Archive for the ‘SARS-CoV-2’ Category

Russia offers its untested COVID-19 vaccine for free to UN officials

September 23rd, 2020
A smirking man in a suit sits in front of a UN flag.

Enlarge / Russian President Vladimir Putin address the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, via teleconference call, in Moscow on September 22, 2020. (credit: Getty | MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV)

Some United Nations staff are likely brushing up on their Russian—specifically how to say “Thanks, but no thanks” in the nicest way possible.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered UN staff free doses of the country’s COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, which has not completed clinical trials for efficacy and has not been thoroughly vetted for safety.

Still, Putin suggested that his offer was prompted by the desire to give the people what they want: “Some colleagues from the UN have asked about this, and we will not remain indifferent to them,” he said during a speech Tuesday at this year’s (virtual) General Assembly.

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Posted in clinical trials, COVID-19, efficacy, Putin, russia, safety, SARS-CoV-2, science, Sputnik V, UN, vaccine | Comments (0)

US has topped 200,000 COVID-19 deaths—and many more to come

September 22nd, 2020
A medical technician in protective gear handles a wrapped corpse on a gurney.

Enlarge / Transporter Morgan Dean-McMillan prepares the body of a COVID-19 victim at a morgue in Montgomery county, Maryland, on April 17, 2020. (credit: Getty | ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

The US death toll from COVID-19 topped 200,000 Tuesday as daily reports of new cases still hover around 40,000 and daily deaths are in the 700s.

The grim milestone of 200,000 deaths is equivalent to the death toll from the 9/11 attacks occurring every day for 66 days. It’s also equivalent to losing about the entire population Salt Lake City, Utah, or nearly the population of Rochester, New York. COVID-19 has killed more in the United States than the number of Americans who died in the five most recent wars combined (the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf War).

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the COVID-19 death toll had already reached 200,541 deaths, stemming from more than 6.88 million cases. While these figures are based on data from state health authorities, the actual death toll is expected to be much higher.

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Posted in COVID-19, deaths, Infectious disease, pandemic, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science, Trump, us | Comments (0)

156 countries commit to fair COVID-19 vaccine access, but US won’t join

September 22nd, 2020
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva.

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (credit: Getty | Fabrice Cof)

A total of 156 countries—representing about 64 percent of the world’s population—have committed to pooling resources to help develop, buy, and equitably distribute two billion doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.

“This isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, which is co-leading the effort along with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

So far, 64 high-income countries have signed on to the effort, as well as 92 low- and middle-income countries, which would be eligible for support in procuring vaccine doses. Gavi CEO Seth Berkley said in a WHO press conference on Monday that he expects 38 more countries to sign up in the coming days.

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Posted in china, COVAX, COVID-19, Infectious disease, pandemic, Policy, public health, russia, SARS-CoV-2, science, us, vaccine, WHO | Comments (0)

CDC dramatically restores COVID-19 testing advice marred by political meddling

September 18th, 2020
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As the novel coronavirus has spread in the US, the CDC is under increasing heat to defend a shaky rollout of crucial testing kits. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Enlarge / The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters stands in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. As the novel coronavirus has spread in the US, the CDC is under increasing heat to defend a shaky rollout of crucial testing kits. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

In a dramatic move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday restored its recommendation to test people who have been exposed to the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, but don’t have symptoms—erasing politically motivated changes made by members of the Trump administration without the support or input of CDC scientists.

The CDC had—until August 24—always recommended testing for all people who have had close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with someone infected with SARS-CoV-2, regardless of symptoms. The CDC stated clearly that this is “important” and should be done quickly “because of the potential for asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission,” which is largely thought to drive the pandemic.

But the guidance was abruptly and quietly changed August 24 to say that exposed people who do not have symptoms “do not necessarily need a test.”

