[COVID-19 Update]: Researchers Create A Virus Similar to SARS-CoV-2; Hydroxychloroquine Not Effective Afterall; Vaccine Update

Scientists have created a virus similar to the COVID-19 virus by swapping one of the genes. The new hybrid virus does not pose a serious threat and can be used by scientists for research without the risk of catching the infection.

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Another day in the pandemic clutches, India recorded an all-time high of 70,000 new cases in a single day. At least 22,601,588 people have contracted the virus globally, of which 15,318,743 have recovered. The recovery rate stands at 95% globally. While the recovery rate is impressive, the COVID-19 induced market instability is still rampant. Scientists are working day and night to stabilize the situation. We are here to give you the latest updates. 

Researchers Create A Virus Similar to SARS-CoV-2

Ideally, scientists have to wear full-body personal protective equipment with pressurized respirators to ensure that they don’t contract the virus while studying it. Additionally, the laboratories have to be integrated with specialized ventilation systems to ensure safety. As important as these measures are, they are not readily available to every frontline scientist. Moreover, they also hinder the pace of the research as there is a constant fear around the possibility of getting infected. For these reasons, researchers have developed a new virus that will allow scientists to fight the pandemic more effectively.

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The research team from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, has created a genetically altered virus by swapping one of the genes with that of SARS-CoV-2 – the COVID-19 virus. The resulting virus is a mild one that infects cells just like SARS-CoV-2 but can be handled without any special laboratory safety measures. The study has been published in Journal Cell Host & Microbe. 

In order to create the model, the scientists started with vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) because this virus can be genetically modified easily. This virus seldom affects humans with mild symptoms. The researchers swapped the surface protein gene of VSV with that of SARS-CoV-2. The resulting virus can attack cells like the COVID-19 virus, but cannot cause severe illness. The hybrid virus is called VSV-SARS-CoV-2.

Scientists will use the hybrid virus to study a number of antibody-based treatments against COVID-19. It will be used to determine whether a vaccine is able to produce antibodies to neutralize the virus. Scientists will also assess if the plasma of a survivor has enough neutralizing antibodies to treat other patients. 

Co-author of the study, Sean Whelan, stated:

I’ve never had this many requests for a scientific material in such a short period of time. We’ve distributed the virus to researchers in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and, of course, all over the U.S. We have requests pending from the U.K. and Germany. Even before we published, people heard that we were working on this and started requesting the material.

Hydroxychloroquine Not Effective Against COVID-19

A group of researchers has found more reasons as to why hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) cannot be an effective treatment against COVID-19. The researchers from the Case Western Reserve University have found out that HCQ is not effective in treating patients with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 

Physicians have focused on patients with lupus and RA because they are mostly treated with HCQ. In the early stages of the pandemic, these patients were showing promising results against COVID-19. This is why many countries even started increasing the HCQ supply. However, further studies have shown that HCQ is, in fact, not very effective in treating severe cases of COVID-19. HCQ’s effectivity in mild cases is still being studied. 

The lead author of the study, Mendel Singer stated:

Our study shows, with a large degree of confidence, that HCQ is ineffective as a preventive antiviral in people with SLE and/or RA taking drugs that suppress their immune system, putting them at greater risk. Given how the study was structured, one can make an educated extension that it is not effective in preventing COVID-19 in people without those conditions.

The study has been published in Journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Vaccine Update

Australia Seals Deal With AstraZeneca

Australia signed a deal with AstraZeneca to seal in the supply of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine should the trials succeed. The Australian Government announced that the entire country will be vaccinated free of cost. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “if this vaccine proves successful we will manufacture and supply vaccines straight away under our own steam and make it free for 25 million Australians.”

India To Not Set Benchmark For Selecting Vaccine

The latest reports have revealed that India will not have a preset benchmark to select a vaccine. Instead, officials will analyze the different parameters, such as cost and efficacy, only when the vaccine is available. V.K. Paul, a member of Niti Aayog and the head of India’s vaccine expert board, stated that a process would be set up to select an effective vaccine. However, for now, no standards will be levied. 

In the United States, a vaccine has to achieve a minimum of 50% efficacy to be approved by the FDA. 


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