Coronavirus Emerging Science - Q&A with Dr. Simon Collins

Emerging science on Covid-19: 18th November 2020 update Q&A with Dr. Simon Collins

This article was first published on 18th November 2020. An updated article is available here.

In the three days since the last interview there have been two big developments – what's going on?
We're finally getting payback for being patient and allowing a lot of research data to accumulate over the past few months. Conclusions to that research are emerging with increasing speed now and the overall signs are good. We have early news about the second of the vaccines (Moderna) and very importantly, much more clarity on antibodies.

The Moderna vaccine was in the news on Monday 16th November. Is it worth believing the hype?
Like the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, with an effectiveness being quoted at over 90%, Moderna are now saying their vaccine will prove to be equally effective. What makes me happy about this is not so much what the companies are claiming in early press releases, pre-approval by the regulator (the U.S. Food & Drug Administration), it's that:

  • It's becoming clear that vaccines can be made against Covid
  • They work (well beyond the 50% to 70% effectiveness that cautious types like me anticipated)
  • There are no initial safety concerns.
Now what remains to be seen is:
  • How long-term is the immunity from a vaccine shot?
  • Does it work equally well in older people?
  • Are there any safety issues that emerge when the vaccine is used in large population groups?
We are in a very, very much better place than we were three months ago, when it remained to be proven that a vaccine could even be made (it was suspected it could be, but that's never the same as the reality of achieving the goal). We have potentially not just one vaccine now, but two and having proven the virus is amenable to having a vaccine made against it, there's reason to hope that a number of the other candidate vaccines being trialled will turn out to be effective also. We'll hear about them during late November and through December. The more brands of successful vaccine types we have, the faster it will be possible to vaccinate a larger portion of the world's population. I am feeling very happy compared to two weeks ago!
There are reasons to be optimistic about how long-term the vaccine-induced immunity might turn out to be – based on research that emerged on 16th November.

And that research is?
So, let me quickly get the health warning out of the way and say that this is a pre-print article, not yet peer-reviewed, but it is very significant for a number reasons:

  1. It's the first study of it's kind to present data on a range of antibody and memory immune cells at a point six to eight months after proven Covid cases
  2. The authors are from top-class U.S. institutions, giving a lot of credibility to the findings
  3. They're saying that around 90% of patients are maintaining their antibodies (including neutralising antibodies) to Covid months after infection and that the antibody levels are remaining broadly steady
  4. It's looking like those who have overcome an initial Covid infection are much less likely to have a severe second case requiring hospital treatment.
Click here to read the story in the New York Times. The pre-print of the article itself (with the more interesting parts highlighted by me) is available to download here (PDF document).

What conclusions do you draw from all that?

  1. This explains why so few true 2nd infections have been observed (they have occurred, but they are very much the exception to the rule)
  2. If the vaccine can be calibrated to induce a decent immune response, it might turn out to be fairly long-lasting (years rather than months) – long-lasting means you might not have to arrange to vaccinate people annually, which means we might get out of this Covid mess even faster
  3. If you get a positive IgG antibody blood test result when you come to our clinic to have the test done, there are increasingly solid scientific reasons to be feel happy that you're not going to get significantly sick from Covid again in the medium-term at least.

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