The very common vaccine ingredient at the center of J&J, AstraZeneca drama

Adenoviruses seen via transmission electron microscopy.

Enlarge / Adenoviruses seen via transmission electron microscopy. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

Out of an abundance of caution, US officials on Tuesday recommended pausing use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. Officials linked the vaccine to six peculiar illnesses in which people developed life-threatening blood clots in combination with low levels of blood platelets, the cell fragments in blood that form clots. One person died from their condition and another is in critical condition.

It’s unclear if the vaccine caused the illnesses. Even if it did, the illnesses would represent an exceedingly rare side effect. The six cases occurred among more than 6.8 million people in the US who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That would make it a side effect seen in fewer than one in a million. The risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, which the vaccine protects against, easily exceeds those odds. Without question, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the potential risks.

Still, with robust supplies of vaccine from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNtech—neither of which have been linked to these unusual cases—US officials took the cautious route of pausing Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine while they investigate the cases further and inform clinicians about how to spot and treat any others that may arise. This latter point is critical because if doctors try to use standard blood clot treatments in these vaccine-linked cases, the outcomes can be fatal.

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AstraZeneca vaccine linked to rare blood clots, EU regulators conclude

Extreme close-up photo of small, clear vials.

Enlarge / Vials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are seen during the opening of a vaccination center in Cyprus on March 22, 2021. (credit: Getty | Etienne Torbey)

European medical regulators on Wednesday concluded that there is a strong link between AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and life-threatening conditions involving the unusual combination of blood clots and low levels of blood platelets.

As such, the conditions should be listed as a “very rare side effects” of the vaccine, according to the European Medicines Agency, a regulatory agency of the European Union.

The conclusion was based on the EMA’s in-depth review of 86 blood-clotting events among around 25 million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe and the UK. Of the 86 blood-clotting events, 18 people died. Most—but not all—of the cases occurred in women under the age of 60.

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AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine shows success: Here’s how it stacks up to others

Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

AstraZeneca announced in a press release on Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine showed positive results in an interim analysis of clinical trial data.

The announcement marks the third vaccine to show strong efficacy in late-stage trials against the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Though AstraZeneca’s vaccine efficacy numbers are not as impressively high as those for the vaccines before it—mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—AstraZeneca’s does offer some advantages over those vaccines.

In all, the news adds to ballooning optimism that effective vaccines could bring an end to the global crisis in the coming year.

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China moves forward with COVID-19 vaccine, approving it for use in military

Men in white lab coats and face masks talk amongst themselves.

Enlarge / Chinese President Xi Jinping learns about the progress on a COVID-19 vaccine during his visit to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing on March 2, 2020. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency)

China has approved an experimental COVID-19 vaccine for use in its military after early clinical trial data suggested it was safe and spurred immune responses—but before larger trials that will test whether the vaccine can protect against SARS-CoV-2 infections.

This marks the first time any country has approved a candidate vaccine for military use. China’s Central Military Commission made the approval June 25, which will last for a year, according to a filing reported by Reuters.

The vaccine, developed by biotech company CanSino Biologics and the Chinese military, is a type of viral vector-based vaccine. That means researchers started with a viral vector, in this case a common strain of adenovirus (type-5), which typically causes mild upper respiratory infections. The researchers crippled the virus so that it doesn’t replicate in human cells and cause disease. Then, they engineered the virus to carry a signature feature of SARS-CoV-2—the coronavirus’s infamous spike protein, which juts out from the viral particle and allows the virus to get a hold on human cells.

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