COVID-19 Scan for Sep 28, 2021

News brief

COVID vaccine protection stayed strong in teens during Delta, data show

Vaccine effectiveness (VE) for the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was up to 91.5% in Israeli teens 12 to 15 years old during the Delta (B1617.2) variant outbreak, according to a study published yesterday in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Israel made the Pfizer vaccine available for teens starting Jun 2, and by Aug 26, 46.1% of those who were eligible were partially vaccinated and 31.2% were fully vaccinated. To estimate VE, the researchers looked at those who received their second dose between Jul 1 and Jul 24, excluding those who had a history of COVID-19 infection.

VE against lab-confirmed infection was 55.3% in the first week post-vaccination, rising to 87.1% in the second week, 91.2% in the third week, and then dropping slightly to 88.2% in the fourth week post-vaccination (95% CIs, 41.3% to 66.0%, 81.0% to 91.2%, 87.4% to 93.8%, and 95.0% to 90.7%, respectively). Adjustments for sex and epidemiologic week for weeks 2 to 4 post-vaccination suggested an adjusted VE of 91.5% against infection (95% CI, 88.2% to 93.9%).

By Aug 26, no vaccinated teenager who became infected by COVID-19 within 4 weeks after their second dose needed hospitalization, while 0.33% of the 9,969 unvaccinated COVID-19 teenage patients did. No deaths occurred in either group.

"The effectiveness estimate of 55.3% in the first week after the second dose probably reflects the effect of the first vaccine dose," write the researchers. Despite lower VE than in people 16 to 39 years old, the researchers conclude, "Our findings indicate that the BNT162b2 vaccine provides adolescents with highly effective short-term protection against the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant."
Sep 27 Emerg Infect Dis study


Trump's COVID vaccine endorsement this year appears to have worked

A political support video earlier this year by former President Donald Trump swayed more Trump voters to consider COVID-19 vaccination than a video by an expert, according to a study published yesterday in PLOS One.

On Mar 23, 387 Trump voters experienced one of three options prior to taking an online survey regarding the COVID-19 vaccine: a video of Trump taking pride in America's efforts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, a scientific expert giving facts about the vaccine, or no video at all. All respondents were either unvaccinated (87.1%) or partially vaccinated (12.9%), with most under 50 years of age (71%), college educated (59% had bachelor's degrees or more), and White (83%). About 42% were in a household with $60,000 to $149,999 in income.

Participants were able to respond that they would be vaccinated, they would not be, or they were unsure. In the control group (no video), 35% of respondents said they would not be vaccinated, compared with 34% in the expert group and 24% in the Trump group (95% confidence intervals [CIs], 27% to 44%, 26% to 44%, and 17% to 32%, respectively).

Those who saw the Trump video were 85% more likely to say they would be vaccinated compared with the control group (relative risk reduction [RRR], 1.85; 1.01 to 3.40, p = 0.048). No significant likelihood was found between those who were in the control group versus those who watched the expert video. Additionally, those who saw the Trump video rated the vaccine's safety and efficacy 0.3 points higher on a 5-point scale compared with the control group, whereas the expert video had no significant effect.

The researchers add that when they excluded those who were partially vaccinated, the RRR for the Trump video was unchanged, with the P-value remaining below 0.06.

"Contrary to highly-publicized focus group findings, our randomized experiment found that an expert's factually accurate message may not be effectual to increase vaccination intentions," the researchers conclude.
Sep 27 PLOS One study

WHO announces new global meningitis strategy

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners today called for urgent action to address meningitis, while launching the first ever global strategy to battle the disease, called the Global Roadmap to Defeat Meningitis by 2030.

By 2030, the goals are to eliminate epidemics of bacterial meningitis—the deadliest form of the disease—and to reduce deaths by 70% and halve the number of cases, the WHO said in a press release.

