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Covid reinfection ‘highly unlikely’ for at least 6 months: Oxford study

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Residents undergo a free rapid antigen nasopharyngeal swab test for Covid-19 at a testing facility set up in a school sports hall, on November 20, 2020 in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Northern Italy.

PIERRE TEYSSOT | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — People who have contracted the coronavirus are “highly unlikely” to contract the disease again for at least six months, according to a new Oxford study.

Researchers say the findings are “exciting” because they represent an important step in understanding how Covid-19 immunity may work.

The study, published Friday, claims to be the first large-scale research into how much protection people get against reinfection after contracting the coronavirus. It was part of a major collaboration between the University of Oxford and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust but has not yet been peer reviewed.

It comes after a string of encouraging vaccine results over the past couple of weeks following late-stage trial readouts from PfizerBioNTech and Moderna, as well as positive phase two results from AstraZeneca-Oxford.

There is growing optimism that a Covid vaccine could help bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 1.3 million lives worldwide.

Public health officials and experts have warned it could take months, maybe even more than a year, to distribute enough doses of any prospective vaccine to achieve so-called herd immunity and suppress the virus.

‘Really good news’

The study covered a 30-week period between April and November with 12,180 health-care workers employed at Oxford University Hospitals.

The workers were tested for antibodies to the virus that causes Covid-19 as a way of detecting who had previously been infected. They were tested for the disease when they became unwell with symptoms and as part of regular testing.

The findings showed 89 of 11,052 staff without antibodies developed a new infection with symptoms. However, none of the 1,246 staff with antibodies developed a symptomatic infection. Staff with antibodies were also found to be less likely to test positive for the virus without symptoms.

“This is really good news, because we can be confident that, at least in the short term, most people who get COVID-19 won’t get it again,” said professor David Eyre of the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health.

In addition, researchers said the opposite also proved to be true. Health workers who did not have antibodies against Covid were found to be more likely to develop the infection.

A paramedic wheels a woman out of an ambulance outside the Burgos Hospital in Burgos, northern Spain, on October 21, 2020, on the first day of a two week lockdown in an attempt to limit the contagion of the new coronavirus COVID-19 in the area.

Cesar Manso | AFP | Getty Images

Researchers said there was not yet enough data to make a judgment on protection from the initial infection beyond a six-month period. The study will continue to collect data, with the hope of verifying how long protection from reinfection can last.

“This is an exciting finding, indicating that infection with the virus provides at least short-term protection from re-infection — this news comes in the same month as other encouraging news about COVID vaccines,” said Dr. Katie Jeffery, director of infection prevention and control for Oxford University Hospitals.

A previous study of staff at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, published on Nov. 5, found antibodies to Covid-19 fell by half in less than 90 days.

That study, which has also not yet been peer reviewed, said antibody levels peak lower and fall faster in younger adults.

“We know from a previous study that antibody levels fall over time,” Eyre said, referencing the research published earlier this month.

“But this latest study shows that there is some immunity in those who have been infected. We will continue to follow this cohort of staff carefully to see how long protection lasts and whether previous infection affects the severity of infection if people do get infected again.”


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New York Gov. Cuomo reopens Covid field hospital in Staten Island as hospitalizations accelerate

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wears a protective face mask as he arrives to speak during a daily briefing following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., July 13, 2020.

Mike Segar | Reuters

New York will reopen a temporary field hospital on Staten Island to help treat an influx of coronavirus patients as the New York City borough faces a worsening outbreak, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.

“Staten Island is a problem,” Cuomo said during a press briefing. There were 91 people hospitalized with Covid-19 on Staten Island as of Sunday, a near threefold increase from three weeks ago, Cuomo said.

The field hospital was one of many New York opened in the spring as it fought back a wave of coronavirus infections that overwhelmed its hospital system and killed roughly 800 people every day. However, those emergency facilities largely went unused, Cuomo said.

“This was a planned emergency facility in the spring. We didn’t use it, now we need it,” he said.

Across the state, Covid-19 hospitalizations have jumped 122% over the last three weeks, he said, from 1,227 to 2,724 on Sunday. At that rate, the state projects thousands of more people will be hospitalized in the upcoming weeks. That’s before taking into account the upcoming holidays, which could accelerate the problem, the Democratic governor warned.

“These are dangerous times that we’re in,” Cuomo said. “Before you get to Thanksgiving, we’re already in a bad period.”

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.


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Rise in Covid spread puts hospital workers at risk: Allina Health CEO

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The sharp uptick in coronavirus cases across the Midwest is increasing health-care workers’ risk of getting infected, jeopardizing staffing levels needed to care for other Covid-19 patients, according to the CEO of a Minnesota hospital system.

Dr. Penny Wheeler, who leads Minneapolis-based Allina Health, told CNBC on Monday that the not-for-profit health network has more personal protective equipment, ventilators and available beds to care for Covid-19 patients than it had during the initial outbreak in the spring. Nurses and doctors, however, are harder to come by, she said.

“You cannot manufacture a talented and compassionate caregiver,” Wheeler said in a “Squawk on the Street” interview. “And that’s where we’re having trouble with now, especially with so many of them being affected or their family members being affected by community spread in our organization and in the community.”

Wheeler said for that reason, it is imperative people take seriously the public health strategies that can reduce the chain of coronavirus transmission in the community. Doing so reduces the likelihood that hospital workers become sick, she said.

