Coronavirus Breaking News

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

Jan 23, 2021 • 7:42 am CST

Maryland-based Novavax, Inc. announced on January 22, 2021, that it had finalized an agreement with the Government of Canada to supply up to 76 million doses of NVX-CoV2373, the company’s recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine. 

Canada has committed to purchase 52 million doses of the vaccine with the option for up to an additional 24 million doses. The company expects to supply NVX-CoV2373 to Canada as early as the second quarter of 2021, following authorization by Canada’s regulatory agency.

“We thank the Government of Canada for their confidence in our program and ongoing partnership in the regulatory review and delivery of a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine for the citizens of Canada,” said John J. Trizzino, Chief Commercial Officer, Novavax, in a press statement.

NVX-CoV2373 is a protein-based vaccine candidate engineered from the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. NVX-CoV2373 was created using Novavax’s recombinant nanoparticle technology to generate antigen derived from the coronavirus spike (S) protein and adjuvanted with Novavax’ patented saponin-based Matrix-M™ to enhance the immune response and stimulate high levels of neutralizing antibodies.

NVX-CoV2373 contains purified protein antigen and can neither replicate nor cause COVID-19. 

Novavax is currently conducting three efficacy, safety, and immunogenicity studies of NVX-CoV2373 and expects to announce initial vaccine efficacy results in early 2021.

According to a speech by Public Health Agency of Canada on January 22, 2021, there have been over 731,000 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, including 18,622 fatalities. And the National Microbiology Laboratory reports 31 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom and 3 cases of the B.1.351 variant initially discovered in South Africa.

Jan 22, 2021 • 2:30 pm CST

Pfizer and BioNTech announced on January 22, 2021, they would provide 40 million COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX at a not-for-profit price. The Comirnaty vaccine doses are expected to be delivered in the first quarter of 2021, subject to the negotiation and execution of supply agreements under the COVAX Facility structure.

As part of a broader strategy to support low and middle-income countries beyond the agreement with COVAX, Pfizer and BioNTech are committed to partnering with other global health stakeholders to provide expertise and resources to strengthen healthcare systems where greater support may be needed to deploy COVID-19 vaccines. 

"At Pfizer, we believe that every person deserves to be seen, heard, and cared for. That is why from the very beginning of our vaccine development program, Pfizer and BioNTech have been firmly committed to working toward equitable and affordable access of COVID-19 vaccines for people around the world," said Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla in a press statement. 

"We share the mission of COVAX and are proud to work together so that developing countries have the same access as the rest of the world, which will bring us another step closer to ending this global pandemic and proving that science will win for everyone, everywhere."

The Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty COVID-19 Vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but has been authorized under an Emergency Use Authorization to prevent COVID-19 for use in individuals 16 years of age and older.

Jan 22, 2021 • 2:05 pm CST

The U.S. CDC's COVIDView's Key Updates for Week #2, ending January 16, 2021, included surveillance indicators tracking SARS-CoV-2 virus circulation levels and associated illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths decreased during the last week. Recent declines in all indicators should be interpreted with caution as reporting delays increased due to the holidays, said the CDC on January 22, 2021.

Nationally, the overall percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 decreased from 14.7% during week #1 to 11.9% during week #2. And the trend in the weekly percentage of deaths due to pneumonia, influenza, and COVID-19 (PIC) has decreased since mid-December 2020.

However, the overall weekly hospitalization rate remains elevated and above earlier peaks in the COVID-19 pandemic. While the rate reached its highest point during the week ending December 12, 2020, rates in recent weeks are likely to increase as additional data are reported to the CDC.

Among 15,979 sampled adults hospitalized during March 1–October 31, 2020, with information on underlying medical conditions, 90.6% had at least one reported underlying medical condition. The most-reported underlying medical conditions in adults were hypertension (55.8%), obesity (48.5%), metabolic disease (41.2%), and cardiovascular disease (32.5%).

Among children, 52.0% had at least one reported underlying medical condition. The most-reported underlying medical conditions to the CDC were obesity (37.5%), neurologic disease (13.3%), and asthma (11.3%).