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science, testing | Comments (0)

Bonkers federal podcast downplays COVID-19, blasts health restrictions

September 15th, 2020
Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / Former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo arrives at the Hart Senate Office building to be interviewed by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, on May 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Mark Wilson)

In a stunning podcast released by the Department of Health and Human Services, two top officials at the department repeatedly downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic, railed against mitigation efforts, called closures of in-person schooling “nonsense,” and said US journalists do not “[give] a damn about public health information.”

The podcast, released on the HHS website September 11, is part of a series hosted by Michael Caputo, who currently holds the title of HHS assistant secretary of public affairs. Though Caputo has no background in health care, the White House installed him in the department in April—a move reportedly made to assert more White House control over HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Caputo is a longtime Trump loyalist and former campaign official. He got his start as a protégé of Roger Stone and later worked as a Moscow-based advisor to Boris Yeltsin and did public relations work for Vladimir Putin.

Learning curve

Caputo has most recently made headlines for working to interfere with and alter scientific reports on COVID-19 prepared by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The meddling was intended to make reports more in line with messaging from Trump, who has admitted to downplaying the pandemic. Caputo also raised eyebrows with a Facebook live video, reported by The New York Times Monday, in which, without evidence, he accused government scientists of engaging in “sedition” and claimed that the CDC is harboring a “resistance unit.” He also spoke of long “shadows” in his DC apartment and said left-wing “hit-squads” were preparing for armed insurrection after the election.

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Posted in alex azar, caputo, CDC, coronavirus, HHS, McCance-Katz, pandemic, public health, SAMHSA, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

Political appointees demand ability to rewrite CDC case reports

September 12th, 2020
Image of a man holding his hand to his ear in order to hear better.

Enlarge / Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listens during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus. Redfield may be finding himself trapped between scientists and political appointees. (credit: Getty Images)

Political appointees in the Department of Health and Human services are objecting to reports on the COVID-19 pandemic from the Centers for Disease Control, and are trying to exercise editorial control of future reports. That's the bottom line of an extensive report from Politico that was based on both internal emails and interviews with people in the organization. The problems apparently stem from the fact-based reports from the CDC running counter to the Trump administration's preferred narrative about the spread of the pandemic and the appropriate public health responses.

The CDC documents at issue are termed Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which provide rapid summaries of the state of our knowledge about public health issues. Typically, they're the product of a CDC-backed investigation into a known issue; in the past, they've focused on things like outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. While they don't have the weight of peer-reviewed literature, they're widely considered to be scientifically reliable, and their rapid publication makes them a valuable resource for public health officials.

It's easy to see how the reports' accurate information could be viewed as counter to the preferred message of the Trump administration. Trump has made reopening schools a centerpiece of his pandemic policy, but CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly reports have described how SARS-CoV-2 can spread rapidly in a school-aged population, how young children can bring the disease home and pass it on to adults, and how children can suffer severe complications from the disease.

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Posted in CDC, COVID-19, HHS, Policy, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)

“Not uncommon at all”: AstraZeneca pauses COVID-19 vaccine trial

September 9th, 2020
A double-masked health care worker jabs a needle into the arm of a seated woman in a mask.

Enlarge / A volunteer receives an injection of AZD1222 from a medical worker during the country's first human clinical trial for a potential vaccine against COVID-19 at the Baragwanath Hospital on June 28, 2020, in Soweto, South Africa. It is reported that Africa's first COVID-19 vaccine trial began on June 24 in South Africa. (credit: Getty Images | Felix Dlangamandla)

With the coronavirus crisis gripping the globe, all eyes are on every bump and dip on the path to the pandemic’s end. So, of course, news that researchers triggered a common pause to the clinical trials of a leading COVID-19 vaccine candidate made swift and alarming headlines late Tuesday.

The global phase III trials for the vaccine AZD1222 (formerly ChAdOx1)—developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca—were put on a “temporary” and “voluntary” pause for a “standard review process,” AstraZeneca said in a statement Wednesday.

According the company, the pause was triggered by a “potentially unexplained illness” in one of thousands of participants involved in its trials. Per standard protocol, researchers must pause the trial to investigate whether the illness is related to exposure to the experimental vaccine or not.