"Wherever it occurs, meningitis can be deadly and debilitating; it strikes quickly, has serious health, economic and social consequences, and causes devastating outbreaks," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, WHO director-general. "It is time to tackle meningitis globally once and for all—by urgently expanding access to existing tools like vaccines, spearheading new research and innovation to prevent, detecting and treating the various causes of the disease, and improving rehabilitation for those affected."

According to the WHO, 250,000 people die annually from bacterial meningitis, which is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. One in 10 people with bacterial meningitis will die, while 1 in 5 will suffer disabilities after infection.

Meningitis outbreaks tend to occur in the "Meningitis Belt," which spans 26 countries across sub-Saharan Africa. One of first tenets of the new strategy is to increase vaccination in that region.

"More than half a billion Africans are at risk of seasonal meningitis outbreaks but the disease has been off the radar for too long," said Matshidiso Moeti, MD, WHO regional director for Africa. "This shift away from firefighting outbreaks to strategic response can't come soon enough. This roadmap will help protect the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of families who every year fear this disease."
Sep 28 WHO press release


Global flu detections stay sporadic, mainly flu B and H3N2

Flu levels in both hemispheres remain below expected levels, despite increased testing, but several regions have reported sporadic cases and activity, the WHO said yesterday in an update that covers the first half of September.

In the Americas, some Caribbean and Central American areas reported sporadic influenza B cases. In tropical parts of Africa, a few influenza A cases were reported in Western, Middle, and Eastern countries.

Meanwhile, in Asia, the southern region that includes India reported H3N2 and influenza B detections, and in Southeast Asia, the Philippines reported sporadic H3N2 cases.

Globally, of the few respiratory samples that tested positive for flu in the first half of the month, 57.1% were influenza B, and 42.9% were influenza A. Of the subtyped influenza A viruses, 92.7% were H3N2. Of the influenza B viruses characterized, only two belonged to the Yamagata lineage.

The WHO added the caveat that its flu data should be interpreted with caution, given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on health behaviors and surveillance.
Sep 27 WHO global flu update


WHO releases results of probe into sex abuse during DRC Ebola response

The WHO today released the results from an independent commission it appointed in October 2020 to investigate reports of sexual exploitation and abuse during the response to the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC's) large Ebola outbreak, which was centered in North Kivu province, beginning in 2018 and extending into 2020.

A 2020 joint investigation by The New Humanitarian and Reuters, based on interviews with 51 women, detailed reports of abuse by men who said they worked with the WHO and other aid organizations. Many described a pattern of men propositioning them or forcing them to have sex in exchange for jobs related to the outbreak response, which paid higher than local wages.

At a briefing today, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said the report makes for "harrowing reading," covering dozens of potential victims and 21 alleged perpetrators. He thanked the group that led the investigation and apologized to the victims whose abuse was described in the commission's report.

"This is a dark day for WHO," Tedros said. "But by shining a light on the failures of individuals and the organization, we hope that the victims feel that their voices have been heard and acted on."

He said the investigation isn't complete, with three steps that still need to be completed, including the first—providing protection and justice for the survivors. Tedros also said the WHO needs to address management and staff failures and also to reform its structures and culture.
Sep 28 WHO independent commission report
Sep 28 WHO briefing


France, Czech Republic report avian flu in birds

In the latest avian flu developments, France reported its first highly pathogenic H7N7 detection, which involved a wild bird, and the Czech Republic reported an H5 outbreak in poultry.

In France, H7N7 was identified in a mute swan found dead on the banks of the Moselle River in Metz, in the country's northeast, according to a notification today from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The source of the virus isn't known, but officials said a possibility is contact with wild species.

Elsewhere in Europe, veterinary officials in the Czech Republic reported an H5 outbreak at a small poultry farm that houses geese, chickens, and ducks in a village in the Central Bohemian region, the first avian flu detection in 4 months, according to a government statement translated and posted by Avian Flu Diary (AFD), an infectious disease news blog.

Further testing is under way to determine the subtype and pathogenicity. The likely source is contact with wild waterfowl, officials said.
Sep 28 OIE report on H7N7 in France
Sep 28 AFD post

This week's top reads