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Jan 22, 2021 • 8:46 am CST

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN) announced on January 22, 2021, new guidance for COVID-19 vaccinations in people with cancer. The nonprofit alliance of leading cancer centers created an NCCN COVID-19 Vaccine Committee that assists cancer care providers in making informed decisions on protecting their patients from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The NCCN committee's preliminary recommendations state that all people currently in active cancer treatment should get a COVID-19 vaccine, with some advice regarding immunosuppression and timing. Prioritize patients include those with active cancer on treatment (including hematopoietic and cellular therapy), those planned to start treatment, and those immediately (<6 months) posttreatment, except those receiving only hormonal therapy.

Furthermore, 'there are important gaps in knowledge on vaccine immunogenicity in specific patients with cancer and therapies.'

'The NCCN may learn that specific therapies limit vaccine efficacy and warrant vaccine delay. The durability of vaccine protection is being investigated in the general population and is expected to be attenuated in immunocompromised patients with cancer.'

"The medical community is rising to one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced," stated Robert W. Carlson, M.D., Chief Executive Officer, NCCN, in a press release. "The COVID-19 vaccines exemplify the heights of scientific achievement. Now we have to distribute them quickly, equitably, safely and, efficiently, using clearly defined and transparent principles."

The full document can be found at NCCN.org/covid-19, along with other vital information about the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care, says the NCCN.

Previously, the American Cancer Society (ACS) stated: 'the initial studies testing the COVID-19 vaccines did not include people getting treatment with drugs that suppress the immune system, like chemotherapy, or people who have weakened immune systems for other reasons. This is because the studies needed to see first if the vaccines work in people with healthy immune systems.'

'The situation for every person who has (or has had) cancer is different, so it is best to discuss the risks and benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine with your cancer doctor. They can advise you about if and when you should receive it,' concluded the ACS.

 

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Jan 22, 2021 • 5:29 am CST

Though a large majority (83%) of Americans believe wearing a mask is an effective way to protect themselves from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, many still don’t wear them, according to new findings from the USC Dornsife Understanding Coronavirus in America Study, which was published on January 21, 2021.

The vast majority of Americans wore face masks while grocery shopping, which was the most common activity reported. Of those who shopped for groceries in December 2020, 90% said they wore a mask.

However, only 42% of people in rural areas wore a mask always or most of the time while close to people outside their household. This data compares to 52% of people in suburban locales and 57% of people in urban locales.

“These findings indicate a need to redouble efforts to convey consistent messages about the overall importance of wearing masks, but more than that, where and when to wear them,” said these researchers. “Too many people seem to lack a clear understanding of the risks posed by friends and family outside their immediate households.” 

Jan 22, 2021 • 5:14 am CST

The JAMA Ophthalmol published an original Investigation on January 21, 2021, which found the presence of viral genomic and subgenomic RNA of SARS-CoV-2 in the human cornea.

In this case series study carried out in a tertiary care facility, SARS-CoV-2 genomic RNA was detected in the cornea of 6 of 11 eyes (55%) of patients with viremic coronavirus disease 2019; subgenomic SARS-CoV-2 RNA was present in 4 of these 6 eyes (67%).

The German study authors noted that current guidelines recommend avoiding transplant of corneas from donors who either had COVID-19 at the time of death or who had been recently exposed to the virus because the infectivity of contaminated tissue posed to potential recipients is unknown.

However, the risk of COVID-19 infection via corneal transplant is low even in donors with SARS-CoV-2 viremia, but further research is necessary to assess the rate of SARS-CoV-2 transmission via corneal transplant.

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Jan 21, 2021 • 5:28 pm CST

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) issued its first update on January 21, 2021, regarding the spread of new SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern in the EU/EEA.

'Based on the new information, the risk associated with the introduction and community spread of variants of concern has been increased to high - very high due to their increased transmissibility and the options for a response have been adjusted to the current situation,' stated the ECDC.

'The ECDC assesses the increased transmissibility is likely to lead to an increased number of infections. This, in turn, is likely to lead to higher hospitalization and death rates across all age groups and those with co-morbidities. To detect introductions of known variants, as well as the emergence of new variants, Member States need to increase the level of surveillance and sequencing of a representative sample of community COVID-19 cases.'

