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COVID-19 coronavirus update

A medical worker vaccinates a volunteer with the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine

A volunteer is vaccinated with Sputnik V.Credit: Natalia Fedosenko/TASS via Getty

Positive early results for Sputnik V vaccine

Early data show that a controversial Russian vaccine called Sputnik V is safe and that it works. The Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow and the Russian Direct Investment Fund say that the vaccine was 92% effective at preventing COVID-19. The interim results have not yet been peer reviewed or published.

The news is encouraging, but scientists urge caution. The low number of cases reported in the Sputnik V trial means that there is uncertainty about the vaccine’s true efficacy. The analysis was based on 20 cases of COVID among more than 16,000 trial participants who received either the vaccine or a placebo. By contrast, a similarly hopeful announcement on Monday about the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID vaccine was based on 94 cases of COVID-19 among more than 38,000 participants.

In a move criticized by many scientists as reckless, Russian regulators licensed the vaccine for limited rollout in August, without waiting for safety or efficacy data from a phase III trial.

Nature | 4 min read

Why I chose to be a vaccine guinea pig

Science journalist Amber Dance is one of the volunteers who received the trial Pfizer–BioNTech COVID vaccine — or a placebo. She explains how she decided that the risk was acceptable for her and what the process was like.

Knowable Magazine | 5 min read

Scientists like Biden’s COVID plan

Future US president Joe Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris have announced a COVID-19 advisory board stacked with infectious-disease researchers and former public-health advisers who will help them to craft a pandemic plan as they transition into office. The speed of the announcement, alongside an updated COVID-19 plan, has scientists and doctors hopeful that the United States can correct its course in handling the outbreak: so far, 10 million Americans have been infected and more than 240,000 have died.

Nature | 5 min read

Horizon Europe gets €4-billion boost

The European Union’s flagship research programme, Horizon Europe, will receive €85 billion (US$100 billion) over 7 years, €4 billion more than previously proposed. But researchers say the final deal is underwhelming compared with the original €94.4-billion budget, which negotiations had scaled back to €81 billion. “A symbolic €4-billion top-up for Horizon Europe,” says Kurt Deketelaere, secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities. “What a disappointment after a campaign of two years.”

Nature | 3 min read

Leprosy is striking wild chimpanzees

Shocking camera-trap photos of chimpanzees with terrible lesions on their faces led researchers to a striking finding: the wild animals had leprosy. Scientists have, for the first time, confirmed cases of the disease in chimps — in two separate populations, in Guinea-Bissau and Cote d'Ivoire. Genetic analysis of the strains show that they are unlikely to have come from humans and might indicate an unknown reservoir of the disease in the wild.

Science | 6 min read

Reference: bioRxiv preprint

Features & opinion

A health worker is seen in a hospital where suspected Ebola cases are referred to hospital, Aloya, Democratic Republic of Congo

Also well worth watching is a video, narrated by Maxmen, telling her first-hand story alongside stunning photographs by John Wessels.

What Ebola teaches about stopping COVID

Nature reporter Amy Maxmen has won a AAAS Kavli Award for her exclusive in which she joined WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and the teams of African health workers giving their all to stop Ebola in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Maxmen took to Twitter to explain how the outbreak foreshadowed the COVID crisis in the United States and what we can learn from it. “To gain trust, the wisest Ebola responders used *conversations*”, writes Maxmen, noting the need for more adherence to public-health messages in her own Brooklyn neighbourhood. “Where is outreach, empathy & support in the US?”

Twitter thread | 3 min read

Read more: Behind the front lines of the Ebola wars (Nature | 19 min read, from 2019)

Covalent drugs finally make connections

After the success of several covalent cancer drugs, chemists are taking a fresh look at drug candidates that make covalent bonds with their biological targets. Covalent drugs have been around for a long time (aspirin is one) but chemists had thought they were too hard to control. Now scientists are using them to find footholds on proteins that were once considered undruggable.

Chemical & Engineering News | 16 min read

Life’s big bang

All eukaryotes have the genes for sexual reproduction. So what did attraction and sex look like for LECA, the last eukaryotic common ancestor, the honoured forebearer of you, me, plants and all nucleus-bearing organisms? “They invested substantial energy in being attractive” through pheromones, says zoologist Sarah Otto. “They’re kind of waving to each other. It’s courtship, in a way,” says experimental evolutionary biologist Duncan Greig.

The Atlantic | 6 min read

Quote of the day

“Overall, the cost is surprisingly low — it’s cheaper than even we thought last year when we made our assessments…. But that rests on action now.”

Chris Stark, who heads the UK government’s independent statutory advisory committee on climate change, says reaching net-zero carbon emissions is likely to be easier and cheaper than previously thought. (The Guardian | 6 min read)