Objective: To estimate excess mortality by cause of death in Brazil and states in 2020. Methods: We estimated the expected number of deaths considering a linear trend analysis with the number of deaths between 2015 and 2019 for each group of causes and each federative unit. We calculated standardized mortality ratios (SMR) and 95% confidence intervals for each SMR assuming a Poisson distribution. We performed the analyses in the R program, version 4.1.3. Results: We observed a 19% excess in deaths in 2020 (SMR=1.19; 95%CI=1.18–1.20). The Infectious and Parasitic Diseases group stood out among the defined causes (SMR=4.80; 95%CI 4.78–4.82). The ill-defined causes showed great magnitude in this period (SMR=6.08; 95%CI 6.06–6.10). Some groups had lower-than-expected deaths: respiratory diseases (10% lower than expected) and external causes (4% lower than expected). In addition to the global analysis of the country, we identified significant heterogeneity among the federative units. States with the highest SMR are concentrated in the northern region, and those with the lowest SMR are concentrated in the southern and southeastern regions. Conclusion: Excess mortality occurs during the COVID-19 pandemic. This excess results not only from COVID-19 itself, but also from the social response and the management of the health system in responding to a myriad of causes that already had a trend pattern before it.

8th November 2022 • comment

Abstract The effectiveness of inactivated vaccines (VE) against symptomatic and severe COVID-19 caused by omicron is unknown. We conducted a nationwide, test-negative, case-control study to estimate VE for homologous and heterologous (BNT162b2) booster doses in adults who received two doses of CoronaVac in Brazil in the Omicron context. Analyzing 1,386,544 matched-pairs, VE against symptomatic disease was 8.6% (95% CI, 5.6–11.5) and 56.8% (95% CI, 56.3–57.3) in the period 8–59 days after receiving a homologous and heterologous booster, respectively. During the same interval, VE against severe Covid-19 was 73.6% (95% CI, 63.9–80.7) and 86.0% (95% CI, 84.5–87.4) after receiving a homologous and heterologous booster, respectively. Waning against severe Covid-19 after 120 days was only observed after a homologous booster. Heterologous booster might be preferable to individuals with completed primary series inactivated vaccine.

17th October 2022 • comment

The severe coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is associated with coagulopathy. Anticoagulants, such as low-molecular-weight heparin, warfarin, thrombin inhibitors, and factor Xa (FXa) inhibitors, are thus recommended by the American Society of Hematology and National Institutes of Health for COVID-19 patients (Wenzler et al., 2020Adam et al., 2021). Clinical trials with anticoagulants have shown the increased survival of critically ill COVID-19 patients under non-invasive and invasive ventilatory assistance (Wenzler et al., 2020Adam et al., 2021), along with decreased consumption of platelets and clotting factors and a reduced risk of hemorrhage (Adam et al., 2021). Among the anti-clotting agents, early use of orally available FXa and thrombin inhibitors (Chowdhury et al., 2020Rentsch et al., 2021) prevented high levels of D-dimer, which is the final product from the clotting/fibrinolysis cascade and is directly implicated with severe COVID-19 (Rentsch et al., 2021). (continues)

17th October 2022 • comment

Abstract COVID-19 induces chromatin remodeling in host immune cells, and it had previously been shown that vitamin B12 downregulates some inflammatory genes via methyl-dependent epigenetic mechanisms. In this work, whole blood cultures from moderate or severe COVID-19 patients were used to assess the potential of B12 as adjuvant drug. The vitamin normalized the expression of a panel of inflammatory genes still dysregulated in the leukocytes despite glucocorticoid therapy during hospitalization. B12 also increased the flux of the sulfur amino acid pathway, raising the bioavailability of methyl. Accordingly, B12-induced downregulation of CCL3 strongly and negatively correlated with the hypermethylation of CpGs in its regulatory regions. Transcriptome analysis revealed that B12 attenuates the effects of COVID-19 on most inflammation-related pathways affected by the disease. As far as we are aware, this is the first study to demonstrate that pharmacological modulation of epigenetic marks in leukocytes favorably regulates central components of COVID-19 physiopathology. Teaser B12 has great potential as an adjuvant drug for alleviating inflammation in COVID-19.