'It is important to use the available COVID-19 vaccines to protect those who are most vulnerable and for key workers against the currently circulating virus variants in the EU/EEA and hopefully also against one or all of the new variants of concern. Assessment of VOC 202012/01 suggests cross-immunity is present, while investigations into the other variants of concern are still on-going. Member States should monitor vaccine effectiveness for these new variants.'

In the USA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 144 cases of the SARS-CoV-2 betacornavirus B.1.1.7 lineage as of January 20, 2021. The states of California, Florida, and New York have reported the most variant cases.

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Jan 21, 2021 • 10:04 am CST

Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc. announced that the first participant had been dosed in the Phase 1/2 study of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate (mRNA-1273) in Japan, led by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. TAK-919 is Takeda’s development code for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

This placebo-controlled Phase 1/2 study will evaluate the safety and immunogenicity of two vaccinations of mRNA-1273 given 28 days apart. Takeda intends to enroll 200 participants aged 20 years and above in Japan. Each participant will be assigned to receive a placebo or a 100 μg dose at both vaccinations. Participants will be followed through 12 months after the second vaccination.

“We are pleased that this Phase 1/2 study of our COVID-19 vaccine in healthy adults in Japan has begun. This is the first clinical trial of a Moderna product in Japan, and we thank Takeda for partnering with us to potentially protect the Japanese population from COVID-19 with a vaccine,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, in a press release.

Takeda and Moderna previously announced that Takeda would import and distribute 50 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate starting in the first half of 2021, pending licensure in Japan.

On December 18, 2020, the U.S. FDA issued an emergency use authorization that enables the experimental Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine to be administered in the USA.

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Jan 21, 2021 • 8:00 am CST

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Health and Prevention announced on January 21, 2021, it has approved the COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, for emergency use, making it the third such vaccine to be approved for use in the UAE. The decision comes as part of the UAE's comprehensive and integrated efforts to ensure increased prevention levels against the virus and to safeguard the country's citizens' and residents' health, stated a press release.

The UAE has hosted the third phase of clinical trials of the vaccine. The study results demonstrated the Sputnik V vaccine's effectiveness in triggering a strong antibody response against the virus, its safety for use, and its compliance with international safety and effectiveness standards.

Sputnik V is a vector vaccine based on adenovirus DNA, in which the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus gene is integrated. Adenovirus is used as a “container” to deliver the coronavirus gene to cells and start the synthesis of the new coronavirus's envelope proteins, “introducing” the immune system to a potential virus.

Additionally, the UAE's Ministry of Health and Prevention has announced the total number of vaccine doses provided stands at 2,246,069, with a rate of vaccine distribution of 22.71 doses per 100 people. The Emirates has a population of about 9.7 million. The vaccination drive is in line with the Ministry's plan to provide the vaccine to all society members and acquire herd immunity, which will help reduce the number of cases and control the virus's spread.

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Jan 20, 2021 • 6:37 am CST

The Government of India announced it had grant assistance to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, and Seychelles and will begin distributing the CoviShield vaccines on January 20, 2021. CoviShield is India's Serum Institute version of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.

India had earlier supplied hydroxychloroquine, Remdesivir, paracetamol tablets, diagnostic kits, ventilators, masks, gloves, and other medical supplies to many countries during the COVID19 pandemic.

Before delivering CoviShield vaccines, a training program covering administrative and operational aspects was conducted for immunization managers, cold chain officers, communication officers, and data managers of the recipient countries, both at national and provincial levels.

'In an ongoing effort, India will continue to supply countries all over the world with vaccines. This will be calibrated against domestic requirements and international demand and obligations, including under GAVI’s Covax facility to developing countries,' concluded this press statement issued from New Delhi on January 19, 2021.

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Jan 19, 2021 • 2:03 pm CST

The effect of mask-wearing on community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 has been the subject of substantial debate. In this article published by The Lancet on January 19, 2021, researchers presented findings from over 300,000 serial cross-sectional surveys conducted during June and July 2020.

This survey confirmed that a 'high percentage of self-reported face mask-wearing is associated with a higher probability of transmission control in US states.'

