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India Speeds Up Vaccinations as Cases Soar Again

April 1, 2021

(Science) – Just over 1 month ago, many Indians believed the pandemic was winding down. Cases of COVID-19 had declined continuously and dramatically for five straight months, travel restrictions had been lifted, and wedding season was in full swing. But now a second wave is hitting. Nationwide, cases have soared from just over 11,000 daily in mid-February to more than 60,000 per day as Science went to press, more than half of them in Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital. The remainder are concentrated in seven other states, but scientists worry the disease may soon surge across the country again. India is fighting the rise with new restrictions and efforts to step up vaccination. But although the country produces two authorized COVID-19 vaccines, its immunization campaign has yet to gather steam.

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What It Will Take to Vaccinate the World Against COVID-19

April 1, 2021

(Nature) – Within just a few months, pharmaceutical firms have produced hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccine. But the world needs billions — and as fast as possible. Companies say they could make enough vaccines to immunize most of the world’s population by the end of 2021. But this doesn’t take into account politically based delays in distribution, such as countries imposing export controls — or that the overwhelming majority of doses are going to wealthier countries. This situation is fuelling a campaign to temporarily waive intellectual-property rights so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make the vaccines more quickly themselves.

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CDC Adds New Medical Conditions to COVID-19 High-Risk List

April 1, 2021

(Medscape) – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added several new medical conditions to its list of those that predispose adults to more severe COVID-19 illness. Conditions that had previously been categorized as “might be” placing individuals at increased risk — but now are listed as high risk — include type 1 diabetes (in addition to type 2), moderate-to-severe asthma, liver disease, dementia or other neurological conditions, stroke/cerebrovascular disease, HIV infection, cystic fibrosis, and overweight (in addition to obesity). Substance use disorders, which hadn’t been previously listed, are now also considered high-risk.

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New York Variant Does Not Escape Vaccines

April 1, 2021

(Medscape) – Antibodies induced by the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the antibody therapy from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals all are able to neutralize a coronavirus variant on the rise in New York, lab experiments show. The New York variant contains mutations – E484K, S477N and D235G – that experts feared might reduce antibody efficacy. The new results “show that this potential problem is not going to be a problem,” said Nathaniel Landau of New York University, who coauthored a report posted on bioRxiv ahead of peer review.

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Covid-19 Was the Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. in 2020, Federal Health Researchers Report.

March 31, 2021

(New York Times) – Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, displacing unintentional injuries and trailing only heart disease and cancer, federal health researchers reported on Wednesday. The coronavirus was the cause of death for 345,323 Americans in a year that exacted a steep price in lives lost. In roughly 30,000 additional cases, death certificates cited Covid-19 but it was not deemed the cause of death, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

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Over 100 Fully Vaccinated People Contract COVID-19 in Washington State, Officials Say

March 31, 2021

(ABC News) – Out of the 1.2 million people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Washington, epidemiologists have reported evidence of 102 breakthrough cases in 18 counties since Feb. 1, representing less than 0.01% of all fully vaccinated individuals in the northwestern U.S. state. Most cases were patients who experienced only mild symptoms, if any, according to a press release from the Washington State Department of Health.

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Man’s Ebola Relapse Spawned Dozens of New Cases in Africa

March 31, 2021

(ABC News) – A man in Africa who developed Ebola despite receiving a vaccine recovered but suffered a relapse nearly six months later that led to 91 new cases before he died. The report adds to evidence that the deadly virus can lurk in the body long after symptoms end, and that survivors need monitoring for their own welfare and to prevent spread.

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Why Indoor Spaces Are Still Prime COVID Hotspots

March 31, 2021

(Nature) – When Lidia Morawska leaves home, she takes with her a slick, shoe-sized device that provides some sobering insights about the restaurants and offices she visits. Outside these buildings, her carbon dioxide monitor reads just above 400 parts per million (p.p.m.). But indoors is a different story. Even in a seemingly spacious, high-ceilinged restaurant, the number sometimes shoots up as high as 2,000 p.p.m. — a sign that the room has poor ventilation and could pose a risk for COVID-19 infection. Visual cues can be deceptive, even for Morawska, an aerosol scientist from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. “The general public has no idea about this,” she says.

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Dramatic Drop in Common Viruses Raises Question: Masks Forever?

March 31, 2021

(Kaiser Health News) – A study released this month in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, led by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, found that across 44 children’s hospitals the number of pediatric patients hospitalized for respiratory illnesses is down 62%. The number of kids in the U.S. who have died of the flu this season remains in the single digits. Deaths have dropped dramatically, too, compared with the past 10 years: The number of flu deaths among children is usually between 100 and 200 per year, but so far only one child has died from the disease in the U.S. during the 2020-21 flu season. Adults aren’t getting sick either. U.S. flu deaths this season will be measured in the hundreds instead of thousands. In 2018-19, a moderate flu season, an estimated 34,200 Americans died.

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Pfizer Says Its COVID-19 Vaccine Protects Younger Teens

March 31, 2021

(Associated Press) – Pfizer announced Wednesday that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before they head back to school in the fall. Most COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. But vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic — and helping schools, at least the upper grades, start to look a little more normal after months of disruption.

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Pfizer to Test Covid-19 Vaccine That Doesn’t Need Ultracold Storage

March 31, 2021

(Wall Street Journal) – Pfizer Inc. PFE 0.33% and partner BioNTech SE BNTX 4.55% plan to begin soon testing a freeze-dried version of its Covid-19 vaccine, which if proven to work safely could ease storage and handling of the shots in rural U.S. areas and low-income countries. In April, Pfizer is set to start a clinical trial evaluating a so-called lyophilized formulation in adults 18 to 55 years old in the U.S., according to a government database, clinicaltrials[dot]gov, and confirmed by the company.

