Archive for the ‘coronavirus’ Category

Real-world data shows vaccines kicking butt—including against scary variant

April 2nd, 2021
A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine inside the Viejas Arena on the campus of San Diego State University in San Diego, California, US on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Enlarge / A healthcare worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine inside the Viejas Arena on the campus of San Diego State University in San Diego, California, US on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

In a small trial, the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine fully protected people from symptomatic COVID-19 caused by the worrisome B.1.351 coronavirus variant widely circulating in South Africa, the companies announced in a press release.

Though researchers will need more data to confirm the result, it is just the latest bit of positive news to come out this week about how the vaccines are performing with real-world conditions and in real-world settings.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released real-world data showing that the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine and Moderna mRNA vaccine were, collectively, 90 percent effective at preventing infections in fully vaccinated health care, frontline, and essential workers.

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Posted in BioNTech, coronavirus, COVID-19, Infectious disease, Pfizer, public health, SARS-CoV-2, science, vaccine, variant | Comments (0)

Traffic congestion dropped by 73 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic

March 9th, 2021
A traffic jam at night.

Enlarge / A photo shows a traffic jam at 1905 Street and Third Ring Road in Moscow, Russia, on March 3, 2021. Moscow ranked fourth-worst in the world for traffic congestion in 2020, with an average of 100 hours spent in jams. (credit: Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image)

In 2020, the average US driver spent 26 hours stuck in traffic. While that's still more than a day, it's a steep decline from pre-pandemic times; in 2019 the average American sacrificed 99 hours to traffic jams. Around the world, it's a similar story. German drivers averaged an identical 26 hours of traffic in 2020, down from 46 the year before. In the UK, 2019 sounded positively awful, with 115 hours in traffic jams. At least one thing improved for that island nation in 2020: its drivers only spent 37 hours stationary in their cars.

This data was all collected by traffic analytics company Inrix for its 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard that tracks mobility across more than 1,000 different cities around the world based on travel times, miles traveled, trip characteristics, and the effect of crashes on congestion in each city.

And unless you've spent the past 12 months in a cave—in which case, gee, do I have some crappy news for you—you'll instinctively know that there were big declines in traffic in 2020, and in particular a drop in people traveling to downtowns and central business districts.

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Under intense pressure, WHO skips summary report on coronavirus origin

March 5th, 2021
Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on Feb. 9, 2021.

Enlarge / Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, on Feb. 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency )

Facing intense international pressure and criticism, the World Health Organization has abandoned plans to release a summary report of its investigation into the possible origin of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Instead, the health agency of the United Nations is skipping the summary report and plans to release a full report the week of March 15. The WHO had previously said it would release a summary report in mid-February.

“By definition, a summary report does not have all the details,” Dr. Ben Embarek, a WHO expert who led the investigation, told The Wall Street Journal. “So since there [is] so much interest in this report, a summary only would not satisfy the curiosity of the readers.”

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Posted in coronavirus, epidemiology, Infectious disease, Origin, outbreak, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, science, WHO | Comments (0)

Why N95 masks are still hard to get, even though production is up

March 1st, 2021
Medical masks move along a conveyor belt.

Enlarge / A machine makes respiratory masks in a family-owned medical equipment factory in north Miami, Florida, on February 15, 2021. The firm now has 30 million unsold masks because it can't find buyers in the United States. (credit: Chandan Khanna | AFP | Getty Images)

Even though we've had more good vaccine news lately, COVID-19 in the US is still very much a widespread concern. We're still going to need masks for many months to come. So why, a year into the pandemic, are good ones still so hard to find?

The New York Times reports that there are dozens of small, US-based businesses that have pivoted to making medical-grade masks, but they can't sell them to consumers because of policies put in place to protect supply chains at the beginning of the pandemic.

