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  1. These are the states most at risk of a COVID-19 resurgence thanks to a drop in vaccinations Vaccination rates have dropped to almost half of their peak last month. States with the lowest vaccinations per capita could be at risk of a COVID-19 resurgence. In Wyoming, less than 30% of people are fully immunized, the lowest rate in the country. Vaccinations across the country are down by close to 50% from their peak last month. The country was vaccinating an average of almost 3.4 million people a day in mid-April but only 1.8 million vaccine doses were given out each day over the last week. While COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have been on the decline as more people get vaccinated, experts are worried the slowing of vaccinations could leave groups of unvaccinated people vulnerable to infection, especially during the summer when people are likely to congregate indoors to avoid the heat, CNN reported. Specifically, experts are worried about states with the lowest vaccination rates per capita, including Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho, Georgia, and Tennessee. "If we have large numbers of unvaccinated people in those states, we may very well see a surge in those states, so I think a lot of us are worried about that," Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Thursday. Data from Johns Hopkins University showed that less than 30% of people in Wyoming are fully immunized, which is the lowest rate of any state, compared to the less than 40% of Americans that are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. More than 60% of American adults have already received at least one shot. Read the original article on Business Insider Source: These are the states most at risk of a COVID-19 resurgence thanks to a drop in vaccinations
  2. Apple reportedly will continue to require masks in its US retail stores Per the CDC, fully-vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in most settings Apple will keep its mask mandate in place at its US retail stores Getty Images Despite new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Apple will keep its mandatory mask policy in place at its US retail stores for the time being, Bloomberg reported. The company informed stores that it is continuing to evaluate COVID-19-related health and safety measures, but that the policy requiring customers and employees at its Apple stores would stay in effect. The CDC announced Thursday that people who had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus could do away with wearing masks indoors and outdoors, and did not have to continue social distancing. There are some exceptions to the CDC guidance, which recommends people continue masking on public transit, airplanes, and trains, and in health care settings such as a doctor’s office. Immunocompromised people are advised to consult their healthcare professional before discontinuing masks, and someone who develops new COVID-19 symptoms should start wearing masks again to be safe. Some retail stores across the US began lifting their mask requirements on Friday, with large companies including Walmart, Trader Joe’s, and Costco updating their policies. But Target and CVS were among the retailers who said they would keep their mask requirements in place as they assessed the CDC guidance. In its stores that have reopened— some are open on a limited basis — Apple currently requires customers and store employees to wear masks, and provides masks for customers that don’t have their own. The company’s FAQ page also says it requires temperature checks before anyone is allowed to enter an Apple store. Apple did not immediately reply to a request for comment Saturday. Source: Apple reportedly will continue to require masks in its US retail stores
  3. Warriors' Damion Lee reveals he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated Only around 6,000 people are known to have tested positive after getting vaccinated Getty Images Golden State Warriors forward Damion Lee revealed Thursday that he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. Statistically speaking, this is a very rare phenomenon, with only around 6,000 people known to have tested positive after being fully vaccinated. While none of the approved vaccines are 100 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infection, all have been remarkably effective at preventing serious cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to the disease. Lee did not need to be hospitalized but explained that he suffered through a variety of common symptoms despite receiving the vaccine in March. "I had headache, chills, sneezing, congestion, soreness, body aches," Lee said. "It felt like I was hit by a car. Like hit by two cars at once every step I took. It hurt, it was pain, soreness. It felt like there was a weight on my chest for a couple of days, like it was just hard to breathe." Lee has been cleared to return to the Warriors' facility but has not yet resumed basketball activities. His recovery is still being monitored, and there is no timeline for him to return to the floor this season. The Warriors have five regular-season games left on the schedule before they are slated to participate in the play-in round of the postseason. Many NBA players have been vaccinated, but other than those who have volunteered that information freely, we do not who or exactly how many of them have done so. After making it through the Orlando bubble without any major disruptions in play due to the virus, the NBA is about to embark on its first postseason during the pandemic without the protection Disney world provided. NBA cases have fortunately been minimal in recent months, but the specter of the disease continues to have over the league. Source: Warriors' Damion Lee reveals he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated
  4. Variant Hunters Race to Find New Strains Where Testing Lags In countries without much sequencing, new versions of the Covid virus can go unnoticed. Scientists across Africa are collaborating to track them down. DATA VISUALIZATION: MARINA DEKHNIK/GETTY IMAGES IN MID-FEBRUARY, THREE travelers were stopped at the airport in Luanda, Angola. Even during the pandemic, the country, a hub for the oil industry, had seen plenty of passengers from Europe and South Africa, where two concerning variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 hold sway. But the strains weren’t yet circulating widely in Angola, so this winter, health officials battened down the hatches. Before any passports get stamped, travelers receive a rapid antigen test and wait 30 minutes for a result. A negative test means self-quarantine, followed by another test a few days later. A positive test means a two-week stay at a quarantine hotel. For the three travelers, it was option two. A few weeks later, samples taken from their noses arrived 2,000 miles south in South Africa, at the lab of Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He was in for a surprise. The virus that had infected these three travelers didn’t resemble the strains circulating in most other places, including those labeled as “variants of concern” for their ability to spread faster and evade certain types of immunity. If those variants are like siblings, this one was more like a forgotten second cousin. It came from a lineage of the virus that emerged in the early days of the pandemic but had disappeared soon thereafter, apparently outcompeted by other variants. And yet here it was, a year later. And it had been busy. The virus had since accumulated dozens of mutations, including many of the same ones that made those other strains worrisome because of increased transmissibility and immune evasion. It had arrived at a similar genetic conclusion all on its own. The new variant seemed to have stepped out of an epidemiological void. Which, in a way, it had, because the travelers had arrived from a country where the pandemic did not officially exist. Last June, the president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, declared the country Covid-free, having rid itself of the virus through three days of national prayer. Since then, reports from doctors and nonprofits within the country told of a “hidden epidemic” raging as fiercely as it was anywhere. But the government’s data had evaporated: no tests or case numbers or genome sequences. With so little information—just three genomes—it was hard to say what this new variant meant. Where had it come from, and where were its closer relatives? Was it spreading widely, or were these cases just a fluke? Were its mutations as worrisome in practice as on paper? De Oliveira and his colleagues are now racing to answer those questions. Such surprises are somewhat common in de Oliveira’s line of work. Since the pandemic began, African labs have uploaded fewer than 12,000 genomes to GISAID, the leading database for viral sequences, compared with 280,000 from North America, a continent with less than half the population. About half of those African genomes come from South Africa, where de Oliveira’s lab is the centerpiece of a national sequencing effort. That means there are plenty of gaps to be explored. “It’s concerning,” says Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist at the University of Bern. “It’s a huge continent, and we know that there are Covid outbreaks happening. But, apart from South Africa, we don’t have a good idea of what’s happening anywhere else.” In recent months, De Oliveira has been working to change that. In early December, the lab’s genomic sleuthing amidst a surge of cases in South Africa led to the identification of a strain now known as B.1.351. That variant is now spreading globally, causing headaches because it is more resistant to the protection of some vaccines. It was also a wake-up call for South Africa’s neighbors. So earlier this year, de Oliveira’s lab, in partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, began receiving weekly or biweekly samples from 10 countries in southern Africa, part of an effort to track the newly uncovered variant and others around the continent. A second lab, Nigeria’s Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases, or ACEGIP, handles the northern half of the continent. The research from Angola, which was co-led by the country’s health minister, Silvia Lutucuta, appeared as a preprint Monday and has not yet been peer reviewed. In the past year, emerging variants have changed the calculus of the pandemic, forcing countries back into lockdowns and to reconsider vaccine strategies. Basically, it’s now a race: Getting shots to more people will help quell the variants’ spread and slow the emergence of new ones. But in Africa, where only a few countries have so far received a trickle of vaccines, that process is expected to take longer. And as the virus continues to replicate and spread among people, it will also keep changing—with implications for the whole world. “It’s going to be bumpy,” says Christian Happi, ACEGIP’s director. “Within the continent, we have found a number of major variants, and there are likely many more.” It’s not unusual for African states to work together to stifle epidemics, he notes. Not every country has access to the sequencing machines that crunch these genomes quickly, and those that do are often relying on a single commercial lab. So governments and labs have learned to collaborate, forming networks that make use of advanced sequencing centers like his and de Oliveira’s to tackle emergent diseases, rather than sending samples overseas. So far in 2021, the initiative has helped double the number of viral genomes sequenced in Africa compared with all of 2020, with a goal of producing 50,000 genomes by year’s end. Even as the capacity to sequence picks up, the process remains challenging, Happi says. A high rate of asymptomatic cases and limited health care access means the Covid-19 tests that lead to genome sequencing are limited in some areas. And it’s not easy to gather and store samples from across a country like Somalia and send them to Nigeria, via multiple planes and handlers, while keeping them perfectly intact. From a few hundred samples in a recent delivery from Mogadishu, the lab retrieved complete sequences from only 10 of them. One way of thinking about SARS-CoV-2 variants is as a series of epidemics within the pandemic. When variants first emerge, or when they arrive for the first time in a new place, they’re like embers, ready to catch fire if the opportunity to spread arises and if their mutations make them competitive with other strains. But embers are also easier to extinguish than widespread conflagrations. Variants can be stopped at borders, and outbreaks in hot spots can be identified and quashed—provided variant hunters move fast and cast a wide net. “We need consistent and quick turnaround, because these variants tend to dominate quickly,” de Oliveira says. “You don't want to discover six months late that you have an epidemic of a strain that escapes vaccines.” The type of border checks being done in Angola, a response to surges linked to variants found in nearby countries, is a good example of putting surveillance into action, de Oliveira says. Samples from the airport have turned up not only the new strain, but plenty of examples of B.1.351 and B.1.1.7, the variants of concern first identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom and now circulating worldwide. He thinks catching those kinds of cases early is a crucial part of why Angola didn’t experience the same surge its neighbors did at the beginning of this year. Conducting surveillance at travel hubs also increases overall coverage; the researchers had no way of doing genomic surveillance in Tanzania, for example, until those three travelers happened upon the border check. Even when worrisome variants take hold, the ability to track them has bearing on what public health measures officials can take. “Sequencing really helps because you understand the patterns of human migration for a variant,” Happi says. In Nigeria this winter, for example, the government grew concerned about a surge of unknown origin. It was impossible at first to tell if the virus was spreading faster, or if human behavior was the cause. Genome sequencing revealed it was driven by B.1.1.7, the variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom, allowing health officials to identify hot spots and, importantly, give the public an explanation for why it was necessary to hunker down. Similarly, when researchers at the Uganda Virus Research Institute identified a novel variant circulating there, surveillance led to more testing in prisons and on cross-country trucking routes, where the strain was found to be most densely concentrated. What has shocked researchers about the variant identified in the Tanzanian travelers is that it is so distantly related to other variants of concern. It’s a member of the so-called “A lineage”—sometimes dubbed the “19 lineage” since it appeared in 2019—and is the closest known relative to the virus that first spilled into humans. “My postdoc sent me a Slack message saying, ‘WTF the A lineage??’” says Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University who studies viral evolution. Variants of the A lineage are still picked up from time to time, but by early 2020, most of them had been outcompeted by members of the still-reigning B lineage. The finding underlines the power of human networks in how viruses spread, Hanage adds. B-lineage variants clearly acquired mutations that made them fit to spread across the world, but what if they also got boosted by luck? It’s possible that viruses of the B lineage simply happened to take root early on in densely populated places like New York City and Italy, and from there they took over the world. Meanwhile, it appears A-lineage viruses continued to circulate with little detection in places where testing and sequencing was scant. Along the way, this variant acquired many of the same mutations identified in those worrisome strains. That’s another good piece of evidence that the virus is exhibiting what’s known as convergent evolution, says Jeremy Kamil, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University Health in Shreveport. That’s when certain mutations that help the virus thrive—to be better at replicating, perhaps, or better at finding its way into cells—emerge independently, because they help the virus eclipse other variants. “The convergence is so striking,” he says. In the case of this new strain, that convergence includes a mutation called E484K, nicknamed “Eek” by researchers studying it for how it helps the virus evade certain immune defenses. The mutation occurs on the virus’s receptor binding domain, which it uses to enter cells. But at least one of those mutations hasn’t been seen in the other variants of concern: a mutation elsewhere on the binding domain, at a location called R346. Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 are grouped into classes that refer to their ability to stick to different parts of the virus. Three of those classes are the most potent, and so far variants of concern have had mutations, like E474K, that hinder the effectiveness of two of them. According to research from the lab of Jesse Bloom at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, R346 affects the third class. The next step is to see how those antibodies generated by vaccines and past infections perform against this virus in lab tests. “It is possible that R346 mutations will further erode antibody neutralization by some serum,” Bloom writes in an email. That kind of research is already happening in South Africa, where the variant was cultured within weeks of its identification in a biosafety level 3 lab. There’s plenty of evidence to make the variant interesting to virologists, and worth tracking, but not yet cause for alarm. Lab studies to understand the functional effects of all those mutations are still to be done, and having three genetic samples is not enough to draw clear conclusions about how and where the variant is spreading. More sequences would help. But given the situation in Tanzania, they’re difficult to acquire. There are signs that change is happening. In March, around the time de Oliveira’s team was communicating news of the strain to the Tanzanian government through diplomatic channels at the African Union, Magufuli reportedly fell ill and died. (Officially, the cause was a heart condition, though some observers suspect Covid-19.) On Tuesday, the day after de Oliveira’s preprint was posted online, Tanzania’s new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, announced that the country was again acknowledging Covid-19 and would form a scientific committee to get a better grip on the pandemic. In the meantime, de Oliveira is working with the Africa CDC to strengthen surveillance near the Tanzania border—in Malawi, for example, and in the northern reaches of Mozambique. “Our main dream is that this is a variant that can be extinguished as quickly as possible,” he says. And the broader surveillance effort will continue to grow, he says. The point isn’t to induce panic. It’s far from certain that new variants will cause more trouble than the ones we’ve already found. Even the nastiest variants identified so far only reduce the effectiveness of some vaccines; they don’t escape them entirely. But it will be important to remain vigilant, especially in places where the virus is going to keep moving for some time. “If we don’t vaccinate the whole world, the variants could spread quite quickly,” de Oliveira says. New variants are also a reminder that world leaders can’t be lulled into complacency, even as their nations’ vaccination levels rise. They’ll need to keep testing and tracing, doing screenings at borders. But it will take a balanced approach. It may be tempting to treat new discoveries with alarm, and to ostracize people from nations where those strains are found to be circulating. But that could discourage those governments from participating in testing and sequencing efforts. The important thing is that those efforts keep growing. “A far worse outcome will be a variant of concern that we only discover too late because people weren’t looking for it,” Hanage says. Source: Variant Hunters Race to Find New Strains Where Testing Lags
  5. US government launches $500,000 competition to find a better mask design Could you come up with something? In brief: Mask wearing has become a familiar sight across the world, but many people dislike wearing them for a variety of design-related reasons. If you think you can come up with something better, the US government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) is willing to pay up to $500,000 for your ideas. The Mask Innovation Challenge aims to find designs that address some of the issues discouraging people from wearing masks. Anyone who uses glasses, for example, will know the frustration of walking around blind as their lenses fog up. There’s also the skin irritation that some wearers experience, the actual discomfort masks cause, and the nightmare of trying to communicate with someone who can neither hear you properly nor see your mouth. Additionally, some masks tout levels of protection without any scientific evidence backing up these claims. Designing the masks, which must be mass-producible and low-cost-per-use devices, is broken into two phases. Phase one is split into two tracks: improving upon already existing designs, and incorporating new technologies and materials that have not yet been included in current masks. Up to ten winners of this phase will receive up to $10,000 each. Phase two is the proof-of-concept stage. This part requires participants to submit their solutions in response to a hypothetical scenario with a brand-new design not based on current masks. Finalists must present prototypes for proof-of-concept testing by NIOSH laboratories. A total prize pool of $400,000 will be divided among five winners. Entries for phase one must be submitted by April 21, 2021, using the provided template and be no more than 7 pages maximum, including a cover page, proposed design description, and schematics/figures. More details on phase two will arrive at a later date. Last month we heard that Razer really would be making its RGB-packed Project Hazel mask shown off at CES. It solves some usual issues thanks to its transparency and embedded microphones that amplify and enhance voices. Source: US government launches $500,000 competition to find a better mask design
  6. Biden moves up deadline for states to open COVID-19 vaccines to all adults The president wants all US adults to be eligible for a shot by April 19. Americans above the age of 16 will be eligible for a vaccine nationwide later this month. Sarah Tew/CNET President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced that he wants states to make all adults eligible for coronavirus vaccines by April 19, taking nearly two weeks off his previous May 1 deadline. "We aren't at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do. We still are in a life-and-death race against this virus," Biden said during a White House briefing Tuesday afternoon. The Biden administration has been working to ramp up availability of COVID-19 vaccines, including increasing the number of pharmacies in the federal vaccine program from 17,000 to nearly 40,000 stores. The government is also working to open a dozen more federally run mass vaccinations sites. In March, Biden said the US was on track to have enough doses of COVID-19 vaccine for every adult in America by the end of May. In total, more than 167 million vaccines doses have been administered in the US, according to John Hopkins University, with over 48 million people being fully vaccinated. Three coronavirus vaccines have been rolled out in the US -- two-shot vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna as well as a one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson -- after being authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. Biden visited a vaccination site in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday and later delivered remarks on the state of vaccinations during a briefing at the White House. Here's where to get a COVID-19 shot and how to track how many vaccines are available in your state. CNET reporter Corinne Reichert also contributed to this report. First published on April 6, 2021 at 6:58 a.m. PT. Source: Biden moves up deadline for states to open COVID-19 vaccines to all adults
  7. Covid: More than 5m people fully vaccinated in UK Two doses have now been given to 9.9% of adults, government figures show The latest figures show an additional 246,631 second doses, bringing the total to 5.2 million. It means 9.9% of over-18s have received both injections. First doses have been given to 31.4 million people. As the vaccination programme takes effect, daily reported deaths fell to 10, their lowest number since 14 September. However, reporting lags may mean lower than usual figures for deaths because of the bank holiday. The UK also reported another 3,423 confirmed coronavirus cases. In a post on Twitter, Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the "milestone" in the vaccination programme, adding: "I urge everyone to take up their second dose as soon as they are offered it." Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it meant that 50% of over-80s have now had their second jab. It comes as the UK begins to relax some coronavirus restrictions. England has allowed gatherings outside of up to six people or as two households since Monday, while the reopening of outdoor hospitality and all shops is planned from 12 April. Rules on visits to care homes in England will also be relaxed from 12 April to allow two regular visitors indoors, the government has announced. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have also begun to allow outdoor socialising. But Mr Johnson has warned people against mixing with other households indoors over the Easter weekend, even if they have been vaccinated. Source: Covid: More than 5m people fully vaccinated in UK
  8. Amazon is launching on-site Covid-19 vaccinations at some warehouses KEY POINTS Amazon announced Thursday that it’s setting up on-site vaccination clinics at fulfillment centers in Missouri, followed by Nevada and Kansas in the coming weeks. The company said it expects to launch vaccination clinics at additional warehouses across the country as more vaccine supply becomes available to front-line employees in other states. A worker loads customer orders into a waiting tractor-trailer inside the million-square foot Amazon distribution warehouse that opened last fall in Fall River, MA on Mar. 23, 2017. John Tlumacki | Boston Globe | Getty Images Some Amazon warehouse workers will soon be able to get vaccinated against Covid-19 at their workplace. Amazon announced Thursday that it’s setting up on-site vaccination clinics at fulfillment centers in Missouri, followed by Nevada and Kansas in the coming weeks. At the clinics, which are expected to run for about five days, vaccines will be administered to employees by licensed health-care providers. The company said it expects to launch vaccination clinics at additional warehouses across the country as more vaccine supply becomes available to front-line employees in other states. It comes as the U.S. continues to pick up the pace of vaccinations, with the nation administering more than 2.5 million shots per day. Companies with essential workers, including Amazon, have been vying to give their workers priority access to the shots. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance that employers with a large workforce can begin setting up Covid-19 vaccine clinics on site. Agriculture giant Cargill, Tyson Foods and some automakers and manufacturers in Detroit are among a growing list of employers that have launched on-site clinics at some of their facilities. Heather MacDougall, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide workplace health and safety, told CNBC in an interview that the company has been working with a third-party administrator who secures the Covid vaccines on Amazon’s behalf. “Most of these conversations go on at the state and local level where those decisions are being made, in terms of who’s eligible for the vaccine,” MacDougall added. Some of Amazon’s front-line workers have already been vaccinated in states where they’re eligible. The company has nudged its front-line workers to get vaccinated off-site by offering them a bonus of up to $80, or $40 for each dose. Employees who experience side effects from the Covid vaccine are eligible to take unpaid time off, Amazon said. Inside its warehouses, Amazon has taken steps to alleviate fears or concerns around the vaccine among its front-line workers. In private Facebook groups, some warehouse workers in the U.S. have expressed skepticism and uncertainty around the vaccine’s side effects or the potential that Amazon will mandate vaccinations among its workforce. Amazon has posted educational information and positive messaging about the vaccine around warehouses, including in “inSTALLments,” the informational sheets posted in facility bathrooms. One message viewed by CNBC told workers the vaccine is “safe and effective” and is the “quickest way for life to return to normal.” The company also sent out a questionnaire to warehouse workers via Amazon Connections, an internal survey system, to gauge their attitudes about the Covid vaccine and other coronavirus safety measures. One prompt sent to workers said “Covid vaccines and regular Covid testing can help keep you and those you care about safe,” with workers given the option to answer “OK” or “I’d rather not answer,” according to a separate document viewed by CNBC. Amazon is already seeing sizable interest in the on-site vaccination clinics. More than 1,000 front-line employees have signed up to get vaccinated at Amazon’s first on-site clinic at a warehouse outside of St. Louis, Missouri, which opened Thursday, the company said. — CNBC’s Bertha Coombs contributed reporting to this article. Source: Amazon is launching on-site Covid-19 vaccinations at some warehouses
