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Solving COVID: May 12, 2021

1. Where things stand The United States is "turning the corner" on the coronavirus pandemic, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zeints said Sunday. With nearly 60 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated, the Biden administration is focusing its efforts on increasing confidence in the vaccines among those who remain hesitant, and expanding accessibility and eligibility. New coronavirus cases in the U.S. remained below 40,000 on Tuesday for a fourth consecutive day; daily deaths hovered around 700. Globally, cases have dipped slightly, but India's outbreak continues, accounting for half of the recorded weekly infections. Surrounding countries in south Asia are seeing "worrying" trends in cases, and B.1617, a "variant of concern" first identified in India, has been found in 44 countries. [The Financial Times, Reuters]

2. FDA approves Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved administering Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 12 to 15. It now needs CDC approval before it can be used on this age group. Pfizer's two-dose vaccine already has been approved for use in those 16 and older. The decision to allow emergency use of the vaccine that Pfizer developed with German partner BioNTech will speed up efforts to get middle school students vaccinated before next school year, boosting the national push to reduce new infections. Children account for about 20 percent of the population, so getting them vaccinated is seen as a critical part of the effort to fight the pandemic. U.S. officials said recently that so many Americans are resisting getting vaccinated that herd immunity might be out of reach. [CNBC]

3. Uber, Lyft will soon offer free rides to COVID-19 vaccination sites President Biden on Tuesday announced that Uber and Lyft will offer all Americans free rides to and from COVID-19 vaccination sites beginning on May 24 through July 4, the day Biden has targeted for the U.S. reaching a 70 percent vaccination rate. While the U.S. vaccine rollout has been swift for the most part over the last few months, demand is dwindling. Some of that is due to general hesitancy, but access is still an issue. The free rides from the ride-sharing companies, Biden said, are aimed at making sure "transportation is less of a barrier." [The Recount]

4. Official: L.A. County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity by end of July If Los Angeles County continues to administer 400,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots a week, it could reach herd immunity among adults and older teenagers by mid- to late-July, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. To reach herd immunity, a community must have enough people who have either been inoculated or have natural immunity to protect the rest of the population against the coronavirus. In Los Angeles County, more than 3 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and if 2 million more get their first doses, 80 percent of all residents 16 and older will have received at least one shot. Ferrer stressed that for the county to reach herd immunity in mid- to late-July, vaccine rates must stay steady. [Los Angeles Times]

5. Combo tests could detect both COVID-19 and influenza when flu re-emerges Numerous companies have developed combination tests that simultaneously look for influenza and COVID-19, which experts say could be especially useful should the flu make a return this fall. A "quad test" capable of detecting COVID-19, two types of influenza, and the respiratory syncytial virus is available "at thousands of hospitals and clinics around the country," one of a number of such combination tests, The New York Timeswrites. Though the Times notes that "last year's flu season was nonexistent," the University of Washington in Seattle's Dr. Geoffrey Baird said it could re-emerge this fall, and combination tests could help easily determine whether a person has the flu or COVID-19. "We in the laboratory are preparing for another big boom in testing," Baird added.

Source: here

While many other developed countries push ahead with mass vaccination, Hong Kong continues to lag behind at a snail’s pace with the potential looming and disgraceful situation that if not all the current vaccines are used by September, they will expire and have to be discarded. Currently, 15% of the population have received their first dose and only 9.8% are fully vaccinated.

What is wrong with a government that won’t do more to incentivise vaccination yet potentially may allow vaccines to go to waste when other countries are screaming out for more vaccines? Professor Martin Wong Chi-sang of Chinese University, who is studying public acceptance of vaccination in Hong Kong, said Hongkongers were more receptive to carrots than sticks. Really? Some governments give out cash to those who get their jabs, but Wong felt this could be controversial in terms of medical ethics. He said: “Getting a jab is a civic responsibility, why does a government need to give out money for people to fulfil their responsibility?” What mattered, he added, was putting out the information needed to allay fears and put the health risk of vaccines in perspective. I am not sure what reality he perceives but he fundamentally doesn’t understand the many reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in Hong Kong.

How about this approach: rather than giving out $5,000 grocery vouchers to Hong Kong residents free gratis so that they can stimulate the economy, why not tie this to proof of vaccination? Ohio State in the USA is going one step further to incentivise those unvaccinated individuals to be vaccinated by initiating a weekly State lottery, offering 5 vaccinated individuals an opportunity to win US$1 million! The State will also choose five vaccinated teenagers to receive full-ride scholarships to one of Ohio's public universities. However, a UCLA study found that giving out just $100 payments would make people more likely to get a shot, and West Virginia has followed suit by giving $100 savings bonds to young people who receive the vaccine. There is reason to believe that the guarantee of a small amount of money will be a greater inducement to potential vaccine recipients than the vanishingly tiny chance of winning $1,000,000 in the lottery. Any comment Professor Wong? Whatever it takes!

Solving COVID this week does continue to bring brighter news to readers’ eyes as the CDC panel on Wednesday endorsed the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 15. The two-dose vaccine proved 100 percent effective in clinical trials of the younger adolescents. I have already briefly highlighted local vaccine hesitancy but this is a worldwide problem. As the USA vaccination numbers start to dwindle, another major influencing factor is ease of access to vaccination centres. Biden’s administration has endorsed the Uber and Lyft offers of help to provide free transportation to and from vaccination centres to encourage the estimated 30 million Americans who want to be vaccinated but where accessibility is problematic.

LA County bucks the national trend of vaccination by continuing 400,000 vaccinations per week in adults and older teenagers with hopes to reach 80% immunity in mid to late July.

With wider spread vaccination, we expect to see lower hospital admissions due to COVID but once we hit the fall and winter months how do we quickly differentiate between COVID illness and influenza? The pharmaceutical companies continue to busy themselves with producing Quad combo test kits for COVID, two variants of influenza and the respiratory syncytial virus.

The UK government is attempting to sweep its abysmal response to the pandemic under the carpet by delaying a public enquiry into the government’s handling of the crisis demanded by bereaved families and experts until Spring 2022 which will not be completed until after the next general election in 2023. Convenient?

In a separate article I will be conveying to you in the next few days, the Guardian newspaper in the UK reports that a WHO-commissioned report states that the COVID-19 pandemic was a preventable disaster that need not have cost millions of lives if the world had reacted more quickly, according to an independent high-level panel, which castigates global leaders and calls for major changes to bring it to an end and ensure it cannot happen again. Over to you, the Global Community……

A final watchword for this week is complacency and efficacy of vaccines. Despite its standing as the world's most vaccinated country, the 115-island archipelago Seychelles is seeing a dramatic resurgence in COVID-19 transmission, bringing its daily case rate to a higher number of infections per capita than India. Among the population that has had two doses, 57 percent were given Sinopharm, while 43 percent were given AstraZeneca. Thirty-seven percent of new active cases are people who are fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry, which did not say how many people among them had the Sinopharm shot. This is seen in stark contrast to that of Israel, which has the world’s second-highest vaccination rate and where infections have plummeted with use of the Pfizer vaccine.

- Doctor Donald Greig


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