'Our evidence supports the role of mask-wearing in controlling SARS-CoV-2 transmission; however, this ecological study cannot inform questions of causality or generalizable biological mechanisms. It is difficult to disentangle individuals' engagement in mask-wearing from their adoption of other preventive hygiene practices, and mask-wearing might be serving as a proxy for other risk avoidance behaviors not queried, such as avoiding crowded spaces,' concluded these researchers.

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Jan 19, 2021 • 11:26 am CST

Pfizer and BioNTech announced 'they had developed a plan that will allow the scale-up of manufacturing capacities in Europe and deliver significantly more Comiranty vaccine (BNT162b2) doses in the second quarter 2021. To accomplish this plan, certain modifications of production processes are required now, stated a BioNTech press release issued on January 15, 2021.

The companies continue stating: 'As a result, our facility in Puurs, Belgium, will temporarily reduce the number of doses delivered in the upcoming week.'

'We will be back to the original schedule of deliveries to the European Union beginning the week of January 25, 2021, with increased delivery beginning the week of February 15, resulting in our ability to deliver the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter of 2021.

Pfizer and BioNTech stated they 'are working relentlessly to support the further roll-out of the vaccination campaigns worldwide by not only expanding their own manufacturing capacities but also by adding further suppliers as well as contract manufacturers to increase total manufacturing capacity.'

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Jan 19, 2021 • 8:47 am CST

India-based Dhaka Tribune reported on January 19, 2021, two million doses of the Covishield vaccine, Serum Institute of India's version of the vaccine co-developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, will be despatched to Bangladesh. The country's foreign ministry confirmed the plan, saying a special flight from India to Bangladesh carrying the first vaccine consignment will land in Dhaka within days.

Under the Ministry, the Health Services Division has issued a letter to the drug regulator, the Directorate General of Drug Administration, to take appropriate steps to administer the vaccine. SII is reported to have produced and stockpiled 75 million doses of the CoviShield vaccine, reported local media.

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 (AZD1222) vaccine, formerly known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is made from the ChAdOx1 virus, a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus). This vaccine has been granted emergency use authorization in India, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, and Morocco.

On December 30, 2020, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency provided authorization for an emergency supply of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca for the active immunization of individuals 18 years or older.

Jan 18, 2021 • 4:11 pm CST

Texas-based American Airlines announced on January 14, 2021, it is the first U.S. airline to introduce an easy way to negative COVID-19 test results and other completed documents required for international travel. American’s mobile health passport VeriFLY app helps flyers verify their travel requirements.

American’s customers have already use VeriFLY when visiting several countries, including Jamaica, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

VeriFLY was developed and is managed by the biometric authentication and identity assurance solutions provider, Daon. According to Daon, VeriFLY offers travelers a secure and simple way to confirm their destination’s COVID-19 requirements. After creating a secure profile on the VeriFLY app, Daon verifies that the customer’s data matches a country’s requirements and displays a simple pass or fail message.

Daon says this simple message streamlines the check-in and document verification process at the airport before departure and issues reminders when their travel window is coming to a close or once their credential has expired.

This requirement becomes mandatory for anyone arriving in the USA beginning on January 26, 2021. The U.S. CDC issued this Order on January 15th.

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Jan 18, 2021 • 2:10 pm CST

Barcelona-based Grifols announced it would begin a clinical trial to evaluate a new COVID-19 drug's safety and efficacy based on the Grifols immunoglobulin Gamunex®-C and containing anti-SARS-CoV-2 polyclonal antibodies from plasma donors who have recovered from the disease.

The new drug would provide immediate post-exposure protection against the coronavirus and would be especially useful to complement the vaccine in the early phase after vaccination. It could also protect the elderly and healthcare workers, and immunocompromised patients for whom vaccination isn’t recommended.

Grifols expects this clinical trial, led by the researcher's Oriol Mitjà and Bonaventura Clotet, from Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital in Barcelona, to begin in February 2021, with the possibility of results in the spring.

According to Dr. Mitjà, “This treatment based on immunoglobulins would provide a combination of polyclonal antibodies that, compared with monoclonal antibodies, offers a greater diversity that could improve the degree of protection against the coronavirus.”

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