It’s been one and a half years since the beginning of the pandemic, but we continue learning new things about COVID-19 every month. With over 218 million cases of the disease reported and new variants emerging and spreading worldwide, this is not surprising. The month of August brought several crucial COVID-19 developments to the public’s attention - some concerning and others quite encouraging. Learn all about these important updates below.
1. The Moderna vaccine generates double the number of antibodies compared to Pfizer’s vaccine.
One of the biggest headlines in late August was a Belgian study that examined the antibody count of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. The study looked at 2,500 hospital workers who got two doses of either one or the other vaccine and have conducted an antibody test 6-10 weeks after the second dose of the vaccine.
The Moderna vaccine produced an average of 2,881 units per milliliter of antibodies compared to less than half - 1,108 units per ml - generated by the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The significance of these findings is quite limited, however, as antibody counts are not the only immune defense against the virus. Vaccinations also produce T-cells - the main line of defense against the novel coronavirus - but these are difficult to measure.
Experts who reviewed the study state that both the Pfizer and Moderna jabs are still equally valid options for those seeking vaccination, as the study didn’t examine the effectiveness of both vaccines over time.
2. Americans should be getting booster shots starting this fall.
Booster shots are already being administered in countries that pioneered vaccination in the winter and early spring of 2021, and this practice will most likely also be extended to the US. The Pfizer and Moderna booster shots will most likely be available to all Americans who got their second dose of the vaccine 8 months ago or earlier.
It needs to be noted that the Biden administration is yet to get clearance for booster shots from the FDA and CDC, and some experts continue to question whether a booster shot is really necessary. Currently, booster shots are available to some immunocompromised individuals.
3. Vaccinated mothers may be able to protect their babies
The protection of newborns, whose not fully developed immune systems put them at a greater risk to get sick with COVID-19, is the topic discussed in a new study published in August in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine. The research looked at breastfeeding mothers who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and it offers a ray of hope to concerned parents.
The study found significant levels of antibodies to the novel coronavirus in the mothers’ breast milk. Although the study was relatively small, it shows that breastfeeding could offer their babies some extra protection from COVID-19. Experts also suggest that the same could be true for pregnant women vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2.
4. Patients are most likely to spread COVID-19 between the 2nd day before and the 3rd day after exhibiting symptoms.
An international team of researchers who were on the front line studying SARS-CoV-2 in China as early as January 2020 and until August 2020 say the novel coronavirus is most likely to spread to others when a person who is sick with COVID-19 first begins exhibiting symptoms of the disease.
The study traced 730 individuals with COVID-19 and identified a further 8,852 individuals who were in contact with them. The researchers found that the people with COVID-19 were most likely to transmit the virus between the second day before and the third day after exhibiting symptoms of the infection. The risk of passing on the illness was the highest on the first day of symptomatic illness.
But there is a silver lining - people who contracted the virus from asymptomatic COVID-19 patients were less likely to suffer from symptomatic illness as well.
5. The Delta variant increases the risk of hospitalization twofold.
On a sad note, an English research paper published in The Lancet suggests that people who get sick with the Delta variant are twice as likely to end up in a hospital than those who catch the Alpha strain of the virus. This is the biggest study of its kind to suggest that the Delta strain isn’t only more contagious, but also causes more serious illness.
The study was conducted in the spring of 2021 when vaccines were still unavailable to everyone in the country, so we still don’t know how vaccinations are able to improve one’s chances of getting a mild version of the infection. Current data suggest that vaccines are effective against Delta, but this study definitely urges us to exercise maximum caution outdoors.
6. Pfizer vaccine gets full approval by the FDA
Even though the FDA gave an emergency authorization to the Pfizer vaccine last winter, they continued receiving and examining more data about the Pfizer vaccine until August of 2021. Last month, the FDA gave their full and final approval of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine in people 16 years and older, concluding that the vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19.
The vaccine is still available for kids between ages 12 and 15, but the full approval further legitimizes the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and mRNA vaccines, in general, as it’s the first vaccine of this kind to be fully approved by the FDA.
7. US intelligence rules out the possibility of COVID-19’s origin as a biological weapon
One of the many COVID-19 conspiracy theories and myths circulating in the world was that the novel coronavirus was developed by the Chinese government as a biological weapon. It turns out US intelligence agencies have actually considered this option, as well as the option that the virus was created at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
An unclassified summary by the National Intelligence Council concludes that COVID-19 is not a biological weapon. Although the Intelligence Community was not able to establish how exactly the virus came to be, “natural exposure to an animal with the virus” was mentioned as the most likely cause of the pandemic.
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