  9. Ola to provide free COVID-19 vaccination to all employees and their dependents The vaccination drive will include all Ola employees and dependents, advisors, consultants, and contractual employees. Ola is one of the first global mobility companies to announce such a vaccination drive Ola will provide requisite infrastructure and logistics for the vaccination with the drive being conducted across all the geographies it operates in globally. Ola, one of the world’s leading mobility companies, on Wednesday announced that it will cover the COVID-19 vaccination cost for all employees and dependents, as the world continues its fight against the pandemic. This makes Ola among the first global mobility companies to announce a COVID vaccination drive. The vaccination drive will also be extended to all the direct contractual employees, consultants, advisors of the company and their immediate dependents including spouse, kids and parents, comprising more than 24,000 people. The COVID vaccination drive will be over and above Ola's existing medical insurance policy. The company is partnering with relevant authorities to conduct the vaccination drive. The vaccination will be offered on a voluntary basis. Ola will provide requisite infrastructure and logistics for the vaccination with the drive being conducted across all the geographies it operates in globally. “We are happy to announce that Ola has decided to cover vaccination costs across the group. At Ola, we prioritize the health and well-being of not only our employees and their loved ones but also our extended family who work directly with us including advisors and consultants," Varun Dubey, Ola spokesperson, said. "While this vaccine is voluntary, it is also one of the most effective tools to fight against COVID-19. As the Government gears up for the next phase of the vaccination drive, we encourage all our employees and their families to opt for the vaccine and fight against COVID-19," he added. Ola will start extending end-to-end support to those applicable starting with the ones above the age of 60 and those 45+ with co-morbidities. It will expand this process to include the rest as soon as the government rolls out the next phase of the vaccination drive. Source: Ola to provide free COVID-19 vaccination to all employees and their dependents
  10. Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October Key points: Prime Minister says it has been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines to Australia He has announced an additional $1.1b for the nation's COVID-19 response The government has set up a website in the hope of stopping misinformation about the vaccine Nearly 160,000 people have now had a COVID-19 vaccination, including the Prime Minister who received his second Pfizer dose on Sunday. However, the figure is well below what the federal government had hoped to achieve, with a target of inoculating 4 million people initially set for early April. Scott Morrison has blamed international supply issues but is hopeful vaccination rates will ramp up in the coming weeks. "The critical factor in controlling the pace of the vaccination program is the supply and production of vaccines — that is the critical swing factor," he said "In these early phases, that has obviously been impacted by the fact that we had anticipated to have some 3.8 million vaccines imported from overseas. That's been 700,000." Australia's vaccination figures as of March 12.(Supplied: Australian Government) Italy recently blocked a shipment of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines destined for Australia and Mr Morrison said it had been a "herculean effort" to get vaccines here, given ongoing international issues. Look back on all the coronavirus news from Sunday in our blog. Biotech company CSL has been tasked with manufacturing more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia to ensure the rollout is less reliant on imports. Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said discussions were underway with CSL to determine if it could "churn out" more than 1 million doses a week as currently planned. "We have lots of people who want to give more vaccines … the critical limitation at the moment is simply vaccine supply," he said. Professor Murphy also said the Health Department expected the Novavax vaccine to be made available later this year, but the department was "not counting on that in our vaccination strategy". Vaccination time line could change Professor Murphy said he was "pretty confident" most Australians would get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by October and a small proportion would have to get their second dose next year. However, he said if the supply of the vaccine ramped up, the end date could be brought forward. Questions about the time line of the rollout were raised on Thursday when a parliamentary hearing grilled Health Department staff about whether the targets could be met. The Prime Minister said he remained hopeful that most Australians could have both doses of the COVID-19 vaccination by October but he insisted that could change. "Where we can boost supply, then it is potentially possible for us to bring forward, I think, the achievement of the first dose goal," he said. "Supply disruptions, unforeseen events, issues with logistics, major breakouts in our region — anything like this can, of course, impact on what we're talking about today. That is the nature of COVID-19. It writes its own rules." Extra money for COVID-19 support Speaking at a Sydney medical centre, Mr Morrison also announced an additional $1.1billion in funding for the nation's COVID-19 response. It includes extending until the end of June telehealth services and care, which were due to end in just a few weeks. The extra funding will also help cover the costs of testing and treating people with COVID-19, as well as providing financial assistance for electronic prescription services and delivering medication through the Home Medicine Services. The demand for mental health support is still high and some of the cash will be handed to Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service. Stopping the spread of misinformation In an attempt to ensure most Australians are on board with getting the jab, the Federal Government has set up a website to try to stop the spread of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. There are more than a dozen questions listed on the Is it true website such as, "Do COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility?". However, there are no questions about whether it is safe for pregnant women to get the jab, which has been a regular topic of conversation. Additional questions will be continually added to the website. Mr Morrison said the website would give some reassurance to Australians about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. "Don't go to Dr Google, don't go to Dr Facebook where everyone has an opinion but no-one has responsibility," he said. Mr Morrison also pointed to concerns that people were looking at information that was not relevant to the situation in Australia. "Go to the Australian information because there are different vaccination programs in different countries [and] they are in different pandemic situations than Australia," he said. Source: Brendan Murphy 'pretty confident' most Australians will get at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by October
  11. Serimmune launches new immune response mapping service for COVID-19 Image Credits: Serimmune Immune intelligence startup Serimmune hopes to better understand the relationship between antibody epitopes (the parts of antigen molecules that bind to antibodies) and the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The company’s proprietary technology, originally developed at UC Santa Barbara, provides a new and specific way of mapping the entire array of an individual’s antibodies through a small blood sample. They do this through the use of a bacterial peptide display — a sort of screening mechanism that can isolate plasmid DNA from antibody-bound bacteria in the sample. This DNA can then be sequenced to identify epitopes, which provide information about which antigens someone may have been exposed to, as well as how their immune system responded to them. “It’s a very highly multiplexed and exquisitely specific way of looking at the epitopes found by antibodies in a specimen,” said Serimmune CEO Noah Nasser, who has a degree in molecular biology from UC San Diego and has previously worked for several diagnostics companies. This week, Serimmune announced the launch of a new application of their core technology to help understand the disease states of and immune responses to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “So what we do is we take these antibody profiles we build, and we’re able to then map those back with about a 12 amino acid specificity to the SARS-CoV-2 proteome,” said Nasser. “And what we find is that antibody expression is highly correlated to disease state, so we can distinguish mild, moderate, severe and asymptomatic disease on the basis of antibodies that are present in the specimen.” The more patient data Serimmune can collect, the better its core technology becomes at finding patterns across different antigen exposure and disease severity. Noticing those patterns sooner won’t only help physicians and researchers to better understand how the SARS-CoV-2 virus operates, but can also inform new approaches to diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for any antigen. Serimmune’s launch of its new COVID antibody epitope mapping service is a way of making this data more accessible to customers like vaccine companies, government agencies and academic labs that have shown interest in better understanding the immune response to SARS-CoV-2. “The key was to zero in on the information that researchers wanted to know and standardize that,” said Nasser. “We can actually now provide these results back in as few as two days from sample receipt.” Beyond this new service, Serimmune also has plans to launch a longitudinal clinical study on immunity to SARS-CoV-2. Using a painless at-home collection kit, study participants send in small blood samples to Serimmune, which then uses its core technology to outline an individual immunity map. “We provide their results back to them in the form of a personal immune landscape to COVID,” said Nasser. “And what we’re trying to do is to understand over time how that immune response changes, and what happens to that immune response on repeated exposure to COVID.” The mapping technology is now so specific that it can tell whether a patient has antibodies from natural exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus or from a vaccine, he added. While the primary focus for Serimmune remains these applications to the COVID-19 pandemic for now, Nasser also mentioned that the company has plans to move into personalized medicine, potentially offering their mapping service directly to interested patients. “We believe that this has value to individual patients in understanding their immune status and what antigens they’ve been exposed to,” he said. Until then, Serimmune plans to continue growing its database with more patient samples. Source: Serimmune launches new immune response mapping service for COVID-19
  12. Covid-19: Nearly 20 million people in UK have first vaccine dose Nearly 20 million people in the UK have now had their first dose of coronavirus vaccine, according to the government's latest figures. As of Friday, more than 19.6 million people had received their first dose - an increase of more than half a million in a day. Meanwhile, the number of people who have had their second jab has risen to 768,810. The government is aiming to offer all adults the vaccine by the end of July. The next target is to offer a first dose to all over-50s by 15 April, as well as people aged 16-64 with certain underlying health conditions and unpaid carers for disabled and elderly people. After that, they will start offering jabs to people by age group. There are no plans yet to vaccinate children, although trials have been announced to test the Oxford University jab on children. The latest government statistics show a total of 20,450,858 jabs have been administered in the UK - including 19,682,048 first doses, equivalent to more than one in three adults in the UK. This includes more than 16.6 million first doses in England, more than 1.5 million in Scotland, 916,336 in Wales and 515,678 in Northern Ireland. The figures also show another 7,434 cases and a further 290 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus. In a tweet on Saturday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was "delighted" at the latest figures. "The vaccine roll-out shows what we can achieve when we work together," he said. Meanwhile, Labour is calling on the government to set out a "proper plan" for how the local elections in May will be run safely. Earlier this month it was announced the elections would go ahead on 6 May but with some changes - for example plastic screens in polling stations and people told to bring their own pens. But deputy leader Angela Rayner accused the government of a "failure to take any action to encourage people to sign up to vote safely from home", meaning people could be disinclined to vote or face "dangerous crowds at polling stations". A Cabinet Office spokesman said a "strong set of measures" had been put in place to make polling stations Covid-secure and a comprehensive public information campaign would be launched soon "so that voters are fully informed about how to participate". Source: Covid-19: Nearly 20 million people in UK have first vaccine dose
