1. 3 lakh evacuated as cyclone Amphan hurtles towards Bengal coast

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Disaster Management

It is likely to cross West Bengal–Bangladesh coasts between Digha and Hatiya Islands close to Sundarbans during Wednesday morning.

Super cyclone Amphan, which has weakened slightly, is expected to make landfall between Digha in West Bengal and Hatiya Islands in Bangladesh on Wednesday afternoon, the India Meteorological Department (MD) said.

About 3,35,000 people in West Bengal and Odisha have been evacuated.

Devastating expectations from Super Cyclone

On Tuesday evening, the cyclone lay about 360 km south of Paradip in Odisha and 510 km south-southwest of Digha. According to the IMD’s current estimate, Amphan would temper down to a ‘very severe cyclonic storm’ when it makes landfall. However, it would continue to generate strong winds at 155-165 kmph and inflict severe damage on the Odisha and West Bengal coasts.

Very high wind speeds ranging up to 155-165 kmph gusting to 185 kmph are expected, accompanied by heavy rainfall and storm surges of 4-5 metres in the coastal districts of the West Bengal. Districts of East Medinipur, South & North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, and Kolkata are expected to be impacted, he added.

35 NDRF teams

The State government has evacuated about 3,00,000 people from the coastal districts. Odisha said 35,000 people were moved to cyclone shelters while field level staff were shifting people to identified shelters.

36 teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have been deployed in both States. Rescue and relief teams of the Army and Navy along with ships and aircraft of the Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard have been put on standby. Officials from agencies of the Department of Telecommunications and Ministry of Power have also been deployed to ensure maintenance of essential services, said a statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Odisha government has deployed 16 units of the NDRF and 15 units of the Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force. Four districts — Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur — were likely to be severely affected.

Source: The Hindu

2. Coronavirus | Health Ministry issues new guidelines for workplaces

Relevant for GS Prelims

The Union Health Ministry announced fresh workplace guidelines on Tuesday.

With the easing of the lockdown measures and with more offices/workplaces starting operations, the Ministry directed that anyone diagnosed as a suspected/confirmed case of COVID-19 should immediately inform the office authorities and isolate themselves.

While there was no need to close the entire office building/halt work if one or two cases were detected, a large outbreak would require that the building be shut down for 48 hours and disinfected, it stated.

The guidelines make it mandatory to maintain a physical distance of at least one metre to be followed at all times along with use of face covers/masks.

No decision yet on dropping hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic.

The Ministry also said that no decision has been taken as yet to replace hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), introduced as a game-changer to arrest the spread of COVID-19, as a prophylactic, with HIV combination drugs, after reports of experts demanding that it be dropped from the safety guideline list of drugs prescribed for high-risk persons, including healthcare workers.

With experts questioning the effectiveness of HCQ, a senior health official said the drug was under review “but no decision has been taken to drop it just yet”.

Since the COVID-19 situation was a dynamic one and now with the lockdown being relaxed, a relook was being done by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

Virus cases in office

India on Tuesday reported 5,680 new cases, taking the tally to 1,06,425, according to data from the State Health Departments. The number of active cases stood at 60,885, while 42,224 people have recovered. With 158 deaths on Tuesday, the toll rose to 3,316.

In the last 24 hours, a total of 2,350 patients had been cured. “So far, a total of 39,174 patients have been cured of COVID-19. This means that “The country is registering a recovery rate of 38.73%. The rate is improving continuously,’’ noted a Ministry release.

Workplace guidelines

  1. Practise frequent handwashing [for at least 40-60 seconds] even when hands are not visibly dirty and use of alcohol based hand sanitisers [for at least 20 seconds] and respiratory etiquettes are to be strictly followed. The respiratory etiquettes involve the strict practice of covering one’s mouth and nose while coughing/sneezing with a tissue/handkerchief/flexed elbow and disposing of used tissues properly”, noted the Ministry.

  2. Any staff requesting home quarantine based on the containment zone activities in their residential areas should be permitted to work from home. Also any staff reportedly suffering from flu-like illness should not attend office and seek medical advice from the local health authorities.

Source: The Hindu

3. TB vaccine as anti-Covid candidate: what ICMR will study in BCG trial

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper Paper III; Science & Technology

In a growing list of global trials on the efficacy of tuberculosis vaccines in preventing Covid-19, one is an upcoming 10-month trial being conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on the BCG vaccine.

What is the BCG vaccine?

Short for Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, BCG is a vaccine that uses a live attenuated strain (potency of the pathogen artificially disabled, but identifying characters retained) derived from an isolate of Mycobacterium Bovis. It has been used across the world, including in India for decades, against tuberculosis.

India, like many other Asian, African, and Latin American countries, has a current national BCG vaccination policy for all at birth. Countries that have terminated their policies or only recommend the vaccine for specific groups are mostly in Europe and North America.

In India, 91.9 per cent of children between the ages of 12 and 23 months have received the vaccine, according to the National Family Health Survey. Outside of some Northeastern states, almost all states have above a 90% BCG vaccination rate. According to the National Health Profile, India has a production capacity of 2,800 lakh BCG vaccine doses.

What will ICMR’s upcoming study on BCG vaccine look at?

It will focus on the vaccine’s potential in reducing the chance of Covid-19 death among those who are above age 60.

The study will cover 1,450 elderly people in six red and orange zones: King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, Mumbai; All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi; National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT), Chennai; National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad; National Institute in Environmental Health (NIREH), Bhopal; and National Institute for Implementation Research on Non-Communicable Diseases (NIIRNCD), Jodhpur.