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Posted in adverse event, Astrazeneca, clinical trial, COVID-19, Oxford University, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, science, vaccine | Comments (0)

COVID vaccine makers vow science—not Trump—will dictate release timing

September 8th, 2020
Woman receives an experimental COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA on September 04, 2020, as part of a clinical trial.

Enlarge / Woman receives an experimental COVID-19 vaccine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA on September 04, 2020, as part of a clinical trial. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

In an extraordinary move Tuesday, nine top pharmaceutical executives made a public pledge that they will not prematurely release a COVID-19 vaccine and that they will only seek federal approval to distribute a vaccine after rigorous ethical and scientific standards are met.

The pledge was signed by the CEOs of AstraZeneca, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer, and Sanofi. All of the represented companies are working on a vaccine against COVID-19 and four—AstraZeneca, Moderna, and a joint venture between BioNTech and Pfizer—have vaccines in phase 3 clinical trials.

The vow appears to be a coordinated resistance to pressure from the Trump administration, which is pushing for a rollout of a vaccine by November 1, just before the presidential election. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told states to be ready to start distributing vaccines by November 1.

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Posted in Astrazeneca, CDC, COVID-19, fda, gsk, infectious diseases, moderna, Pfizer, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science, Trump, vaccine | Comments (0)

Russian vaccine trial data has some odd-looking data [Updated]

September 5th, 2020
Image of a women in medical protective gear holding a box of samples.

Enlarge / MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 4, 2020: Medical staff with newly delivered boxes containing COVID-19 vaccine in a cold room at No2 Outpatient Clinic in southern Moscow. (credit: Stanislav Krasilnikov / Getty Images)

Update, September 9, 2020: On Monday, Enrico Bucci published an open letter outlining some concerns with the data in The Lancet paper that describes the vaccine safety tests. Bucci is an adjunct professor at Temple University who also runs a company that focuses on research integrity, so he has some history in this area. His open letter highlights a number of instances in the paper where the data for different samples produces identical or near-identical results.

While a few instances of this might be expected due to the similarities between the experiments and the small population of participants, the large number of such cases is highly unusual. And, as Bucci notes, the raw data underlying these graphs has not been made available, making it impossible to identify any innocuous reasons the results are so similar.

The letter simply calls the issue to the attention of the editors at The Lancet, where the study was published. As of today, 25 additional professors have signed it.

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Posted in Biology, COVID-19, medicine, SARS-CoV-2, science, vaccines, virology | Comments (0)

Evidence slowly building for long-term heart problems post-COVID-19

September 3rd, 2020
Image of small blue spheres surrounded by long green fibers.

Enlarge / A fluorescent image of cardiac muscle cells in culture. (credit: Douglas B. Cowan and James D. McCully, Harvard Medical School)

Coronaviruses spread primarily through material released when we breathe, and they cause respiratory symptoms. And SARS-CoV-2, with part of its name coming from "severe acute respiratory syndrome," didn't appear to be an exception. But as time went on, additional symptoms became clear—loss of smell, digestive-tract issues—and these weren't likely to be due to infection of the respiratory tract. And over time, what also became apparent is that the symptoms didn't necessarily fade when the virus was cleared.

As we've studied the virus more, we've learned that the protein it uses to latch on to cells is present in a lot of different tissues in the body, suggesting that a wide variety of different effects could be the direct product of infections of the cells there. This week, the effect that seems to be grabbing attention is heart problems, spurred by a Scientific American article that (among other things) considers the stories of professional and college athletes who have been infected. That was followed by a report that roughly 30 percent of college athletes who've contracted the virus end up with inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis.

Both reports are heavy on anecdote, but this is not a new thing; ESPN had reported on myocarditis in college athletes back in early August. And, more significantly, the scientific community has been looking into the issue for months. So far, its conclusion is that there are likely to be heart complications, even in patients who had mild COVID-19 symptoms. But the long-term implications of these problems aren't yet clear.

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Posted in Biology, cardiac, COVID-19, heart, medicine, SARS-CoV-2, science | Comments (0)