Facebook and Instagram will be happy to show you ads for cute, fashion-forward fabric masks (in adult and children's sizes)—but not ads for actual medical-grade, government-approved N95 masks. The social network explained to the NYT that its policies are meant both to preserve supplies for workers in the health care field who need them the most and also to cut down on sales of counterfeits.

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Posted in amazon, coronavirus, COVID-19, Facebook, kn95, masks, n95, Policy, supply chains | Comments (0)

China refused to hand over key data to WHO team probing pandemic’s origin

February 13th, 2021
Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 9, 2021.

Enlarge / Liang Wannian (2nd L) and Peter Ben Embarek (3rd R) both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands after the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 9, 2021. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency )

The Chinese government failed to share key data on early COVID-19 cases with a team of international scientists investigating how the pandemic began.

The researchers had requested raw data on 174 of the very first COVID-19 cases identified in Wuhan, China during December 2019, as well as other cases. But the team—assembled by the World Health Organization—was only given a summary of those early cases, according to multiple media reports.

Having such detailed patient data from the start of an outbreak is “standard practice for an outbreak investigation,” Dominic Dwyer, an Australian infectious diseases expert and WHO team member, told Reuters in an interview Saturday. Dwyer emphasized that data on those 174 cases is particularly key because only half of them were connected to the Huanan seafood market, which was initially thought to be the source of the outbreak.

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Posted in china, coronavirus, outbreak, pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, science, WHO, wuhan | Comments (0)

CDC study backs mask doubling with exposure to risky particles down 83%

February 11th, 2021
Colorful face masks are piled on a table.

Enlarge / Self-sewn protective face masks in a fabric store on April 3, 2020, in Jena, Germany. (credit: Getty | Jens Schlueter)

With the pandemic still raging and several dangerous variants looming, many experts have suggested doubling up on masks. Now, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doubles down on that strategy.

Adding a cloth mask over a surgical mask on a rubbery dummy head more than doubled particle blocking when the dummy simulated coughing—aka spewing particles capable of carrying coronavirus—the study found. Specifically, a surgical mask or a cloth mask alone blocked about 42 to 44 percent of particles, respectively, coming out of the coughing dummy. The combo of a cloth mask over a surgical mask blocked 92.5 percent of the risky particles.

Next, the CDC researchers gave the rubbery dummy head an equally disembodied friend, spaced about two meters (six feet) away in a cozy, unventilated experimental chamber. When one of the heads quietly belched aerosol particles (source) while maskless, the researchers measured the dose of particles that the companion (receiver) took in during a 15-minute period. Wearing a surgical mask alone cut the receivers’ exposure to particles by just 7.5 percent, compared to wearing no mask. Wearing a double mask cut the exposure by 83 percent.

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Scary 22% vaccine efficacy in South Africa comes with heaps of caveats

February 8th, 2021
Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020.

Enlarge / Vials in front of the AstraZeneca British biopharmaceutical company logo are seen in this creative photo taken on 18 November 2020. (credit: Getty| NurPhoto)

Dismal preliminary data on AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa—where the B.1.351/ 501Y.V2 coronavirus variant is spreading widely—lead the government there to rethink its vaccination rollout and raised further international concern about the variant.

But the small study has so many limitations and caveats, experts caution that drawing any conclusions from it is difficult.

The study, which has not been published or peer-reviewed but presented in a press conference Sunday, began in June and enrolled only around 2,000 participants, about half of which received a placebo. Early in the study—before B.1.351 emerged—the vaccine appeared over 70 percent effective at preventing mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19. That is largely in line with the conclusion of an international Phase III trial released by AstraZeneca and vaccine co-developer Oxford University, which showed mixed results for the replication-deficient adenovirus-based vaccine but an overall efficacy of around 70 percent.

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Posted in Astrazeneca, clinical trial, coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic, science, South Africa, vaccine, variants, WHO | Comments (0)

FDA now reviewing a third COVID vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson

February 5th, 2021
The head office of Janssen pharmaceutical company on February 5, 2021 in Leiden, the Netherlands. The American mother company of Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, has requested quick approval in the United States for the coronavirus vaccine that was developed by Janssen Vaccines in Leiden.

