Solving COVID: May 12, 2021
New combo tests, L.A. County's herd immunity, and more
Where things stand
The United States is "turning the corner" on the coronavirus pandemic, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zeints said Sunday. With nearly 60 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated, the Biden administration is focusing its efforts on increasing confidence in the vaccines among those who remain hesitant, and expanding accessibility and eligibility. New coronavirus cases in the U.S. remained below 40,000 on Tuesday for a fourth consecutive day; daily deaths hovered around 700. Globally, cases have dipped slightly, but India's outbreak continues, accounting for half of the recorded weekly infections. Surrounding countries in south Asia are seeing "worrying" trends in cases, and B.1617, a "variant of concern" first identified in India, has been found in 44 countries.
FDA approves Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15
The Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved administering Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 12 to 15. It now needs CDC approval before it can be used on this age group. Pfizer's two-dose vaccine already has been approved for use in those 16 and older. The decision to allow emergency use of the vaccine that Pfizer developed with German partner BioNTech will speed up efforts to get middle school students vaccinated before next school year, boosting the national push to reduce new infections. Children account for about 20 percent of the population, so getting them vaccinated is seen as a critical part of the effort to fight the pandemic. U.S. officials said recently that so many Americans are resisting getting vaccinated that herd immunity might be out of reach.
Uber, Lyft will soon offer free rides to COVID-19 vaccination sites
President Biden on Tuesday announced that Uber and Lyft will offer all Americans free rides to and from COVID-19 vaccination sites beginning on May 24 through July 4, the day Biden has targeted for the U.S. reaching a 70 percent vaccination rate. While the U.S. vaccine rollout has been swift for the most part over the last few months, demand is dwindling. Some of that is due to general hesitancy, but access is still an issue. The free rides from the ride-sharing companies, Biden said, are aimed at making sure "transportation is less of a barrier."
Official: L.A. County could reach COVID-19 herd immunity by end of July
If Los Angeles County continues to administer 400,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots a week, it could reach herd immunity among adults and older teenagers by mid- to late-July, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said. To reach herd immunity, a community must have enough people who have either been inoculated or have natural immunity to protect the rest of the population against the coronavirus. In Los Angeles County, more than 3 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and if 2 million more get their first doses, 80 percent of all residents 16 and older will have received at least one shot. Ferrer stressed that for the county to reach herd immunity in mid- to late-July, vaccine rates must stay steady.
Combo tests could detect both COVID-19 and influenza when flu re-emerges
Numerous companies have developed combination tests that simultaneously look for influenza and COVID-19, which experts say could be especially useful should the flu make a return this fall. A "quad test" capable of detecting COVID-19, two types of influenza, and the respiratory syncytial virus is available "at thousands of hospitals and clinics around the country," one of a number of such combination tests, The New York Times writes. Though the Times notes that "last year's flu season was nonexistent," the University of Washington in Seattle's Dr. Geoffrey Baird said it could re-emerge this fall, and combination tests could help easily determine whether a person has the flu or COVID-19. "We in the laboratory are preparing for another big boom in testing," Baird added.