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Coronavirus

Swansea University is developing world’s first COVID-19 ‘smart-patch’ vaccine that will measure effectiveness

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Researchers at Swansea University are developing the world’s first smart vaccine device that will both deliver the COVID-19 vaccine and measure its efficacy through monitoring the body’s associated response.

The research, from the Institute for Innovative Materials, Processing and Numerical Technologies (IMPACT), will produce the vaccine through the use of microneedles (MNs) to create a ‘smart-patch’. This device will simultaneously measure a patient’s inflammatory response to the vaccination by monitoring biomarkers in the skin.

Microneedles are tiny needles – their tips are measured in millionths of a metre (micrometer) – designed to break the skin barrier and deliver medicines in a minimally invasive manner. A classic example is the transdermal nicotine patch that delivers nicotine through skin to help people give up smoking.

Microneedles provide a safe and effective method to deliver vaccines with added attributes of requiring lower vaccine doses, permitting low-cost manufacturing, and enabling simple distribution and administration. A microneedle delivery patch is easy to apply and minimally invasive – combined with the proposed measurement capabilities, this new vaccine system would enable a personalised vaccination approach.

Project lead Dr Sanjiv Sharma of Swansea University comments: “Measuring vaccine efficacy is extremely important as it indicates the protective effects of vaccination on an individual via the level of reduction of infection risk in a vaccinated person relative to that of a susceptible, unvaccinated individual. This measure of vaccination effectiveness will address an unmet clinical need and would provide an innovative approach to vaccine development.”

The project, titled Smart vaccine devices for delivery of COVID-19 vaccination, will be led by a team of researchers with expertise in the use of microneedle arrays for transdermal therapeutic drug delivery and diagnostic applications.

The team will build on these distinct technologies by developing the first dual functionality microneedle-based COVID-19 smart-patch, capable of delivering a vaccine and measuring the immune response in the form of protein biomarkers thus establishing the efficacy of vaccination.

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Dr Sharma continues: “Skin vaccination using MNs has been described as a superior immunization approach due to its potential to overcome immune tolerance observed in pregnancy, and lower vaccination costs through antigen dose-sparing, which is especially relevant in underserved countries.

“The primary goal of this project is to create a prototype of smart vaccine delivery device that can not only deliver the COVID-19 vaccine transdermally but also monitor biomarkers in the skin compartment in a minimally invasive way, offering real-time information on the efficacy of the vaccination. The new method would change the way in which vaccine efficacy trials are performed from a statistical assessment to a scientific measurement of patient inflammatory response to vaccination.

“The real-time nature of the platform will mean rapid results allowing faster containment of the COVID-19 virus. This low-cost vaccine administration device will ensure a safe return to work and management of subsequent COVID-19 outbreak waves. Beyond the pandemic, the scope of this work could be expanded to apply to other infectious diseases as the nature of the platform allows for quick adaptation to different infectious diseases.

“We are currently getting the platform ready and we hope to do human clinical studies on transdermal delivery with our existing partners at Imperial College London, in preparation for final implementation.”

The project is funded by the Welsh Government Sêr Cymru funding programme. The IMPACT operation is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and Swansea University.

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Coronavirus

Face coverings retained in health and social care settings

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First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed the legal requirement to wear a face covering in health and care settings will remain in place.

Speaking after the latest three-week review of the coronavirus regulations, the First Minister said the public health situation was improving following the recent spike in cases caused by the BA.2 sub-type of omicron.

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But Covid case rates remain high so maintaining the use of face coverings in health and care settings will help to protect to some of the most vulnerable people in society, staff and visitors.

The First Minister also urged everyone to continue to take measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus by following a set of simple steps to protect one another and keep Wales safe.

These include self-isolating if ill or testing positive for Covid-19; wearing a face covering in crowded indoor places, meeting outdoors wherever possible; keeping indoor areas well ventilated and washing hands regularly.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The pandemic isn’t over but we are seeing encouraging signs the recent high levels of infections across Wales are falling.

