US targets mass virus vaccine campaign by year’s end

The United States hopes to begin a sweeping program of COVID vaccinations, reaching perhaps 20 million people by year’s end, top public health officials said Sunday as cases surge across the worst-hit nation.

The beginning of vaccinations could be a crucial turning point in the battle against the virus that has claimed more than 255,000 lives in the US, the world’s highest reported toll, since emerging from China late last year.

“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours of approval” by the US Food and Drug Administration, Moncef Slaoui, who heads the government’s coronavirus vaccine effort, told CNN.

He pointed to possible dates of December 11-12.

Slaoui estimated that 30 million people would be vaccinated per month starting in January.

‘Herd immunity’ by May?

But top US infectious disease official Anthony Fauci, who said “maybe 20 million people will be able to get vaccinated by the middle to the end December”, warned the situation could get worse before getting better if people fail to take precautions in the coming holiday season.

“We’re in a very difficult situation at all levels,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

With the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday normally seeing a huge surge in travel, he said, “We’re really concerned” about “another spike in cases as we get colder and colder and colder into the December month—and then you start dealing with the Christmas holiday.”

FDA vaccine advisors are to meet December 10 to discuss approving vaccines which pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Moderna say are at least 95 percent effective.

Slaoui said that by May, with potentially 70 percent of the population having been vaccinated, the country could attain “herd immunity,” meaning the virus can no longer spread widely and people can move closer to resuming their pre-coronavirus way of life.

But Fauci, separately, added a note of caution, saying herd immunity would come only if “you get an overwhelming majority of the people vaccinated with a highly efficacious vaccine.”

A recent Gallup poll showed that four in 10 Americans still say they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, though that is down from five in 10 surveyed in September.

Officials have yet to announce which groups in the population would receive the vaccine first, though health care workers are certain to receive priority, followed by vulnerable groups like the elderly.

Source: Read Full Article

A new plant-based system for the mass production of allergens for immunotherapy

Allergies can significantly affect health and quality of life. While allergen immunotherapy provides long-lasting therapeutic relief to people suffering from environmental allergies, the therapy can last several years and requires large amounts of allergen. Now, researchers from the University of Tsukuba developed a novel system that enables the mass production of the major birch pollen allergen Bet v 1 in plant leaves in just a matter of days. In a new study published in Frontiers in Plant Science, they showed that their system not only produces large amounts of Bet v 1, but the purified protein was also highly reactive towards the IgE antibodies in sera from individuals with birch pollen allergy.

“The idea of allergen immunotherapy is to desensitize the body’s response to the allergen by exposing patients to it in gradually increasing amounts,” says corresponding author of the study Professor Kenji Miura. “Because a significant drawback is the difficult, expensive and low-yield production of allergens, our goal was to develop a new system that allows for the rapid and massive production of allergens that can be used in the clinical setting.”

To achieve their goal, the researchers turned to their previously established “Tsukuba system,” which makes use of a method called agroinfiltration. They first introduced the gene for Bet v 1 into a specific type of bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens and let them grow. They then immersed leaves of the plant Nicotiana benthamiana into the bacterial solution to bring the bacteria into close contact with the plant, so the bacteria could transfer the Bet v 1 gene to plant cells, which in turn started producing the protein. To test the quality of their product, the researchers also produced the protein in Brevibacillus brevis, which is a standard bacterial host for protein production.

“We were able to purify 1.2mg of Bet v 1 protein from 1g leaves in just 5 days,” explains Professor Miura. “This is a relatively large amount that is otherwise difficult to achieve using standard methods. Our next goal was to test whether our protein was immunogenic, which is a prerequisite for immunotherapy.”

The researchers isolated sera from individuals with birch pollen allergy and mixed them with Bet v 1 protein purified from plants and bacteria. In both cases, the researchers were able to show that Bet v 1-specific IgE from the patients’ sera, which is the antibody causing the allergy, was strongly reactive to their proteins.

Source: Read Full Article