Late 2020 and early 2021 has been marked by good news on the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine front, and bad news on almost every other aspect of the covid-19 pandemic. This week in The Lancet, Russian researchers released results of the Gam-COVID-Vac, affectionately known as "Sputnik V." Early media reports in Russia, where the trial occurred, were positive and the results, which provided data from the Phase 3 trials, seem to confirm that hype and hope.
The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a reconfigured adenovirus, which unless altered, is a cause of the "common cold." This is the same method employed by the AstraZeneca/Oxford and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which have previously released positive data. Nearly 22,000 study participants came from 25 hospitals and clinics around Moscow and were slated to receive two doses 21 days apart. The average age of participants was 45 years, and 98.5 percent were White. As with the other vaccine trials, participants were initially screened for covid-19 by PCR and antibody testing. The primary outcome tested was whether participants had covid-19 symptoms and a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR test 21 days after receiving the first dose.
Vaccine efficacy was determined to be 91.6 percent and only 0.1 percent of those who received the vaccine tested positive for the coronavirus on the 21st day. Effectiveness against severe covid-19 was 100 percent. A scant number of serious adverse events were recorded, and in fact, the placebo group had more than the vaccine group—0.4 vs 0.3 percent, respectively. Four deaths occurred, none of which were attributable to the vaccine.
The demographics of persons included in the study population was rather homogenous, which is not unexpected given the country of origin. It is particularly interesting that despite the trial design to assess a two-dose regimen, the data still showed great efficacy against covid-19 after just the first dose. This would be an important consideration in resource poor countries where a single dose would be more cost effective and be easier to administer. Based on these interim results, it appears the world has another vaccine to use in the fight against covid-19.
While some baseball stadiums are currently being used as covid-19 vaccination sites, they'll soon be used for something else: the start of major league baseball season in the US.
Major League Baseball (MLB) announced on Monday that the 2021 season will not only start on time but will allow a limited number of fans in the stands, risky though that may be. In order to attend a baseball game, fans won't need a covid-19 test, proof of vaccination, or a temperature check. All attendees will need to do is sit at least six feet apart from other attendees and wear masks unless eating or drinking. MLB has additionally added a "buffer zone" around the dugouts, meaning that fans will not be allowed to sit in the first three rows unless a team puts up a Plexiglass-type barrier.
Government officials from eight "Cactus League" (the name of the MLB spring training that takes place in Arizona) cities sent a letter to MLB asking that spring training currently scheduled to begin in mid-February be delayed due to the high rate of coronavirus infections in Arizona's Maricopa County. "In view of the current state of the pandemic in Maricopa County – with one of the nation's highest infection rates – we believe it is wise to delay the start of spring training to allow for the covid-19 situation to improve here," officials said.
MLB initially discussed shortening the regular season and delaying the start by a month in order to give the country more time to vaccinate the population, believing that a delay was baseball's best hope for a successful season with more fans in attendance later in the year. However, the player's union rejected this plan in favor of playing the full 162 game season and reverting to pre-pandemic baseball rules, meaning that temporary changes that included expanded playoffs, seven-inning double headers, starting extra innings with a runner on 2nd base, and no designated hitters in the National League will be eliminated. (This all came as news to Brief19's editor-in-chief).
As of now, fans can begin attending games in-person as early as the opening of spring training, beginning February 27. This news comes as the United States continues to experience over 100,000 new coronavirus cases per day, with over 90,000 people currently hospitalized.