Confidence in the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine seems to be growing. New analysis released this week suggests that not only does the vaccine protect against symptomatic COVID-19 infections, it could also significantly curb transmission, making it a potentially very effective tool for bringing the virus to heel.
The vaccine is affordable, easy to produce and store, and has been approved by health regulators in the United Kingdom, India, and Europe, as well as several other countries. But it has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, where it's still undergoing late-stage trials. That's led to some harsh criticism. The Mayo Clinic's Vincent Rajkumar called the delay a "huge blunder," while The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf described it as "the most profound impingement on my liberty I've faced." Writer Matthew Yglesias lamented a lack of pressure from lawmakers and the U.S. media for speedy approval.
For starters, AstraZeneca hasn't submitted any paperwork to the FDA, so, in short, it can't grant approval for what hasn't been requested, notes Axios' Sam Baker:
AstraZeneca has not submitted this product for FDA authorization. The FDA cannot authorize products whose manufacturers aren’t asking for authorization. Political pressure on the FDA, in addition to being a thing that everyone rightly opposed when Trump did it, cannot change this https://t.co/LnsZPGz4ZG
But there are more complex reasons behind the holdup. In the U.K., Business Insider notes, health regulators "rely more heavily on a company's data to make conclusions," whereas in the U.S., an independent advisory committee takes a look at data sets from both the FDA and drug companies before the FDA can make its final decision.
In this case, the FDA was concerned following a series of missteps by AstraZeneca, including the company's failure to alert the agency about a decision to halt trials after a U.K. participant fell ill in September, and a strange discrepancy and incomplete testing of promising — but mistakenly-administered — half-strength doses. There's speculation submission and approval will come in April, but until the U.S. gets clearer data, the vaccine will remain in regulatory limbo. Tim O'Donnell
Back in 2008, Sean Kazmar Jr., then a 23-year-old middle infielder, played 19 games in the big leagues for the San Diego Padres. Flash forward to Saturday, nearly 13 years later, and he's getting another shot in the show.
Kazmar never made it back up to a Major League roster after his cup of coffee all those years ago, but the 36-year-old just got the call from the Atlanta Braves. If and when he gets into a game, he'll have had the longest break between MLB appearances since 1950, surpassing legends like Satchel Paige and Minnie Miñoso, who were called out of retirement for very brief stints in their 50s.
If Sean Kazmar Jr. plays for the Braves today (again, @JeffPassan 1st reported he's being called up), it'll be 12 yrs, 206 days since his last MLB game.
Per @EliasSports, that'd be the longest stretch between MLB games since 1950, beating out Minnie Minoso & Satchel Paige.
The reason for Kazmar's perseverance is reportedly because he wanted his kids to see him play in the majors. They got the chance; Kazmar pinch hit in the 5th inning during the Braves' matchup with the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.
This story has been updated to reflect Kazmar's appearance.Tim O'Donnell
In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, some small-scale studies found high rates of myocarditis, or heart inflammation, among college athletes who had previously tested positive for COVID-19. That prompted some universities to do cardiac testing on all athletes who were infected throughout the year, but a new study released Saturday suggests such "blanket testing" is unnecessary, ESPN reports.
Among the 3,018 athletes examined in the study, only 21 exhibited signs of possible, probable, or definite myocarditis, and those who did have heart issues were more likely to have had moderate COVID-19 and/or cardiopulmonary symptoms during the infections.
Dr. Jonathan Drezner, the director of the University of Washington Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology and a co-principal investigator of the study, said the results indicate athletes who had mild or no COVID-19 symptoms probably don't need to be screened for myocarditis. "I would simply be comfortable doing a good review of symptoms," he told ESPN, adding that their health should still be monitored "when they get back to play." Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell
Congress has gone nearly 80 days without a member announcing a positive coronavirus test, having crossed the 75-day threshold on Wednesday, The Washington Post reports.
There were a fair number of cases in the Capitol in the fall and early winter when the U.S. as a whole was experiencing a significant surge, but Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) was the last lawmaker to reveal he had contracted the virus on Jan. 29. That's the longest stretch without a publicly confirmed infection in the House or Senate since the pandemic began, the Post notes.