“There are steps we can all take to protect ourselves while coronavirus is still circulating and reduce the spread of the virus even further. This is particularly true in places where some of the most vulnerable people in society are being treated and live, which is why we will retain the legal requirement to wear face coverings in health and social care settings.

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“More generally, ensuring you are up-to-date with your Covid vaccinations and spring booster – if you are eligible – is really important. If you have Covid symptoms or test positive, please stay at home and help break the chain of transmission.

“Together, we can carry on keeping each other safe and keeping Wales safe.”

The next three-weekly review of coronavirus regulations will be carried out by 26 May.

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Coronavirus

Schools’ Covid guidance aligned to businesses and other workplaces

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The Minister for Education and Welsh Language, Jeremy Miles, has announced that Covid-19 measures for schools in Wales will be brought into line with guidance for businesses and other organisations.

The Welsh Government has written to schools in Wales this morning to inform them of the changes.

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Since September last year, schools have applied measures to stop the spread of Coronavirus according to local circumstances, based on the Local Covid-19 infection control decision framework for schools. Schools will no longer be advised to use the framework.

The change is in line with the Welsh Government’s long-term Covid-19 transition from pandemic to endemic. The risk from coronavirus is now considered in the same context as other communicable diseases, such as flu.

The First Minister has announced that the remaining coronavirus restrictions will be removed from 9 May, if the public health situation remained stable. The changes to the guidance for schools will also come into effect from 9 May.

Schools and other education settings will continue to be advised to work with local authorities and public health advisors to ensure that measures remain appropriate and proportionate and reflect local risks and circumstances.

A checklist will be provided to support schools and settings in considering which control measures remain proportionate. Special schools will continue to follow the advice for children and young people with higher clinical risk and clinically extremely vulnerable adults.

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Speaking at the Welsh Government’s weekly press briefing, Jeremy Miles said: “In line with the wider public health guidance published at the last three-week review, we have today written to headteachers to signpost the impending changes to our advice for schools, which reflect the move from pandemic to endemic. This will ensure school guidance is more closely aligned with the rest of society.

“We all know that Covid-19 has not gone way. It remains vitally important we reduce the spread of the virus where we can – this includes, for example, following self-isolation guidance, and for education settings to continue to undertake robust risk assessments.”

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Coronavirus

Health board extends shuttle bus between Llanelli and COVID vaccination centre

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Hywel Dda University Health Board (HDUHB) has extended the free shuttle bus service between Llanelli town centre and the mass vaccination centre in Dafen to help people access their COVID-19 vaccination as easily as possible.

The shuttle bus, provided by Dolen Teifi, will continue to run between 10.30am to 4.40pm, seven days a week – with no service at 12.00pm from town or at 12.15pm from the mass vaccination centre to allow the drivers a lunch break.

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People can board the shuttle bus on the hour and at half-past the hour at Church Street, outside Llanelli Magistrates Court.

The shuttle bus will leave the mass vaccination centre quarter past and quarter to the hour, returning to the town centre and dropping passengers off opposite Llanelli library.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We need as many people as possible attending their COVID-19 vaccine appointments, or dropping in if eligible.

“This shuttle bus service is one of many additional resources and services being put in place across the Hywel Dda region to help support more people to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. I am pleased the shuttle bus service has been extended to help people reliant on public transport to access their COVID-19 vaccine.”

On 21 February 2022, the JCVI published a statement, recommending an additional spring booster.

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Strict COVID-19 safety measures are in place to ensure the safety of drivers and passengers on this service, including wearing face coverings unless medically exempt.

A maximum of 14 passengers are allowed per journey with a screen in place between driver and passengers.

The health board say that passengers should only use this service if they are fit and well on the day.

They add that before travelling without an appointment to Dafen mass vaccination centre, people should check the health board’s website for up-to-date information such as vaccine eligibility and drop-in opening times.

(Lead image: Hywel Dda NHS)

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