World Health Organization

UK, USA Criticize WHO Covid Report, Accuse China of Withholding Data

As part of a statement signed by 12 other countries, the US and UK have heavily criticized a World Health Organization (WHO) report into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic, while also accusing China of ‘withholding access to complete, original data and samples”.

The statement, whose other signatories include Australia and Canada, came soon after the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, admitted that his organization’s investigation was “not extensive enough” and that his team of experts had difficulties accessing raw information during their four-week visit to Wuhan at the beginning of the year.

On Tuesday, shortly after Tedros’ comments, the 14 countries – including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia and Israel – said in a statement that they “fully” supported the WHO’s efforts to bring an end to the pandemic, including understanding how it “started and spread”.

But they also added that they felt it was “essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples”.

The long-awaited report by WHO-commissioned experts and their Chinese counterparts concluded that the global pandemic probably came to humans from animals.

WHO leader Tedros admitted that he believed there should be a continued examination of the theory that the virus had escaped from a Wuhan institute of virology laboratory, despite the report concluding that it was ‘extremely unlikely’ to be the source of the pandemic.

“In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data,” Tedros said.

“I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing,” he said pointedly while adding that the report “advances our understanding in important ways”.

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy,” Tedros said.

While the WHO report found that a number of possible sources of the pandemic were unlikely, officials revealed that this investigation was just the beginning and a network of new, detailed investigations would now have to take place.

“We will see that in the report, there is a lot of very detailed information and useful information that again point towards the need for very specific new studies,” Dr. Ben Embarek revealed at the WHO briefing on their findings on Tuesday.

“The Chinese counterparts, ahead of our coming were also conducting a large number of surveys on animals, different types of animals, wild animals, animals from zoos, animals from farms, domestic animals, et cetera, dozens of thousands of animals were tested and all negative. So again, showing the difficulty of picking up a particular species as a potential intermediary host.”

“(President Biden believes) that the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors, all of the people who’ve been working to save lives, the families who have lost loved ones, all deserve greater transparency. They deserve better information. They deserve steps that are taken by the global community to provide that,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during her latest press conference, during which the topic of the latest WHO report was brought up by the attending media.

“So there was an extensive statement put out by a number of countries, including the U.S. But let me highlight, and we’re still reviewing the report, but let me highlight some of the concerns that have come up to date: the report lacks crucial data, information, and access.

“It represents a partial and incomplete picture. There was a joint statement, as I noted that was put out. We also welcome a similar statement from the EU, and EU members sending a clear message that the global community shares these concerns.

“There are steps from here that we believe should be taken. There’s a second stage in this process that we believe should be led by international and independent experts. They should have unfettered access to data. They should be able to ask questions of people who are on the ground at this point in time. And that’s a step that WHO could take,” Psaki continued.

“They have not been transparent. They have not provided underlying data. That certainly doesn’t qualify as cooperation. The analysis performed to date from our experts, their concern is that there isn’t additional support for one hypothesis. It doesn’t lead us to any closer of an understanding or greater knowledge than we had six to nine months ago about the origin. It also doesn’t provide us guidelines or steps, recommended steps on how we should prevent this from happening in the future. And those are imperative.”

Pandemic Mental Health

1 In 3 Covid-19 Survivors Diagnosed With Mental Health Disorders Within 6 Months Of Recovery

A pandemic study regarding the long term effects of Covid-19 in its survivors has estimated that 1 in 3 individuals were diagnosed with neurological or psychiatric conditions within six months of their initial infection. 

The study was published this week in the peer-reviewed journal, The Lancet Psychiatry. The study itself used electronic health records from more than 230,000 Covid-19 patients mainly from the US and specifically regarding 14 different brain and mental health disorders. 

The study found that “34% of survivors were diagnosed with at least one of the 14 conditions, with 13% of those people being their first recorded neurological or psychiatric diagnosis. Mental health diagnoses were most common among patients, with 17% diagnosed with anxiety and 14% diagnosed with a mood disorder.”

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Neurological diagnoses were much more uncommon, however, they were more prevalent in patients who experienced serious illness during their Covid-19 infection. 7% of Covid-19 patients who had to be admitted to intensive care had a stroke, for example, and 2% were diagnosed with dementia. 

