COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine prevents illness but shows the threat of variants
A coronavirus vaccine with less onerous storage and administration requirements could be a ‘game changer’

Johnson & Johnson's vaccine provides a robust defense against severe disease and protects against fatal illness, according to the results of a giant worldwide trial released Friday by the drugmaker.

Unlike the two vaccines already authorized in the United States, the J&J vaccine requires only a single dose. If the Food and Drug Administration gives the go-ahead, having a third option could greatly increase the speed at which vaccinations are distributed across the country.

Overall, the vaccine was 85 percent effective at stopping severe illness. In South Africa, though, the protection against illness was somewhat muted, perhaps because of variants there.

... The logistical advantages of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should not be underestimated, experts said, particularly when variants have sparked concerns that mutant viruses might spread more easily and escape vaccines, treatments and naturally acquired immunity.

“Vaccinating fast is going to be the message now, and vaccinating fast to reduce transmission and reduce the chance you have additional mutations,” said Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer for Johnson & Johnson. “The crisis is now hospitalization and death.”

... The new vaccine uses a different technology from the two vaccines authorized in the United States, broadening the suite of tools to block the virus. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine employs a harmless cold virus to deliver a gene that carries the blueprint for the spiky protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. The virus infects cells, which then follow the genetic instructions to construct a replica of the coronavirus spike.

In contrast, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a strip of genetic material called messenger RNA to instruct cells to build the spiky protein found on the surface of the coronavirus.

In both cases, the immune system learns to recognize the real virus by mustering an immune response to the spike.

The vaccine technology was able to move quickly into trials because it was preceded by decades of research.
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Why grocery chains are paying workers to get vaccinated, but other industries are lagging
Restaurant groups and food processors could be next

A number of leading grocery chains are offering small cash bonuses and other incentives to encourage employees to get the coronavirus vaccine, in an effort that experts say could help speed protection of some of the country’s most vulnerable workers: low-paid, hourly retail workers.

Dollar General, Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Lidl, as well as Instacart, have announced plans to promote the vaccine among employees, including flexible work schedules, paid time off to visit a vaccination site and bonuses of up to $200.

The restaurant industry may also be moving toward incentives. On Tuesday, Darden Restaurants, which employs more than 175,000 workers across Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and many more brands, said it would offer up to four hours of paid time off to get the vaccine.

However, few other companies have followed suit, potentially in part because of legal uncertainties involved with health screening questionnaires leading up to vaccination.
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Despite pandemic, 25 percent of fans say they will go to Super Bowl parties, poll shows
Although the United States continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, Super Bowl parties will still be a destination for a significant segment of the population.

One-fourth of Americans in a recent Seton Hall Sports Poll indicated that they intend to gather with people from outside their households for Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Feb. 7.

... Fans are to be seated mostly in pods of two or four people, with some six-person pods. Each pod will have three empty seats on each side, with no one sitting directly in front or behind. The plan is that, for each pod of non-vaccinated fans, a group of vaccinated health-care workers would be seated in the row behind, staggered to the side, throughout the stadium.
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U.S. handling of American evacuees from Wuhan increased coronavirus risks, watchdog finds
The special counsel also criticized the HHS general counsel’s office for its ‘attempts to shame the whistleblower.’

As the first American evacuees from Wuhan, China, touched down at a California military base a year ago, fleeing the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, they were met by U.S. health officials with no virus prevention plan or infection-control training — and who had not even been told to wear masks, according to a federal investigation.

Later, those officials were told to remove protective gear when meeting with the evacuees to avoid “bad optics,” and days after those initial encounters, departed California aboard commercial airline flights to other destinations.

... The CDC did not provide clear guidance on the need for health workers to wear protective equipment until Feb. 1 — three days after staff had spent hours working with the evacuees on planning and paperwork, sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder, the report concluded.

HHS, in its report, said that staff who received a second round of Wuhan evacuees at Travis Air Force Base Solano County, Calif., on Feb. 5. 2020, were given proper training and protective equipment. The HHS report also concluded that the CDC must play a more formal role in providing infection-control guidance and handling future quarantines.
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World leaders pledge a ‘great reset’ after the pandemic
Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum's founder and executive chairman, invoked the need to help provoke a “great reset” around the world in the wake of the pandemic. “The covid-19 crisis has shown us that our old systems are not fit anymore for the 21st century,” he said in a podcast ahead of events this week.

What does that reset look like? Schwab and his colleagues are pushing the concept of “stakeholder” capitalism — an approach to business and economic policymaking that looks beyond the interests of shareholders and toward the well-being of society (and fleshed out now in a new book by Schwab and his colleague Peter Vanham). For many years, WEF has embraced this sort of socially conscious language, urging corporate leaders to be more politically minded and governments to better collaborate with the private sector on a swath of development projects and social programs. WEF points to a growing catalogue of positive initiatives taken by governments and commitments made by major corporations thanks to the convening power of Davos.

... Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, argued that “if capitalism is to be sustained, we must intentionally put the nail in the coffin” of the neoliberal orthodoxy championed by the late American economist Milton Friedman, which, Walker said, has left the “ideological scaffolding” for policies and worldviews that are deepening inequality.

That world that existed before the pandemic “is over,” said Walker, and that “means that many of the norms and understandings and structures of that world in a post-coronavirus world must be reorganized and dismantled.”
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It’s time for hospitals to end their no-visitation policies
In the earliest days of the pandemic, when we were scavenging for masks and testing kits, no-visitor policies at hospitals may have been justifiable. But there is no reason to perpetuate these counterproductive, traumatic policies. It’s past time for hospitals to let patients see their loved ones.