While it's too early to jump to conclusions and declare that Congress has reached herd immunity, the decline has coincided with COVID-19 vaccines becoming widely available to lawmakers in recent months, which suggests the shots are doing their job, as some targeted studies have found to be the case in other workplace environments, like hospitals. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell
Presiding over Prince Philip's intimate funeral on Saturday, the dean of Windsor (the spiritual head of St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle) praised the Duke of Edinburgh's "kindness, humor, and humanity," as well as his "unwavering loyalty" to Queen Elizabeth II and his service in the Royal Navy.
The tribute was concise and, as per Philip's request, the dean did not deliver a sermon.
"We remember the many ways in which his long life has been a blessing to us"
Only 30 people, including Philip's grandsons William and Harry, were at the ceremony in person because of coronavirus restrictions. The attendees wore masks and remained socially distanced, based on households. The queen sat in a section of a pew by herself, which prompted several people to comment on how the "striking" scene was representative of how many people have had to grieve this last year because of the pandemic. Tim O'Donnell
For many of us who lost someone over the past year, this picture is how we felt, and even still feel. There was much vicarious grief today: in a sense, the Dean of Windsor and Archbishop of Canterbury committed many thousands to eternal rest, and comforted millions of the living. pic.twitter.com/gCbVdNf83z
NASA on Friday tapped SpaceX to help bring humans back to the moon later this decade as part of its Artemis Program.
The agency announced Friday that it will award Elon Musk's company a $2.89 billion contract for the development of its Starship vehicle, an uncrewed flight test to the moon, and, finally, a crewed mission that will land on the lunar surface. SpaceX beat out Dynetics and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin for the opportunity, thanks in large part to its affordability. SpaceX's bid cost about half of Dynetics' and a quarter of Blue Origin's, Ars Technica reports. So while Starship has plenty of innovative features that made it an enticing candidate, "budget appears to have been the biggest factor" since NASA has struggled to secure funding from Congress for the lunar landing.
Ars Technica suggests NASA likely isn't done, however, explaining that "a sole-source award to SpaceX for the Human Landing System will certainly not be particularly popular in Congress, where traditional space companies such as Lockheed Martin and newer entrants like Blue Origin have more established lobbying power." In other words, the move "sends a clear message from NASA and the White House" — which has endorsed the Artemis Program and its goals — "to budget writers in the House and Senate." Read more at Ars Technica. Tim O'Donnell
For the first time in 60 years, Cuba will soon be without a Castro in a formal, day-to-day leadership position.
Raúl Castro, the younger brother of the late Fidel Castro, confirmed Friday that he's stepping down from his role as the leader of the country's Communist Party, with President Miguel Diaz-Canel expected to take on double duties, as the Castro brothers did before him. The younger Castro, who is 90, is poised to remain an influential figure on the island, but he likely won't interfere with daily governance, The New York Times notes. That means a new era is on the horizon, as Cuba faces challenges from both the coronavirus and a struggling economy.
The next generation of leadership could allow for more free-market activity, a path that's not completely new for Cuba; Raúl, who is considered more pragmatic than his brother, began the process of implementing some reforms following Fidel's death in 2011, but it's been a slow grind. There's no guarantee a new regime will change that — Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, told Al Jazeera that he thinks it's the "worst possible moment" for reforms because the government has "no money."
That said, urgency may rule the day in a post-Castro world. Arturo Lopez-Levy, the author of Raul Castro and the New Cuba: A Close-Up View of Change and an assistant professor at Holy Names University, told Al Jazeera that, unlike the brothers, their successors will have to "rely on performance — not on historical legacy — to exercise power and as a source of legitimacy." Read more at The New York Times and Al Jazeera. Tim O'Donnell
The global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed 3 million on Saturday, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University reveals.
As The Associated Press notes, the true number is believed to be higher based on suspicions that some governments have downplayed their countries' cases and fatalities, as well as the likelihood that many infections were missed early in the pandemic.
Daily deaths are on the rise again worldwide, AP writes, with the average currently sitting at 12,000. Cases are also on the upswing; World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that weekly infections have "nearly doubled over the past two months."
India and Brazil are two of the more prominent hot spots. The former has reported a record number of cases for three straight days, including more than 234,000 on Saturday. In Brazil, meanwhile, a more contagious variant is spreading throughout the country, and about 3,000 deaths are being recorded each day. That accounts for one-quarter of the world's fatalities in recent weeks, The Associated Press reports.
The increases come amid a global vaccine drive, albeit a patchy one. Some countries, including the United States, have ramped up their efforts (still, cases are stubbornly high in the U.S.), but immunization rates remain low elsewhere. Read more at The Associated Press and BBC. Tim O'Donnell