  13. Why Are COVID-19 Cases Really Falling? Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by BirdHunter591/iStock/Getty Images Plus and ffikretow/iStock/Getty Images Plus. After climbing the grim upward slope of an epidemic curve that seemed destined to rise forever, we find ourselves somewhat unexpectedly sliding down the other side, with cases in the U.S. declining at such a steep rate it almost seems too good to be true: They’ve gone from a peak of 300,000 new cases per day on Jan. 2 to 62,000 on Tuesday. Just as with each steep rise in cases in the spring and fall, scientists and armchair epidemiologists alike are offering up their favorite explanations (herd immunity! Bad weather! The Democrats switched off the virus right after Inauguration Day!). The search for understanding makes sense; the loss of a sense of control during the pandemic has been unsettling, and the early battle cry of “flatten the curve” was our way of wresting that control back. Remember those confident predictions back in April that had us at zero cases by July 1? As with the upward trend in the fall (college kids! Seasonality! Pandemic fatigue!), we want answers for the steep downward trend we are seeing not just in the U.S. but in many parts of the world. Surely our mask diligence and social sacrifices are now being rewarded? Like a wildfire that suddenly changes course or burns out, epidemic curves are something even our best data science can’t fully predict or explain. Epidemiologist Michael Osterholm has spoken of the humility we should have in trying to explain the virus’s every move. The regional ebbs and flows of the virus across the U.S. have often defied obvious explanation. Spikes in the upper Midwest in the fall started dropping dramatically in unison in early November and did not appear to surge around Thanksgiving, when cases in California and the Sunbelt started picking up again. Europe saw eerily similar increases in the fall, despite widely differing severity of previous waves and policy responses. India has seen collapsing cases for unknown reasons. We do know that an epidemic will grow when the reproductive number (Rt) is above 1, meaning each infection on average is infecting more than one additional person. When it’s below 1, the epidemic shrinks. While one’s ability to infect others is obviously a function of human physical contact, many different factors can interact to push the Rt above or below that critical tipping point. Let’s review some of the most popular hypotheses for the dramatic decline in cases. 1) Vaccinations. We have been waiting for months for the vaccine cavalry to come over the hill and save us. It’s possible that the U.S. is seeing dividends from the early vaccination of front-line health care workers and those in residential care settings, both settings with high transmission potential. But given the slow (albeit accelerating) vaccine rollout combined with weeks of lag time in building immunity, it’s unlikely that the sudden drop in cases is due largely to vaccinations. Israel has outpaced the rest of the world with more than 45 percent of the population receiving at least one vaccine dose (compared with 12 percent in the U.S.) and has national lockdown restrictions—but even there, cases are only starting to come down. Cases are also falling quickly in areas with low vaccination levels, including Europe and South Africa. This isn’t to say the vaccine effect is zero, but it’s unlikely to be causing a dramatic drop by itself. 2) Less testing. The mobilization of health care resources toward vaccination could have reduced testing and thus measured cases, but this does not seem to be a big contributor. While the number of tests per capita has declined a bit since early January, the share of positive tests has also declined, pointing to a real decline in cases rather than an artifact of less testing. Hospitalizations, which are much less subject to this testing bias, are also falling fast, a strong indication that the decline in infections is real. 3) Behavior and policy change. Given the importance of superspreading for SARS-CoV-2 transmission, with a small percentage of people responsible for a large percentage of onward infections, small changes in behavior that reduce these opportunities could have a big impact. When a fire is raging all around, people tend to voluntarily adjust their behavior to avoid getting burned. Plus, in reaction to the runaway transmission we saw in November through January, many states and local areas stepped up their stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. The patchwork nature of these reactive policies makes it challenging to identify their specific effects, and cases are dropping in almost all states even with a wide range of policies. Google mobility trends show we are still well below pre-pandemic trends for travel related to retail, recreation, transit, and workplaces, but there are no obvious declines in mobility since the beginning of the year, apart from brief weather-related dips in some states. But mobility trends may miss more subtle behavior changes such as fewer meetups with people outside one’s household or increases in mask wearing outside the home, and we have seen some favorable trends for those things, according to an ongoing survey conducted by Carnegie Mellon University. Together, all of this likely did contribute to reductions in the Rt—for one thing, we know these prevention measures have effectively crushed the flu (thought to be less transmissible than SARS-CoV-2) this year in both hemispheres. 4) Seasonality. We are accustomed to seeing a seasonal rise and fall for many respiratory viruses, including influenza. While seasonality is less scientifically understood than one might expect, it is thought to be a combination of social contact patterns (return to school, moving activities indoors) as well as an effect of temperature and humidity on virus transmissibility. While many assumed a seasonal component was at play with the steep rise in COVID-19 cases in the autumn in the U.S. and Europe, the fact that we are still in the dead of winter in many places, coupled with significant increases over the summer in many U.S. regions, makes this far from a slam-dunk case. The calendar-driven social mixing dynamics may be a better fit for the current drop in cases, with busy autumn activities and holidays giving way to a typical January slump fueled by dark, cold weather and fewer social events. 5) Herd immunity. One key variable in epidemic modeling is the number of susceptible individuals remaining in the population—the human kindling that keeps an epidemic fire burning. As more and more people become infected and immune, the virus cannot spread. The best estimates suggest that we are still far from the herd immunity threshold that would keep the epidemic from growing again, generally believed to be about 70–80 percent of the population. There have been almost 28 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that we are picking up 1 in 4.6 actual cases, meaning almost 130 million people may have been infected, or close to 40 percent of the U.S. population. Considering the additional protection of those newly vaccinated, it’s possible that population immunity is helping to slow transmission as SARS-CoV-2 encounters more firewalls than fresh kindling. This dynamic may be aided by the fact that not all people are as likely to be exposed or transmit the virus. Those with more social contacts or jobs that don’t allow social distancing are more likely to have already been infected, leaving the remaining susceptibles harder for the virus to reach. But with 50–60 percent of the population still vulnerable, those embers could easily catch fire again. 6) The known unknowns. As Michael Osterholm emphasizes, despite our best scientific efforts, we must humbly admit that human understanding of SARS-CoV-2 infection dynamics in the real world is limited. The uniformity of the recent drops across U.S. states as well as globally points to something—a rhythm, a natural ebb and flow, a viral boom-and-bust cycle. This “natural” cyclicality is surely a complex interaction of the factors above, each contributing to push the reproductive rate below that critical threshold for which the exponential momentum starts to work in our favor. Things that are cyclical like the economy or epidemics are cyclical because we don’t fully understand how to control them. If we did understand them, we’d always have 7.2 percent GDP growth and low unemployment. Human behavior is beautifully adaptive but with such individual diversity that it is not easily modeled. While the current decline in cases and hospitalizations is extremely welcome news, the specter of new variants means we might be seeing a pullback of the tide before the next big wave comes crashing down. Is the next wave inevitable? Possibly, but the steep decline in cases in the U.K. and South Africa demonstrates that the new variants themselves are not immune to changes in our behavior. So, while we should avoid the temptation to cherry-pick our favored explanations for every twist and turn of the epidemic curve, neither should we be fatalistic. The epidemic curve is a dance between virus and hosts, so we always have a say in where we end up on the dance floor. Source: Why Are COVID-19 Cases Really Falling?
  14. Can nasal sprays help in the fight against Covid-19? A study in Israel found that nasal sprays can help to prevent coronavirus infections. Here is everything you need to know... A study in Israel suggested that they could stop infection Scientists are working round the clock to develop game-changing new treatments in the fight against Covid-19. One unlikely candidate to emerge is nasal sprays. This week, it was revealed that out of 83 worshippers who attended a Jewish festival in Bnei Brak and were given nasal sprays, only two contracted coronavirus. Indeed, the research - was the largest test of its kind: the Jewish New Year, and the festival, which was held in the densely populated city of Bnei Brak in Israel, were predicted to be super spreading events, and infections rose from 18 per cent of the population to 28 per cent. This isn't an entirely new idea. The nasal sprays used in the Israeli study are available to buy now, but many others are still in trials. Scientists at the University of Birmingham have been developing a nasal spray that can stop a coronavirus infection for up to two days since April last year, and are currently in discussions with shops and pharmaceutical companies on the next steps to mass-produce it. In Holland, scientists have tested a "nasal inhibitor" on ferrets, that they believe could protect people for 24 hours. If these trials prove to be successful, regular nasal spraying could become part of everyday life. Here is everything we know so far about how they help in the fight against covid... What are nasal sprays? Nasal sprays aim to provide fast relief when you feel all stuffed up from having a cold or the flu, and are available to buy in pharmacies and from retailers such as Boots. Usually, they come in three types: decongestants, salt-water solutions and steroid nasal sprays. These types of nasal spray are different to the ones being used to treat coronavirus, but the application method is the same: the vapour is sprayed directly into the nostrils and inhaled. How do they prevent covid-19? Broadly speaking, the sprays help to prevent coronavirus infection by capturing the virus in the nose and enclosing it in a coating that it cannot escape from. As a result, it would be safe for a person to breathe out - even if inhaled by another person - because the virus would be inactive and harmless. Pankaj Sharma, a Professor of Neurology at Royal Holloway, University of London, is working on the first UK clinical trials of a nasal spray proven to kill 99.9% of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The people in the trial have all had a positive lateral flow, or PCR, test, but aren’t showing any symptoms. The scientists behind the trial are hoping that the nasal spray will reduce the viral load in the nasal passages so it doesn’t reach the lungs. As a result, symptoms and transmission will be reduced. He explains that the key to the nasal spray is the nanomolecule nitric oxide, which is created by mixing two liquids together. "We all have it in our body: it keeps the blood vessels dilated and it’s involved in immunity. When it comes into contact with viruses or bacteria, it kills it dead virtually on contact, by disrupting the structural integrity of the virus,” he says. This is effective at killing covid-19 because infection happens through the nasal passages, and the nasopharynx - the back of the throat. “It incubates there for seven days: if it gets to a certain viral load, then it drifts down through the trachea into the lungs, which causes symptoms,” says Prof Sharma. Are they effective? A study undertaken in November last year found that a nasal spray protected ferrets from catching the virus. The spray contained a lipopeptide, a cholesterol particle linked to a chain of amino acids. This works by obstructing the proper functioning of the spike protein, which allows coronavirus to infect our airway or lung cells. Although it was undertaken on animals. it's a positive sign that nasal sprays could work on humans too: ferrets are often used in studies of respiratory diseases because the lungs of these animals and humans are similar. Ferrets are highly susceptible to infection with coronavirus, and the virus spreads easily from ferret to ferret. Experts issued a similar approach to the Israel study. 83 willing participants agreed to squirt the spray up their nose before mass gatherings, and they topped it up every five hours. Out of 81 people who followed the regime, none contracted coronavirus. In the remainder of the group, 16 people did get infected with the virus. Although this sounds promising, the paper is yet to be peer-reviewed; and experts are in agreement that masks shouldn’t be used in place of measures such as social-distancing, face coverings, or isolation. The NONS trials are still ongoing - but the treatment proved 99.9% effective in killing the coronavirus in independent test labs at Utah State University’s Antiviral Research Institute. Additional studies in rodents with a covid-19 infection showed over 95% reduction within the first day after infection. Can I buy one now? The nasal spray used in the study in Bnei Brak is Taffix, which is developed by the biopharmaceutical company Nasus Pharma. You can buy this nose spray in the UK from the company’s website and Amazon. The nasal spray in the NONS trial is not available to buy. However, Prof Sharma says that normal nose sprays won’t work on covid, because they don’t contain the virus killing Nitric Oxide. “It’s a difficult compound to make, and it’s an unstable product so it only lasts a short amount of time. Decongestants won’t disrupt the structural integrity of the virus,” he says. Will they be a game-changer? As Prof Sharma sees it, the “real game-changer” is the vaccination: but that’s not to say that nasal sprays can’t help as the rollout continues. Prof Sharma explains that because nitric oxide is a “naturally occurring compound” in our bodies, people may not have the same hesitations using the spray, as they do about receiving the vaccine. “This could mean that it’s more widely available; I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t be eligible for nasal spray,” he explains. Some even think that, if the trials continue to be successful, nasal sprays could be the key to getting society moving again - partly, because of the speed at which they can be distributed. Dr. Richard Moakes, who is leading a study into developing a nasal spray at the University of Birmingham, previously told the Telegraph he is confident in the spray’s formula to help unlock society from social distancing restrictions and “get schools going again”. He added: “As an over-the-shelf product, we have spoken to companies with a presence on the high street as we think they could distribute it effectively. Based on the product, it will be much quicker to get to the user than a novel drug.” Dr. Sharma says the real benefit of nasal spray would be seen if it can be used “prophylactically” - so before someone gets an infection. “Then, I can imagine prior to someone going into the cinema, or a theatre, spraying up their nose and then coming out again, every four to six hours in the day,” he says. He adds that because nasal spray destroys the structure of the virus, it is still effective against new variants. “If we take the South African variant, once it touches nitric oxide it’s going to be structurally destroyed anyway; the fact that it has got a different RNA profile makes no difference to nitric oxide,” he says. Are they unpleasant to use? Not really, says Prof Sharma. He explains that the spray being trialled is “completely odourless”, and no patients have expressed discomfort. This may be particularly promising when it comes to reopening schools; while covid testing is uncomfortable, nasal sprays are relatively quick and painless making it an easier process for children. Source: Can nasal sprays help in the fight against Covid-19?