“It shows the toll that COVID takes is not just with the (disease itself), but also with the aftermath of the condition, which can be extremely complicated, involving not only the brain but other organs in the body as well,” said Dr. William Li, president and medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the study of abnormal blood vessel growth.

The study also looked at around 100,000 flu patients and more than 230,000 patients who were diagnosed with a respiratory tract infection within the past year and found that neurological and psychiatric diagnoses were more common in individuals who fought Covid-19. 

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“There was a 44% greater risk of brain or mental health disorder diagnoses after COVID-19 than after the flu, and a 16% greater risk than with respiratory tract infections,” according to the study.

Julie Walsh-Messinger, assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Dayton, recently discussed how it’s possible that “coronavirus infection could lead to anxiety or depression as these conditions have been associated with inflammation typically seen in Covid-19.”

“We’re seeing higher rates of depression and anxiety across the board regardless of (COVID-19 infection) or not. It’s hard to tease apart how much of it is general stress-induced anxiety or depression because of lack of ability to socialize, lack of ability to engage in activities that one normally enjoys, fear about the future and how much of it is specific to the disease’s progress. Even so, the study is an important first step in what clinicians can expect from their patients who have recovered from COVID-19,” she explained. 

“The size of the study also demonstrates how the long-term effects of COVID-19 can impact a country’s health care system even after the disease is gone. Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic. Health care systems need to be resourced to deal with the anticipated need,” said lead author Paul Harrison, a professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K.

Doctor Giving Coronavirus Vaccine

Half Of US Adults Could Be Vaccinated By This Weekend 

According to an adviser from the White House, the United States is currently on track to have half of all adults vaccinated with at least one Covid-19 shot by this weekend, however, the adviser also emphasized that this doesn’t mean America is done with the pandemic. 

“We do have to remember that there are 100 million-plus adults that still haven’t been vaccinated. They’re not there yet, and you don’t win the war until you bring everybody over with you.”

President Joe Biden recently announced the goal of getting vaccinations open for all adults in all 50 states by April 19th, a task that is becoming more and more likely to occur as vaccine supplies increase, according to Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser who recently spoke to the press regarding the pandemic. 

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Dr. Anthony Fauci has claimed that around 70-85% of the population needs to be vaccinated to reach a proper herd immunity, and many states have a large population of people who don’t want to be vaccinated. Current data projects that certain states will likely be done vaccinating all willing adults by mid-June, while others could take until the end of 2021. 

Some states have been criticized for prematurely lifting mask mandates and other procedures meant to curb the spread of the virus due to the fact that they feel the vaccine’s release is enough to re-open the world. Fauci claims this couldn’t be more false: 

“It’s too premature to declare victory, we’ve got to continue to hang in there a bit longer by continuing with the public health measures.”

Slavitt claims that the US is more than equipped to stay on course with vaccination efforts, which is a great sign for the future of the nation in regards to this pandemic’s end. This is great news considering more and more health experts are growing concerned with the number of variants of the virus appearing throughout all 50 states. 

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Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who recently discussed how “the daily rate of new cases has been on the rise over the last four weeks due to highly transmissible variants like B117 spreading.” According to Walensky within the past week alone five states have accounted for 44% of new Covid-19 cases. 

Within the past week there have been around 453,000 new cases in the US; New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey accounting for 198,000 of those cases. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, “Michigan had the highest rate per capita and is leading the country in terms of new cases. Along with Michigan, Minnesota is also reporting some of the highest new cases in the country, however both states have high levels of vaccination.”

Many health experts are also discussing how to monitor which US citizens have been vaccinated and which haven’t in a post-pandemic world. Many believe that vaccine passports, or some form of official written proof of vaccination, should be required to enter into certain highly populated spaces. New York, for example, is currently testing out “Excelsior passes” to grant vaccinated citizens access to sports events and concerts at limited capacity. 

Director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota Michael Osterholm, recently claimed that “in addition to vaccination documentation debates, the US will also have to contend with ‘long Covid,’ a condition in which even patients with relatively mild illnesses could suffer symptoms long after their infection.”

One in three people who have been infected with Covid-19 have reported longer mental health and neurological symptoms, according to a recent study, so the US will have to continue to fund research that can help those individuals in their continued Covid journey after the pandemic comes to its eventual end.

