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Solving COVID: May 26, 2021

1. Where things stand The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week confirmed that half of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That amounts to 129 million people; 160 million Americans have received at least one shot. "This is a major milestone in our country's vaccination efforts," said White House senior COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt. Data from CNN and Johns Hopkins University shows the average U.S. daily COVID-19 death toll is at its lowest point since March 31, 2020 — about 520 people are dying in America every day. Globally, it appears cases are on the decline, falling 14 percent last week, but remain high in countries including India, Argentina, and Nepal. And even as America rounds a corner, global vaccine distribution remains shockingly uneven. Just 0.3 percent of the world's vaccine doses have gone to low-income countries, a disparity that United Nations General Assembly President Volkan Bozkır said was "terrible, horrifying," and "unacceptable."

2. Moderna vaccine proves 100 percent effective in ages 12 to 17 Moderna announced Tuesday that its COVID-19 vaccine was 100 percent effective two weeks after the second dose in adolescents aged 12 to 17. No fully vaccinated participants got sick. The vaccine was 93 percent effective starting 14 days after the first dose. The company reported that no safety concerns emerged in the trial. The trial, which involved more than 3,700 participants, bolstered Moderna's case as it works on persuading the Food and Drug Administration to expand the use of its vaccine, currently authorized for emergency use on people 18 or older. It plans to submit the results to regulators in June. Currently only Pfizer's vaccine can be given to adolescents, so the addition of Moderna's shot would help with the push to get children vaccinated before the next school year.

3. Pfizer tests COVID-19 booster, pneumococcal vaccine combo Pfizer announced Monday that it had started a study on the "coadministration" of its pneumococcal vaccine candidate and a third "booster dose" of the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with German partner BioNTech. The study, which focuses on fully vaccinated adults over age 65, was designed to determine whether it would be safe to combine the two vaccines, and whether they generated similar immune responses compared to when they are given individually. The pneumococcal candidate was developed to protect adults against most invasive pneumococcal diseases and pneumonia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously advised that COVID-19 vaccinations be administered alone, but after experience with non-COVID vaccines, health experts deemed coadministration to be safe.

4. 60-second COVID-19 breathalyzer test provisionally approved in Singapore A new 60-second coronavirus breathalyzer test has been provisionally approved for use alongside antigen rapid tests in Singapore, Reuters reported. The test, developed by National University of Singapore "spin-off" company Breathonix, can detect COVID-19 infection in under a minute with "more than 90 percent accuracy," a Singapore-based clinical trial found. Users blow into a disposable mouthpiece, where software then "assesses the chemical compounds of the breath" for infection, Reuters explains. Positive tests are later confirmed with a follow-up polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test. The start-up is "now working with the health ministry to run a deployment trial" near the border, Reuters reports. Breathonix is the first breath test to gain provisional clearance in Singapore, and will sell for $3-15.

5. Study: Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine effective against coronavirus variant first detected in India Two weeks after the second dose, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease from a coronavirus variant first identified in India that is spreading in the United Kingdom and could soon become the dominant strain there, a study by Public Health England found. The results, released Saturday, are similar to the 93 percent effectiveness against another variant first identified in the U.K. last year, suggesting the vaccine still offers significant protection despite fears that the variant discovered in India, which is believed to be more contagious, would be resistant to vaccines. The research was conducted between April 5 and May 16. The study also found that the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, which has not been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, was 60 percent effective against the variant first detected in India, similar to the 66 percent mark against the variant first detected in the U.K.

Source: here

The Solving Covid article this week covers a number of firsts. Half of the US adult population are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 representing 129 million individuals, and 160 million Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine. The countrywide impact can easily be seen by a 14% reduction in mortality by comparison to the previous week. The mortality per day is at its lowest since March 2020.

The Moderna vaccine joins the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine by showing it is 100% effective, two weeks after the second dose, protecting adolescents aged 12 to 17 years old.

Pfizer has initiated a trial to determine the efficacy of a combination booster vaccine. It has a two-fold purpose aimed at the susceptible over 65 year-old population: 1) boosting the immunity against COVID-19 with a 3rd dose using the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and 2) combining this with a vaccine against pneumoccal infection, a bacterium which causes pneumonia.

The National University of Singapore has developed a 90% accurate breathalyzer for rapid screening in 60 seconds. If an individual test positive, the follow-up PCR swab test is performed for confirmation of infection. This opens up the possibility of much more rapid screening in access locations such as airports, reducing waiting times from hours to minutes.

Finally, Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is 88% effective two weeks after the second dose against the first variant detected in India. This is particularly important in the UK where the vaccination program has been effectively rolled out but clusters due to the Indian variant have appeared in recent weeks. It may be that these particular populations should be targeted with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine rather than the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

- Doctor Donald Greig


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