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Covid-19 news: Possible cause of rare vaccine-linked blood clots found

Vials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5pm on 27 May

Preliminary research suggests rare blood clots linked to some covid-19 vaccines may be related to their DNA delivery mechanism

Researchers may have identified a cause of the rare blood clots associated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) covid-19 vaccines. Preliminary research by Rolf Marschalek at Goethe University in Frankfurt and his colleagues indicates the problem is related to the method by which these vaccines deliver DNA instructions for the assembly of the coronavirus spike protein inside cells. This so-called viral vector technology is used in both the Astrazeneca and J&J covid-19 vaccines. 

The DNA is delivered to the cell’s control centre, called the nucleus, rather than the surrounding fluid where the virus would usually produce proteins, according to Marschalek and colleagues in a non-peer-reviewed study posted online on 26 May. In the cell nucleus, parts of the DNA encoding the coronavirus spike protein are split apart, creating incomplete versions that aren’t able to bind to the cell’s outer membrane where they would be detected by the body’s immune system. Instead, they are released into the blood, where they may trigger the blood clots in rare cases, Marschalek told the Financial Times

Marschalek said a solution may be to modify the gene sequence in the vaccine in a way that prevents this splitting. He said J&J had already contacted his laboratory for advice and is trying to optimise its vaccine.

Other coronavirus news

US president Joe Biden has ordered the US intelligence community to increase its efforts in investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. “I have asked for areas of further inquiry that may be required, including specific questions for China,” Biden said in a statement on 26 May. On 23 May, the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with covid-19. China’s Foreign Ministry and the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab denied the report, and a World Health Organization investigation previously concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus originated in a laboratory.

The head of the Japanese Doctors Union, Naoto Ueyama, said that holding the Olympic Games in Tokyo in July as planned could lead to the emergence of a “Tokyo Olympic strain” of coronavirus. Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and the International Olympic Committee have said the Olympics will go ahead with strict virus-prevention measures in place. But concerns remain about the risks posed by athletes and officials from around the world converging in Japan, Ueyama told a news conference on 27 May. 

Covid-19 hospitalisations in England have increased slightly, according to the weekly national influenza and covid-19 surveillance report from Public Health England (PHE) . Hospital admission rates for covid-19 rose slightly to 0.79 per 100,000 people, up from 0.75 per 100,000 people the previous week. “This is a reminder that we still have a way to go and need to remain cautious,” said Yvonne Doyle, PHE medical director, in a statement.

Germany plans to offer a first dose of covid-19 vaccine to all children aged 12 and above by the end of August, according to a draft health ministry report seen by Reuters. The European Medicines Agency is expected to make a decision on whether to authorise the Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged 12 to 15 on 28 May.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.5 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 168.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 796.3 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Essential information about coronavirus

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What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.

The Jump is a BBC radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.

Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.

Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.

Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.

is assessing the progress in development of potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.

Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.

Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.

Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.

COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.

The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5pm on 26 May

Researchers estimate that up to 30 per cent of covid-19 health burden could be due to lasting effects requiring long-term care

As much as 30 per cent of the health burden of covid-19 could be a result of lasting effects that need long-term care, rather than deaths, according to Anna Vassall and Andrew Briggs at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. They estimated this using measures known as disability-adjusted life years and quality-adjusted life years that capture the impact of ill health on a person’s life course. It’s “a very rough first estimate based on simple assumptions”, they write in an article published in Nature

The overall magnitude of these lingering effects, which can range from fatigue to cardiovascular disease, has been greatly underestimated, Vassall told New Scientist, so the impact on younger people is greater than thought. 

“We worry that everyone is focusing their strategy on deaths, and hence the old, when they are prioritising vaccines,” says Vassall. Health authorities need to look at the broader disease burden, she says. 

Other coronavirus news

Dominic Cummings, former aide to UK prime minister Boris Johnson, has acknowledged that the UK government “failed” the public in its response to the covid-19 pandemic. Cummings was giving evidence to the cross-party health and social care and science and technology committees on 26 May. “The truth is that senior ministers, officials, advisers like me, fell disastrously short of the standards the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this,” said Cummings. “When the public needed us most, we failed. And I’d like to say to all the families of those who have died unnecessarily, how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made, and my own mistakes.” Cummings said the government hadn’t responded quickly enough and was underprepared in the weeks after the coronavirus outbreak was first detected in China in January 2020.

The US, Australia, Japan and Portugal are among countries calling for a more in-depth investigation into the origins of the covid-19 pandemic. On 23 May, the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital care in November 2019 with symptoms consistent with covid-19. China’s Foreign Ministry and the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab denied the report, and a World Health Organization investigation previously concluded that a laboratory origin of the virus was “extremely unlikely”

A lawyer for the European Union accused AstraZeneca of failing to respect its contract with the bloc for the supply of covid-19 vaccines and asked a Belgian court to impose a fine on the company. The EU is seeking €10 for each day of delay for each dose as compensation, plus an additional penalty of at least €10 million for each breach of the contract, the bloc’s lawyer, Rafael Jafferali, told a Brussels court on 26 May.

Coronavirus deaths
The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.48 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 167.9 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 785.5 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

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Gunners from the Royal Horse Artillery distribute Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to Bolton residents

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5pm on 25 May

Local officials in England “not consulted” over new guidance for areas affected by the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant

People in England are being advised not to travel into and out of eight areas where the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant first identified in India is spreading. The updated UK government guidance also says that people in Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow, North Tyneside, Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen should avoid meeting people from other households indoors. 

The government has faced criticism over communication of the new advice, which was published on 21 May without an announcement. Blackburn with Darwen council’s director of public health, Dominic Harrison, said local officials in those areas affected “were not consulted with, warned of, notified about, or alerted to this guidance”, Sky News reported on 25 May.

Other coronavirus news

The US is urging citizens against travel to Japan, where the Olympics are scheduled to take place in July, because of a continuing surge of coronavirus cases in the country. Tokyo is recording a weekly average of about 650 new cases per day, the BBC reported, and hospitals have been overwhelmed in recent weeks. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), which oversees Team USA, told Reuters in a statement that it has been made aware of the updated travel advice but that it is “confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff by both the USOPC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer”. Japanese officials also said they did not expect the travel advisory to affect the Olympics

Moderna’s covid-19 vaccine has been found to be highly effective at preventing covid-19 in people aged 12 to 17. Moderna said its vaccine was 100 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infections in trials. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which was also found to be 100 per cent effective in adolescents, has already been given emergency authorisation by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in those aged 12 to 15. 

The Guardian reported that figures supplied by NHS trusts in England show that 32,307 people in the country “probably or definitely” contracted covid-19 while in hospital for another medical problem between March 2020 and March 2021, and 8747 of them died from the disease.

Coronavirus deaths

The worldwide covid-19 death toll has passed 3.47 million. The number of confirmed cases is more than 167.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher. According to Our World In Data, more than 775.6 million people globally have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Vaccination race: The director-general of the World Health Organization has called for a massive drive to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of every country in the world by September, and 30 per cent by the end of the year.

See previous updates from May 2021, April-March 2021, February 2021, January 2021, November/December 2020, and March to November 2020.

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