Things are starting to look a little less positive for the vaccine candidate being worked on by Oxford/AstraZeneca. In an unusual move, AstraZeneca released early details on how their phase III human trials have been progressing, and it was discovered that there have been 2 patients who have developed transverse myelitis after receiving the vaccine, not just 1. The reason we did not hear about the first case was due to transverse myelitis was due to the patient having previous un-diagnosed multiple sclerosis, which transverse myelitis can sometimes be a pre-cursor to.
Transverse myelitis is generally a very rare disease. On an annual basis, it may be diagnosed 1 to 8 times per 1 million people. To see it occur in 1 patient, let alone 2 from the same vaccine study of just ~18,000 people so far is very discouraging and concerning. It remains to be seen what decisions will be made about continuing the trial, especially in the US where Dr. Fauci has already said he was watching for a second case of illness. However, due to the uncertainty around the first case of transverse myelitis, they still may be taking a “wait and see” approach.
In other news, 2 pre-print studies have been released taking a look at two different flights where COVID-19 transmission was confirmed to have taken place onboard the planes. The first study looks at a March 2nd 10hr flight from London, UK, to Hanoi, Vietnam. The second study looks at a March 9th 15hr flight from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, to Hong Kong. Both studies used genetic testing to determine that the transmissions occurred from known cases located on their respective flights.
While this seems to contradict the message we frequently hear about how safe flying is, with some even saying the odds of catching COVID-19 on an airplane are 1 in 4,300, it is important to remember that these confirmed transmission cases occurred at a point where the only safety measures in place were temperature checks, and voluntary disclosure of symptoms. Since that time, masks are now mandatory on flights, some places require negative test results before flying, and you can be sure that airlines are paying much closer attention to their HEPA filter replacement guidelines than ever. In fact, many airlines are so confident that COVID-19 transmissions will not happen on their planes, that Air Canada, WestJet, Virgin Atlantic and more, are all offering free COVID-19 insurance on their flights now.
I am sad to report that Nunavut has recently announced their first two confirmed cases of COVID-19, both mine workers. At this time it is believed that this is an isolated event, with no opportunity for wider spread of transmissions within the local community. Hopefully they can get their active numbers back down to zero again soon.
Last week was the first full week of school for most students in BC. Of course, due to COVID-19, many parents opted instead for their children to utilize online education options instead… but maybe less parents than you had thought? The numbers are now out, and a little over 85% of students returned for in-class learning.
Unfortunately, but as expected, this has led to several COVID-19 exposure events at schools. Luckily most health authorities are reporting very few events. Island Health and Vancouver Coastal Health are both reporting zero events so far. Northern Health has reported 2 events, and Interior Health has reported 1. Unfortunately Fraser Health has reported 15 different exposure events, across only 3 school districts, and the lion’s share located in the Surrey school district.
That’s all for now, stay safe everyone!