LONDON — In the first study to describe the nationwide effectiveness of two vaccines, researchers in Scotland reported Monday that both the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca shots greatly reduced hospital admissions from COVID-19 among the elderly – by up to 85 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

British public health officials hailed the results from the “real-world” studies showing that the vaccines are beginning to have a positive impact in the pandemic. Arne Akbar, president of the British Society for Immunology, called the initial data “extremely promising.”

The Scottish researchers analyzed a data set covering the entire Scottish population of 5.4 million, of which 1.1 million people – about 20 percent of the population – have received a first dose of the Pfizer or Oxford vaccine. Then they compared the vaccinated against the unvaccinated, and they saw strong evidence of protection.

From December until the middle of February, more than 8,000 people ended up in the hospital with COVID-19 in Scotland, but only 58 of those patients came from the vaccinated group. Combining results for both vaccines for people 80 and older, there was an overall 81 percent reduction in hospital admission by the fourth week, said Aziz Sheikh, professor of primary care research and development at the University of Edinburgh and one of the principal investigators.

Sheikh cautioned that the immunity offered by the first doses of the vaccines could wane. But more will be known as researchers follow the vaccinated after their second doses.

Read the full story here.

Johnson & Johnson says it can provide 20 million U.S. vaccine doses

WASHINGTON — Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson says it will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March, assuming it gets the greenlight from federal regulators.

South_Africa_Virus_Outbreak_Vaccine_34294

A lab technician works on blood samples taken from people taking part in a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine test at the Ndlovu clinic’s lab in Groblersdal, South Africa, this month. Jerome Delay/Associated Press

J&J disclosed the figure in written testimony ahead of a Congressional hearing on Tuesday looking at the country’s vaccine supply. White House officials cautioned last week that initial supplies of J&J’s vaccine would be limited.

The company reiterated that it will have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June. That supply will help government officials reach the goal of having enough injections to vaccinate most adult Americans later this year. On a global scale the company aims to produce 1 billion doses this year.

U.S. health regulators are still reviewing the safety and effectiveness of the shot and a decision to allow its emergency use is expected later this week. J&J’s vaccine would be the first in the U.S. that requires only a single shot.

Currently available vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses spaced several weeks apart. Executives from both companies and two other vaccine makers will also testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

U.S. deaths surpass 500,000, testament to coronavirus’ tragic reach

For weeks after Cindy Pollock began planting tiny flags across her yard — one for each of the more than 1,800 Idahoans killed by COVID-19 — the toll was mostly a number. Until two women she had never met rang her doorbell in tears, seeking a place to mourn the husband and father they had just lost.

Virus_Outbreak_Half_Million_Dead_10449

Romelia Navarro, 64, weeps while hugging her husband, Antonio, in his final moments in a COVID-19 unit at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif., in July. The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 500,000 on Monday. Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Then Pollock knew her tribute, however heartfelt, would never begin to convey the grief of a pandemic that has now claimed 500,000 lives in the U.S. and counting.

“I just wanted to hug them,” she said. “Because that was all I could do.”

After a year that has darkened doorways across the U.S., the pandemic surpassed a milestone Monday that once seemed unimaginable, a stark confirmation of the virus’s reach into all corners of the country and communities of every size and makeup.

“It’s very hard for me to imagine an American who doesn’t know someone who has died or have a family member who has died,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle. “We haven’t really fully understood how bad it is, how devastating it is, for all of us.”

Experts warn that about 90,000 more deaths are likely in the next few months, despite a massive campaign to vaccinate people. Meanwhile, the nation’s trauma continues to accrue in a way unparalleled in recent American life, said Donna Schuurman of the Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families in Portland, Oregon.

At other moments of epic loss, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans have pulled together to confront crisis and console survivors. But this time, the nation is deeply divided. Staggering numbers of families are dealing with death, serious illness and financial hardship. And many are left to cope in isolation, unable even to hold funerals.

“In a way, we’re all grieving,” said Schuurman, who has counseled the families of those killed in terrorist attacks, natural disasters and school shootings.

In recent weeks, virus deaths have fallen from more than 4,000 reported on some days in January to an average of fewer than 1,900 per day.