“The need for masking, physical distancing and washing of hands, all those things — I know people are fatigued but so are the health-care workers, and you can keep our health-care workers healthier and able to care for you if you do those things,” Wheeler said. “These are incredibly skilled people, and you can’t replace them.”

Minnesota is one of 25 states seeing record-high hospitalizations for Covid-19 patients, based on a seven-day average, according to a CNBC analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project, which is run by journalists at The Atlantic. Minnesota also is one of eight states where daily deaths from Covid-19 are at all-time highs, with 48 people on average dying per day in the last week, according to CNBC’s analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

At least 3,297 people in Minnesota have died from Covid-19 during the pandemic, Hopkins data shows.

Wheeler’s concerns about staffing are shared elsewhere across the country, especially in some of Minnesota’s nearby states, which have been hit hard by the fall coronavirus spike. “Our geography in the Midwest, upper Midwest, has been seeing unprecedented numbers of infections and case growth,” she said.

Earlier this month, the head of the University of Wisconsin’s health network told CNBC its seven-hospital system was “short of staff all times, either because they have Covid or they have some other illness and we need to rule out Covid before we bring them back to work.”

“There is no surplus staff to deploy to other hospitals to help each other out, so we’re trying to equal the load. We’re all trying to keep patients local,” UW Health CEO Dr. Alan Kaplan said then.

The U.S. has continued to experience a worsening of its coronavirus outbreak in recent weeks, with daily average new cases setting a series of record highs. While Wheeler said a series of positive developments around Covid-19 vaccines are a “wonderful ray of hope,” the widespread availability is still some time away.

“We just have to hold on … so let’s take what is in our control — mask up, physical distance, wash your hands,” Wheeler said. “We can take that, and then we can bridge that to a time where there’s greater hope in the vaccines in the offing, then we’ll be doing a great service and we’ll have more lives here than lost.”

CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.


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Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine has some advantages over its peers

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AstraZeneca’s building in Luton, Britain.

Tim Ireland | Xinhua News Agency | Getty Images

LONDON — The coronavirus vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford was found to be “highly” protective, potentially paving the way for a vaccine that is more affordable and easier to distribute than some of its peers.

An interim analysis of clinical trials showed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had an average efficacy of 70% in protecting against the virus.

Researchers said this figure could be as high as 90% by tweaking the dose, but the overall results show the vaccine’s efficacy is slightly lower than other leading candidates.

Both PfizerBioNTech and Moderna reported preliminary results last week showing that their respective Covid vaccines were around 95% effective.

However, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has previously said a vaccine that is 50% or 60% effective against the virus would be acceptable.

It is hoped a Covid vaccine could help to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 1.3 million lives worldwide.

Huge challenges remain before a vaccine can be rolled out. The global battle to secure prospective supplies has raised concerns about equitable access, while questions remain over the logistics of mass production, distribution, and cost.

Logistics

Equity analysts at Jefferies said it was “challenging” to compare the efficacy of AstraZeneca’s vaccine with those of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, citing key differences in how the trials have been conducted.

The analysts highlighted weekly swabbing to detect Covid-19 among participants involved in AstraZeneca’s trials — not just confirmation of suspected cases by symptoms as in U.S. trials. They also stressed that a meningococcal vaccine was used for comparison, not placebo.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was assessed over two dosing regimens. One showed an effectiveness of 90% when trial participants received a half dose, followed by a full dose at least one month later.

The other showed 62% efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart.

No hospitalizations or severe cases of the disease were reported in participants receiving the vaccine.

A motorcyclist wears a protective mask while sitting at the side of the road at the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, India, on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his government will ensure that all 1.3 billion people nationwide will have access to a Covid-19 vaccine as soon it is ready.

Sumit Dayal | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Jefferies analysts said that when it comes to storage, affordability and distribution, AstraZeneca’s vaccine appears to have an advantage.

The British pharmaceutical giant has said its vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing health-care settings. It has also pledged to distribute the vaccine at no profit “for the duration of the pandemic.”

The Financial Times has previously reported the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which requires two doses, is priced at approximately $3 to $4 — significantly lower than the prices reported for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

In comparison, Moderna has said its vaccine candidate remains stable at the temperature of a standard home refrigerator for up to 30 days. It can also be stored for up to six months at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

In August, the U.S. biotechnology firm said it was charging $32 to $37 per dose for its vaccine for some customers.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit and requires special storage equipment and transportation. This could make it difficult for some countries to distribute.

Pfizer is reportedly charging $20 per dose for its vaccine.

‘Big beneficiaries’

Strategists at Deutsche Bank described the news from AstraZeneca on Monday as a “big deal,” saying a string of encouraging vaccine developments in recent weeks constituted “an unprecedented victory for science.”

They suggested that emerging markets, most notably Brazil, Mexico, India and Indonesia, were likely to be the “big beneficiaries” of the AstaZeneca vaccine. That’s because “the cheaper cost of production and distribution of AstraZeneca is especially relevant for lower and middle-income countries,” they said.

AstraZeneca has said it is making “rapid progress” in terms of manufacturing, with a capacity to produce up to 3 billion doses of the vaccine next year.

The U.S. and India have agreed to procure 500 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, according to data compiled by researchers at Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Centre.

The EU has reached a deal to buy 400 million, and the COVAX facility, a global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, has ordered 300 million.

The U.K., Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, and Latin America excluding Brazil have each confirmed orders of at least 100 million doses.


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