  15. How did Chile get so many people vaccinated against Covid-19? If you look at the data on vaccine rollouts across Latin America, there’s one clear outlier: Chile. The country has vaccinated just over 12% of its population, putting it just behind the US and well ahead of all of its neighbors, according to national figures compiled by Our World in Data. Chile started out with a few advantages. It doesn’t have a massive population like China (there are just 19 million Chileans) or a vast, impenetrable landmass like Russia or Brazil. It’s a relatively wealthy nation, with a seat among the mostly rich countries of the OECD. But, as Chilean international relations researcher Veronica Diaz-Cerda points out, Chile is not so well-off that it couldn’t negotiate lower prices from vaccine manufacturers. Chile also made a few key decisions—both in the short- and long-term—that put it in a position to outperform other countries with comparable population sizes, geographies, and economic standing. In fact, it has the eighth best vaccination rate in the world, among countries with populations above 100,000. (A handful of small island nations—like Seychelles, the Cayman Islands, and Bermuda—have it beat.) Which raises the question: What did Chile get right that so many of its peers haven’t figured out? Buying vaccines early and often First, it inked early deals with several vaccine manufacturers, including China’s Sinopharm, US-based Pfizer, and British AstraZeneca. Chile has now ordered enough doses to vaccinate its population twice. “Our strategy does not rely only on one vaccine, so that gave the country a wider variety of options to vaccinate,” said Juan Carlos Said, an internal medicine specialist at Hospital Sótero del Río, outside Santiago. “We signed those deals early during the pandemic, so we received the vaccines earlier than other countries.” He pointed out that Chile also agreed to host vaccine trials for Sinofarm and AstraZeneca, which gave political leaders extra leverage in their negotiations to secure early doses. A robust primary healthcare system Next, the country already had an extensive primary healthcare system in place ready to deliver vaccines when they arrived. “We have one primary care center per 40,000 people, and we have them in every little corner of the country, so for us it’s not a problem to reach the whole population very quickly,” said Soledad Martínez, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Chile. Chile’s system is modeled after the UK’s National Healthcare System, with local clinics that are responsible for a certain community of patients. Healthcare workers see the same patients year after year. They regularly deliver vaccines to those patients for things like the flu, Hepatatis B, HPV, and other illnesses. All those existing relationships made mobilizing the Covid-19 vaccine effort much easier. “You know everybody,” Martínez said. “You know the local leaders. You know where to do it. If you need a stadium or a big gym, you already have it.” Rejecting Covid-19 misinformation Finally, Chile has been spared the worst of the wave of fake news and misinformation that has threatened vaccine efforts elsewhere. “We don’t have a strong anti-vaxxer movement in Chile,” Martínez said. “We see them make some noise on Facebook, but in the end it doesn’t really amount to a very significant percentage of the population.” Martínez suggested that Chile’s primary care system has helped build trust between healthcare workers and the communities they regularly see. She also pointed out that, unlike in other countries, the existence of the pandemic hasn’t become a contentious political issue. “In Chile we have this very monolithic opinion: It’s true. Coronavrius exists. You can attack it with vaccines,” she said. “There’s really no debate about that among the political elite.” Said and Martínez agreed that if there’s one lesson other countries can take from Chile’s early vaccine success, it’s the importance of having broad access to healthcare. “You cannot face a pandemic without a strong public health system that provides basic care to all of the population,” Said said. Source: How did Chile get so many people vaccinated against Covid-19?
  16. If you’re vaccinated against COVID-19, you won’t have to quarantine if you’re exposed As long as you don’t develop any symptoms Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and don’t have any symptoms don’t have to quarantine if they’re exposed to someone with the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in new guidelines released today. They should still follow other public health guidelines, like wearing a mask. Someone is considered fully vaccinated if it has been more than two weeks since they’ve received the second dose of a two-dose vaccine or a dose of a single-dose vaccine. As far as selling points for getting vaccinated go, "you won't have to quarantine after a COVID exposure anymore" might be a pretty strong one https://t.co/RODB8pyNL5 — Ed MD (@notdred) February 10, 2021 Even the best vaccines aren’t perfect protection against COVID-19. The Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, the two authorized in the United States so far, are around 95 percent effective at protecting from symptomatic disease. That means there may be a small number of people who are vaccinated who could still get sick. The CDC says people who don’t quarantine should still watch out for symptoms and get tested if they experience any. Researchers still don’t know how long protection from the vaccines lasts. So for now, the CDC says people should only skip quarantine during the three months after their last dose. That’s the length of time pharmaceutical companies tracked people enrolled in their clinical trials. That could change as companies have more time to gather and analyze data. The guidelines are similar to those for people who have already been sick with COVID-19 and presumably have some level of natural immunity. If someone is within three months of their initial infection, they also don’t have to quarantine unless they develop symptoms. Scientists still aren’t sure if people who get vaccinated can spread the coronavirus to others. Research is ongoing, and there should be clearer answers soon. However, based on what we know about vaccines and viral infections, there’s a good chance someone who has been vaccinated would be less contagious if they have an asymptomatic infection. For the CDC, the benefits of minimizing quarantines outweigh the potential, likely small risk of viral spread. Over 33 million people in the US have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Source: If you’re vaccinated against COVID-19, you won’t have to quarantine if you’re exposed
  17. Australian Open lead-up events thrown into chaos after hotel worker tests positive for COVID-19 Key points: The infected man last worked at the Grand Hyatt on January 29 Up to 600 players and officials will isolate until receiving a negative test result Premier Daniel Andrews said the grand slam would go ahead Australia's Nick Kyrgios was supposed to be in action against Croatia's Borna Coric.(AAP: Dave Hunt) Thursday's matches at Australian Open warm-up events in Melbourne Park have been cancelled after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive to COVID-19. Up to 600 players and support staff connected to the season's first grand slam will have to isolate until they have been tested. It comes after a worker at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne, who had worked his last shift on January 29, returned a positive test on Wednesday. Tennis officials late on Wednesday night issued a statement about lead-up events for the Australian Open, amid fear of further spread of the virus. "We will work with everyone involved to facilitate testing as quickly as possible," Tennis Australia, organisers of the February 8-21 Open, said. "There will be no matches at Melbourne Park on Thursday. An update on the schedule for Friday will be announced later today." "There's a number of — about 500 or 600 people — that are either players and officials and others who are casual contacts," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Wednesday. "They will be isolating until they get a negative test. And that work will be done tomorrow (Thursday). "At this stage, there's no impact to the tournament (Australian Open) proper." It was not immediately clear which players could have been casual contacts of the worker. Mr Andrews rejected suggestions it was the worst-case scenario and said the first grand slam of the year would be going ahead. "I wouldn't describe it in those terms," he said. "We've got one case. We're going to work very hard to keep numbers as low as we possibly can. Decisions have been made, and we'll proceed as we can." The lead-up to the Australian Open had been thrown into chaos when four positive coronavirus cases were detected from charter flights carrying tennis players, coaches and officials to Melbourne almost three weeks ago. Some 47 players were forced to quarantine for two weeks, with things going relatively smoothly until this latest positive test. While there'd been complaints from some players about the conditions and enforced quarantine, Australian star Nick Kyrgios was having none of it at the time. On Wednesday night the Australian star wondered what would happen to his third round match at the Murray River Open against Croatia's Borna Coric. Am I playing tomorrow? — Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) February 3, 2021 Kyrgios, who has been off the tour since the pandemic began and a vocal critic of players, including world No.1 Novak Djokovic, who ran a tournament in 2020 where there was an outbreak of coronavirus, said there'd be no complaints from him if he was forced into a two-week lockdown somewhere else this year. "It's not about me. My mum is incredibly sick," Kyrgios said. "There's too much risk in all of this. I don't understand what's so hard for tennis players to understand. Like, you're just a tennis player. Do you know what I mean? It's not life and death like this is." AAP Source: Australian Open lead-up events thrown into chaos after hotel worker tests positive for COVID-19
