COVID Booster

The vaccine should be free in India, argue experts

While the COVID-19 crisis rages in India, only 3% of the country has been fully vaccinated. A commentary in BMJ Global Health argues that there are a few reasons for this slow rollout, including poor organisation, lack of approval for foreign vaccines, and the cost of vaccines.

Part of the problem is that while some of the vaccines are free, private hospitals are permitted to charge for vaccination, with price ranges of between $3 and $15 making them inaccessible to most of the population. The authors say that universal free vaccines will increase uptake.

“India has decades of experience in immunization programmes and its success stories like smallpox and polio vaccination drives reassure that mass vaccinations are possible with visionary planning, expert advisors and a dedication to provide quality healthcare to all,” state the authors, who are based at the Indian Council of Medical Research and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, both in New Delhi.

Go hard, go early is the right approach

A study carried out by researchers from the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne has shown that swift, short and severe lockdowns are the best approach to manage COVID-19 in Australia.

“Our work shows that what Victoria is currently doing, with its ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown is exactly the right thing to do,” says Tom Kompas, a professor at Melbourne and lead author on a paper describing the research, published in PLOS One.

The researchers ran three simulations of Australia’s first wave of infections, examining the economic and health impacts of restrictions that were less severe than the initial lockdown.

“Our study estimated costs from an early 8-week national lockdown in Australia were large, at $52 billion, or about three per cent of GDP, but the costs of a much-delayed lockdown were many times greater and included a much greater loss of life,” says Quentin Grafton, co-author on the study and a professor at ANU.

“The UK has lost 128,000 lives to COVID-19 and in 2020 suffered its biggest annual decline, 9.9 per cent, in GDP in over 300 years. By comparison, Australia’s GDP is now higher than it was just before the pandemic and has, to date, suffered less than 1,000 fatalities,” he adds.

“Australia’s national lockdown that began in March 2020 generated a very large economic payoff relative to alternatives of delayed suppression measures or unmitigated spread of COVID-19. For that, all Australians should be grateful.”

Robot noses could detect COVID quickly

A team of Israeli researchers have developed a robotic ‘nose’ that can detect COVID-19 based on body odour.

Inspired by dogs that can sniff out coronavirus, the researchers used eNoses on people lining up to get tested for SARS-CoV-2 and combined them with a deep-learning algorithm.

They found that after training, the eNoses were between 60% and 70% accurate at detecting SARS-CoV-2 – significantly lower than traditional tests, but much faster.

The authors say this is an effective proof of concept and the eNoses may be useful in areas where sniffer dogs aren’t appropriate.

Their research is published in PLOS One.

There’s probably 10 kilograms of SARS-CoV-2 in the world right now

It’s useful to know how many viral particles (or virions) there are in an infection, because we can examine how our immune system is responding to it. But it’s a difficult thing to determine – so we’re still vague about how many COVID-19 virions are present in an infected person.

A paper published in PNAS has shone some light on the matter, estimating that at peak infection, there are between one billion and 100 billion virions in a human.

The researchers, who are based at Stony Brook University, US, have used that number to guess the weight of all the world’s COVID. “This curiously implies that all SARS-CoV-2 virions currently in all human hosts have a mass of between 100 g and 10 kg,” they write in their paper.

The next question on our minds is: what would 10 kg of COVID-19 look like? Possibly “something in between pus and meat slurry”. And definitely worth avoiding.

Needle-free vaccine shows early success

Not a fan of needles? A collaboration between the University of Queensland and the University of Texas, US, have used a ‘patch’ to inoculate mice against COVID-19.

The Hexapro vaccine candidate, developed by the University of Texas and administered on a UQ-developed patch, requires only one dose and appears to stimulate immune responses in mice.

The vaccine patch.
The vaccine patch. Credit: UQ

“When the Hexapro vaccine is delivered via HD-MAP applicator – rather than a needle – it produces better and faster immune responses,” says David Muller, a researcher at UQ.

“It also neutralises multiple variants, including the UK [Alpha] and South Africa [Beta] variants.

“And it’s much more user-friendly than a needle – you simply ‘click’ an applicator on the skin, and 5000 microscopic projections almost-imperceptibly deliver vaccine into the skin.”

Muller also says that the vaccine is stable at room temperature for a month, making it much more transportable.

A pre-print describing the animal trial is published on BioRxiv.

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