J&J says COVID-19 booster shot triggered an antibody surge

In this photo healthcare workers prepare a syringe with a vial of the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination site at Grand Central Terminal train station on May 12, 202 in New York City. (PHOTO / AFP)

CHICAGO / ZURICH / LONDON / HAVANA / NAIROBI / SARAJEVO / RABAT / DUBLIN / LISBON / CAPE TOWN / RIO DE JANEIRO / MEXICO CITY / ATHENS / ADDIS ABABA / MOSCOW – Johnson & Johnson said a booster of its COVID-19 vaccine provided a rapid and strong increase in antibodies, supporting the use of a second shot among people who previously received its single-dose immunization.

A second dose of the J&J vaccine led to a ninefold increase in COVID-fighting antibodies compared with the levels participants had 28 days after getting their first shot, the healthcare giant said Wednesday, citing interim data from an early-stage trial.

Trial participants were given the booster six months after the first shot, according to J&J. Significant increases in antibody responses were seen in subjects ages 18 to 55 years old, and among those 65 or older who were given a lower dose of the booster. The data are being submitted to a preprint medical publication, MedRxiv.

The latest findings, coupled with data showing the single shot’s durability through at least eight months, underscore a future booster strategy, said Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for J&J’s pharmaceutical subsidiary Janssen. 

This photo shows vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in cold storage at a vaccination center inside France's national velodrome in the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines district of Paris, March 24, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

Vaccine protection

Protection against COVID-19 offered by two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines begins to fade within six months, underscoring the need for booster shots, according to researchers in Britain.

After five to six months, the effectiveness of the Pfizer jab at preventing COVID-19 infection in the month after the second dose fell from 88 percent to 74 percent, an analysis of data collected in Britain's ZOE COVID study showed.

For the AstraZeneca vaccine, effectiveness fell from 77 percent to 67 percent after four to five months.

The study was based on data from more than 1.2 million test results.

Previous analysis of data has suggested that vaccines provide protection for at least six months.

Under a worst-case scenario, protection could fall below 50 percent for older people and healthcare workers by the winter, Tim Spector, principal investigator for the ZOE COVID study, said.

In another study, immunocompromised patients were found to have weaker immune responses after two doses of COVID-19 vaccine than the general population, supporting the case for booster shots for vulnerable people. 

About 40 percent of 600 people with conditions like cancer and arthritis, whose treatments can interfere with immunity, had insufficient responses to standard vaccine regimens, according to the study published Tuesday in preprint form by the The Lancet medical journal. 

The findings of the UK study, called Octave, don’t give solid answers about COVID-19 vaccines’ effectiveness in protecting immuncompromised patients, the authors said. 

“There is no agreed clinical cut off to measure COVID-19 vaccination response,” they said. 

However, the results indicate that even partial protection from COVID-19 “may be clinically beneficial” said Iain McInnes, head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at University of Glasgow, and leader of the study. 

Global tally

The number of coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 213.2 million while the global death toll topped 4.45 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Portugal

Research by the National Health Institute Doctor Ricardo Jorge (INSA) showed that vaccines that use mRNA technology, such as those from Pfizer and Moderna, are less effective against the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2.

According to a statement from INSA, there is a "significantly higher probability of infection by the Delta variant in vaccinated people," doubling "the risk of infection by the Alpha variant" of the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

The INSA scientists found that after analyzing about 2,000 cases, there was a drop in immunity in people who have received either one dose or two doses of mRNA vaccines.

"According to the results obtained, it was observed that those infected with the Delta variant had, on average, higher viral load values, which could mean greater transmissibility," reads the statement.

ALSO READ: Pfizer, Moderna get EU nod for boosting mRNA vaccine output

Meanwhile, the Portuguese researchers also concluded that those who were vaccinated have "a lower viral load and potentially lower transmissibility than unvaccinated individuals," regardless of which coronavirus variant they were infected with.

In another study, a research team found three existing drugs that can help inhibit COVID-19 effects, the Diario de Noticias of Portugal daily reported.

During the pre-clinical research, the team from the Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology of NOVA University Lisbon discovered that the drug combination can reduce the replication of SARS-CoV-2 by half, according to the report.

The drugs could be a potential treatment that helps reduce COVID-19 hospitalization rate, according to the researchers.

