Coronavirus Breaking News

The coronavirus disease COVID-19 is currently reaching pandemic levels in various countries.

Jan 12, 2021 • 2:27 pm CST

Researchers said in a new study published on January 12, 2021, saliva sampling had a similar yield to lower costs than nasopharyngeal swabs for detecting SARS-CoV-2.

Given these findings, plus the advantages of reduced invasiveness, reduced need for trained health care professionals, lower risk for occupational exposure, and reduced need for specialized supplies, we suggest that saliva sampling replace nasopharyngeal swabs in most populations being tested for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

Saliva sampling has already been launched in some jurisdictions, and a laboratory protocol has received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Although laboratories analyzing saliva will need to validate analytic methods, this can be done and implemented much more quickly than approving, producing, and distributing new tests, such as those intended to be used daily or at the point of care, added these researchers.

This study's most important strength is the large number of studies included in the meta-analysis, with participants from many settings with diverse clinical characteristics.

Jan 12, 2021 • 2:18 pm CST

Amid skyrocketing coronavirus infections, some countries are attempting to stretch limited supplies of COVID-19 vaccines by reducing doses or changing vaccination schedules from those shown to be effective in clinical trials. But data are scarce on the impact of such measures, and scientists are split over whether they are worth the risks, announced an article published by the journal Nature on January 11, 2021.

“It might be fine,” says virologist Dan Barouch at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. “But we should stick with what’s been proven to work because we want it to work. We don’t want to be creative for some unclear benefit and then have an unexpected problem.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a wait of no more than six weeks between the Pfizer vaccine's first and second doses. “That doesn’t mean it’s a criticism of what any country is doing,” says Alejandro Cravioto, chair of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization. “It is just based on the evidence that we have.”

“These are all reasonable questions to consider and evaluate in clinical trials,” said Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the chief of the U.S. FDA, in a statement released on January 4, 2021. “However, at this time, suggesting changes to the FDA-authorized dosing or schedules of these vaccines is premature and not rooted solidly in the available evidence.”

‘Without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk, undermining the historic vaccination efforts to protect the population from COVID-19.’

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Jan 12, 2021 • 6:27 am CST

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories announced on January 11, 2021, confirmation of SARS-CoV-2 virus infections in three gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in California. These are the first gorillas in the USA to be confirmed positive for the new coronavirus.

The gorillas, who live in a troop of eight, are expected to recover, says Lisa Peterson, executive director of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

'We are still learning about SARS-CoV-2 in animals, but there is currently no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading the virus to people. Based on the information available, the risk of animals spreading the virus to people is considered 'to below,' stated this USDA press release.

However, people can spread the virus to animals during close contact, says the U.S. CDC. People suspected of SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 should avoid contact with animals, including pets, livestock, and wildlife.

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Jan 12, 2021 • 6:13 am CST

For Singaporeans, the COVID-19 pandemic has been closely intertwined with technology and disease management with two innovative technologies, wrote Kirsten Han a freelance journalist on January 11, 2021.

The first technology is a QR code, whose little black-and-white squares have been ubiquitous in Singapore as part of the SafeEntry contact tracing system. Under SafeEntry, anyone entering a public venue, such as restaurants or stores, must scan their QR code and register with a name, ID or passport number, and phone number. If somebody tests positive for the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19, contact tracers track down those who got close enough to be potentially infected.

There’s also TraceTogether, an app that launched in March 2020. It uses Bluetooth to ping close contacts; if two people are in proximity, their devices trade anonymized and encrypted user IDs that can be decrypted by the Ministry of Health should one person test positive for COVID-19. 

According to Han's article published by MIT Technology Review, while TraceTogether is currently voluntary, the government has announced that it is going to merge the two systems, to help reduce the spreading of the disease.

Jan 12, 2021 • 4:42 am CST

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced it received an application for conditional marketing authorization for an experimental COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University on January 12, 2021. An opinion on this authorization could be issued by January 29, 2021, during the meeting of EMA’s scientific committee for human medicines, stated in this press release.

'Such a short timeframe for evaluation is only possible because EMA has already reviewed some data on the vaccine during a rolling review, which began in 2020.'

During the review and throughout the pandemic, EMA and its scientific committees are supported by the COVID-19 EMA pandemic task force, which brings together experts from across the European medicines regulatory network to facilitate rapid and coordinated regulatory action on medicines and vaccines for COVID-19.

If the EMA concludes that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh its risks in protecting against COVID‑19, it will recommend granting conditional marketing authorization. The European Commission will then fast-track its decision-making process to grant a conditional marketing authorization valid in all EU and EEA Member States within days.

