COVID-19: Science news

Information on the latest science and technical advice on COVID-19.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Health has seen high interest in all aspects of the virus from not only the scientific and health community but the general public as well.

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Kōrero Pūtaiao | Science Chat

Science Chat will provide regular, high-level updates on different aspects of COVID-19.


COVID-19 Science Updates

3 August 2021: A summary from recent weekly VoC, and Guillan-Barré Syndrome (GBS) after COVID-19 Vaccination

A summary of key information from recent Variants of Concern has been compiled. We also look at GBS, a rare autoimmune neurological disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system. The risk of GBS appears to be very rare, approximately 8 per million doses (based on US data for the J&J vaccine), compared to a background rate of approximately 1-2 per 100,000 person-years. The risk of these potential complications from the vaccine is tiny compared to the benefits of vaccination in preventing disease and death from COVID-19.

23 July 2021:  Increased transmission of Delta variant, and Mask wearing

New data suggests that people infected with the Delta variant tend to have higher viral loads and a shorter incubation period than previous variants. This may have several implications, including emphasizing the need to identify potential cases quickly via contact tracing.

We also look at Mask-wearing and HEPA filters reduce exposure to aerosols able to carry SARS-CoV-2: A new study published by the US CDC found that the combination of HEPA filtration and masking reduced the concentration of aerosols, suggesting that such measures may be effective at reducing the risk of infection within indoor spaces.

9 July 2021: COVID-19 Pharmaceutical treatments

We present a brief summary of the most notable therapeutics for treating cases of COVID-19 trialled to date. These are categorised by “likely to be beneficial”, “showing promise”, and “unsupported by current evidence”. We also compare and discuss key points of differences between two meta-analyses of available trial data regarding the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 that arrived at conflicting conclusions.’

2 July 2021: Fleeting contact and the Delta and Kappa variants

The COVID-19 community cases in Sydney and Melbourne were followed by comments in the media that “fleeting contact” was all it took to transmit the virus from person to person. We evaluate the evidence for those statements, and note that the current outbreaks in Australia are due to two closely linked variants, Kappa (B.1.617.1) in Melbourne and the Delta (B.1.617.2) variant in Melbourne and Sydney. Specifically we look at: the transmissibility of the new variants; what a fleeting contact is and the likelihood of getting COVID-19; the impact of vaccination on infection.

25 June 2021: Third vaccine dose for immunocompromised and preliminary results of an antibody cocktail

People with poorly functioning immune systems may not develop measurable responses to COVID-19 vaccines and are also at risk of severe disease from COVID-19. The ability to assess and take action to improve vaccine response may be of benefit. Two studies have explored the impact of a third vaccine dose for people with solid organ transplants and significant medically-induced immune deficiency.

The availability of treatment options that can reduce the development of severe disease, hospitalisation and mortality from COVID-19 are key to improving patient outcomes and reducing the burden on the healthcare system. REGEN-COV is one of the first therapies to show promise among those with mild-moderate disease in a relatively large phase III trial. Availability of such therapies will be particularly beneficial for those who may not respond to vaccination and those who choose not to be vaccinated.

14 May 2021: Shifting thinking on aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2

The WHO and, more recently, CDC have updated their statements to more clearly accept the role airborne transmission is likely to have in the spread of COVID-19. While the Ministry of Health has long been factoring this likely mode of transmission into its planning and mitigation strategies, this has been based on caution rather than certainty. While certainty still remains somewhat elusive, recent expert summaries (noted within) and the acceptance from peak bodies further strengthens our basis for the continual revision of our mitigation strategies to reduce the risk of airborne transmission.

7 May 2021: COVID-19 vaccines and their effect on viral transmission


Variants Update

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can undergo genetic mutations that occur naturally over time or from other pressures. These are known as variants. These updates provide information on variants of the virus that are of interest or concern.

27 August 2021

18 August 2021

Disclaimer: The information available on this page is intended to provide scientific updates relating to COVID-19 to the public. All reasonable measures have been taken to ensure the quality and accuracy of the information available in these updates at the time of publishing.

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