Europe Is Bending the Curve, Cases Going Up in the US, Vaccines Ahead

Every Sunday, Metropole brings you a COVID-19 update from Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer, an Austrian virologist who works and teaches at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer has been writing weekly updates in German for family and friends. Metropole was kindly granted the permission to translate and publish these updates.

November 29, 2020

Here again the weekly SARS-CoV-2 update.

At the moment, we have about 63 million officially infected people and 1.46 million people who died due to the virus. The last week has unfortunately brought some of the deadliest days of the pandemic.

Europe Is Bending the Curve

But in large parts of Europe the situation has improved a lot, many countries are experiencing a downward trend in infections and it looks like the continent is bringing the second wave under control. Unfortunately, this is not the case everywhere in Europe. Russia, for example, is currently experiencing record levels of infections. In some countries like the Netherlands, the wave has been broken and the number of cases has decreased, but then settled at a very high level (4,000-6,000 cases per day), which is of course very worrying and too high.

As you have surely noticed, the number of cases in Austria is decreasing, and I expect the number of daily infections to decrease even more in the next days due to the effect of the “hard lockdown.” Deaths have a delay of about 2 weeks. We are currently seeing about 100 deaths per day in Austria and yesterday a sad record was reached, with 132 deaths. The hospitals are full to the brim, but it seems that measures have just come in time to prevent the healthcare system from being overburdened.

Cases in the US Still Trending Upwards

The USA has not yet managed to reverse the trend, with cases still rising sharply. This week was Thanksgiving, a holiday where people travel a lot and where families meet. Unfortunately, one must assume that this will lead to an even stronger increase in the next two weeks. In New York, the cases are also going up, but the situation is much better than in most other states. But I assume that cases will continue to go up and that there will also be stricter measures in the next days and weeks.

Difficult Situation Globally

The global situation has not changed much since last week. Many Latin American countries are looking better, for example Argentina. In Mexico and Brazil, cases are unfortunately on an upward trend again, and it looks like a second wave is about to begin. Most of the mode pupil countries in Asia and Oceania (New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, etc.) are doing well, in Japan and South Korea there is an increase in cases, probably also because it is harder to keep the virus under control at lower temperatures. India has passed the peak, but the number of cases has unfortunately settled at a very high level. In the Middle East, Iran in particular has big problems (now over 400 deaths per day). Africa in general has less problems, but there are many accidents and deaths in North Africa.

Vaccines Ahead

A few other things. On Monday there were again interim results from the Phase III study of a vaccine candidate, namely by AstraZeneca. This is a vaccine based on viral vectors (adenoviruses). They analyzed two studies, a large one in Brazil and a smaller one in the UK. Both results show that the vaccine is safe so far. However, the Brazilian study shows 62% efficiency while the British study shows 90% efficiency.

Furthermore, in the British study only half a dose was administered in the first of the two vaccinations (it is unclear why). This might explain the difference, but it is also possible that the efficiency of the British study decreases when there is more data and the Brazilian study is similar. Unfortunately, there’s quite a data jumble between them and the only thing that can be said is that the vaccine works. How good it is in comparison to others remains to be seen.

New efficiency data from the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, which is also based on viral vectors, also came out. An interim analysis found that efficiency is 95%, which is quite good. Meanwhile, the Russians are also providing relatively solid data. In the beginning, their approach did not inspire much confidence because Russia approved the vaccine after a very small Phase II, which was a very unusual and – in my opinion – an unethical step. But they are now regaining my confidence with solid Phase III data.

Greetings from New York and please stay healthy!

Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer
Prof. Krammer is the Principal Investigator of the Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Center (SEM-CIVIC). Currently Prof. Krammer holds a position as a Professor of Vaccinology at the Department of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He has published more than 100 papers, is member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Virology, Plos One and Heliyon and is a peer reviewer for more than 30 journals.

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