India recently followed the U.K. and granted emergency approval on January 1, 2021, for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

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Jan 11, 2021 • 10:50 am CST

Illinois-based Baxter International Inc. announced that Baxter BioPharma Solutions has agreed to provide sterile manufacturing services for NVX-CoV2373, Novavax’ COVID-19 recombinant nanoparticle vaccine candidate with Matrix-M™ adjuvant. 

The agreement with Maryland-based Novavax is expected to advance commercial-scale manufacturing essential for the vaccine’s production and distribution in the United Kingdom and European markets. Baxter’s manufacturing services for this experimental vaccine will take place at its facility in Halle/Westfalen, Germany. 

“Our priority is to bring a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine to people around the world,” said Rick Crowley, Novavax's EVP and COO, in a press statement issued on January 11, 2021.

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Jan 11, 2021 • 9:27 am CST

Canada's Ottawa based Public Health Agency stated on January 10, 2021, 'As vaccines roll out across the country and as the Canadian and global medical, public health and research communities continue to monitor the emergence and impact of these strains actively, it is more crucial than ever to remain vigilant. This means keeping up with all public health measures - maintaining physical distance, washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask, and staying home, even if you have mild symptoms.'

Furthermore, 'It is also imperative that Canadians continue to ensure that they are using trusted and credible sources when seeking information about COVID-19 vaccines, including that relating to mRNA vaccines. There is a lot of misinformation circulating online, which can easily confuse or mislead Canadians.'

'For additional trustworthy information about COVID-19, the Government of Canada website, Canada.ca/coronavirus, is a good place to start. You can also find reliable information on your provincial and local health agency website, as well as from international agencies like the World Health Organization.

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Jan 11, 2021 • 8:18 am CST

According to media reports issued on January 11, 2021, Palestine and the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria announced they are purchasing the Sputnik V Vaccine for their citizens. The Sputnik V vaccine was previously registered in the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, and Serbia.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) confirmed that Algeria's Sputnik V vaccine registration is the first African state to approve vaccines officially. RDIF stated its international partners in India, China, South Korea, and other countries would produce the COVID-19 vaccines needed for these purchases.

And, the RDIF confirmed the price of Sputnik V vaccines is less than $10 per dose.

The Sputnik V (Gam-COVID-Vac) is an adenoviral-based vaccine that uses a weakened virus to deliver small parts of a pathogen and stimulate an immune response. It is a vector vaccine based on adenovirus DNA, in which the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus gene is integrated.

Jan 10, 2021 • 2:25 pm CST

The U.S. CDC published an Early Release Letter, Volume 27, Number 2, on January 7, 2021, which concluded stating: the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus readily transmits between domestic cats. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some coronaviruses, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, infect only animals and do not infect people.

These researchers found that domestic cats that recover from an initial virus infection might be protected from reinfection. However, they found long-term persistence of inflammation and other lung lesions after infection, despite a lack of clinical symptoms and limited viral replication in the lungs.

In conclusion, 'SARS-CoV-2 was replicated effectively in the upper respiratory tract in cats, and infectious virus was cleared from the lungs within 6 days of infection; however, histopathologic examination demonstrated chronic lung sequelae in cats even a month after viral clearance. After initial infection with SARS-CoV-2, cats were protected from reinfection, with no virus replication in respiratory organs and no additional lung damage.'

Previously, on January 6, 2021, the CDC stated, 'At this time, there is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to people. Based on the limited information available to date, the risk of animals spreading COVID-19 to people is considered to be-low.'

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Jan 10, 2021 • 9:31 am CST

According to local media, the Chinese mainland reported 69 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on January 9, 2021, of whom 48 were locally transmitted, the National Health Commission confirmed. Of the locally transmitted cases, 46 were reported in north China's Hebei Province and one each in Beijing and Liaoning Province, the commission said in its daily report.

On January 10, 2021, China's Shijiazhuang launched the second round of citywide COVID-19 nucleic acid screening for its 10 million residents.

Medical workers were deployed by East China's Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces and new testing equipment, contributing to the operation's velocity, stated Ma Yujun, the city's deputy mayor. "We'll make sure to halt the spread of the virus," he said at a news conference held by the provincial government in Shijiazhuang.

Among the newly detected positive cases, 298, or 84 percent, are in the city's Gaocheng district, reported China Daily on January 9th.

