More Covid-19 Frequently Asked Questions

  “Shared expectations lead to predictability.” 

  1. Recent concerns refuted about coronavirus-19 in food and packaging

            Q:  I heard there are reports of food being sold that is contaminated with coronavirus-19.  Is this true?

            A: Officials in two cities in China recently reported they had found traces of the coronavirus in imported chicken wings from Brazil and on outer packaging of frozen Ecuadorian shrimps.  This raised fears that contaminated food shipments might cause new outbreaks.  The World Health Organization countered the scare these reports created.  Mike Ryan, head of emergency programs at the WHO stated at a meeting in Geneva, “People should not fear food or food packaging or processing or delivery of food.”  WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said China had tested hundreds of thousands of packages and “found very, very few proving positive for the virus.”  Brazil’s Agriculture Minister and Ecuador’s production minister Ivan Ontanda, defended their countries’ ability to safely produce and package food items.

Finally, it is important to remember the earlier CDC guidance that heat quickly kills the coronavirus-19 virus.  Cooking food eliminates the threat.  Also, that while the virus can live on frozen surfaces for years, once thawed the virus can be quickly removed by cleaning packaging surfaces, and will not survive at room temperatures beyond 4 days.

  1. Trials underway in Australia using horse plasma for treatment.

            Q: What’s new about convalescent plasma injections to treat COVID patients?

            A: Scientists at the biotech company Immunova in Australia on July 29, announced they have been working on a COVID-19 treatment using a unique process.  With 175,000 confirmed cases in that nation, Immunova discovered that horses quickly react when the coronavirus-29 protein is injected into their blood stream.  The horses’ bodies quickly release a substantial quantity of antibodies to neutralize that virus protein.  Blood is drawn from the horse and the plasma is removed with the remaining blood being returned to the horse.  The plasma is purified before being made into a serum which has the neutralizing power between 30 and 100 times greater than plasma found in recovered human patients.  If further laboratory study demonstrates positive results, a formal clinical trial will begin using 242 COVID patients who have moderate to severe symptoms.  These trials will determine if this could be an approved effective treatment for the disease.

Fernando Goldbaum, the scientific director of Immunova, expressed optimism about the effectiveness of the serum.  It is expected the serum will lower the ability of the virus to replicate itself inside human cells.  It is also possible that this therapeutic could help prevent the virus from even entering cells allowing it to reproduce.  One can speculate that the horse exposed to coronavirus-19 rapidly develops a strong enough response to prevent it from infecting others.  As a result, they aren’t identified in the chain of spreading the disease. Perhaps horses aren’t the only non-human animals to react this way. 

  1. The SalivaDirect test receives EUA approval.

            Q:  I heard about a new test developed by Yale University.  What is this?

A: SalivaDirect, as its name implies, requires a saliva sample instead of a naso-pharyngeal (nose/throat) specimen taken by a swab.  On August 15, the FDA granted Yale School of Public Health an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA).  But this approval was for a protocol, not for a kit.  The protocol was developed to address three barriers to the current testing system:

  • People can deposit their own saliva in a small container instead of requiring PPE by those taking the sample thus decreasing the risk of infecting others, and many people now refrain from getting tested because of the discomfort.
  • It doesn’t require laboratory extraction of the nucleic acid from specimens.
  • The test can be conducted using a variety of different laboratory equipment and different reagents. This helps overcome supply chain shortages and can be used by many different laboratories with existing equipment.

The Yale School of Public Health is authorized to review applications from eligible certified clinical laboratories and approve their use of this protocol.  In turn, all approved laboratories will be supervised by, and send investigative data to Yale.  Among other data, the effectiveness of tests being performed (including false negatives and false positives), will be reported by Yale back to the FDA.  Each laboratory can process several panels of 90 specimens at a time, and results for each panel will be available in just 3 hours.

This project was developed in part with a grant from the National Basketball Association.  The protocol is currently being used for daily testing of NBA players.  Yale is supporting development of “point of care” test kits using this protocol for remote use at test sites.  The cost for SalivaDirect is “significantly lower” than for the swab testing currently being in use.

  1. Planning for eventual COVID-19 vaccine distribution 

            Q: Do we know yet who will get the first vaccine doses that become available?

            A:  Once a vaccine becomes approved, not everyone will be able to get theirs doses right away.  It might take a year or more before enough doses are available for everyone.  Decisions are now underway to establish an approved priority for distribution.  US public health officials on July 24 charged a group of independent scientists and people dealing with medical ethics to determine this priority ranking.  The group will develop guidelines for the CDC to create a plan for sequential distribution of any approved vaccine.

At its initial meeting, National Institute of Health director Francis Collins, MD charged the committee to consider the needs of individuals who are at the highest risk of complications of COVID-19.  Additionally, the list should consider the consequences of the disease, the needs of healthcare workers, the military, essential workers, and places in the country where the virus is most active.  Also, those in the category 3 clinical trials who were given a placebo and are not now immunized should be considered.

It is expected that the results will be controversial, as everyone will want the first doses that are available.  Transparency will be important.  The first draft report by this group is due by the end of August, and will be made open for public comment.  The CDC final report is expected to be released by the end of September.

  1. Bits and Pieces

          Q:   What’s new about this pandemic?

A:  Several items of updates on COVID-19

  • Jorge Akopov, director of Tecpar, a technology institute in Brazil has signed a cooperation agreement with Russia to produce their newly approved vaccine for distribution in Brazil and other Latin American countries.
  • Alessandro Sette of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California reported that studies show the T cells created by the coronavirus that causes the common cold, if present in a COVID-19 patient helps limit its severity.
  • The University of Sidney, in the Southern Hemisphere’s winter flu season reports that the usual seasonal flu has hit record lows. This is due to the practice of social distancing and the wearing cloth face coverings.
  • The FDA has authorized a trial of a drug NeuroRX on COVID-19 hospitalized patients to test its effectiveness in preventing respiratory failure. Trials of this therapeutic, also known as aviptadil, will begin on or about September 1.