... When the details surrounding a death are unknown, survivors’ bereavement is akin to ambiguous loss, much as when people go missing in a war. Covid-19 strips families of traditional steps toward healing, and with no-visitor policies, they are trapped in their own unresolved grief, waiting for answers that won’t come.

What exactly is the risk calculation hospitals are making with these policies? Aside from meeting patients’ psychological needs, visitors reduce length of stay and even medical errors, studies show. Seventeen percent of covid-19 patients nationwide die during hospitalization, and nearly a third of these are not in intensive care. So even when hospitals have made exceptions to their no-visitation policy for intensive care patients, they have still condemned a large percentage of people to die alone on hospital floors — amounting to more than 100,000 patients in the United States and counting. Exceptions for end-of-life patients assume that death is always careful to announce itself politely in advance. Any physician who has coded a patient in the middle of the night can tell you how wrong that notion is..

And what have hospitals gained from these policies? The few outbreaks of covid-19 in hospitals have primarily been linked to unmasked health-care workers or patients..

We can make visiting safer with a few simple lessons learned from the first wave of covid-19 cases. First, hospitals should strictly enforce universal mask policies with specially designated monitor staff. We have the capability to administer rapid-turnaround coronavirus tests in the parking lot to all visitors before entering the facility. With readily available protective equipment and training, the risk of transmission can be reduced to almost nothing.
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Mexico’s death toll becomes the world’s third highest, surpassing India’s.
Mexico’s confirmed coronavirus death toll surpassed India’s on Thursday to become the world’s third-highest, after months in which President Andrés Manuel López Obrador downplayed the virus as his government scrambled to control it.

As of Friday morning, Mexico had recorded 155,145 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic, according to a New York Times database. That is about 66,000 less than the official death toll in Brazil, the hardest-hit country after the United States.

Hospitals nationwide, particularly in Mexico City, are straining to provide beds and ventilators. Doctors are overwhelmed. People have been lining up to refill tanks of oxygen for relatives who are gasping for air in their homes.

... Testing levels are low, and many infected people are staying home because they distrust hospitals. A New York Times investigation found in May that the government was not reporting hundreds, possibly thousands, of coronavirus deaths in Mexico City.

When Mr. López Obrador said this week that he, too, had the virus, few Mexicans were surprised. He had spent months minimizing the pandemic by claiming that religious amulets protected him, for example, and refusing to wear a mask.
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University of Michigan students are advised to stay home after 14 cases of a coronavirus variant were reported.
Fourteen students at the University of Michigan have contracted a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus, leading health authorities to issue a stay-at-home recommendation for students living on and off campus.

Students were advised to not leave their residences until Feb. 7, except to attend classes, seek medical treatment or run essential errands.

The outbreak of the variant, first detected in Britain and known as B.1.1.7, appears to have started with a student who traveled to the United Kingdom over the winter break, according to Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, a spokeswoman for the Washtenaw County Department of Health.

... The stay-at-home recommendation announced by the Washtenaw County Health Department this week applies to the Ann Arbor campus but not to the broader community.

Michigan athletics also imposed a two-week pause in competitions and practice, citing the emergence of the variant as the reason. Five of the cases involved individuals connected to the athletic program.

... Since Michigan’s winter session began Jan. 19, the university has identified a total of 175 coronavirus cases, including the 14 cases of the variant.
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GAO: Trump admin failed to implement almost 90% of COVID guidance
The U.S. Government Accountability Office says it is "deeply troubled" that federal agencies under the former administration did not apply 27 out of the 31 recommendations it made around fixing supply chain gaps and other areas of the pandemic that's killed more than 400,000 Americans. The agency's latest audit took place between August 2020 and Jan. 15, five days before President Biden took office.

"We're disappointed with the lack of urgency that we saw from the agencies in the fall in implementing the recommendations," said Nicole Clowers, managing director of GAO's healthcare team. The GAO's advice, if adopted quickly, can help with "mid-course corrections" to the ongoing response, she said.

It's hard to compare the current rate of implementation with past recommendations because of the accelerated pace of the current situation, but Clowers said typically about 80% of GAO's recommendations are implemented in any four-year period.

"GAO has a really good track record of having our recommendations implemented," she said.

The non-partisan federal agency does not have enforcement authority, so it can't penalize agencies for not complying.

Recommendations not carried out span multiple GAO reports. They include immediately documenting roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions, ensuring there are enough resources to sustain and stabilize the supply chain and working with states, tribal governments and other stakeholders to fix supply chain problems.

The GAO also suggested sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID vaccines, developing protocols for reporting COVID cases, disclosing scientific rationale for testing guidelines, tracking COVID cases in nursing homes and veterans' homes, preventing improper CARES Act payments, among others.

... A major problem that's hampering the U.S. pandemic response is that the federal government, local governments and hospitals don't have information about the availability of critical medical supply chains, said Tinglong Dai, associate professor of operations management & business analytics at Johns Hopkins University. Manufacturers aren't required to disclose how much personal protective equipment they can make, so there's no way to know what the domestic production capacity is.

"Without that information, we can't really do anything," he said.

GAO said it's concerned about potential fraud in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which gives money to people not otherwise eligible for unemployment insurance because they're self-employed or gig workers. States have identified more than $1.1 billion in overpayments under that program as of Jan. 11, and GAO says the U.S. Department of Labor ought to collect and report on the amount of overpayments it has recovered.
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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, but often include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Most people (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging) and 5% of patients suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction). At least a third of the people who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and do not develop noticeable symptoms at any point in time, but can spread the disease. Some patients continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months after recovery and damage to organs has been observed. Multi-year studies are underway to further investigate the long term effects of the disease.

Source: Coronavirus disease 2019 - Wikipedia