In mid-April, ICMR’s head of epidemiology R R Gangakhedkar had said ICMR would not recommend the BCG vaccine until “definitive results” from a study showed possible anti-Covid immunity. Kanungo said “the study will initiate as the paperwork is on. We should

have results in 10 months”. Outside of ICMR’s studies, institutional-level trials in Rohtak, Pune, Visakhapatnam, and Bhubaneswar are also assessing the potential.

What is known about this vaccine’s action in Covid patients?

The BCG vaccine has been studied in research on Covid around the world. A pre-print, population-level study by New York researchers on March 28 suggested that countries with lower vaccination and without universal BCG vaccination (such as Italy and US) saw higher Covid-19 fatalities. The study compared this pattern to countries such as South Korea and Japan, which have standing policies on the topic.

“While these data could indeed suggest a protective effect of BCG vaccination, such studies cannot provide definitive proof of causality, owing to several inherent biases,” scientists wrote in an article in Nature on April 27. “A possible explanation is that children who have been vaccinated with BCG are less susceptible to infection with SARS-CoV-2 and so there is less spread of the virus to older populations, although this would need to be demonstrated.”

Are other countries looking into this?

Yes. The World Health Organization (WHO) has initiated trials to ascertain the potential vaccine, but has not recommended it for Covid-19 prevention. Studies are ongoing in Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, the US, and several other countries. An article in The Lancet on April 30, whose authors included the WHO Director General, stated: “BCG vaccine has been shown to reduce the severity of infections by other viruses with (a similar SARS-CoV-2) structure in controlled trials.”

A recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association found no effectiveness of BCG vaccines in Israel, which used to have a universal policy and then shifted in 1982 to only vaccinate immigrants.

What other ICMR studies are ongoing?

One study seeks to assess the incidence of Covid-19 amongst healthcare workers who were taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as well as any side effects from the drug’s use. Also, ICMR has been accepting applications nationwide to study the effectiveness of plasma therapy, which injects antibodies from a recovered patient into a severely ill patient.

Source: The Indian Express

4. Covid-19: Moderna vaccine’s progress

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper Paper III; Science & Technology

On Monday, US stock markets went soaring on the back of promising results from a vaccine against novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) developed by US pharmaceutical company Moderna.

What is mRNA-1273?

It is the working name of Moderna’s vaccine, which is currently in Phase 1 clinical trials under the aegis of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and led by Dr Anthony Fauci. The mRNA in the name means messenger RNA, which carries the genetic formula for the coding of a specific protein. In this vaccine, the particular mRNA used codes for the most distinguishing feature of the SARS-CoV2 — the spike protein — which is also the appendage that the virus uses to enter the cell and replicate.

The vaccine, when injected into a person, codes for the spike protein. Thus even without the introduction of an attenuated (recognisable but not harmful) virus into the body, the body learns what the virus looks like and arms itself with the antibodies that are required to act against it.

What are the promising results?

Moderna has announced that the mRNA, on entering the body, had managed to show a degree of immune response in the first eight patients. Tal Zaks, Moderna chief medical officer, told The Financial Times that the results showed that even lower doses elicited an “immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection”. “These data substantiate our belief that mRNA-1273 has the potential to prevent Covid-19 disease,” he said. Among the side-effects that were noted were chills and a little redness in the place where the injection had been given.

Are these the final results of the trial before the vaccine is available?

Far from it. The trials were kicked off on March 16 when the first participant was enrolled, and the results Moderna is currently citing are only from eight patients.

While the initial results have raised hope, it is important to understand that the actual vaccine may still be some time away and then there are manufacturing capacity issues to deal with before the entire world can realistically hope to benefit from it.

What is next, then?

On May 7, the company announced that it has received regulatory clearance for the Phase II trial that would involve a much larger sample size. “The imminent Phase 2 study start is a crucial step forward as we continue to advance the clinical development of mRNA-1273, our vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2. With the goal of starting the mRNA-1273 pivotal Phase 3 study early this summer, Moderna is now preparing to potentially have its first BLA approved as soon as 2021.

When can the vaccine be realistically expected to be available?

According to a current report filed by Moderna with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, a commercially-available vaccine is not likely to be available for at least 12-18 months, it is possible that under emergency use, a vaccine could be available to some people, possibly including healthcare professionals, in the fall of 2020.

There are just concerns about the availability pricing etc of a vaccine that is being developed at such breakneck speed. The way the company is going about testing is the right way to proceed because the development of a vaccine is a long and painstaking process that can falter and collapse at any step.

Then there is also the issue of effectiveness, or how the vaccine performs in real-life conditions against the efficacy — which is performance in ideal conditions, and which is what trials judge.

Will this vaccine reach India at all?

That is on most people’s minds as the country crossed 1 lakh cases. There are philanthropic organisations that work on vaccines and soften the financial blow for countries with limited resources. These include the likes of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI—The Vaccine Alliance which have been working very closely with the Government of India on immunisation. Whether that will happen for the Covid vaccine, as and when it is developed, it is a bit too early to predict.

Moderna, meanwhile, is working on its manufacturing capacity. “Moderna has already started to prepare for rapid acceleration of its manufacturing capabilities that could allow for the future manufacture of millions of doses should mRNA-1273 prove to be safe and of expected benefit. We will continue to work together, with government, industry and other third parties to enable the best chance for success,” Moderna says on its website.

Source: The Indian Express