Covid 'End Is In Sight', Says WHO Chief
GENEVA, Sept 14: The number of newly reported Covid-19 cases has dropped dramatically, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, urging the world to seize the opportunity to end the pandemic.
Newly reported cases of the disease, which has killed millions since being identified in late 2019, last week fell to the lowest level since March 2020, said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic," he told reporters. "We are not there yet, but the end is in sight."
But the world needed to step up to "seize this opportunity", he added.
"If we don't take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption, and more uncertainty."
According to WHO's latest epidemiological report on Covid-19, the number of reported cases fell 28 percent to 3.1 million during the week ending September 11, following a 12-percent-drop a week earlier.
But the agency has warned that the falling number of reported cases is deceptive, since many countries have cut back on testing and may not be detecting the less serious cases.
"The number of cases that are being reported to WHO we know are an underestimate," Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead on Covid, told reporters.
"We feel that far more cases are actually circulating than are being reported to us," she said, cautioning that the virus "is circulating at a very intense level around the world at the present time".
Since the start of the pandemic, WHO has tallied more than 605 million cases, and some 6.4 million deaths, although both those numbers are also believed to be serious undercounts.
A WHO study published in May based on excess mortality seen in various countries during the pandemic estimated that up to 17 million people may have died from Covid in 2020 and 2021.
Van Kerkhove noted that going forward there will likely be "future waves of infection, potentially at different time points throughout the world, caused by different sub-variants of Omicron or even different variants of concern".
But, she added, "those future waves of infection do not need to translate into future waves of death".
In a bid to help countries to do what is needed to rein in the virus, the WHO on Wednesday published six policy briefs.
Among the recommendations, the WHO is urging countries to invest in vaccinating 100 percent of the most at-risk groups, including health workers and the elderly, and to keep up testing and sequencing for the virus.
"These policy briefs are an urgent call for governments to take a hard look at their policies, and strengthen them for Covid-19 and future pathogens with pandemic potential," Tedros said.
"We can end this pandemic together, but only if all countries, manufacturers, communities and individuals step up and seize this opportunity."
WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan agreed.
"Even as the pandemic wanes, and as the number of cases may drop, we are going to have to maintain high levels of vigilance," he told reporters.
"We still have a highly mutable, evolving virus that has shown us time and time again over two and a half years how it can adapt, how it can change."
New Intranasal Anti-Viral Treatment May Block Covid Transmission: Report
LOS ANGELES, Sept 12: Researchers have developed an intranasal anti-viral treatment for COVID-19 that decreases the amount of SARS-CoV-2 shed from infected animals and limits transmission of the virus.
By the time people test positive for COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has already taken up residence in their respiratory system. With each breath, people expel invisible viral particles into the air -- a process known as viral shedding.
Existing drugs aimed at treating COVID-19 address symptoms of the virus but do little to quell viral shedding.
Researchers at Gladstone Institutes in the US previously developed a novel approach for treating infectious diseases: a single-dose, intranasal treatment that protects against severe SARS-CoV-2 infection.
In a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they show that this treatment, called a therapeutic interfering particle (TIP), also decreases the amount of virus shed from infected animals and limits transmission of the virus.
"Historically, it has been exceptionally challenging for antivirals and vaccines to limit the transmission of respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2," said Gladstone investigator Leor Weinberger, senior author of the new research.
"This study shows that a single, intranasal dose of TIPs reduces the amount of virus transmitted, and protects animals that came into contact with that treated animal," Leor Weinberger said.
The researchers noted that it is the only single-dose antiviral that reduces not only symptoms and severity of COVID-19, but also shedding of the virus.
Leor Weinberger and Sonali Chaturvedi, a research investigator at Gladstone and first author of the research, treated hamsters infected with SARS-CoV-2 with the antiviral TIPs and then measured, daily, the amount of virus in the animals' noses.
Compared to hamsters that had not received the TIPs (called control animals), treated animals had less virus in their nasal passages at every time point.
By day 5, all control animals were still shedding high levels of virus, while the virus was undetectable in four out of five TIP-treated animals, the researchers said.
"We know that the amount of virus shed is proportional to how infectious someone is," said Leor Weinberger.
"If viral shedding can be reduced, the number of secondary contacts likely to become infected will also very likely be reduced, which will in turn decrease overall virus dissemination and help keep vulnerable individuals safe," he said.
When the SARS-CoV-2- infected animals were housed in cages with uninfected animals, treatment of the infected animals with TIPs did not fully prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the researchers said.
However, it did lead to significantly lower viral loads and milder symptoms of infection in the newly exposed animals, they said.
"This particular laboratory setting is known to generate much more efficient transmission than typically seen in humans, even in household settings, because the hamsters not only transmit via aerosols, but also through bodily fluids and by climbing over and grooming each other for many hours," said Leor Weinberger.
"So, being able to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission in this animal setting is quite promising for being able to reduce human-to-human transmission," he added.
India's first intranasal Covid vaccine by Bharat Biotech gets approval
NEW DELHI, Sept 6: India's first intranasal Covid vaccine by Bharat Biotech received DCGI approval on Tuesday for primary immunization against the infection for people above the age of 18.
Lauding the achievement, Health Minister Dr Mansukh Mandaviya said, it is a ‘Big Boost to India's Fight Against COVID-19’. The intranasal vaccine for COVID-19 by Bharat Biotech is first of its kind needle-free vaccine.
Bharat Biotech said in a statement "Bharat Biotech International Limited (BBIL), a global leader in vaccine innovation and developer of vaccines for infectious diseases, today announced that intranasal COVID vaccine (BBV154), has received approval under Restricted Use in Emergency Situation for ages 18 and above.
The iNCOVACC is a recombinant replication-deficient adenovirus vectored vaccine with a pre-fusion stabilized spike protein. This vaccine candidate was evaluated in phase I, II and III clinical trials with successful results.
This vaccine has been specifically formulated to allow intranasal delivery through nasal drops. The nasal delivery system has been designed and developed to be cost-effective in low and middle-income countries.
The chairman of Bharat Biotech called the approval a matter of pride for the organisation and said that the intra-nasal vaccine would be a global game changer.
"Despite the lack of demand for COVID-19 vaccines, we continued product development in intra-nasal vaccines to ensure that we are well prepared with platform technologies for future infectious diseases. We thank the Ministry of Health, the CDSCO, the Department of Biotechnology Govt of India, and Washington University St. Louis for their support and guidance," said Dr Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director, Bharat Biotech.
The intranasal vaccine is a heterologous booster dose.
"Clinical trials were conducted to evaluate iNCOVACC as a primary dose schedule, as a heterologous booster dose for subjects who have previously received 2 doses of the two commonly administered covid vaccines in India," the statement added.
"Immunogenicity was evaluated through serum neutralizing antibodies by PRNT assays and serum IgG's through ELISA's. To evaluate vaccines taken through the intranasal route, IgA's were evaluated by ELISA in serum and saliva. An evaluation was also carried out for the ability iNCOVACC to elicit long-term memory T and B cell responses against the ancestral and omicron variants," it added.