Two of the drugs are over-the-counter medicines for treating other diseases while the third one is pending market approval, researchers said, without disclosing drug names due to patent concern.

People queue to receive a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination center set up in a bus parked outside Premier League club Newcastle United's St James's Park soccer stadium in Newcastle, northeast England, on Aug 15, 2021. (LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP)

UK

The UK recorded 174 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, the highest since March 12, and another 30,838 new cases, official data showed.

In total, the UK has reported 6,555,200 confirmed cases and 131,854 fatalities, which only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

More than 87 percent of people aged 16 and over in the UK have had their first vaccine dose and more than 77 percent have received both doses, according to the latest official data.

data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that there were 652 coronavirus-related deaths registered in Britain during the week to Aug 13, the highest number since 800 fatalities were recorded in the week to March 26.

The latest data came as almost 5,000 coronavirus cases in Britain were suspected to be linked to Boardmasters music and surfing festival in Cornwall, prompting health officials to launch an investigation.

Switzerland

The Swiss government is considering expanding the mandatory use of COVID-19 certificates in indoor spaces as cases and hospitalizations rise. 

Certificates would be needed to enter indoor areas of restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as indoor events such as concerts, cinemas and weddings, said the government which has launched a consultation with regional authorities which will run until Aug 30. Their use would also be required at fitness centers, museums and zoos. COVID-19 tests will no longer be paid for by the government from Oct. 1.

Switzerland is being hit by a fourth wave of the coronavirus with a "very worrying" rise in infections, the head of the government's crisis team at the Federal Office for Public Health said on Tuesday.

The number of new infections has hovered between 2,500 and 3,000 per day recently, close to the level of the third wave earlier this year, Patrick Mathys said.

"The current situation should be seen as unfavourable and to some extent very worrying," Mathys said at a press conference in Bern. "We have to describe the current situation as the fourth wave."

The number of new infections rose by 2,993 on Tuesday, taking the total number to 761,978 since the pandemic began. The government also reported six more deaths, taking the death toll to 10,461.

Mathys said he was concerned about hospitals and the low level of vaccinations.

Around 56 percent of the population have had at least one dose and 50 percent have had two. The vast majority of COVID-19 hospitalizations were of people who had not been vaccinated, Mathys said.

"The stagnating vaccination figures do not indicate that the situation could ease in the foreseeable future," Mathys said. "The proportion of the non-immune population is still far too large."

ALSO READ: WHO: Global new virus cases kept rising in last two months

Cuba

Cuba registered on Tuesday a record 9,907 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 602,526.

There were also 92 newly reported deaths, taking the toll to 4,710, Ministry of Public Health said.

"All provinces reported a positivity rate higher than 16 percent from the samples analyzed, except for the western provinces of Havana and Matanzas, and the Special Municipality of the Isla de la Juventud," said Francisco Duran, the ministry's national director of hygiene and epidemiology .

The Cuban government is carrying out a vaccination campaign against COVID-19, with 3,132,266 of the 11.2 million Cubans having received three doses of domestically-produced vaccines Abdala, Soberana-02 or Soberana Plus. 

A girl gets a dose of the Cuban made Soberana-02 vaccine for COVID-19 in Havana, Cuba, Aug 24, 2021. (RAMON ESPINOSA / AP)

Africa

Health ministers in the sub-Saharan African region pledgedon Tuesday to revitalize the COVID-19 fight by ramping up vaccinations and the sharing of best practices.

Speaking at the 71st session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa, the ministers said that containing the pandemic was key to the continent's economic recovery.

Pierre N'gou Dimba, minister of health, public hygiene and universal health coverage of Cote d'Ivoire, said the continent could still avert the worst outcomes of the pandemic subject to ramped up inoculations, the revamp of critical care facilities and adherence to virus prevention measures.

He said that collaborative research, enhanced surveillance, testing and access to timely clinical care would strengthen the capacity of African countries to respond to the pandemic.

During a special session dedicated to the pandemic, the ministers stressed the need to tackle vaccine hesitancy besides sharing knowledge and expertise on how to curb the virus transmission in the high risk demographics.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, hailed proactive steps that African countries undertook at the onset of the pandemic that averted an implosion of infections and fatalities.

"We must build on this renewed unity of purpose to strengthen our surveillance systems, bolster treatment capacities, step up the supply of crucial medicines and swiftly vaccinate those most in need," said Moeti.