Children Drinking Juice Box

Manchester Schools To Perform Study On Children’s Wellbeing Post-Pandemic 

A multitude of school districts in Manchester are participating in a study that’s looking into the wellbeing of children and their emotional responses to reentering the world as the pandemic reaches its eventual end. Two-thirds of parents believe that mental health should be prioritized over academic attainment in the coming school year. 

The Greater Manchester Young People’s Wellbeing Program will be running the study that will be gathering data from tens of thousands of young students across 250 secondary schools in the city of Manchester. This is the first study of its kind in the UK, and it will begin collecting data this fall. Initially, the program will attempt to learn young people’s feelings and concerns over returning to school, as well as their physical activity. 

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Research is also being conducted for the University of Manchester in association with the Anna Freud Center, the Youth Sports Trust, and the Greater Manchester combined authority. This major collaborative effort shows that Manchester authorities and educators are greatly concerned that students won’t be able to learn as successfully due to the amount of adjustments they’ve had to make within the past year. 

David Gregson is a philanthropist who first brought up the idea of performing this study. Gregson argues that “the UK has neglected the wellbeing and physical health of children in favor of academic attainment, to the detriment of their actual development.” 

The Youth Sports Trust also recently performed a survey that suggested parents agree with Gregson’s argument. The survey found that “65% of parents believed wellbeing was a key factor in choosing a child’s secondary school, while only 48% said the same of exam results. Meanwhile, 70% of parents with children between the ages of 11 and 16 said their children’s wellbeing had suffered during the pandemic.”

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“I first took this idea to Greater Manchester in 2019 and all Covid has done, as the tide has gone out, is expose the pebbles we knew existed. For me, our education system has become too focused on attainment. A necessary but insufficient assessment,” Gregson said. 

“We’ve got ourselves into the position where we think that attainment is the be-all and end-all and I don’t agree with that. I want to change that dialogue and I want to improve the wellbeing of young people in Greater Manchester to prove that point.”

Gregson claims that all the data collected in this program will be shared with local authorities and government leaders so that they can recognize, and hopefully change, areas of need within the education system. 

“My 10-year plan is to add a second leg to the assessment of young people in Britain that we don’t just think of them as people who get GCSE results,” Gregson said. 

“That we think about another equally important part of their makeup, which is their wellbeing, their sense of self-esteem, their sense of optimism. We’ll need all of that. We needed it pre-Covid and we’ll certainly need it after Covid.”


New AstraZeneca Report Reveals Vaccine Has Had 76% Efficacy

Pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca has again updated its data on how well its coronavirus vaccine is working, announcing this week that it is showing 76% efficacy against symptomatic coronavirus disease and 100% efficacy against the severe or critical disease or the need for hospitalization.

The company also said the vaccine was 85% effective in preventing symptoms in those aged 65 and older.

The announcement follows a set of data released last Monday by the company that showed similar numbers. Just as with the initial data, AstraZeneca released the latest stats via a news release rather than a peer-reviewed report or as a formal submission for US Food and Drug Administration review.

“Positive high-level results from the primary analysis of the Phase III trial of AZD1222 in the US have confirmed vaccine efficacy consistent with the prespecified interim analysis announced on Monday 22 March 2021,” Mene Pangalos, executive vice president for biopharmaceuticals research for the company, said in a statement.

“These results have been presented to the independent Data Safety Monitoring Board. The primary analysis is pre-specified in the protocol and will be the basis for a regulatory submission for Emergency Use Authorization to the US Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks.

“This primary efficacy analysis included the accrual of 190 symptomatic cases of COVID-19 from the 32,449 trial participants, an additional 49 cases to the previously announced interim analysis. Participants were randomized on a 2:1 ratio between the vaccine and placebo group.”

AstraZeneca’s Monday announcement was criticized by the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) that reviews data from Covid-19 vaccine candidates and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases made the unusual decision to publicly announce their concerns.

“The DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data,” the NIAID, which has helped AstraZeneca run trials in the US, said.

“We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible.”

AstraZeneca claimed on Monday that its Covid-19 vaccine exhibited 79% efficacy against symptomatic disease and 100% against severe disease and hospitalization.

32,500 volunteers across the Americas showed people receiving the vaccine were 76% less likely to have any coronavirus symptoms compared to the one-third of participants that were given the placebo.  

