Top 10: February 10

Copy-editor: Rob Camp


Paper of the Day

Greaney AJ, Loes AN, Crawford KHD, et al. Comprehensive mapping of mutations to the SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain that affect recognition by polyclonal human serum antibodies. Cell 2021, 8 February. Full-text:

Five weeks after the pre-print paper, now the publication in Cell Host Microbe. Jesse Bloom, Allison Greaney and colleagues comprehensively map how all mutations to the spike’s receptor-binding domain (RBD) reduce binding by antibodies in convalescent plasma. One major finding is that serum antibody binding is predominantly affected by mutations at just a few dominant epitopes in the RBD. The most important site is E484, where neutralization by some sera is reduced > 10-fold by several mutations. The authors’ approach doesn’t just consist in reactively characterizing mutations they observe in new lineages; rather, they prospectively map effects of all mutations so we can watch out for the next ones. Their bet for the future? The 443-450 loop in RBD, for example G446.



Zeller M, Gangavarapu K, Anderson C, et al. Emergence of an early SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in the United States. medRxiv 2021, posted 8 February. Full-text:

Superspreading during large-scale events plays a key role in the COVID-19 pandemic. The city of New Orleans, US, experienced one of the earliest and fastest accelerating outbreaks, coinciding with the annual Mardi Gras festival, which went ahead without precautions. Here, Kristian G. Andersen, Mark Zeller and colleagues sequence SARS-CoV-2 genomes during the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic in Louisiana. They show that the Mardi Gras festival (25 Feb 2020 and the weeks leading up to it) dramatically accelerated transmission, eventually leading to secondary localized COVID-19 epidemics throughout the Southern US.


Staub K, Jüni P, Urner M, et al. Public Health Interventions, Epidemic Growth, and Regional Variation of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Outbreak in a Swiss Canton and Its Greater Regions. Ann Intern Med. 2021 Feb 9. PubMed: Full-text:

Strikingly similar patterns were found in the management of the COVID-19 outbreak in Switzerland, with a considerably higher amplitude and prolonged duration of the second wave and much higher associated rates of hospitalization and mortality. During the second wave in autumn, cantonal authorities reacted hesitantly and initially delegated the responsibility to enact public health measures to the municipalities. This hesitant attitude was largely due to concerns about the economic effect of public health interventions experienced during the first wave and the associated political pressure. Read also the comment by Mooney G. The Dangers of Ignoring History Lessons During a Pandemic. Ann Intern Med. 2021 Feb 9. PubMed: Full-text:



Petter E, Mor O, Zuckermann N, et al. Initial real world evidence for lower viral load of individuals who have been vaccinated by BNT162b2. GitHub 2021, posted 7 February. Full-text:

Vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty could reduce the viral load by 1.6x to 20x in individuals who are positive for SARS-CoV-2. This estimate might improve after more individuals receive the second dose. Yaniv Erlich, Ella Petter and colleagues conclude that their findings indicate vaccination is not only important for an individual’s protection but can also reduce transmission.


Stamatatos L, Czartoski J, Wan YH, et al. Antibodies elicited by SARS-CoV-2 infection and boosted by vaccination neutralize an emerging variant and SARS-CoV-1. MedRxiv 2021, posted 8 February. Full-text:

Andrew McGuire, Leonidas Stamatatos and colleagues found that a single shot of the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines boosts the neutralizing antibody response in people who were previously infected. Importantly, these antibodies also had neutralizing activity against the B1351 variant first detected in South Africa. The authors point to the importance of vaccination of both uninfected and of previously infected subjects. Read also Burton DR, Topo EJ. Toward superhuman SARS-CoV-2 immunity? Nat Med 27, 5–6 (2021). Full-text:


Burton DR, Topol EJ. Variant-proof vaccines — invest now for the next pandemic. Nature 2021, published 8 February. Full-text:

The rapid development and delivery of highly effective COVID-19 vaccines less than a year after the emergence of the disease is a huge success story. This was possible, in part, because of certain properties of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that favor vaccine design — in particular, the spike protein on the viral surface. However, the next pathogen to emerge might be less accommodating. Eric Topol and Dennis Burton underline the importance of rational vaccine design based on broadly neutralizing antibodies.


Gadoth A, Halbrook M, Martin-Blais R, et al. Cross-sectional Assessment of COVID-19 Vaccine Acceptance Among Health Care Workers in Los Angeles. Ann Intern Med. 2021 Feb 9. PubMed: Full-text:

In the context of a highly publicized coronavirus vaccine rollout, initial uptake by health care workers (HCWs) is critical for safety, health system functioning, and public opinion. In this survey, participants overwhelmingly acknowledged the importance and utility of general vaccination to a public health practice; however, they were widely hesitant about partaking in COVID-19 vaccination in either a trial or post-marketing settings and expressed uncertainties about the regulatory approval and protective capabilities of novel SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.



Guglielmi G. Rapid coronavirus tests: a guide for the perplexed. Nature 2021, published 9 February. Full-text:

Rapid tests, which typically mix nasal or throat swabs with liquid on a paper strip and return results within half an hour, are thought of as tests of infectiousness, not of infection. They can detect only high viral loads, so they will miss many people with lower levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But the hope is that they will help to curb the pandemic by quickly identifying the most contagious people, who might otherwise unknowingly pass on the virus.



If you read French, read Herzberg N. Covid-19 : le chemin de croix du vaccin d’AstraZeneca. Le Monde 2021, published 9 February. Full-text:

Erreur de dosage lors des essais, manque de données sur les plus de 65 ans… L’arrêt de la campagne en Afrique du Sud constitue le dernier d’une série de revers pour ce vaccin très attendu.


Sénécat A. Covid-19 : faut-il libérer les brevets des vaccins pour en produire plus ? Le Monde 2021, published 9 February. Full-text:

Face à l’urgence sanitaire, l’idée de s’affranchir des contraintes de la propriété intellectuelle fait son chemin, mais se heurte à plusieurs obstacles.



If you read German, read Berndt C, Endt C, Müller-Hansen S. Die unsichtbare Welle. Süddeutsche Zeitung 2021, published 5 February. Full-text:

Die Infektionszahlen in Deutschland gehen zurück. Doch erste Daten zur Verbreitung der Variante B117 deuten darauf hin, dass es damit bald vorbei sein könnte. RKI-Chef Wieler rechnet mit einer weiteren Ausbreitung. Eine Analyse mit Grafiken.


Beyond Corona

Milman O. ‘Invisible killer’: fossil fuels caused 8.7m deaths globally in 2018, research finds. The Guardian 2021, published 9 February. Full-text:

Air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8,7M deaths globally in 2018, a staggering one in five of all people who died that year, new research has found.



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