  18. Why you're seeing COVID-19 vaccine selfies all over Facebook and Twitter Misinformation on vaccines has run rampant on the internet, but some people are hoping vaccine selfies could help open a dialogue with skeptics. Jon Chapman isn't turning into a mutant. The 38-year-old medical laboratory scientist from Iowa City got his first COVID-19 vaccination the Monday before Christmas, and aside from a sore arm, he felt fine. Since then, he hasn't grown a tail, he doesn't have scales and -- so far -- there's no sign of wings. He wanted his friends and family to know this. So he took a photo posted it on Facebook. "I really felt the message should be out there that people you know, people you trust, your friends, your family members are getting the vaccine" Chapman said. "It is safe. It is effective. It's a good thing for yourself, and it's a good thing for society in general." Chapman is far from alone. Open Instagram, Twitter or Facebook these days and you're likely to see photos of people, in masks with their sleeves rolled up, getting stuck in the arm, or holding up small rectangles of paper with their vaccine info. drhadleyking NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center View Profile CommentShareSave 352 likes drhadleyking Grateful to have gotten my second dose of the COVID vaccine! The second dose boosts the efficacy of both vaccines available in the US to about 95%. I’ve had mild arm soreness and I am otherwise feeling fine! I am hopeful for improvements in the supply and distribution of these vaccines, and although the tunnel has been long and dark and it’s not over yet, we can begin to see the light at the end. ✨ Some post the photos in hopes of opening a dialogue with followers who question the vaccine. Others just want to share a moment that's been long in coming, a symbol of hope that life could return to some semblance of normalcy one day. The photos come from all over the world -- from the US to England, Morocco to Jordan. Famous faces are even getting in on the trend, including Patrick Stewart, Anthony Hopkins, Martha Stewart, Bill Gates, Joan Collins, and Sean Penn, as well as political leaders like President Joe Biden and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Despite the fact that COVID-19 has killed more than 400,000 people in the US alone, according to Johns Hopkins, not everyone is clamoring to roll up their sleeves. In a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 71% said they would definitely get the vaccine. Remaining respondents said they either probably wouldn't or definitely wouldn't get vaccinated, citing reasons like side effects, and concerns that the vaccine is too new and the government can't ensure its safety. Getting folks vaccinated is important, though. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a 100-year-old medical center, responsible for breakthroughs like coronary artery bypass surgery, about 50% to 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach the herd immunity threshold. Herd immunity is the idea that when a certain percentage of the population becomes immune, spreading the disease is less likely, even to those who haven't been vaccinated. Meanwhile, misinformation about vaccines has been running rampant for years. But while false information can feel like a can't-get-the-toothpaste-back-in-the-tube situation, some people are hoping that doing something as simple as posting a vaccine photo could help counteract some of this. Posting hope Though it's nearly impossible to measure the impact a wave of vaccination selfies could have on public opinion, there's reason to believe it could help. For one, there's the concept of social proof. Think about it like this: If you saw two restaurants and one was empty and the other packed, in pre-COVID times, at least, you might assume the busy business was the better bet. Anna Hartman posted her vaccine record on Facebook. Anna Hartman "People say social comparison [is] bad, but it's actually an evolutionary device to make sure that we can navigate our social environments," said Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center. "If we didn't pay attention to what other people were doing, we would die." Seeing a lot of people do something can signal it's socially acceptable. And people know this. "People who don't trust big organizations" like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Food and Drug Administration "may trust their friend down the road, or they may trust their doctor that they've seen for 30 years, and they might trust their best friend from elementary school," said 34-year-old Anna Hartman, a registered dietitian nutritionist from Louisville, Kentucky, who posted a photo of her vaccination card. The CDC seems to have some grasp on this too. The organization offers a communication toolkit on its website, which includes downloadable posters and stickers with things like tips on social distancing. There are also sample posts for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram about why the vaccine will be crucial in stopping the spread of the virus. "If we didn't pay attention to what other people were doing, we would die." Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center This toolkit motivated 62-year-old nurse practitioner Sue DeNisco of Stamford, Connecticut, to post. The community health center where she works sent an email encouraging folks to take a photo by a poster after getting the vaccine and to post it. Sue DeNisco after getting vaccinated. Sue DeNisco "It's going to be a challenge to get people vaccinated ... and I think social media is a way to help spread the word, whether it's by health care workers or just the general population," DeNisco said. One of the big takeaways for Hartman: Whether online or off, some people just need a safe space to air their anxieties and questions. This can be particularly difficult at a time when even the simple act of wearing a mask can be seen as a political statement. Jeremy, a 34-year-old pharmacist from Nashville who asked to be identified only by his first name, decided to post his vaccination record but wanted to be sure his followers understood he wasn't making a political statement in doing so. His message encouraged friends and family to make a decision for themselves, informed by evidence and research. "I think it's an opportunity to see ... health care professionals that are confident in the science that has been produced, and the efficacy and safety of the vaccine," he said, noting that regardless of politics, the science can speak for itself. The limits of posting All this isn't to say enough social media posts will change the minds of every skeptic. There are stumbling blocks to contend with, said Paul Booth, professor of media and cinema studies/digital communication and media arts at DePaul University in Chicago. Many social media users live in an echo chamber. "Groups of people that are not in favor of vaccinations, they may not see [the photos] because either they're in their own little bubble of people that all agree with them, or the algorithms that control what we see on [social media] won't show them that, because they're not interacting with people they disagree with," Booth said. And yet, he does think there's positive potential. Back in Iowa City, Chapman has had more than a few conversations with his sister-in-law about the vaccine. She grew up in a household that didn't believe in vaccines, and although she doesn't necessarily feel the same, the long-ingrained apprehension has been hard to shake. So he stays patient and respectful and answers whatever questions she has. "You can tell her data all day, every day," he said, "but it's very different when it's your brother-in-law ... talking to you, and I have a picture on Facebook, and we had a conversation. And I said, 'Yes, I got it. Yes, I trust it. I'm not afraid of it.'" First published on Jan. 29, 2021 at 5:00 a.m. PT. Source: Why you're seeing COVID-19 vaccine selfies all over Facebook and Twitter
  19. Can Robots and Drones Help to Fight COVID-19? Using drones to help make our living and working spaces a little safer is not too much of a stretch. ROMAN SAMBORSKYI/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM It’s great news that people are finally starting to get vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. I hope that the current rollout problems get worked out soon so that everyone can get access to this potentially life-saving vaccine. But we also need to temper our excitement some, because it will be a long time before things get back to normal, if they ever do. A recent National Geographic article makes the case that we will never fully defeat COVID-19, just like we never conquered the flu. And the virus is also mutating and continuing to spread, making its full destruction a moving target. Instead, the best we may achieve is to get the situation somewhat under control, and then learn to live with it. It’s no surprise that learning to live with the virus in the United States will likely mean getting our amazing technology involved. As such, there is a big push to use drones and other manned and unmanned aerial vehicles to help combat infection rates. We have already seen drones working within the military and also embraced in public safety roles. And we have tapped them for planetary and space exploration. So using drones to help make our living and working spaces a little safer is not too much of a stretch. In government, we are already starting to see some movement on these initiatives even though the idea of using drones to fight COVID-19 is still in its infancy. In Alabama, the state senate recently contracted with a company called Draganfly to use its robotics technology to detect potentially infected people entering government buildings and direct them to rapid COVID-19 testing if needed. “As the current pandemic continues, we are committed to provide a safe place for our staff and visitors to ensure there is no interruption in the work that needs to be done for the citizens of Alabama,” said Pat Harris, Secretary, Alabama State Senate. “We are confident that the implementation of Draganfly’s Vital Intelligence Technology will help to ensure an important layer to existing protocols that assist us in identifying and mitigating the risk of the spread of COVID-19.” In addition to monitoring people for signs of infection, the Draganfly drones can actively disinfect areas by flying over them and spraying a disinfectant. It’s been used at stadiums and other large venues to sterilize the area before an event. Other companies are working on dedicated COVID-19 killing drones. Lucid Drone Technologies has one that includes an expanded battery for longer flight times. It’s able to clean 200,000 square feet per hour, which is at least 20 times faster than having a human walk around trying to wipe everything down. It’s probably a lot more accurate too, because the special nozzles guarantee even coverage over every surface. Other companies are working on different disinfecting methods, such as using UV radiation to destroy the virus in indoor places like schools where spraying large amounts of liquid is not practical. The Aertos 120-UVC drone from Digital Aerolus has several UV-C light emitters that would give a human a nasty sunburn in just a few minutes, but hopefully would also be enough to kill the COVID-19 virus. With so many electronics onboard the Aertos drone, it’s no wonder that it only has about 10 minutes of flight time, though multiple units could be used to sterilize schools at night when nobody else was in the building. A human crew could also swap out batteries if needed. While I am impressed with the virus-killing drones we have seen so far, the technology is still being actively developed. All of the drones that I have seen designed for this role so far require human pilots. So although they might save time compared with walking along with a bucket of chemicals and a squeegee, it’s far from an automatic process. Advanced military drones already have access to a lot of artificial intelligence. It would not take too much effort to add some of those elements to civilian cleaning robots. Things like automatic navigation, pathfinding and the ability for the drone to remember its programmed route would be like force multipliers for a sterilization drone. You would probably also need to add sensors so that the drone can detect humans inside their cleaning zone to make sure that nobody gets accidentally sprayed, or burnt in the case of the UV light drones. But this is a good start to an impressive effort. I’ve tried to get a hold of one of the sterilization drones for review, but so far the companies that make them tell me that every one of their drones are earmarked and sold at least through the end of the year. So it sounds like everyone should start seeing drones in this role soon. Let’s hope that they can make a difference as we try to figure out what normal life is going to look like and continue to discover ways to keep everyone as safe as possible. Source: Can Robots and Drones Help to Fight COVID-19?
