Henning Liljeqvist, is lobbying for a similar national scheme.

They said recent evidence suggested hotels were far from optimal for quarantine, as the virus could easily spread among guests and workers.

Dr Anseline said locking people up in hotel rooms for 14 days – often without fresh air or exercise – was having a huge impact on mental health.

He said while state and federal governments had done a great job thus far containing the virus, changes were needed as the pandemic dragged on.

“Hotels have been a stopgap solution, but we have to look at the medium and longer term because even with a vaccine, this virus could be with us for years,” he said.

“There are still tens of thousands of Australians waiting to return home, as well as overseas students and tourists hoping to travel to Australia again in the not-too-distant future once travel bans are lifted.

“We need to come up with safer, novel and more effective solutions, and we believe that new technology and processes, which can be overlaid on existing hotel quarantine protocols, are the answer.”

Under Hemisphere’s plan, overseas arrivals would be rapid-tested on arrival in Australia, with those testing positive housed in separate quarantine accommodation.

Those testing negative would be quarantined in single-level cabins with their own kitchens, outside CBDs but close to airports and hospitals. “This would reduce worker and guest transmission but also significantly improve mental health outcomes,” Dr Anseline said.

The plan also involves guests and staff wearing new hi-tech wristband trackers to monitor movements and vital signs. The wristbands could also be used for home quarantine, Dr Anseline said.

Quarantine facilities would have COVID marshals and on-site sewage testing.



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