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Solving COVID: May 19, 2021

1. Where things stand Cases of COVID-19 continue to fall in the U.S., reaching their lowest weekly average in nearly a year at 31,100. "Cases are going down, deaths are going down, hospitalizations are going down, vaccinations are going up," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases professor at Vanderbilt University, told CNN. More than 600,000 kids age 12 to 15 were vaccinated on the first day they were eligible, The Wall Street Journal reports. India's second wave seems to be leveling off, but deaths are spiking: The nation on Wednesday reported 4,529 COVID deaths, the highest single-day death toll reported by any country in the pandemic. India's outbreak has overflowed into neighboring Nepal, where cases are skyrocketing and the health-care system is quickly becoming overwhelmed. [CNN, The Wall Street Journal ]

2. Biden: Coronavirus cases down in all 50 states For the first time since the start of the pandemic, coronavirus cases are down in all 50 states, President Biden announced on Monday. This comes as 60 percent of Americans have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. Despite the gains, "we're still losing too many Americans" to COVID-19, Biden said, and people who refuse to get vaccinated "will end up paying the price." Biden also revealed that in June, the United States will send additional doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines abroad. "We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that's raging globally is under control," he said. "No ocean's wide enough, no wall's high enough, to keep us safe." [The Washington Post]

3. U.S. to share 20 million more vaccine doses President Biden announced Monday that the United States would send at least 20 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries. The commitment adds to the 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine the Biden administration already promised to share by July 4. The new batch of vaccines to be sent overseas will include those made by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, which, unlike AstraZeneca's, have been approved for use in the United States. "We need to help fight the disease around the world to keep us safe here at home and to do the right thing helping other people," Biden said. "It's the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, it's the strong thing to do." [CNN]

4. GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi aim for COVID-19 vaccine authorization before year's end GlaxoSmithKline said Monday that a Phase 2 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine, developed with French partner Sanofi, showed a "strong neutralizing antibody response" in adult participants of all age groups and raised no safety issues. "We believe that this vaccine candidate can make a significant contribution to the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and will move to Phase 3 as soon as possible to meet our goal of making it available before the end of the year," said Roger Connor, president of GSK's vaccines program. The Phase 3 trial, expected to start in the next few weeks, is slated to involve 35,000 adults from a number of countries. The vaccine is based on Sanofi's seasonal flu vaccine, combined with a immunity-boosting adjuvant from GSK. The companies had hoped to seek regulatory approval in the first half of 2021, but pushed back those plans after disappointing results in December. [The Guardian]

5. European Union to reopen borders to vaccinated visitors The European Union is set to reopen its borders to those who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or are traveling from a country that's considered safe, The New York Times reports. During a meeting on Wednesday, ambassadors from the 27 member states reportedly agreed to allow in visitors who have either received an approved COVID-19 vaccine, including any of the three that have been authorized for emergency use in the United States, or are coming from a list of countries that will be finalized later this week. According to The Washington Post, this agreement is expected to be formally approved in the coming days, although the Postnotes that "individual countries will still be able to set their own rules about what they require from aspiring visitors." While it wasn't officially revealed when the reopening will begin, the Times reports that "the new measures could go into effect as early as next week." [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

Source: here

The Solving Covid article this week brings us a mixture of positive and negative news coupled with other world Covid events which have not been highlighted in this week’s 3-minute read.

India on Wednesday, 19 May, confirmed 4,529 COVID-19 deaths in the preceding 24 hours, the highest single-day death toll reported by any country in the pandemic. The previous record was set in the United States in January, when 4,468 people died in one day. By India’s own admission, this figure may be far higher than officially reported. India's new coronavirus cases have been falling. The country reported 267,000 new cases on Tuesday, 18 May, down from a peak above 400,000. As we discussed in the recent National Geographic article on Nepal, while India’s statistics may improve as June approaches, the crisis in Nepal goes from worse to catastrophic. Nepal can expect little help from its populous neighbour who, through the Serum Institute, one the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, have stopped COVID-19 vaccine exports until October at the earliest.

By comparison, the USA continues its successful vaccination program (60% of Americans have at least one dose) with extension to 12-15 year olds now eligible for Pfizer BioNTech vaccination. New COVID-19 cases are down in all 50 US States.

It is a well-known fact that the wealthiest countries pre-ordered far more vaccines than they needed for their populations. The US is taking up the mantle of vaccine diplomacy, championed by the Chinese government, by contributing 20 million doses of Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson together with the 60 million doses of Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine already promised to poorer countries.

Vaccine development continues a pace with a GSK / Sanofi joint venture having concluded Phase II trials and they are now looking to 35,000 volunteers for their planned Phase III trial. If the efficacy shown in the Phase II trials is shown in the Phase III trials, hopefully regulatory approval will be obtained by the end of this year. In other developments, researchers are also looking at developing generic vaccines against all coronaviruses, not just COVID-19 by stimulating the immune system to mount a response to the protein(s) responsible for this group of viruses latching onto our cells rather than just a spike protein. Watch this space as it may potentially be able to prevent future zoonotic coronavirus bat or other animal transmissible virus pandemics.

Finally, de facto COVID-19 vaccine passports are definitely now with us. The European Union’s 27 states have agreed to open their borders to individuals who have been fully vaccinated with a short list of approved vaccines from ‘safe’ countries.

Take home message from today: HK residents get vaccinated if you want to travel, not have to wear masks and socially distance for the rest of your lives!!!

- Doctor Donald Greig


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