“There were 190 cases in the primary analysis. There are 14 additional possible or probable cases to be adjudicated so the total number of cases and the point estimate may fluctuate slightly,” the company said.

“AstraZeneca will also submit the primary analysis for peer-reviewed publication in the coming weeks.”

As has been the case in all coronavirus vaccine trials, the volunteers were not regularly tested for Covid-19, so it’s not known how many may have gotten asymptomatic infections.

“A key secondary endpoint, preventing severe or critical disease and hospitalization, demonstrated 100% efficacy. There were eight cases of severe COVID-19 observed in the primary analysis with all of those cases in the placebo group,” the company said.

“The vaccine was well tolerated, and no safety concerns related to the vaccine were identified.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci brandished AstraZeneca’s release of premature data an “unforced error”.

Speaking to ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday, Fauci said that the AstraZeneca vaccine “is very likely a very good vaccine,” and that the situation does nothing but only serve to create doubt about the vaccines and thus contribute to vaccine hesitancy.

“We are always concerned when there is an apparent miscommunication… If you want to use that word, that that would add to an already existing level of vaccine hesitancy. And that’s the reason why, as Andy said, we want to make sure we’re always completely transparent in everything that goes on with regard to a messaging in vaccine,” Dr. Fauci said at the White House COVID-19 Response Team & Task Force press briefing.

“At the end of the day, when you look at the data, this is going to be turned out to be a good vaccine. As Andy said, the final determination of the analysis of the data will be done by the FDA. When that is done, that is going to be very transparent as they meet with their VRBPAC, their advisory committee. So at the end of the day, everything is going to be open and transparent. And hopefully that will dispel any hesitancy that was associated with this little bump in the road that we happen to have most recently with AZ.”

“I’m enthusiastic about the pace that vaccination that is happening about the early data that we’re seeing, of the changes in infection rates, the changes in emergency department rates,” Dr. Walensky said at the same press briefing.

“What worries me is that while we have about 24% of the population that has received one dose and about 13% of the population that is fully vaccinated, what concerns me is the footage of what’s happening in Spring Breakers, in people who are not continuing to implement prevention strategies while we get fully scaled up. We’re at 13%. We need to be much higher than that to feel like we have adequate protection around this country.”

Coronavirus Virus

CDC Brands Coronavirus Strains Found in California ‘Variants of Concern’

Two coronavirus strains first detected in California have now been branded ‘variants of concern’ by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC said the variants could be around 20% more transmissible than the original strain, according to some research. The public health agency also said some Covid-19 treatments may be less effective but stopped short of saying vaccines would stop working against them.

A shipment of Covid-10 antibody treatment headed for California, Nevada and Arizona was recently halted by the US Department of Health and Human Services due to the newly discovered variants.

The agency said the treatment, called bamlanivimab and made by pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company, may be less effective against the strains.

Agency officials noted that another Covid-19 therapy made by Eli Lilly, a combination of bamlanivimab and another drug, etesevimab, can still be ordered if needed.

Early test results demonstrated that the drug combination may significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. A different antibody treatment made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals was also not affected by the HHS action.

Eli Lilly said Tuesday that it is continually monitoring the Covid-19 environment for variants and testing its therapies against a “wide array of emerging mutations and variants.”

“It has always been our view that additional antibodies from Lilly and others will need to be developed to address the evolution of the virus, including emerging variants that can differ by country or even by state,” Eli Lilly said in a statement to CNN last week.

“In fact, this is what drove our work on bamlanivimab and etesevimab together and continues to underpin our strategy moving forward.”

“For individuals who are diagnosed early with COVID-19 that’s early testing and who, although they’re currently doing okay, are really at risk of getting pretty sick, these treatments can make a huge difference in preventing them from developing severe illness from COVID,” Dr Nunez-Smith said at the latest Covid-19 press conference with Dr Fauci.

“In fact, Eli Lilly’s newest monoclonal antibody combination therapy has shown the ability to reduce COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths by up to 87%. So the National Institutes of Health and the Infectious Disease Society of America, that’s an association of over 12,000 physicians, scientists, and public health experts, they specialize in infectious disease and they both formally recommend the use of this treatment in patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of progression to severe disease.”

