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Solving COVID: April 7, 2021

1. Where things stand America's vaccination program continues to make strong headway against the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. is averaging more than 3 million vaccinations per day, and hit a new record of 4 million daily shots over the weekend. Crucially, the CDC says nearly 80 percent of teachers have received at least one vaccine dose. Nearly 1 in 4 adults are fully vaccinated. The seven-day average of daily deaths is now the lowest since late October. "We're headed in the right direction," said Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for COVID-19. However, new daily cases hover stubbornly around 60,000, and nearly half of all new cases in the country are clustered in just five states — New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey — according to Johns Hopkins University. Michigan alone is seeing some 6,000 new cases a day, "more than double what it was two weeks earlier," AP reports. The larger trend is worrying: Global cases have risen for six consecutive weeks. [CNBC, The Associated Press]

2. Biden moves up deadline for making all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccination The White House announced Tuesday that President Biden is moving up the deadline for states to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults to April 19, earlier than his previous deadline of May 1. The president credited governors' efforts to meet his original May 1 deadline, which he announced in March. Since then, all 50 states have either made COVID-19 vaccines available to all adults or announced when they will. Hawaii and Oregon are the only states that will face pressure to alter their timetable after Biden's announcement, as they were scheduled to open vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1. Biden also announced that 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in his first 75 days in office. Despite the progress, Biden said "we still have a lot of work to do. We're still in a life and death race against this virus." [CNN, Axios]

3. Fully vaccinated people can travel safely within U.S., CDC says The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday gave people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 the green light to travel within the U.S. without getting tested or self-quarantining. They should, however, still wear a mask in public areas, avoid crowds, and practice good personal hygiene. The rules for those who are partially vaccinated or not vaccinated have not changed. The new guidelines are based on studies of "real-world''effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. [CDC]

4. Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is still highly effective after 6 months Pfizer and BioNTech last week said an analysis of a phase 3 study showed their COVID-19 vaccine was 91.3 percent effective "measured seven days through up to six months after the second dose." It was also 100 percent effective against severe disease as defined by the CDC, as well as 95.3 percent effective against severe disease as defined by the FDA, the companies said. There were no serious safety concerns. Additionally, Pfizer and BioNTech said the vaccine was 100 percent effective in South Africa, where a concerning variant has been spreading. "These data also provide the first clinical results that a vaccine can effectively protect against currently circulating variants, a critical factor to reach herd immunity and end this pandemic for the global population," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said. [Axios, Pfizer]

5. Johnson & Johnson will take control of plant that spoiled vaccine doses At the direction of the Department of Health and Human Services, Johnson & Johnson will take charge of the Baltimore contract plant that ruined 15 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, senior federal health officials told The New York Times. The doses were spoiled because of a mistake at the facility run by Emergent BioSolution, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Workers at the plant accidentally mixed up the ingredients of the two shots, delaying future shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The error was caught and none of the contaminated drugs made it out of the plant, but the Biden administration isn't taking any chances. Production of the AstraZeneca vaccine will move to an alternative site.

Source: here

The solving Covid series this week is very US centric but important messages arise from the sound bites this week. The USA is rolling out 3 million vaccinations per day and nearly 1 in 4 Amercians are fully vaccinated. President Biden is trying to ensure that vaccination is available to all adults by 19 April. An added benefit from being vaccinated in the USA is freedom to travel freely within the USA without testing or quarantine but with the precautionary note of maintaining social distancing, personal hygiene and masking. This should be an incentive for our Hong Kong residents. It is encouraging that follow up data from Pfizer BioNTech phase III trials show that it is still highly effective after 6 months. The most scandalous vaccine commentary comes from the Emergent Biotech manufacturing facility in the US which was not fully licenced by the FDA to produce the Johnson & Johnson and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines in the same facility. During production due to manpower shortages and untenable time lines, there was cross contamination between the two vaccines resulting in 15 million vaccine doses being discarded. This is a crime in itself with a worldwide shortage of vaccines existing. Production at this facility has been taken over Johnson & Johnson and the Oxford AstraZeneca production has been moved to another independent plant.

- Doctor Donald Greig


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