Still, at half a million, the toll recorded by Johns Hopkins University is already greater than the population of Miami or Kansas City, Missouri. It is roughly equal to the number of Americans killed in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. It is akin to a 9/11 every day for nearly six months.

The toll, accounting for 1 in 5 deaths reported worldwide, has far exceeded early projections, which assumed that federal and state governments would marshal a comprehensive and sustained response and individual Americans would heed warnings.

Instead, a push to reopen the economy last spring and the refusal by many to maintain social distancing and wear face masks fueled the spread.

 

Judge refuses to order New Hampshire House to provide remote access

CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire House can proceed with in-person sessions this week without providing remote access to medically vulnerable lawmakers, a federal judge ruled Monday.

Lawmakers'_Pets_50854

Members of New Hampshire’s House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee participate in a livestream video meeting this month. The 400-member House has met several times at the University of New Hampshire ice arena to allow for social distancing. State of New Hampshire via Associated Press

Seven Democratic lawmakers sued Republican House Speaker Sherm Packard last week arguing that holding in-person sessions without a remote option violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state and federal constitutions, and forces them to either risk their lives or abandon their duties as elected officials.

They sought a preliminary order requiring remote access, but U.S. District Court Judge Landya McCafferty denied their request. Without ruling on the merits of the case, she said the speaker can’t be sued for enforcing a House rule that is “closely related to core legislative functions.”

“While today’s ruling is a setback, history will judge New Hampshire House Democrats favorably for standing for public health and democracy during this pandemic,” said House Democratic Leader Renny Cushing, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs. “Unfortunately, this case has exposed the callous indifference of House Republican leadership toward our most vulnerable members during the COVID-19 crisis that has taken the lives of a half a million Americans.”

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the 400-member House has met several times at the University of New Hampshire ice arena, outside on a UNH athletic field, and — after former Speaker Dick Hinch died of COVID-19 — from their cars in a parking lot. The sessions scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday will be held at a sports complex in Bedford that offers more space to spread out than the previous facilities, as well as separate entrances for members from opposing parties.

Lawmakers will sit 10 to 12 feet apart and will be encouraged to remain in their seats. Masks will be mandatory for legislative staff, media and other non-members but only “recommended” for the lawmakers themselves. Similarly, non-members who have recently traveled, have COVID-19 symptoms or have been in close contact with someone with the virus cannot attend, but for lawmakers, staying home under those circumstances is only a recommendation.

There will be separate seating areas for those who choose not to wear masks and for those who are unable to wear masks due to disabilities. A large garage door next to the non-mask-wearing section will be opened to allow maximum air flow.

“We will continue to work with all House members to ensure that if they choose to attend any legislative meeting in person, that they can be confident that we are taking a high degree of precaution, and have extensive health and safety measures in place,” Packard said in a statement.

But Cushing said the ruling makes clear that the speaker is “solely to blame for active and obvious exclusion of members of the House.”

“As we teach our children, just because you can do something does not mean you should,” he said.

French drugmaker to produce 12 million vaccine doses for rival Johnson & Johnson

PARIS — French drug maker Sanofi, battling development delays with its own vaccine candidates against COVID-19, is turning over more of its vaccine production facilities to industrial competitors, teaming up with Johnson & Johnson to produce millions of doses of its rival coronavirus vaccine.

Virus_Outbreak_57425

French President Emmanuel Macron listens to researchers as he visits an industrial development laboratory at French drugmaker’s vaccine unit Sanofi Pasteur plant in Marcy-l’Etoile, near Lyon, central France, on June 16, 2020. AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani, Pool, File

Johnson & Johnson is the second rival to have struck a deal with Sanofi to use its facilities, an unusual collaboration for the competitive industry now facing intense pressure from governments to speed up the production of vaccines against the devastating global pandemic.

Sanofi’s CEO, Paul Hudson, said the agreement announced by the company on Monday demonstrates its “commitment to the collective effort to ending this crisis as quickly as possible.”

Sanofi is still prioritizing the development of its own two coronavirus vaccine programs, Hudson said in a company statement.

But “where we have the right manufacturing capabilities, we are stepping forward to show solidarity in the industry and continue doing our part in the fight against COVID-19,” he added.

