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Research Roundup: COVID-19 vaccine packaging, trials, and asymptomatic spread
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.
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The Department of Defense Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will partner with SiO2, an advanced materials science company, to introduce a novel technology for packaging COVID-19 vaccines and other pharmaceuticals. JPEO-CBRND and BARDA will provide US$143 million in funding to scale production of the company’s new technology that includes a plastic container with a microscopic glass coating. The product is thermal stable (range of -196 C to 121 C), highly durable (able to withstand 1,500 pounds of direct force), and precision molded, making it more dimensionally consistent than glass vials.
The vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in partnership with Moderna, will begin phase 3 clinical testing by July, followed in August by Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s vaccine, and in September by Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. All three companies are backed by the US government as part of Operation Warp Speed, and each is testing new technology.
On Monday, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggested that spread of COVID-19 by people who are asymptomatic is “very rare,” but clarified on Tuesday that scientists are actually unsure how frequently asymptomatic spread occurs. The initial comments caused a stir among public health experts, some labelling the comment as miscommunication. Underlying the confusion is that the term “asymptomatic” can mean either people who are presymptomatic or people who develop a full infection without showing symptoms. There is some evidence that fully asymptomatic cases may not be very contagious, while other studies show that patients may be most contagious when they are presymptomatic. Either way, experts note, individuals without symptoms should still be taking precautions.