Jan 9, 2021 • 3:17 pm CST

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced two upcoming actions by the CDC on January 6, 2021, to provide more than $22 billion in funding to states, localities, and territories in support of the nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as directed by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

“On top of the substantial support we’ve already provided, the funding bill signed in December 2020 has billions of dollars in new funding for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar, in a press statement. “We’re making these billions in new funds available to states as quickly as possible to support our combined efforts to end the pandemic.”

Funding tables with jurisdictions specific award amounts can be found at this CDC link. Jurisdictions will be required to comply with the awards' terms and conditions when issued, stated the HHS.

“This funding is another timely investment that will strengthen our nation’s efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic in America,” added CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D. “Particularly now, it is crucial that states and communities have the resources they need to conduct testing and to distribute and administer safe, high-quality COVID-19 vaccines safely and equitably.”

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Jan 9, 2021 • 3:06 pm CST

The U.S. CDC's COVIDView Weekly Surveillance report issued on January 8, 2021, found throughout the USA, the overall percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the betacoronavirus that is causing COVID-19, increased from 12.9% during week #52 to 15.0% during week #53. And the percent positivity increased among all ages.

In early December 2020, the overall weekly hospitalization rate peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic and remained elevated. Although reported rates in recent weeks have declined, these rates are likely to increase as additional data are reported, says the CDC.

Multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been documented in the USA and globally during this pandemic. As of January 8, 2021, there have been (63) B.1.1.7 Lineage cases confirmed by the CDC. California (32) and Florida (22) have confirmed the most B.1.1.7 Lineage cases.

The cases identified above are based on a sampling of SARS-CoV-2-positive specimens. They do not represent the total number of B.1.1.7 lineage cases circulating in the USA. They may not match numbers reported by states, territories, tribes, and local officials reported by the CDC.

Jan 8, 2021 • 3:33 pm CST

British pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca announced its COVID-19 vaccine had been granted emergency use authorization in India for adults' active immunization.

The COVID-19 vaccine (AZD1222) was shown in clinical trials to be safe and effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, with no severe cases and no hospitalizations more than 14 days after the second dose.

The approval is an important milestone as it will enable AstraZeneca to supply India and many countries worldwide. AstraZeneca has partnered with Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, for the supply of the vaccine to the Indian Government and a large number of countries such as Argentina, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, and Morocco.

AstraZeneca stated it is working with its global partners to continue building manufacturing capacity of up to 3 billion doses of the vaccine globally in 2021, on a rolling basis, pending regulatory approvals.

Adar Poonawalla, the CEO, Serum Institute of India, said in a press release: "The pandemic of 2020, however devastating - brought public and private institutions, health authorities, governments of various countries, and most importantly the global communities together to pose a resilient front against the virus."

Jan 8, 2021 • 11:15 am CST

Massachusettes-based Moderna announced that the United Kingdom (UK) Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had approved its mRNA-based COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna for use under Regulation 174. The temporary authorization permits the supply of COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna in Great Britain and is based upon the UK Commission on Human Medicines' advice.

The decision from the MHRA is based on a rolling submission of data that was announced on October 27, 2020. The MHRA based its authorization on the totality of scientific evidence shared by the Company, including a data analysis from the pivotal Phase 3 clinical study announced on November 30, 2020.

Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, stated in a press release issued on January 8, 2021, “I want to thank the MHRA and the Commission on Human Medicines’ reviewers for their tireless efforts.

The UK government has also exercised its option to purchase an additional 10 million doses of the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna, bringing its confirmed order commitment to 17 million doses. The first deliveries of the COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna to the UK from Moderna’s dedicated non-U.S. supply chain are expected to commence in early 2021.

The UK is the fifth jurisdiction to authorize COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna, following the USA on December 18, 2020, Canada on December 23, 2020, Israel on January 4, 2021, and the European Union on January 6, 2021. Additional authorizations are currently under review in several countries, including Singapore and Switzerland.

Jan 7, 2021 • 4:20 pm CST

Despite Sweden having kept schools and preschools open during the pandemic, researchers found a low incidence of severe COVID-19 among schoolchildren and preschool-age children during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Among the 1.95 million children who were 1 to 16 years of age, this study reported 15 children had COVID-19, or a multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), or both conditions and were admitted to an ICU, equal to 1 child in 130,000.

Published by The NEJM on January 6, 2021, this study followed all children who were admitted to an ICU between March 1 and June 30, 2020, with laboratory-verified or clinically verified COVID-19, including patients who were admitted for MIS-C, according to the Swedish Pediatric Rheumatology Quality Register.

Data from the Public Health Agency of Sweden showed fewer than 10 preschool teachers and 20 schoolteachers received intensive care for COVID-19 until June 30, 2020 (equal to 19 per 100,000).