  20. Are Mass Clinics the Solution for Covid-19 Vaccination? Mega-sites need a lot of personnel and pose problems of access and equity. But other vaccination campaigns might point us in the right direction. Photograph: Bing Guan/Bloomberg/Getty Images The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine is going badly. Delivering more doses faster is central to the 200-page White House Covid-19 plan, which was released last week, one day after President Joe Biden took office. The plan, which promises to vaccinate 100 million people in the new administration’s first 100 days, lays out a raft of initiatives for revving up delivery: releasing almost all doses, loosening eligibility criteria, tuning up distribution, and developing new packaging to preserve temperature-sensitive products for transport to rural areas. All of that’s good, but none of it will be sufficient unless those better-packaged, faster-delivered doses can be given to more people in a timely way. The plan addresses that too: It says the administration will create mobile vaccination vans, recruit pharmacy workers to give shots, and increase support for state clinics and the federally qualified health centers that cover underserved areas. The most critical provision is a promise to create 100 new vaccination sites, backed by the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They’ll be staffed by what the plan calls “thousands of clinical and non-clinical staff and contractors,” including federal agency and Public Health Service personnel. What the plan doesn’t say, explicitly, is where—or when, or how big—those federally supported sites are going to be. Outside the new government, experts are starting to talk about whether it will be possible to create mass vaccination clinics, where thousands of doses can be delivered each day. There’s no question mass sites could put the most shots into the most arms in the shortest period of time. But depending on where they are sited and how they are operated, they may inadvertently exclude the people who need protection the most. Choosing whether to do mass vaccination is effectively a proxy for deciding national priorities: whether to reach herd immunity quickly, by vaccinating as widely as possible in order to suppress infections, or whether to focus on protecting the most vulnerable, by targeting the first doses in order to reduce severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. But while that conversation is urgent, it may also be moot—because there may not be enough health care personnel to staff mass sites and keep them open, for as many hours in the day, and days in the coming months, as we need. Conducting mass vaccination is a formidable challenge, but there are ways in which it is less complicated—in dose allocation, transportation, and other logistics—than what much of the US is doing right now by distributing doses through hospitals, pharmacy chains, and supermarkets. “If we want speed, then the best way to do that is to stand up mass vaccination clinics—let’s say 10 or 20 in a state, instead of the hundreds of locations that you have when you send vaccine doses to individual doctors’ offices and hospitals and health departments,” says Julie Swann, a professor and department chair of industrial and systems engineering at North Carolina State University. “It’s slower to roll vaccine out to priority populations than it is to mass-vaccinate a lot of people.” Which is not to say that mass vaccination is easy to organize or quick. A glimpse of what will be required, Swann said, can be found in plans for mass flu shot clinics that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled during the 2009 H1N1 swine influenza pandemic. Having licensed health care workers present to administer injections is just part of the puzzle. “You need people handling forms, people doing orientation or giving instructions on the way out, and people handling data entry or medical records,” she says. “Supply managers, security, potentially translators, some emergency personnel, IT support.” In 2009 the CDC forecast that a single clinic housing four “vaccination stations,” open for 16 hours a day—that is, two concurrent eight-hour shifts—could administer 120 vaccines per hour, or about 1,900 per day. It would require 58 workers per day to keep it running. Only eight of them would actually be administering vaccines; the rest would be managing the site and its supplies, screening recipients for preexisting conditions that might cause a reaction, checking them afterward, and handling medical records. And that estimate didn’t even include translators, paramedics, or tech workers, who were assumed to be off-site but on call. The throughput for a single Covid-19 vaccination site would inevitably be slower, because recipients must be monitored for at least 15 minutes after the shot to guard against rare allergic reactions, and then issued a card, linked to the state’s vaccine registry, that records the dose’s manufacturer and lot number. Last week, three public health scholars published a rough estimate of what a national effort would look like, scaled up. Biden’s goal of 100 million shots—for simplicity, 1 million per day for 100 days—would require at least 400 vaccination sites, each with 10 vaccination stations running 12 hours per day. It would demand up to 184,000 people, 17,000 of them health care workers, comprising a staff of up to 220 at each clinic. The experts were skeptical that this personnel goal could be met. “The workforce is a staggering need,” says Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who derived the estimate along with Thomas J. Bollyky of the Council on Foreign Relations and Prasith Baccam of the security consultancy IEM. They based the estimate on CDC planning documents and strategic exercises that several states had conducted for bioterror planning—though in a separate study published last year, Nuzzo found that most states had never planned for conducting rapid mass vaccinations against acts of bioterrorism, only for dispensing pills (such as antibiotics to treat anthrax) if needed. States were expected to plan for the Trump administration’s never-filled promise of 40 million Covid-19 vaccinations before the end of 2020, though they received the appropriation to fund that work only on December 27—leaving them short of money to solve the personnel problem. “A number of states that we spoke to that had been thinking about mass vaccination, when we asked them where they would get staff, would say things like, 'We have a partnership with a visiting nurse service,’” Nuzzo says. “Well, those are employees that have other jobs. Right now they’re really busy taking care of Covid patients.” To be fair, a few mass vaccination sites already exist in the US: for instance, in several boroughs of New York City, six cities in New Jersey, and the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park. And since vaccines began to be sent out on December 14, there have been several days on which the US has topped more than 1 million shots a day. But those shot records share an underlying reality. The recipients were not only highly motivated to be vaccinated but were already present at the vaccination location; many of the earliest shots went to health care personnel at their workplaces. It’s possible that mass vaccination sites won’t actually serve the purpose of vaccinating the most vulnerable. The elderly and chronically ill may not be able to stand in long lines or drive to a queue in a parking lot. Essential workers outside of health care—refinery workers, firefighters, supermarket cashiers—may not be able to take hours away from their jobs. What this may demand, instead, is a different model of mass vaccination: not devised in the US for fighting the flu or bioterrorism, but practiced in other parts of the world for countering polio, measles, and tropical disease. The ongoing polio campaign, for instance, relies on mass immunization days in which families bring children to designated locations—but it follows those with “mop-up” days in which teams of vaccinators trek through neighborhoods, going house to house, to track down any children who were missed. For decades, members of the business fraternal organization Rotary International have been the main ground troops against polio, and they have amassed a fund of knowledge about how to administer vaccines successfully at scale: not only pushing out information and building enthusiasm, but also being sensitive to how far people are being asked to travel to get their doses. A vaccination site “has to be in the immediate neighborhood,” says Deepak Kapur, who has chaired Rotary's India National PolioPlus Committee since 2002. “We cannot expect a family, if they’re on foot, to walk 15 miles to the nearest center and then walk back, maybe in the hot sun or maybe shivering in the wind.” The mop-up days, which require armies of volunteers, are only possible because each jurisdiction has mapped out every neighborhood, including precisely where every child lives—a particular challenge in areas that may not have paved roads or predictable house numbers. Rotary is applying that knowledge now to India’s Covid vaccination effort, lending its army of volunteers to whipping up enthusiasm and managing crowds at clinics. The same kind of effort might be necessary to get Covid-19 vaccination done in the US. “We need to proactively figure out who are the people who fit the eligibility criteria at a given moment, based on the supply available, and then implement multiple ways to get it to them,” says Ranu Dhillon, a physician and faculty member at Harvard Medical School who studies the health systems of low-income countries. “And really plan out how that's going to happen, down to a local level.” What that might mean, he says, isn’t the kind of mega-site that fills up a county fairground, but a macro effort of micro sites: barber shops, produce markets, pop-ups—preceded, as the polio campaigns are, with promotion by volunteer neighbors to answer questions and allay concerns. That kind of mass distribution might not move doses as fast as the White House’s planned 100-day sprint, but it could solve the problems such a sprint poses, of equity and access for the least mobile and most underserved. And, similar to the polio campaign in India, there’s a US model for how that kind of door-to-door action can be run: the US Census. “I work nights at the hospital. The census came to my house three, four times before they found me at home,” Dhillon says. “Why can’t that happen for the vaccine?” Are Mass Clinics the Solution for Covid-19 Vaccination?