The European Union’s medicines regulator has announced its conclusion that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is still safe to use after several countries across Europe suspended their rollout efforts following reports that it could be linked to blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA)’s executive director Emer Cooke said the agency had “come to a clear scientific conclusion: this is a safe and effective vaccine.”

“I want to reiterate that our scientific position is this: this vaccine is a safe and effective option to protect citizens against Covid-19,” Cooke said at a press conference Thursday.

“It demonstrated that at least 60% efficacy in clinical trials and preventing coronavirus disease, and in fact the real-world evidence suggests that the effectiveness could be even higher than that.”

The group was keen to recommend raising awareness of blood clot reports across the continent so that they could be further analyzed before too long. But they also said such reports were rare, and that to date more than 7 million people have received the vaccine in the EU.

Most of western Europe had temporarily stopped using the Oxford shot following a small number of clots being reported, despite a third wave of coronavirus infections across the region.

The death of a person in Austria, a woman in Denmark and a third patient in Norway were the cause of the concern but the decisions were criticized by much of the medical community, and other countries continued to back the use of the vaccine — including the UK, which has given out more than 11 million AstraZeneca doses so far.

“So these recommendations by the NIH and by IDSA send a really strong signal to patients, as well as providers all over the country. A message that these treatments are efficacious. They show enough promise in clinical studies to recommend their broader use during this pandemic to help us save lives,” Dr Nunez-Smith, associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Yale School of Medicine, continued at the press conference.

“And we are certainly tracking all the latest science and updating clinical recommendations as needed. For all Americans, these treatments for COVID-19 are free. And the cost of administering them is covered by Medicare and Medicaid and most private insurance companies. And these therapies are already available across the United States and we’ve shipped these treatments to over 5,000 sites across the country. So that’s hospitals and emergency rooms, urgent care settings, physician’s offices, and infusion centers.”

Covid-19 Mutation

Majority Of Covid-19 ‘Long-Haulers’ Experiencing Multiple Brain-Related Symptoms 

According to a new study, 85% of Covid-19 “long-haulers” are experiencing at least four lingering neurological symptoms even if they weren’t hospitalized for their initial illness. The lingering symptoms include brain fog, headache, and the loss of smell and/or taste. 

The study was published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology earlier this week. Researchers claimed to analyze information from 100 Covid-19 long haulers from 21 states. All participants were seen in person or over video conference at the Neuro Covid-19 Clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The study went from May-November of 2020, and none of the participants were hospitalized when initially infected with the virus. 

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All participants claimed to experience Covid symptoms for more than six weeks, and on average they were seen for four to five months after their initial infection. Half of the participants had previously tested positive while the other half had tested negative but were still experiencing consistent Covid symptoms. The researchers of the study believed that all the participants who tested negative in the study likely did have the virus, but got it at the point in the pandemic when getting a test was nearly impossible.

“85% of participants reported at least four neurological symptoms. The most common symptom was ‘brain fog’ or trouble thinking, reported by 81% of participants; followed by headaches, reported by 68%; and numbness or tingling, reported by 60% of participants. More than half reported problems with their sense of taste or smell; 47% reported dizziness; 30% reported blurred vision; and 29% reported ringing in the ears,” according to the article. 

According to a previous study posted by Live Science Magazine last year, “‘long COVID-19’ is an important emerging entity requiring multidisciplinary expertise and care. It’s unclear how many people have long COVID, but some studies suggest that about 30% of people with COVID-19 experience lingering symptoms up to nine months after their diagnosis.”

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Study author Dr. Igor Koralnik claimed in a news conference that it’s likely millions of people are experiencing long Covid symptoms, so these studies are important. He also noted that more than 40% of the participants claimed to have struggled with anxiety and depression throughout their lives pre-pandemic, so more research is currently being done to see if there’s a link to mental illness and the long-Covid symptoms. 

“About 70% of participants were women, which matches the sex ratio seen in some other autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which affects three times more women than men,” the authors wrote.

The authors also noted that this study was extremely preliminary and small, pointing out that a majority of the patients were white, and there’s a chance a lot of the long-haulers with negative Covid tests may have never had the virus to begin with. Researchers are planning on continuing these research efforts and are starting with analyzing how certain immune systems respond to Covid-19 proteins.