Cyprus

Cypriot health authorities are ready to start any time giving a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine to fully vaccinated people, Deputy Director of the Health Ministry's Pharmaceutical Services Elena Panayiotopoulou said on Wednesday.

She said the Pharmaceutical Services has got an ample stock of vaccines and planned to start booster vaccination as soon as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives the go-ahead for a third dose.

Data released by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday for the period up to Aug 23 showed that 72.3 percent of the population in Cyprus eligible for vaccination had completed their vaccination, while 77.6 percent have received at least the first vaccine dose.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) reported a sharp increase in daily COVID-19 cases and deaths, said the country's Ministry of Civil Affairs on Tuesday.

In the past 24 hours, 533 new cases and 10 more deaths were reported in the country, the highest since April 28 this year, when 646 cases and 46 deaths were registered.

The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), one of the two entities of BiH, accounted for 362 cases and four deaths, while the Republika Srpska, the other entity, saw 150 cases and five deaths. Brcko District, the self-governing administrative unit, reported 21 cases and one death.

To date, BiH has reported a total of 210,442 cases and 9,750 deaths

Morocco

Morocco reported on Tuesday 7,184 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally of infections in the North African country to 821,129.

The death toll rose by 105 to 11,994 while the total number of recoveries from COVID-19 increased by 9,278 to 739,947.

So far, 17,693,422 people have received their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and 13,554,867 have received two doses.

Rapid COVID-19 tests swabs are processed at Palos Verdes High School in Palos Verdes Estates, California, Aug 24, 2021. The district is encouraging all students and staff to test before the first day of school on Aug 25, and there are three sites for the drive-up testing. (BRITTANY MURRAY / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER VIA AP)US

Some 25 percent of SARS-CoV-2 infections among Los Angeles County residents occurred in fully vaccinated residents from May through July 25, a period that includes the impact of the highly transmissible Delta variant, US officials reported on Tuesday.

The data, published in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s weekly report on death and disease, shows an increase in so-called "breakthrough" infections among fully vaccinated individuals.

The vaccines did, however, protect individuals from more severe cases. According to the study, 3.2 percent of fully vaccinated individuals who were infected with the virus were hospitalized, just 0.05 percent were admitted to an intensive care unit and 0.25 percent were placed on a ventilator.

In addition to the LA County data, the CDC on Tuesday released an update on the HEROES cohort study among healthcare workers that showed a significant drop in vaccine effectiveness among vaccinated frontline workers in eight states who became infected with the coronavirus.

Vaccine efficacy during the period of the study when Delta was predominant fell to 66 percent from 91 percent prior to the arrival of the Delta variant, according to the report.

“Although these interim findings suggest a moderate reduction in the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in preventing infection, the sustained two-thirds reduction in infection risk underscores the continued importance and benefits of COVID-19 vaccination,” researchers wrote in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

ALSO READ: US FDA grants full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine

In another development, Idaho’s hospitals are “at or over capacity” and could soon be granted state authorization to turn away patients and reduce services as COVID-19 cases rise, said Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

The number of intensive care patients across the state is the highest since the pandemic started more than a year ago, Jeppesen said during a crisis standards-of-care online briefing.

Ireland

The peak of the current wave of COVID-19 infections in Ireland has yet to come, said a senior public health official on Tuesday.

Philip Nolan, chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group (IEMAG) under the National Public Health Emergency Team, said that it has been 542 days since Ireland reported its first case of COVID-19.

He said the peak of the current wave of infections caused by the Delta variant in Ireland has not come, though IEMAG's modelling indicated that the peak could be around the corner.

COVID-19 in Ireland is now "predominantly a disease of young, unvaccinated adults," Nolan noted.

There were very high incidences of the disease in adults and adolescents aged 16-29, he said, adding that over 70 percent of the 1,571 cases reported by the Irish Department of Health on Tuesday are among those unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

The daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ireland averaged 1,814 for the last five days and the 14-day incidence in the country was 526 per 100,000 population, said Tony Holohan, chief medical officer of the Irish health department. 

"This is an extremely high incidence of disease circulating in our communities," he said.

Earlier in the day, Paul Reid, head of the Health Service Executive, an agency responsible for Ireland's vaccine rollout, tweeted that almost 86 percent of Irish adults have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and 88,000 children aged 12-15 have received their first dose.

