Solving COVID: March 17, 2021

Good news for COVID long-haulers, Moderna starts testing its vaccine on young children, and more

(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

1. Where things stand

Public health experts this week warned that daily COVID-19 cases have plateaued in the United States, and that new "hot spots" are emerging. Nationally, there are about 55,000 new infections per day. But the nation's vaccination effort continues to ramp up. As of this week, more than 110 million doses of vaccine have been administered. About 22 percent of the total population has received at least one dose, but that number is much higher for the nation's seniors: Nearly 65 percent of residents over the age of 65 have had at least their first shot, according to the Financial Times. Meanwhile, the nation's vaccine supply continues to increase, and a handful of states are broadening their eligibility guidelines to vaccinate more people. According to The New York Times, the rate of vaccinations has increased by 40 percent in the last month, and America is averaging more than 2 million shots per day.

Financial Times The New York Times

2. Study bolsters anecdotal evidence COVID-19 vaccine helps long-haulers

A new preprint study from researchers at Britain's University of Bristol bolsters growing anecdotal evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine improves the symptoms of "long COVID" patients, or the long-haulers still experiencing adverse effects months after their illness. COVID long-haulers who got either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine experienced "no significant worsening in quality-of-life or mental wellbeing," the researchers wrote. "When compared to matched unvaccinated participants from the same cohort, those who had receive a vaccine had a small overall improvement in long COVID symptoms." Immunologists have several theories on how the vaccine could help clear up long COVID symptoms, though the phenomenon itself is still little understood.

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ABC News MedRxIV

3. Novavax says its COVID-19 vaccine prevents severe cases from U.K., South African variants

Novavax announced that its COVID-19 vaccine had proved effective, especially at preventing serious illness or death, in late-stage trials in Britain and South Africa, home to two of the more contagious variants spreading around the world. The Maryland biotech firm said that its final analysis of its British trial found the vaccine 96 percent effective against the original strain and 86 percent effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, for an overall protection rate of 90 percent. In the smaller South African trial, the vaccine was 55 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 cases among people without HIV, and 49 percent effective when the HIV-positive subset was included. There were zero cases of severe illness in either country among trial participants who got the vaccine, Novavax said, versus 10 severe cases in people given placebos. The results have not yet been peer-reviewed or published, but Novavax says it will submit them to regulatory agencies around the world, including in Britain and the U.S.


4. European regulators say 'no indication' AstraZeneca vaccine causes clots

European Union drug regulators this week said there was "no indication" AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine causes blood clots, despite decisions by a growing number of the region's governments to suspend use of the shots pending further research. As Sweden became the latest government to halt use of the vaccine, the European Medicines Agency urged the region's leaders to resume its use to help fight the pandemic as thousands of people in Europe continue to die daily, with many scientists warning more vulnerable people will die from delaying vaccinations than from rare side effects. "We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19 with its associated risk of hospitalization and death outweigh the risk of the side effects," said Emer Cooke, the head of the agency.

The Associated Press

5. Moderna starts testing COVID-19 vaccine on children

Moderna announced Tuesday it has started conducting a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in children between the ages of 6 months and 11 years. The company expects to enroll 6,750 healthy participants under 12 in the United States and Canada for the study, which will "help us assess the potential safety and immunogenicity of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate in this important younger age population," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said. Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted last month there should be enough data "to be able to say that elementary school children will be able to be vaccinated" by the first quarter of 2022, and he also said that high school kids should be able to get vaccinated "sometime this fall."

The Wall Street Journal Moderna

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