AstraZeneca Vaccine

AstraZeneca Vaccine 79% Effective Against Symptomatic Covid-19, According To New US Study

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine has proven to have a 79% efficacy against symptomatic Covid-19, and 100% efficacy against severe disease and hospitalizations, according to a new US study.

The findings from a new Phase 3 trial included more than 32,000 participants and came after many European nations began delaying the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine over blood clot fears. Many doctors and healthcare experts were quick to warn against delaying the distribution of these vaccines, because the blood clot risks were just as high as any other vaccine, and the delays are preventing vulnerable parties from being protected against the virus.

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“The trial showed that the vaccine was well-tolerated and identified no safety concerns. An independent committee found no increased risk of thrombosis (blood clots) or events characterized by thrombosis among the 21,583 participants receiving at least one dose of the vaccine,” AstraZeneca said in a statement.

Ruud Dobber is the president of AstraZeneca’s biophermaceutical’s business unit who recently spoke with the media about the company’s future plans for rolling out their vaccine in the US.

“We plan to apply for emergency use authorization from the US FDA in April. If approved we’ll be the fourth Covid-19 vaccine available in the US.”

The University of Oxford, which helped develop the vaccine, claims that the “new findings add to previous trial data from the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa, as well as real-world impact data from the United Kingdom.” 79% of trial participants were White, 22% were Hispanic, 8% were Black, 4% were Native American and 4% were Asian.

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“About 20% of participants were 65 years and over and approximately 60% had conditions linked with higher risk of severe Covid-19, such as diabetes, severe obesity or heart disease. In patients 65 years and older, vaccine efficacy was 80%, — echoing the overall trial results — which is notable as some countries initially did not authorize the vaccine for use in this older age group, citing a lack of data from earlier trials,” AstraZeneca said.

“It is clear this vaccine has very good efficacy, remember that 60% was, prior to any trials being started, regarded as a good target, and that this efficacy does not show a notable decline at older ages. Previous assertions that the vaccine may be ineffective in older ages are totally unjustifiable,” according to Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean for the National School for Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, spoke with the press about how this new data was great news for Americans and the rest of the world: “I’m pretty confident now AstraZeneca will apply for, request emergency use authorization, so we’ll have that vaccine released to the American public. Despite recent pauses in the vaccine’s rollout, this is one of our workhorse vaccines that we’re expecting for Africa and Latin America. So this is good news also because it’s reaffirming for the vaccines used for global health as well.”

Covid-19 Relief Bill

$1.9 Trillion Covid-19 Bill Finally Wins Approval in House

One of the largest economic stimulus measures in American history was given final approval by the US House of Representatives this week as President Biden secured his first major victory in office, managing to push through the comprehensive $1.9 trillion Covid-19 bill after months of negotiation.

The relief measure provides $400 billion directly to the public in the form of $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, as well as $350 billion in aid to state and local governments.

An expansion of the child tax credit is also included in the bill, in addition to an increase in funding for vaccine distribution. Economic forecasters have predicted the bill will supercharge the US economic recovery from the horror of the past 12 months.

“Help is here,” Biden wrote in a tweet after the vote. The White House said he plans to sign the bill on Friday.

“This is a historic day. It is the beginning of the end of the great COVID depression,” Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky said.

The Democratic-controlled chamber passed the bill by a vote of 220-211 as weeks of partisan debate and wrangling in Congress resulted in absolutely zero Republican support on the day.

Democrats described the historic legislation as a crucial response to the pandemic that has so far killed over half a million Americans and thrown millions more out of work.

“With today’s expected passage of the Rescue Plan, I can announce that the president will sign the bill at the White House on Friday afternoon,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at the latest press conference, sharing details of the Covid-19 relief bill.

“We’ve spent a lot of time, of course, from the podium, talking about the mechanics of how a bill becomes a law and I know there’s lots of interest in what comes next.

“So once it’s passed, the bill texts will be rechecked, printed and signed by the appropriate leaders in the House and Senate. The House clerks will then deliver it to the White House for the president’s signature. We expect that delivery to happen sometime tomorrow, and then the president will sign it on Friday. We, of course, are moving full speed ahead on the implementation of the bill, because we know the American people need help and need it as soon as possible.”