  21. Stop Ignoring the Evidence on Covid-19 Treatments The studies are in, and for many patients convalescent plasma should be out. So why do doctors having such a hard time letting go? Illustration: WIRED; Getty Images Thanks to Twitter, you can now watch a doctor’s heart break in real time. Like everyone else, we’ve often made our feelings plain during the pandemic—our despondence over all the deaths, our anger over their preventability—but there’s another sort of public display that’s more special to our discipline. I like to call it publication humiliation. It comes out when you realize that the published data on a favored treatment just aren’t on your side. There was plenty of publication humiliation to go around a couple years ago, when studies started coming out against the magical healing powers of Vitamin D. Researchers had noticed that people with low Vitamin D levels seemed to have a greater chance of developing a range of medical problems, and many serious physicians bought right in. Recent data from well-designed clinical trials suggested otherwise. Could taking Vitamin D prevent cancer or heart disease? Well, no. What about diabetes and depression? No, and no again. But heartbreak, as it often does, played out as denial. It wasn’t the treatment that was wrong; it was the science used to study it. If randomized controlled trials came out against the use of Vitamin D, that’s because they weren’t done correctly. Maybe the doses were too low to have an effect; or else, if the doses were high enough, then the timing wasn’t right. “If you are already too sick or have a disease, it is too late for Vitamin D,” one doctor tweeted when a major trial found the treatment wasn’t saving any lives. (Never mind the fact that prevention trials also come up short.) If some doctors like to close their eyes in grief, others dig for deeper answers in the data. A “subgroup analysis”—for which you may end up picking out only the parts of a data set that happen to support your theory—is a useful tool in this regard. Doctors who were undeterred by the 26,000-person study on Vitamin D supplements and cancer quickly got to work on a second publication drawing from the same results. This one suggested that the vitamin could, at least, prevent more serious cancers … so long as you were only looking at the skinny patients. (If that hadn’t panned out, they might have tried dividing up the patients by eye color or favorite Seinfeld episode.) The latest source of publication humiliation is convalescent plasma, the alleged Covid-19 wonder drug drawn through a needle from people who have recovered from infection. Last summer, former head of the Food and Drug Administration Stephen Hahn promised that recipients would see a “35 percent improvement in survival.” Experts quickly pointed out that he was looking at only the tiny subset of the data which was most favorable to plasma. Subgroup analysis strikes again! But still, doctors jumped at any chance to help their patients. In December alone, more than 100,000 units of convalescent plasma were given out in the US. To set aside a once-promising intervention—to commit to doing less for patients, instead of more—is often difficult, even heart-wrenching. Our enthusiasm was not entirely unfounded. It’s reasonable to think that giving sick patients someone else’s naturally occurring antibodies might help their recovery along, even save their life, and doctors have tried convalescent plasma to treat viral illnesses at least as far back as the 1918 Spanish flu. Here’s the problem, though: The evidence for its benefit has never been very good. I can forgive those old-timey 1918 doctors, but a systematic review of published work as of 2013 drew from “predominately low-quality, uncontrolled studies.” Then this month, the most important medical study of the pandemic—the UK’s Recovery trial—put out its preliminary results on plasma, and they aren’t promising at all. Eighteen percent of hospitalized Covid patients who received the treatment died within 28 days, versus 18 percent of patients who didn’t receive plasma. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand the implication: Plasma didn’t help. You might think this would be enough to change some minds. After all, Recovery’s simple, randomized design has been definitive for other drugs. Enrolling tens of thousands of participants, it has been able to answer our most important question about a number of potential Covid treatments: Does it actually prevent you from dying? For hydroxychloroquine or the antibiotic azithromycin, the answer was no. For the steroid dexamethasone, it was yes. Now, for convalescent plasma, it appears we have another no. But alas, everybody knows that a broken heart is blind. Disappointed doctors have instead performed familiar parts, claiming that the dosage must have been too low or that the treatment must have been started at the wrong time. Michael Joyner, for example, was one of the leaders of the Mayo Clinic’s plasma initiative, which distributed plasma to almost 100,000 patients around the country starting last April; and he seems not at all convinced, let alone chastened, by the Recovery trial. He tweeted in response that the trial showed, at least, that plasma is safe, while the negative results were in his view “not unexpected.” Arturo Casadevall, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins and a collaborator of Joyner’s, agreed that the Recovery results “confirm what we already know from observational and other RCTs: that [convalescent plasma] has little or no effect on mortality when used late on hospitalized patients.” To be fair, that’s been the prevailing wisdom among supporters of convalescent plasma as a Covid treatment. But if the need for early treatment had been “worked out in the early 20th century,” as Casadevall says, or known “since the 1930’s,” as Joyner claims, then why was the Mayo program itself willing to distribute plasma to late-stage patients around the country? And while the FDA did recommend high-antibody levels in its emergency use authorization of the treatment last summer, regulators put no time limits on how long after a patient becomes sick that plasma could be given. If we already knew that plasma wouldn’t work in advanced disease, then why did we give it to so many people with … advanced disease? Now it’s true that the Recovery trial can’t answer every question that we might have about convalescent plasma. It doesn’t tell us for sure that it’s ineffective when given at the very first sign of Covid infection. It’s possible that future clinical trials, which are ongoing, will prove Joyner and Casadevall correct, that we can indeed help Covid patients by administering plasma early on. (One high-quality study did support this idea.) But at that point more practical matters will come into play: Blood transfusions will never be as easy to administer as a pill, and the treatment doesn’t easily scale. When doctors have to give a treatment early, they’re also more prone to giving it when it isn’t really needed. (Most healthy outpatients will recover from Covid on their own.) In any case, convalescent plasma is to this day authorized only for hospitalized patients, many of whom are far along in their illness. Despite the excuses we hear about the negative studies, regulators and many doctors haven’t given up on using convalescent plasma “late.” Indeed, you don’t have to be on social media to see this pattern playing out. Doctors’ unwillingness to let go of treatments they hold dear may be just as apparent—and far more consequential—in their clinical practice. I once mentioned to an aging relative that he was now past the point when urologists typically recommend prostate cancer screening. But his own urologist would tell him otherwise: The issue wasn’t settled, that doctor said; and the benefit of screening might have been obscured in studies with insufficient numbers of older men. In fact, this urologist continued, he would personally continue to go in for prostate cancer screenings himself, for as long as he could. For doctors, holding on can be an act of desperation. To set aside a once promising intervention—to commit to doing less for patients, instead of more—is often difficult, even heart-wrenching. But it’s important to remember that letting go is good medicine. Stop Ignoring the Evidence on Covid-19 Treatments
  22. (Reuters) - The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated cloud adoption by companies by several years, Amazon.com Inc’s cloud head Andy Jassy said on Tuesday. Jassy, who leads Amazon Web Services (AWS), made the remarks at the company’s re:Invent conference, a marketing event for its cloud services. Among several announcements, AWS launched a new chip called Trainium at the event, taking aim at Nvidia Corp’s core business of offering powerful chips to train machine learning algorithms. The chip will complement Amazon’s Inferentia computing chip, which analyses incoming data from platforms like Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Source
  23. A troop of monkeys snatched the blood samples of suspected coronavirus patients at a government hospital in the Meerut district of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The incident happened on Thursday when a lab assistant working with the COVID-19 facility of the hospital was carrying blood samples due for testing, Dr Dheeraj Baliyan, medical superintendent of Lala Lajpat Rai Memorial Medical College and Hospital, told CNN. The monkeys attacked the lab assistant and stole the sample box with three samples, added Baliyan. A file image of a long-tailed macaques kept for use in the clinical research inside cages. (AP/AAP) S.K. Garg, head of the hospital, told a local newswire that the samples were blood samples, and not the swabs usually taken to test for COVID-19. Garg said that the samples belonged to people who had tested positive for COVID-19, but were taken as part of routine blood tests for the patients. The monkeys climbed the trees with the samples and threw them after chewing the packets, Baliyan added. The medical superintendent confirmed to CNN that no individual came into contact with the samples, and the hospital authorities have sanitised the area and disposed of the samples snatched by the monkeys. The district administration has ordered an inquiry against the hospital authorities for alleged mishandling of the samples. According to India's health ministry, the total number of coronavirus cases in the country as of Friday stands at 165,799, including 4,706 deaths. Source
  24. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant drop in emergency room visits among patients with other ailments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Visits to hospital U.S. emergency rooms have dropped by more than 40 percent so far in 2020, compared to the same period last year, according to figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The statistics indicate that a significant number of Americans may have delayed or declined emergency care because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said. In their analysis of ER visit trends, CDC researchers analyzed data from the National Syndromic Surveillance Program for the period of Jan. 1 through May 30. The program includes data from all U.S. states except Hawaii, South Dakota and Wyoming. Changes in how hospitals, and specifically ERs, are used could be a lasting legacy of the new coronavirus, according to some public health experts. Many patients who once addressed health concerns by heading to the ER could be managed remotely, using telemedicine, Dr. Paul Biddinger, during a conference call with reporters on May 26. Biddinger, vice chair for emergency preparedness in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, was not part of the CDC analysis. "People have been working for years, probably really fair to say decades, on telemedicine, when it's appropriate for patients not to have to come to the hospital, but they can see their doctor remotely," Biddinger said. "And the pandemic forced a lot of that on us," he said. The CDC researchers compared total visits so far this year to the same five-month period in 2019. The number of ER visits declined from a mean of roughly 2.1 million per week between March 31, 2019, and April 27, 2019, to a mean of 1.22 million per week during the "early pandemic" period of March 29 to April 25 of this year, according to the CDC. ER visits declined for every age group, with the largest proportional declines in children 10 years old and younger at 72 percent and children 11 to 14 years old at 71 percent, the agency said. Researchers found the largest declines in ER visits occurred in the New England states at 49 percent, as well as in the mid-Atlantic region at 48 percent. That region includes New York and New Jersey, which has been the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak. ER visits related to abdominal pain and other digestive problems fell by more than 66,000 per week from year to year, while those among patients reporting musculoskeletal pain -- excluding low-back pain -- dropped by more than 52,000 per week, according to the CDC report. Visits for "sprains and strains" declined by nearly 34,000 per week, and those related to "superficial injuries" fell by nearly 31,000 per week, the researchers said. Conversely, ER visits for "exposure, encounters, screening or contact with infectious disease" increased by nearly 19,000 per week from 2019 to 2020, the analysis found. Specifically, some 18,000 ER visits occurred per week across the country for COVID-19 symptoms through the end of May, the researchers said. Still, additional research is needed to determine whether the decline in ER visits could be also attributed to "actual reductions in injuries or illness [due] to changing activity patterns during the pandemic" lockdown, the CDC researchers wrote. "The striking decline in [ER] visits nationwide, with the highest declines in regions where the pandemic was most severe, suggests that the pandemic has altered the use of the [ER] by the public," researchers said. Source
  25. LONDON (Reuters) - European shares fell on Monday as rising COVID-19 infection rates in Europe prompted renewed lockdown measures in some countries, casting doubt over the economic recovery, with a lack of U.S. stimulus also weighing on sentiment. The MSCI world equity index .MIWD00000PUS, which tracks shares in 49 countries, was down 0.5% at 0748 GMT. European indexes opened lower, with the pan-European STOXX 600 down 1.7% .STOXX, at its lowest in nearly two weeks. London's FTSE 100 was at a two-week low, down 2.4% .FTSE and Germany's DAX fell 2% .GDAXI. Banking shares slid after a media report on how several global banks moved large sums of allegedly illicit funds over nearly two decades. HSBC [HSBCUK.UL] shares sunk to a 25-year low in Hong Kong. Investors are becoming more cautious about Europe, amid a sharp uptick in new COVID-19 cases. European countries including Denmark, Greece and Spain have introduced new restrictions on activity. Britain is considering a second national lockdown as new cases rise by at least 6,000 per day. Germany’s health minister said the rising new infections in countries like France, Austria and the Netherlands is worrying. Investors will be looking ahead to flash PMI data on Wednesday for the first hints of how economies have fared in September. “Concerns are rising that the summer recovery is probably as good as it gets when it comes to the recent rebound in economic activity,” wrote Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK. “This reality combined with the growing realisation that a vaccine remains many months away, despite President (Donald) Trump’s claims to the contrary, has made investors increasingly nervous, as we head into an autumn that could see lockdowns reimposed,” he said. The dollar declined for the second week running last week, hurt by the U.S. Federal Reserve’s commitment to keeping rates lower for longer. It was trading less than 0.1% up against a basket of currencies at 92.997 at 0750 GMT =USD. Seven members of the Fed will speak this week - including chairman Jerome Powell appearing before Congressional committees - so investors will be looking for hints to determine the dollar’s direction. The safe-haven yen was in its sixth consecutive session of gains versus the dollar, up around 0.4% at 104.185 JPY=EBS. Japan has public holidays on Monday and Tuesday this week, meaning volumes are thin in Asian trading. The euro was flat against the dollar at $1.18325 EUR=EBS, while the safe Swiss franc rose against both the dollar and euro EURCHF=EBSCHF=EBS. The benchmark 10-year German government bond yield was down 2 basis points at -0.507% DE10YT=RR, with most high-rated euro zone government bond yields down by a similar amount. The European Central Bank will review how long its emergency pandemic bond-purchase scheme should go on, the Financial Times reported. The European Council meets in a summit on Thursday and Friday this week. Elsewhere, oil prices fell, with Brent crude LCOc1 down 1.8% at $42.39 a barrel at 0745 GMT, while U.S. crude CLc1 was down 1.9% at $40.34 a barrel. Gold prices edge higher, helped by the weaker dollar, with spot gold XAU= up 0.1% at $1,950.93 per ounce by 0747 GMT. Source
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