30th August 2022 • comment

Summary Background There is limited information on the inequity of access to vaccination in low-and-middle-income countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we described the progression of the Brazilian immunisation program for COVID-19, and the association of socioeconomic development with vaccination rates, considering the potential protective effect of primary health care coverage. Methods We performed an ecological analysis of COVID-19 immunisation data from the Brazilian National Immunization Program from January 17 to August 31, 2021. We analysed the dynamics of vaccine coverage in the adult population of 5,570 Brazilian municipalities. We estimated the association of human development index (HDI) levels (low, medium, and high) with age-sex standardised first dose coverage using a multivariable negative binomial regression model. We evaluated the interaction between the HDI and primary health care coverage. Finally, we compared the adjusted monthly progression of vaccination rates, hospital admission and in-hospital death rates among HDI levels. Findings From January 17 to August 31, 2021, 202,427,355 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in Brazil. By the end of the period, 64·2% of adults had first and 31·4% second doses, with more than 90% of those aged ≥60 years with primary scheme completed. Four distinct vaccine platforms were used in the country, ChAdOx1-S/nCoV-19, Sinovac-CoronaVac, BNT162b2, Ad26.COV2.S, composing 44·8%, 33·2%, 19·6%, and 2·4% of total doses, respectively. First dose coverage differed between municipalities with high, medium, and low HDI (Median [interquartile range] 72 [66, 79], 68 [61, 75] and 63 [55, 70] doses per 100 people, respectively). Municipalities with low (Rate Ratio [RR, 95% confidence interval]: 0·87 [0·85-0·88]) and medium (RR [95% CI]: 0·94 [0·93-0·95]) development were independently associated with lower vaccination rates compared to those with high HDI. Primary health care coverage modified the association of HDI and vaccination rate, improving vaccination rates in those municipalities of low HDI and high primary health care coverage. Low HDI municipalities presented a delayed decrease in adjusted in-hospital death rates by first dose coverage compared to high HDI locations. Interpretation In Brazil, socioeconomic disparities negatively impacted the first dose vaccination rate. However, the primary health care mitigated these disparities, suggesting that the primary health care coverage guarantees more equitable access to vaccines in vulnerable locations. Funding This work is part of the Grand Challenges ICODA pilot initiative, delivered by Health Data Research UK and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Minderoo Foundation. This study was supported by the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), the Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES) - Finance Code 001, Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FAPERJ) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.   Keywords: Socioeconomic factors; Human development; Low-and-middle-income countries; Vaccine; COVID19;Primary healthcare

30th August 2022 • comment

SARS-CoV-2, like other coronaviruses, builds a membrane-bound replication organelle (RO) to enable RNA replication1. The SARS-CoV-2 RO is composed of double membrane vesicles (DMVs) tethered to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) by thin membrane connectors2, but the viral proteins and the host factors involved are currently unknown. Here we identify the viral non-structural proteins (NSPs) that generate the SARS-CoV-2 RO. NSP3 and NSP4 generate the DMVs while NSP6, through oligomerization and an amphipathic helix, zippers ER membranes and establishes the connectors. The NSP6ΔSGF mutant, which arose independently in the α, β, γ, η, ι, and λ variants of SARS-CoV-2, behaves as a gain-of-function mutant with a higher ER-zippering activity. We identified three main roles for NSP6: to act as a filter in RO-ER communication allowing lipid flow but restricting access of ER luminal proteins to the DMVs, to position and organize DMV clusters, and to mediate contact with lipid droplets (LDs) via the LD-tethering complex DFCP1-Rab18. NSP6 thus acts as an organizer of DMV clusters and can provide a selective track to refurbish them with LD-derived lipids. Importantly, both properly formed NSP6 connectors and LDs are required for SARS-CoV-2 replication. Our findings, uncovering the biological activity of NSP6 of SARS-CoV-2 and of other coronaviruses, have the potential to fuel the search for broad antiviral agents.

10th June 2022 • comment

COVID-19, vaccine hesitancy and child vaccination: Challenges from Brazil

by Michelle Fernandez, Gustavo Matta, Ester Paiva

In the world, the governments' policy decisions in response to COVID-19 were very different. Many countries, including in the Americas, political polarisation in health policies has been used as a tool for ideological dispute, draining out the debate around the right to social protection and health. During 2021, these strategies were used in vaccination policies. The consequences of the dissemination of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines overflows distrust and hesitation into an entire public health project.

12th April 2022 • comment