Enlarge / The head office of Janssen pharmaceutical company on February 5, 2021 in Leiden, the Netherlands. The American mother company of Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, has requested quick approval in the United States for the coronavirus vaccine that was developed by Janssen Vaccines in Leiden. (credit: Getty | BSR Agency)

Johnson & Johnson on Thursday announced it has applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for an Emergency Use Authorization for its one-shot COVID-19 vaccine.

If the EUA is granted, the vaccine will be the third authorized for use in the US against the pandemic coronavirus, likely boosting the vaccine supply in the coming months and helping to hasten immunization country-wide.

J&J’s application to the FDA comes just a week after the company revealed top-line results of its Phase III clinical trial, which found the vaccine to be 66 percent effective overall at preventing moderate and severe COVID-19. J&J’s vaccine—made by its vaccine developer Janssen Pharmaceuticals—was 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease. In the trial, severe disease was defined as testing positive for the virus as well as having signs consistent with severe systemic illness, respiratory failure, shock, or organ failure, or being admitted to an intensive care unit, or dying. The company reported that no one who received the vaccine was hospitalized or died during the trial.

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Posted in Authorization, coronavirus, COVID-19, fda, Infectious disease, Johnson & Johnson, pandemic, public health, science, vaccine | Comments (0)

B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant is picking up a worrisome new mutation

February 2nd, 2021
Cartoon representation of coronaviruses.

Enlarge (credit: CDC.gov)

As the world races to get vaccines into arms, one of the most concerning coronavirus variants appears to be getting a little more concerning.

Researchers in the UK have detected at least 15 cases of B.1.1.7 variants carrying an additional mutation: E484K, a mutation already seen in other concerning variants and one that may make current vaccines less effective at preventing infection. The B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the United Kingdom, is already known to spread more easily among people than earlier strains of the pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. And according to some preliminary evidence, it may cause more severe disease.

So far, B.1.1.7 variants carrying E484K appear rare. On Monday, Public Health England reported in a technical briefing that it had detected E484K in just 11 B.1.1.7 variants among more than 200,000 viruses examined. For now, it’s unclear if the augmented mutants will take off and become dominant in the population or fizzle out. It’s also not entirely clear what the addition of E484K means for B.1.1.7 in people. Preliminary laboratory experiments suggest the mutation alone, and its presence in B.1.1.7 specifically, may help the virus evade immune responses. But more studies and clinical data are necessary to understand the full effect of the new addition.

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Posted in antibodies, B.1.1.7, coronavirus, mutation, SARS-CoV-2, science, spike, vaccines, variants | Comments (0)

Amazon offers Biden help to speed up vaccine distribution

January 20th, 2021
The Amazon logo on the side of a multistory window.

Enlarge / An Amazon warehouse on a sunny day in Germany on April 2, 2020. (credit: Patrick Pleul | picture alliance | Getty Images)

Amazon is one of the country's largest businesses—and despite its faults and flaws, the company overall excels at logistics and distribution at scale. Therefore, Amazon suggests, the brand-new Biden administration should give the company a call to help ramp up COVID-19 distribution nationwide.

"Amazon stands ready to assist you in reaching your goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in the first 100 days of your administration," Dave Clark, the head of Amazon's consumer business, wrote in a letter (PDF) to President Joe Biden Wednesday.

Amazon's more than 800,000 employees should be in the vaccine queue as soon as possible, Clark noted, as individuals working in Amazon warehouses, AWS data centers, and Whole Foods stores are essential workers who cannot work from home. The company has inked a deal with a third-party health care firm to administer vaccines on-site at Amazon-owned facilities, Clark added—if they could just get vaccines to administer.

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Posted in amazon, Amazon.com, coronavirus, COVID-19, Policy, vaccination | Comments (0)