Health Canada Evaluating Favipiravir as a COVID-19 Treatment
Today Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories LTD. announced they have applied to Health Canada for the approval of their Favipiravir drug therapy tablets to be used for treatment in mild and moderate cases of COVID-19 in adults. Favipiravir, which was developed by FUJIFILM Toyama Chemical Co., Ltd, is already being used to treat COVID-19 patients in India (among others), is being studied for effects against COVID-19 in China, and is approved for use against novel flu viruses in Japan.
Studies on the effectiveness of Favipiravir have mostly been positive, especially in cases that had not yet become serious or severe. One study done in India reported results that indicate viral-shedding time frames could be reduced by as much as 2 days. In the last several months almost 30 different studies have been done on the drug, either alone or in various combinations with other drugs, but most of these studies have been small, lacked control wings, or contained potentially confounding elements in their processes.
New COVID-19 Strain Discovered in the UK
By now you probably have already heard the news that a new strain of COVID-19 has been found, primarily in the UK. The new mutation is known as VOC-202012/01, or B.1.1.7 in epidemiology circles, and features several differences from other viral variations. 3 of these changes worth noting are as follows:
- Mutation N501Y has been shown to be key in increasing the chance of binding the virus to human ACE2 proteins.
- The spike deletion 69-70del could be a reaction against the human immune response, but it is too soon to say this definitively.
- Mutation P681H is just close to another area of the virus which is considered to be of biological significance.
All of those sound pretty scary, but the concern right now isn’t focused on the mutations that have already occurred in this variant, but the possibility of potentially more significant mutations in the future. So far none of the changes seen in this variation of COVID-19 look like they make the virus more likely to kill, or less likely to be targeted by current vaccine options. BioNTech has also confirmed it would take them about 6 weeks to tweak their vaccine for this mutation should their testing prove it to be resistant to the current formula.
There is evidence to suggest B.1.1.7 is more transmissible than previous versions of COVID-19, and some estimates claim it could be as much as 70% more transmissible. This is partly based on the knowledge that this variant has all but replaced previous versions of the virus in the UK in just a few short months. However, the difference in transmission rate is mostly speculation at this time, especially as we know COVID-19 thrives in the winter’s colder and darker days regardless of variant.
Canada and much of the rest of the world have reacted by effectively placing the UK in a kind of quarantine. Canada has enacted a 72-hr suspension of all flights from the UK (excluding cargo flights). France even went as far as to ban all trucks from entering the UK for 48hrs. The new strain has not been found in Canada at this time.
New COVID-19 Strain Discovered in South Africa
This new strain is not quite as well known or frequently discussed as the UK variant B.1.1.7. The new variant in South Africa is known as 501.V2, and like with B.1.1.7 has quickly become the dominant strain of the virus in the area it was discovered in. 501.V2 also contains the N501Y mutation previously mentioned above with B.1.1.7, a change that developed completely independently of the UK variant. It is similarly believed to be responsible for an increase in the transmission rate currently being experienced in South Africa.
Unlike with B.1.1.7 in the UK however, there is some speculation that the South African variant may be more likely to cause more serious cases of COVID-19, and particularly in young individuals with few or no comorbidities. While there is still not enough data to completely confirm or rule out these theories, the noticeable increase in ICU patients aged 20-30 is concerning regardless of the reason.
Similar to the UK, many countries are now blocking air travel from South Africa, in the hopes of containing the new viral strain. So far though, Canada does not have any additional travel restrictions in place for South Africa. The new strain has not been found in Canada at this time.
There are currently no concerns that existing COVID-19 vaccines will not work on 501-V2, however, testing is being done to confirm it.
Vaccine Watch Update
More than 2.4 million people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 across the world! This includes ~17k in Canada, roughly 3,600 of which are from BC specifically.
BioNTech/Pfizer has previously committed to producing 1.3 billion doses of their vaccine over the course of 2021, but are now suggesting they may be able to increase production capacity beyond that number even. The company hopes to be able to confirm the increased quantities sometime in January or February of next year.
3 organizations in the USA have come together to argue that the COVID-19 vaccine should not be withheld from people who are pregnant. The organizations, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine have all strongly suggested that anyone pregnant should be allowed to weigh their own specific risks of contracting COVID-19, against the theoretical low chance of fetal damage from the vaccine, and make the decision with their medical team. Experts from the US CDC believe that mRNA vaccines are unlikely to be a risk for people who are pregnant and are not expected to be a risk to breastfeeding infants.
Similar to the above, Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the US’s leading infectious disease experts, has come out in support of offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people who are immunocompromised. While no data proves specific safety in this regard, as people with compromised immune systems were specifically excluded from the Phase II/III trials for both BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines, he feels the benefits outweigh any risks involved. Since mRNA-based vaccines do not contain any element of live or even any previously living virus, there is zero risk of an immunocompromised individual contracting the disease itself. Additionally, some medication given to cancer patients may reduce the immune-response to the vaccine, potentially making it less effective against future infection, but he argues that “some degree of immunity is better than no degree of immunity.”
Holiday Season Posts
On a more personal note, I just want to give everyone a heads up that I will be having oral surgery on my wisdom teeth tomorrow, and I fully expect to be out of commission for at least a day or two. Afterwards, it will be Christmas, and then the weekend, and I do not expect to be making any posts during that time. My next expected update will be Monday, Dec 28th with the next analysis of our weekly case numbers. As always though, I may break that schedule if anything major occurs during that time.
So from myself, and all of BCCOVID19.info, I would like to wish you a SAFE and Merry Christmas.
And if you feel yourself missing out on gatherings and traditions that can’t happen safely this year, you might find some comfort in the Community Christmas special episode that has been released in full on YouTube this year. It specifically deals with this kind of loss and hits a little different in 2020 than it did when it first aired.
That’s all for now, stay safe everyone!