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Canada’s Nursing Homes Have Worst Record for COVID-19 Deaths Among Wealthy Nations: Report

March 31, 2021

(CBC) – Canada has the worst record for COVID-19 deaths in long-term care homes compared with other wealthy countries, according to a new report released on Tuesday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). The study found that the proportion of deaths in nursing homes represented 69 per cent of Canada’s overall COVID-19 deaths, which is significantly higher than the international average of 41 per cent. In Canada, between March 2020 and February 2021, more than 80,000 residents and staff members of long-term care homes were infected with the coronavirus. Outbreaks occurred in 2,500 care homes, resulting in the deaths of 14,000 residents, according to the report.

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The Two Hospitals Have Similar Infant Death Rates–Until You Look at Extremely Premature Babies

March 30, 2021

(ProPublica) – The infant’s gut had stopped functioning, clogging his feeding tube with undigested food. That is sometimes a sign of an inflammatory condition of the intestines, called necrotizing enterocolitis or NEC, that’s a leading cause of hospital deaths among extremely preterm babies. These babies’ problems can spiral into life-threatening conditions in a matter of hours. There’s no indication that Lovelace improperly handled the infant’s treatment. But extremely preterm babies died at the hospital with striking frequency, according to an analysis of state health data by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica. A yearlong investigation by the news organizations found that at Lovelace, the tiniest, most premature babies died at up to twice the rate as they did a few miles away, at Presbyterian Hospital, another major maternity and newborn facility.

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The Fourth Surge Is Upon Us. This Time, It’s Different.

March 30, 2021

(The Atlantic) – The United States has an advantage that countries such as Canada, France, Germany, and Italy, who are also experiencing surges from this variant, don’t. The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines work very well against this variant, and the U.S. has been using them to vaccinate more than 3 million people a day. That’s more than 4 percent of our vaccine-eligible population every three days. An astonishing 73 percent of people over 65, and 36 percent of all eligible adults in the country, have already received at least one dose. More than 50 million people are now considered fully vaccinated, having received either their booster dose or the “one and done” Johnson & Johnson shot. Many states have already opened up vaccination to anyone over 16, and everyone eligible is expected to have a chance to get at least a first dose no later than May.

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Getting One Vaccine Is Good. How About Mix-and-Match?

March 30, 2021

(New York Times) – In January, Britain made a change to its vaccine guidelines that shocked many health experts: If the second dose of one vaccine wasn’t available, patients could be given a different one. The new rule was based on sheer guesswork; there was no scientific data at the time demonstrating that mixing two coronavirus vaccines was safe and effective. But that may change soon.

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Covid-19: Mexico Revises Coronavirus Death Toll Up by 60%

March 30, 2021

(BBC) – Mexico has published revised figures indicating that the number of deaths caused by coronavirus is 60% higher than previously reported. More than 321,000 people are now believed to have died from Covid-19 in the country.  The revised toll places Mexico with the second highest number of Covid-related deaths in the world, after the US.

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As Daily Deaths Near 4,000, Worst May Lie Ahead for Brazil

March 30, 2021

(Associated Press) – Brazil currently accounts for one-quarter of the entire world’s daily COVID-19 deaths, far more than any other single nation, and health experts are warning that the nation is on the verge of even greater calamity.  The nation’s seven-day average of 2,400 deaths stands to reach to 3,000 within weeks, six experts told the Associated Press. That’s nearly the worst level seen by the U.S., though Brazil has two-thirds its population. Spikes of daily deaths could soon hit 4,000; on Friday there were 3,650.

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How mRNA Technology Could Change the World

March 29, 2021

(The Atlantic) – Synthetic mRNA, the ingenious technology behind the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, might seem like a sudden breakthrough, or a new discovery. One year ago, almost nobody in the world knew what an mRNA vaccine was, for the good reason that no country in the world had ever approved one. Months later, the same technology powered the two fastest vaccine trials in the history of science. Like so many breakthroughs, this apparent overnight success was many decades in the making. More than 40 years had passed between the 1970s, when a Hungarian scientist pioneered early mRNA research, and the day the first authorized mRNA vaccine was administered in the United States, on December 14, 2020. In the interim, the idea’s long road to viability nearly destroyed several careers and almost bankrupted several companies.

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More Than a Dozen States Open Vaccines to All Adults

March 29, 2021

(Associated Press) – More than a dozen states will open vaccine eligibility to all adults this week in a major expansion of COVID-19 shots for tens of millions of Americans amid a worrisome increase in virus cases and concerns about balancing supply and demand for the vaccines. Meanwhile, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that she had a recurring feeling of “impending doom” about a potential fourth wave of infections after cases in the U.S. rose 10% over the last week. She pleaded with Americans not to relax preventative practices such as social distancing and mask-wearing.

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‘I’m Empty.’ Pandemic Scientists Are Burning Out–And Don’t See an End in Sight

March 29, 2021

(Science) – From academic research centers to intensive care units (ICUs) to scientific journals to government agencies, scientists fighting the pandemic say they are hitting a wall, 16 months after the first report of a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, introduced the virus that would upend their lives. “The pace that led to the incredible generation of knowledge on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 has put enormous demands on the people who are expected to generate that knowledge,” says David O’Connor, a viral sequencing expert at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who has been tracking the spread of the virus, doing Zoom Q&A sessions with the vaccine hesitant, and helping neighborhood schools set up diagnostic testing. “This is a terrible time and we should all do what we can to help. But is it going to be sustainable?”

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