Sanofi said its Marcy l’Etoile vaccine manufacturing plant near the city of Lyon will formulate and fill vials of the single-dose vaccine for Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen companies.

Sanofi will blend together vaccine ingredients sent to it by Janssen and fill vials, and then ship the full vials back to Janssen for packaging. The French plant is expected to produce about 12 million doses per month, starting in the second half of this year.

Sanofi had already previously announced that its facilities in Frankfurt, Germany, also will help bottle and package 125 million vaccine doses for the rival partnership of Pfizer-BioNTech.

Sanofi’s latest announcement was quickly trumpeted by French President Emmanuel Macron. His government has pressed Sanofi to use its facilities to help make vaccines from its rivals, because of the high global demand for vaccines and supply problems.

“We must together accelerate the production of vaccines with industrial partnerships,” Macron tweeted.

U.S. coronavirus death toll approaches 500,000 milestone

The U.S. stood Sunday at the brink of a once-unthinkable tally: 500,000 people lost to the coronavirus.

A year into the pandemic, the running total of lives lost was about 498,000 – roughly the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and just shy of the size of Atlanta. The figure compiled by Johns Hopkins University surpasses the number of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, flu and pneumonia combined.

Anthony Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks with reporters at the White House, in Washington on Jan. 21. AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File

“It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The U.S. virus death toll reached 400,000 on Jan. 19 in the waning hours in office for President Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis was judged by public health experts to be a singular failure.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. happened in early February 2020, both of them in Santa Clara County, California. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December. Then it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.

Joyce Willis of Las Vegas is among the countless Americans who lost family members during the pandemic. Her husband, Anthony Willis, died Dec. 28, followed by her mother-in-law in early January.

There were anxious calls from the ICU when her husband was hospitalized. She was unable to see him before he died because she, too, had the virus and could not visit.

“They are gone. Your loved one is gone, but you are still alive,” Willis said. “It’s like you still have to get up every morning. You have to take care of your kids and make a living. There is no way around it. You just have to move on.”

Read the full story here.

WHO warns richer countries not to undermine poorer countries’ efforts to secure vaccine

GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is pleading with rich countries to check before ordering additional COVID-19 vaccine for themselves whether that undermines efforts to get vaccine to poorer nations.

Wealthy nations have snapped up several billion doses of vaccine, while some countries in the developing world have little or none. European nations have given financial support to the U.N.-backed COVAX effort to vaccine the world’s most vulnerable people, and are considering sharing some of their own doses.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that “even if you have the money, if you cannot use the money to buy vaccines … having the money doesn’t mean anything.”

Speaking after talks with Germany’s president, he said some rich countries’ approaches to manufacturers for more vaccines are “affecting the deals with COVAX, and even the amount that was allocated for COVAX was reduced because of this.” He didn’t name those countries.

Tedros added that rich countries need to “cooperate in respecting the deals that COVAX did” and make sure before they seek more vaccines that their requests don’t undermine those deals. But, he said, “I don’t think they’re asking that question.”

Scotland’s vaccinations lead to steep drop in hospitalizations

LONDON — Scotland’s COVID-19 vaccination program has led to a sharp drop in hospitalizations, researchers said Monday, boosting hopes that the shots will work as well in the real world as they have in carefully controlled studies.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reduced hospital admissions by up to 94% four weeks after people received their first dose, while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cut admissions by up to 85%, according to scientists at the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland.

Virus_Outbreak_Britain_14299

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson with quality control technician Kerri Symington, visits the French biotechnology laboratory Valneva in Livingston, Scotland, Thursday Jan. 28, where they will be producing a COVID-19 vaccine on a large scale. Wattie Cheung/Pool via AP

The preliminary findings were based on a comparison of people who had received one dose of vaccine and those who hadn’t been inoculated yet. The data was gathered between Dec. 8 and Feb. 15, a period when 21% of Scotland’s population received their first vaccine shot.

“These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future,’’ said Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. “We now have national evidence — across an entire country — that vaccination provides protection against COVID-19 hospitalizations.”

About 650,000 people in Scotland received the Pfizer vaccine during the study period and 490,000 had the AstraZeneca shot, according to the Usher Institute. Because hospitalization data was collected 28 days after inoculation, the findings on hospital admissions were based on a subset of 220,000 people who received the Pfizer vaccine and 45,000 who got the AstraZeneca shot.

