COVID 19 Healthcare Challenge - Our January summary & myth-busting scientific insights

1st February 2021 by Anne Sakoane

We continue our COVID-19 healthcare challenge blog series with our new end-of-month update on new variants, vaccines, the post-lockdown R number and more – with myth-busting scientific insights.

New variants

Without a doubt, COVID-19 news over first few weeks of January were dominated by reports of multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The virus is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus with a single linear RNA segment; these RNA viruses are known to have high mutation rates, up to a million times higher than their hosts, correlated with enhanced virulence and evolvability which are beneficial to viral survival.

Virologists therefore expect that with continued high rates of infection, will come continued viral mutations that need to be investigated. As research continues around the world into the SARS-CoV-2 variant mutations, three notable variants have been highlighted for targeted government-funded investigations:

  •  The UK variant: B.1.1.7 aka 20I/501Y.V1 aka COV 202012/01 aka the Kent strain, due to its possible origin in the ‘garden of England’.
  • The South African variant: B.1.351 aka 20H/501Y.V2, which shares some mutations with the UK variant and may also be associated with an increased risk of death versus other variants.
  • The Brazil variant: aka P.1, first identified in four travellers routinely tested at Haneda Airport outside Tokyo, Japan, with 17 unique mutations.

Public health bodies are investigating the potential consequences of the variants, which may be able to spread more quickly or even evade detection by specific viral diagnostic tests. Investigations also continue on howthese variants react to the current vaccines in use…

Vaccines roll-out

medDigital are launching a dedicated vaccines series. We will report on the scientific aspects of inoculations themselves, roll-out, efficacy and more. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date!

Rapid viral spread requires rapid action and there is no doubt that the development and approval for administration of COVID-19 vaccines has been rapid by any regulatory standards.

10 regulators have approved vaccines in at least one country for full or emergency use and Israel, UAE and the UK lead the way globally in terms of total vaccination doses administered (see below):

*Chart excludes territories with populations <200,000

Figures have been compiled from a variety of sources and are subject to revision

Source: Our World in Data, national sources.


While some countries are managing to administer approved vaccines relatively quickly, others are lagging behind, with reports of lack of access and limited distribution capacity leading to wastage. Experts agree that a global pandemic requires global coordination to achieve near-global immunisation.

In a highly mobile world where one nation is fully immunised and outbreaks are surging elsewhere, efforts are wasted, new variants continue to escape vaccinations and everyone becomes vulnerable again, requiring new vaccines and new roll-outs and the nightmare scenario of a never-ending pandemic.

Clearly, it is important that countries work on employing immunisation strategies with consideration of the implications on their success if other countries cannot also vaccinate their populations. Until then, reliance on lockdowns to contain the spread continues…

Is the lockdown working?

The announcementof a new lockdown at the end of December came weeks before the UK recorded 3 of the highest daily deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, peaking at 1,820 on 20th January 2020. Numbers of hospitalised patients and infection rates shot up throughout the month and only began to drop off at the end of it, indicating the lockdown is having an effect.

It is the belief of SAGE experts in the UK that current restrictions are here to stay until at least the most vulnerable population groups have received one dose of the available vaccines.

While we wait for national immunisation amongst the priority populations, lockdown continues in the UK though it has lifted in some countries, notably in Wuhan, China where the virus is believed to have originated.

Latest estimates place the R-number in the UK at between 0.7 and 1.1, meaning there is still some time yet until we see the infection rate decreasing to levels where “normal” life can resume. But companies are adapting…

How has the life sciences industry adapted?

Clearly, it has been apparent that the way industries adapt to the restrictions, particularly in the UK where they continue, will be crucial to their ability to continue operating.

Global pharmaceutical companies have displayed resilience in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and the uptake of digital activities to ensure productivity across the development chain has been of benefit.

medDigital announced this month that medCrowd® integration has been added to our new digital training courses. Available on our online portal, the training courses are helping companies do digital better and more compliantly in the UK, as medical and commercial teams convert more of their engagement and strategic activities to transformative digital solutions.

Check out our portal to view the digital training courses available and get in touch for a bespoke training programme for your organisation.