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Solving COVID: 16 December 2020

Dear Patients/Colleagues

I continue the Solving COVID series of updates written and summarised by ‘The Week Staff’ who have pulled resource material from around the globe to distil the latest scientific advancements being made against the coronavirus pandemic and to track developments in testing, treating, and vaccinating. This is a 3 minute read and keeps you informed from reliable sources.

Solving COVID: 16 December 2020

COVID-19 vaccination officially begins in the U.S.

U.S. public health officials on Monday administered the country's first coronavirus vaccinations, as Pfizer continued to deliver the first batch of doses around the country. The first vaccinations outside of clinical trials marked a long-awaited milestone in the fight against the pandemic, although it came on the day that the U.S. death toll surpassed 300,000. "I believe this is the weapon that will end the war," said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, where nurse Sandra Lindsay received the first COVID-19 vaccination. "I trust science," Lindsay said. Connecticut, Iowa, and Washington were among the other states that had their first vaccinations. "This week, everyone's work starts to pay off," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.

FDA reportedly aims to authorize Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine Friday

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday released data showing that the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Moderna is highly protective, confirming it has an efficacy rate of 94.1 percent. There weren't any serious safety concerns in the clinical trial, the FDA also said. As a result, The New York Times reports, the FDA "intends to grant emergency authorization for use of the vaccine on Friday," citing sources familiar with the agency's plans. An independent panel will meet Thursday to consider whether to recommend the FDA authorize the vaccine. Its approval could come one week after the FDA authorized a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which American health-care workers began to receive on Monday.

U.S. government buys another 100 million doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine

Moderna announced Friday that the federal government "has exercised its option to purchase an additional 100 million doses" of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, on top of the 100 million doses the Trump administration previously agreed to buy. The new doses are set to be delivered in the second quarter of 2021, the company said. "This new federal purchase can give Americans even greater confidence we will have enough supply to vaccinate all Americans who want it by the second quarter of 2021," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said. Moderna says it expects to have 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine delivered in the U.S. by the end of this year, should it receive emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

New study boosts theory that genetic makeup plays role in COVID-19 severity

Certain gene variants were more common among COVID-19 patients in intensive care, a team of scientists in Europe found in a study recently published in Nature, boosting previous reports that suggested genetic makeup plays a role in the severity of coronavirus infections. In what's known as a genome-wide association study, the scientists studied the genes of 2,000 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across the United Kingdom and compared them to those of healthy people. It's not the first study to look into the matter, but is considered "the biggest published to date of its kind." The purpose of the study is to help find effective COVID-19 therapies, although experts have cautioned that targeting certain genes is no guarantee for success. Rather, genetics studies "help us find very specific starting points."

FDA approves emergency use of 1st at-home COVID-19 test

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday issued an emergency use authorization for the first over-the-counter, fully at-home COVID-19 test. The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test will likely be sold at pharmacies, and it won't require a prescription. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said patients can buy the rapid antigen kit, take it home, conduct their own nasal swab, and get their results "in as little as 20 minutes." Ellume says its intention is for the test to cost $30 or less and while production has just started, the company expects to send out initial shipments the first week of January. There is hope that at-home testing will not only expand Americans' access to coronavirus testing, but also reduce the burden on laboratories and test supplies, Hahn said.

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