South Africa

South Africa has made "encouraging" progress in its vaccination campaign against COVID-19, but the country is facing a challenge of fake news created by anti-vaxxers, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said Tuesday.

The circulation of such news has increased and it is "really our challenge," said Phaahla while updating the Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Health on the vaccine acquisition and rollout program virtually.

The country has "adequate capacity" of human resources and physical infrastructure to administer vaccines, Phaahla said.

After South Africa opened up its vaccination campaign to people aged 18-34 on Friday, more than 500,000 people in the age group were registered for vaccination.

As of Tuesday afternoon, South Africa has administered over 11 million doses, and more than 5.14 million people have been fully vaccinated.

The country on Tuesday reported 10,346 new cases, bringing the national tally to 2,708,951. 

Brazil

Brazil will give booster shots of a COVID-19 vaccine to immunosuppressed or vulnerable people and citizens over the age of 80, beginning on Sept 15, Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said.

In remarks to journalists in Brasília late on Tuesday, Queiroga said Pfizer's vaccine made in partnership with Germany's BioNTech will be used as the additional dose in those groups.

Brazil registered 30,872 new coronavirus cases and 894 additional COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the country’s health ministry said on Tuesday.

Mexico

Mexico’s health ministry reported 18,262 new cases of COVID-19 and 940 more deaths on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country since the pandemic began to 3,249,878 and the death toll to 254,466.

Commuters exit from Syntagma Metro station in Athens, Greece, Aug 24, 2021. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / AP)

Greece

The Greek government announced on Tuesday a package of stricter measures and restrictions for unvaccinated people as part of efforts to contain the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those who are not vaccinated will face new restrictions in workplaces, schools, entertainment venues, sports halls, gyms and travelling, and will bear the cost of PCR or rapid tests, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said at a press conference.

The measures will become effective from Sept 13 until April 2022.

Under the new rules, unvaccinated employees in the public and private sector without a certificate proving vaccination or recent recovery from COVID-19 will have to provide certificates of a negative PCR or rapid test once a week to enter their workplace.

Employees in catering and tourism businesses, theaters, dance, cinema or TV productions, as well as teachers and university professors and university students will have to take a test twice a week.

Those who are unvaccinated will also have to take a test 48 hours prior to travelling on airplanes, ships, trains, buses across Greece or in order to enter indoor theaters, cinemas, museums and gyms.

Meanwhile, access to indoor restaurants, cafeterias, bars, clubs and sports venues will be restricted to fully vaccinated citizens and those with proof of recovery during the last six months, the minister said.

Those who will not comply will face suspension from work and will be forbidden to attend class or travel.

More than 90 percent of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) across the country in the past two months were unvaccinated, Kikilias said, urging more people to get the shots.

So far, 5.6 million people in Greece are fully vaccinated, accounting for 53.5 percent of the general population and 62.7 percent of the adult population, according to the ministry.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 1,266 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 297,997 as of Tuesday evening, the country's health ministry said.

Nine more virus-related deaths and 659 new recoveries were also reported, bringing the  death toll to 4,580 and the total number of recoveries to 270,830, the ministry said.

The country currently has 22,585 active cases, among which 522 are considered severe, it said.

The East African country has so far administered 2,377,658 COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the ministry.

Russia

Russia on Wednesday reported 809 coronavirus-related deaths, close to a record one-day high set earlier this month amid a surge of cases blamed on the Delta variant and the slow rate of vaccinations.

The government's coronavirus task force also reported 19,536 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours.

Uganda

Uganda's National Medical Stores on Wednesday said it has started the distribution of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines across the country.

Trucks have been dispatched to different parts of the country to distribute the 300,000 Sinovac doses donated by the Chinese government, NMS spokesperson Sheila Nduhukire said in a statement.

According to the ministry of health, Uganda expects to receive at least 12.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by early 2022.

Zambia 

Zambia will soon start rolling out the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine received from China early this month, a government official said on Wednesday.

Kennedy Malama, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health in charge of Technical Services said the vaccine will be rolled out in specific districts this week to supplement the other vaccines being administered.

The country has been administering the AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccine since the launch of the program on April 14, 2021 out of the five approved vaccines for the country.

The official said so far about 558,307 doses out of the 977,600 received have been utilized.