A large number of Republicans have criticized the measure, brandishing it too costly and complaining that is packed with wasteful progressive priorities. They claimed the worst phase of the health crisis has passed and the economy was already headed for a rebound.

“It’s the wrong plan at the wrong time for so many wrong reasons,” Republican Representative Jason Smith said.

Despite the continuing pushback from Republicans, Democrats predicted before the final passage that their counterparts would use the benefits of the bill to gain credit with constituents, even though not one Republican vote was counted for it.

Indeed, Republican Senator Roger Wicker wrote on Twitter: “This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.”

“We are also working on looking ahead to implementation, I wanted to make sure you all saw Secretary Yellen’s speech before the National League of Cities yesterday, promising to get aid out to state and local governments,” Psaki continued at the press conference.

“Obviously, this is a key component of the package and one that will help keep cops, firefighters, local officials in their jobs. They are looking for ways to maximize, of course, the impact of every dollar.

“That’s exactly what the president did when he served as the point person on the implementation of the Recovery Act in 2009, partnering with mayors, governors and other officials to get help to them quickly, and in a way that kept waste fraud and abuse to two tenths of 1%. So he knows directly that the passage and signing of the bill is just the beginning, and he plans to appoint somebody to run point on implementation. I don’t have any personnel announcements today, but that will certainly be part of our path moving forward.

“Also, today, as you know, the president will join the CEO’s of Johnson & Johnson and Merck to discuss their historic partnership that will produce more life-saving vaccines for Americans and the world. President Biden will also announce that he’s directing Jeff Zients, our COVID coordinator, and an HHS team to procure an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“He’s doing this because, in a wartime effort, which is what we consider this, we need maximum flexibility, we want to be oversupplied and over-prepared. There’s also a chance that we’ll encounter an unexpected challenge on new need in our vaccination and we’re preparing for just that. The president will also discuss the meeting he’s having today during his remarks, and he’ll also address, of course, the passage of the Rescue Plan during those remarks as well.”

The CDC Still Wants You To Be Diligent If You’ve Been Vaccinated 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new guidelines for individuals who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. However, now, they’re urging the general public not to let these new guidelines deter them from treating this pandemic any less seriously, as only about 10% of the US population is fully vaccinated at this point.

Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security recently spoke to the media about these new guidelines and how the CDC needs to be more direct with the public on what they can and can’t do. “If people believe the vaccine is not going to improve their life why would they get it?”

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“The CDC is waiting for more ironclad data about the vaccination before issuing a more detailed guidance, and while the initial data from Israel, which has the highest coronavirus vaccination rates in the world, is highly encouraging, it’s apparently not encouraging enough for the CDC to give an all-clear to Americans who’ve had their shots,” Adalja explained.

The new guidance says that vaccinated individuals can gather in small groups without masks or socially distancing. Vaccinated grandparents will be able to see their unvaccinated grandchildren as long as they are indeed children, and the new guidelines still advise against any travel. Thomas Skinner is a spokesman for the CDC who recently spoke with the press to defend the new guidelines. 

“It’s a good first step until we have more people vaccinated and data around vaccine effectiveness when it comes to real world circumstances. Until then it’s important to minimize cohorting of people.”

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The CDC was also greatly silenced throughout the beginning and middle of the pandemic due to former president Donald Trump and his administration’s constant interference with new guidance on things like wearing masks, reopening schools, and business protocols. The Biden administration has luckily allowed the CDC to have the platform they need to keep the public informed and educated on where the US is with this pandemic. 

Currently more than 2 million people are being vaccinated daily, and with Biden recently purchasing an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s likely that the rate will increase in the coming month. This is good news considering around 90% of the population is still unvaccinated. 

“While some guidance is better than no guidance, the guidelines are too timid and too limited, and they fail to tie reopening guidance with vaccination status, as a result the CDC missed a critical opportunity to incentivize Americans to be vaccinated,” said emergency physician and former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen. 

“The perfectly understandable desire to return to normal as quickly as possible can obscure the fact that the first doses of coronavirus vaccine were administered in December. A more liberalized guidance should come this spring or summer,” said Dr. Peter J. Hotez, an infectious disease specialist at Baylor College of Medicine.

For now, everyone should continue to treat the pandemic as they have within the past year and stay home, social distance, and wear a mask in public.