Research by Australia's national science agency has found that potential vaccines for COVID-19 would not be affected by how the virus has mutated.
A study published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) on Thursday has dispelled fears that vaccines would not be effective against multiple strains of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
According to the study most candidate vaccines have been modelled on the 'D-strain' of the virus that was dominant at the outbreak of the pandemic.
However, the virus has since evolved into the 'G-strain', or 'D614G' mutation, which now accounts for 85 percent of SARS-CoV-2 genomes.
The CSIRO team tested both strains of the virus on the blood of ferrets that had been vaccinated with INO-4800, a candidate vaccine developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, finding that it was effective against both D- and G-strains.
"This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives," Larry Marshall, the chief executive of the CSIRO, said in a statement.
"Research like this, at speed, is only possible through deep collaboration with partners both in Australia and around the world."
Lead author of the study, S.S. Vasan from the CSIRO's Dangerous Pathogens Team, said the findings were good news for hundreds of vaccines being developed around the world.
"Most COVID-19 vaccine candidates target the virus' spike protein as this binds to the ACE2 receptors in our lungs and airways, which are the entry point to infect cells," said Vasan.
"Despite this 'D614G' mutation to the spike protein, we confirmed through experiments and modelling that vaccine candidates are still effective.
"We've also found the G-strain is unlikely to require frequent 'vaccine matching' where new vaccines need to be developed seasonally to combat the virus strains in circulation, as is the case with influenza."
Authorities have removed 380 carcasses of pilot whales from Tasmania State in Australia while around 70 more whales were rescued from Australia’s worst mass stranding on Thursday.
The number of rescues had been estimated at 50 late Wednesday, but 20 more came to light following later discussions with rescue crews, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service Manager Nic Deka said.
Another 20 surviving whales could potentially still be saved on Thursday and vets were considering euthanizing another four, Marine Conservation Program wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said.
An estimated 470 whales were discovered on Monday and Wednesday beached on the shore and sand bars along the remote west coast of the island state near the town of Strahan.
“We’re continuing with the rescue operation. We still have live animals that are viable for rescue,” Deka said. “But at the same time, we’re starting initial efforts with collection for disposal of carcasses.”
Deka said disposal at sea of the decomposing carcasses was the preferred option, but he was taking expertise advice.
Carlyon said some of the first whales rescued on Tuesday had beached again, but those guided back to sea on Wednesday appeared to have not returned. The rescued whales are marked to indicate which have returned.
“The 70 animals that have been refloated and released, we’re confident that most of the animals have got away,” Carlyon said. “Once they get into deeper water, they’re very hard to keep track of.”
Why the whales ran aground is a mystery. Theories include that the pod followed sick whales or made a navigational error.
Tasmania is the only part of Australia prone to mass stranding, although they occasionally occur on the Australian mainland.
Australia’s largest mass stranding had previously been 320 pilot whales near the Western Australia state town of Dunsborough in 1996.
Tasmania’s previous largest mass stranding involved 294 whales on the northwest coast in 1935.
At least 90 pilot whales out of a group of 270 that remained stranded in Australia’s Tasmania have died, officials said Tuesday.
Rescuers managed to save 25 whales and returned them to the sea during an ongoing operation, reports AP.
“We’ve rescued about 25 whales and escorted them out to sea and crews are continuing to work, so that number will increase before we get to the end of the day,” Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service Manager Nic Deka told reporters.
The whales were discovered Monday on a beach and two sand bars near the west coast town of Strahan. Sixty people have joined the rescue effort.
Wildlife biologist Kris Carlyon said progress would be slow. “We’ll take the animals with the best chance to start with and the ones that we are able to deal with,” he said.
About one third of the whales had died by Monday night and most were inaccessible by boat, Carlyon said.
He also said that pilot whales are a robust species and the survivors have a chance of lasting several days if the weather stays cool.
Tasmania is prone to whale stranding but this is the largest mass stranding on Australia's most southern state in years.
Authorities do not know why the whales became stranded.
In an effort to curb the coronavirus infections, Australia’s hotspot Victoria State has extended its state of emergency for another six months on Wednesday as its weekly average of new coronavirus infections dipped.
The Victorian Parliament’s upper chamber passed legislation by a 20-19 vote to extend the state of emergency, which enhances the government’s powers to impose pandemic restrictions.
The state health department reported 90 new infections and six deaths in the latest 24-hour period. There were only 70 new infections reported on Tuesday.
The latest seven-day average of new reported infections has dropped into double-digits — 95 — for the first time in weeks. The previous week’s average was 175 infections a day.
The government had wanted a 12-month extension.
Coronavirus situation in Asia-Pacific region:
India has reported 78,357 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s tally to more than 3.7 million reported cases since the pandemic began.
The climb comes as the government eases pandemic restrictions to help the battered economy.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported 1,045 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 66,333.
India has been reporting the most new daily cases in the world for more than three weeks. India has also increased its testing capacity — nearly 100,000 per day — but experts say it is not enough.
Besides, South Korea has seen a triple-digit daily jump in reported coronavirus infections for the 20th straight day, prompting authorities in recent days to impose tough social distancing rules.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday the 267 new cases took the country’s tally since the pandemic began to 20,449 reported infections with 326 deaths.
South Korea has seen a rise in infections since early last month, many associated with churches, restaurants and schools.
Authorities have recently restricted dining at restaurants and ordered the shutdown of churches, fitness centers and night establishments in the Seoul area as it struggles to track many of the new infections.
The premier of Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state has declared a disaster among growing new coronavirus restrictions across Melbourne and elsewhere from Sunday night.
Premier Daniel Andrews says the state of disaster proclamation gave police greater power.
He says 671 new coronavirus cases had been detected since Saturday, including seven deaths. It comes among a steadily increasing toll in both deaths and infections over the past six weeks in Victoria.
“If we don’t make these changes, we’re not going to get through this,” Andrews said. “We need to do more. That is what these decisions are about.”
An evening curfew will be implemented across Melbourne from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
He said there would be more announcements about workplaces on Monday, including the closure of certain industries.
“I want to ensure all Victorians — supermarkets, the butcher, the baker, food, beverage, groceries, those types of settings — there will be no impact there,” he said.
Melbourne residents will only be allowed to shop and exercise within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of their homes. All students across the state will return to home-based learning and child care centers will be closed.
The deaths in Victoria took the national toll to 208.
Also Sunday, New South Wales confirmed its first coronavirus-related death in more than a month as authorities sought to suppress a number of growing clusters at a hotel and several restaurants in Sydney.