U.K. regulators authorized widespread use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Dec. 30, almost a month after they approved the Pfizer vaccine.

Outside experts said while the findings are encouraging, they should be interpreted with caution because of the nature of this kind of observational study. In particular, relatively few people were hospitalized after receiving the vaccines during the study period.

Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, urged those making political decisions about the pandemic to be cautious.

“It will be important that euphoria, especially from political sources that do not understand the uncertainty in the numerical values, does not cause premature decisions to be made,’’ he said “Cautious optimism is justified.”

Earlier this month, Israel reported encouraging results from people receiving the Pfizer vaccine. Six weeks after vaccinations began for people over age 60, there was a 41% drop in confirmed COVID-19 infections and a 31% decline in hospitalizations, according the country’s Ministry of Health.

Australia launches vaccination program

SYDNEY — Australia started its COVID-19 inoculation program on Monday, days after its neighbor New Zealand, with both governments deciding their pandemic experiences did not require the fast tracking of vaccine rollouts that occurred in many parts of the world.

Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region that have dealt relatively well with the pandemic either only recently started vaccinating or are about to, including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.

Catherine Bennett, an epidemiologist at Australia’s Deakin University, said countries that do not face a virus crisis benefit from taking their time and learning from countries that have taken emergency vaccination measures such as the United States.

“We’ve now got data on pregnant women who are vaccinated. Natural accidents, like incorrect dosing, happen in a real world rollout,” Bennett said. “All of those things are really valuable insights.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Sunday in a show of confidence in the product. Australia is prioritizing building public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines ahead of speed of delivery.

Health and border control workers, as well as nursing home residents and workers, started getting the Pfizer vaccine on Monday at hubs across the country.

UK begins lifting lockdown restrictions – slowly

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is laying out a road map for lifting lockdown — but millions of people in the U.K. longing for a haircut or a meal in a restaurant still face a long wait.

Johnson is set to announce a plan Monday to ease restrictions incrementally, starting by reopening schools in England on March 8. People will be allowed to meet one friend or relative for a chat or picnic outdoors from the same day.

Three weeks later, people will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to six. But restaurants, pubs, gyms and hairdressers are likely to remain closed until at least April.

The government says progress will depend on vaccines proving effective, infection rates remaining low and no new virus variants emerging that throw the plans into disarray.

Britain has had Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 120,000 deaths.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said the government’s plan for easing restrictions was “steady as she goes.”

Portugal warns against government misuse of personal information

BRUSSELS — Belgium’s data protection authority is warning that possible government misuse of data collected from citizens to help halt the spread of the coronavirus could undermine people’s trust in the country’s vaccination program.

APD joint Director Alexandra Jaspar says that in tackling the disease the Belgian “state is collecting a tremendous amount of data, is stocking it in databases, and does not at all rule out the future use and re-use of this data.”

Belgium’s anti-virus measures and restrictions are announced by ministerial decree based on the advice of health experts. Parliamentarians are not consulted about the measures many of which, including the compulsory wearing of masks, have been in place since November.

Jaspar told public broadcaster RTBF Monday that “we find ourselves with these big databases with health information … and we’re not being told in enough detail who, or which state authority, can use them.”

She says that under the decree system, it’s the minister who “determines what they will do with this data, why and for how long. That’s not good enough.”

Portugal sees variant from Brazil

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is the latest European Union country to detect a COVID-19 variant first identified in Manaus, Brazil.

Portuguese health authorities said late Sunday they had detected seven cases of the variant, warning that it is highly contagious and may be able to infect people who previously have had COVID-19.

More than 150,000 Brazilians live in Portugal. The two countries have close cultural and economic ties.

Portugal was for several weeks last month the world’s worst-affected country in the pandemic, with the highest number of new daily cases and deaths, but a lockdown since Jan. 15 has eased the pressure on the public health service.

The European Centre for Disease Control says Portugal’s 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 people is 590. That makes it the fourth highest in the 30 countries monitored by the EU agency.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths fell from 2.35 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 7 to 0.90 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 21, according to Johns Hopkins University.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: