COVID vaccinations save lives, study confirms

Also: Sotrovimab shows promise

Vaccination is more than 90% effective at preventing deaths from the Delta variant of COVID-19, according to the first country-level data on mortality. Researchers found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 90% effective and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine 91% effective in preventing deaths in individuals who have been double vaccinated, but who have tested positive for coronavirus.

The study, using data from the Scotland-wide EAVE II COVID-19 surveillance platform, is the first to show across an entire country how effective vaccines are at preventing death from the Delta variant, which is now the dominant form of COVID-19 in the United States. Researchers analyzed data from 5.4 million people in Scotland between April 1 and Sept. 27, 2021. During this period, 115,000 people tested positive for COVID-19 through a PCR test conducted in the community, rather than in a hospital, and there were 201 deaths recorded due to the virus.

The Moderna vaccine is also available in Scotland and no deaths have been recorded in those who have been double vaccinated with it. The researchers say to increase confidence in these early findings, a similar study needs to be repeated with longer follow-up time after full vaccination.

“Our findings are encouraging in showing that the vaccine remains an effective measure in protecting both ourselves and others from death from the most dominant variant of COVID-19,” said Professor Chris Robertson, University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland.

A patch that delivers COVID-19 protection

Researchers at Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering have developed and tested an innovative method that may simplify the complexity of delivering vaccines, including those for COVID-19, through a handheld electroporator. The researchers report that electroporation is commonly employed in the research lab using short electric pulses to drive molecules into cells. However, the technique currently requires large, complex and costly equipment, severely limiting its use for vaccine delivery. Georgia Tech’s approach does the job using a novel pen-size device that requires no batteries and can be mass produced at low cost.

The team’s findings are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal and they could dramatically change how some vaccines and drugs are delivered. The inspiration for their breakthrough came from an everyday device that people use to start a grill, an electronic barbecue lighter.

“My lab figured out that you could use something all of us are familiar with on the Fourth of July when we do a barbecue, a barbecue lighter,” said Saad Bhamla, who is an assistant professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Georgia Tech, Atlanta, Georgia.

His team took the innards of a lighter and reengineered them into a tiny spring-latch mechanism. The device creates the same electric field in the skin as the large bulky electroporation machines already in use, but using widely available, low-cost components that require no battery to operate.

“Our aha moment was the fact that it doesn’t have a battery or plug into the wall, unlike conventional electroporation equipment,” Bhamla explained. “And these lighter components cost just pennies, while currently available electroporators cost thousands of dollars each.”

Besides the lighter, a key innovation involved tightly spacing the electrodes and using extremely short microneedles. While commonly used in cosmetics to rejuvenate skin and for potential medical applications, microneedles are not generally used as electrodes. Coupling the tiny electroporation pulser with microneedle electrodes made an effective electrical interface with the skin and further reduced the ePatch’s cost and complexity.

The ePatch is generating excitement among health experts and there is hope it can be potential game changer in the vaccine delivery arena.

Sotrovimab may prevent COVID-19 deaths

A new Phase 3 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine is suggesting that the COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab may be highly effective. The study found that compared to the placebo group, COVID-19 patients who received sotrovimab had a significantly reduced risk of hospitalization or death and that the treatment, which was administered by intravenous infusion on an outpatient basis, was safe.

Of the 583 study participants included in this analysis, three participants who received sotrovimab and 21 participants in the placebo group experienced disease progression that led to hospitalization or death, representing a risk reduction of 85% in people with COVID-19 who received the monoclonal antibody treatment. Among the participants who were hospitalized, five participants were admitted to intensive care units and one participant died, all of whom were in the placebo group.

These results are part of an interim analysis of the COMET-ICE Trial, a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, multicenter trial that enrolled participants across 37 sites in four countries, including at the COVID-19 Clinical Research Center (CCRC) at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

“Effective vaccines are the foundation for prevention and curbing the epidemic, but COVID-19 treatments are still needed for people who are immunocompromised or for people who don’t have access to COVID vaccines yet,” said Dr. Adrienne Shapiro, a researcher at Fred Hutch and UW Medicine. “Based on these efficacy results, we are excited for the potential of sotrovimab (which now has emergency use authorization from the FDA) to reduce hospitalizations and thus relieve the burden of hospital crowding, another serious consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In lab studies, sotrovimab was effective against Delta and all other circulating variants of concern. Based on the science of how this antibody treatment was identified, study authors hypothesized that sotrovimab could remain effective even if the virus continues to evolve and create new variants of concern.

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