October 15, 2021

Covid-19 roundup: WHO is (again) investigating where the coronavirus came from

Daily Briefing

    Covid-19 antibody levels decrease more quickly in men than women, almost one in five American households report delaying care due to overcrowded hospitals, and more in this week's roundup of Covid-19 news.

    • The World Health Organization (WHO) has established a new team of scientists to study the origins of Covid-19 and lead investigations of potential future epidemics, the Wall Street Journal reports. The team will consist of 26 members, including six individuals from a 10-member international group of scientists sent to Wuhan, China, earlier this year to study the location of the first Covid-19 outbreak. According to the Journal, WHO's investigation into the origins of the coronavirus have so far been hampered by blocked access to blood samples and other evidence in China. "This is our best chance and it may be our last chance to understand the origins of this virus [through a collective and cooperative effort]," said Mike Ryan, the executive director of WHO's health emergencies program. So far, hundreds of scientists have applied to be part of the team, the Journal reports, and membership will be finalized after a two-week public consultation period. (McKay/Hinshaw, Wall Street Journal, 10/13)
    • The number of Americans getting vaccinated against Covid-19 has steadily increased to a three-month high amid a push for booster doses and vaccine mandates from the government and employers, AP/Modern Healthcare reports. Currently, the United States is administering close to 1 million vaccine doses a day, almost double the rate from mid-July. According to the White House, a large portion of these vaccinations were booster shots. According to Jeff Zients, the White House's Covid-19 response coordinator, 7 million people, including more than a third of eligible seniors, received booster shots as of Oct. 13. In anticipation of increased demand, many states have reopened mass vaccination sites, AP/Modern Healthcare reports. "All told, in the coming weeks and months, we are expecting more than 120,000 to seek vaccines," said Jon Mooney, assistant director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department in Missouri. "We are already experiencing increased demand in the last week or two." (AP/Modern Healthcare, 10/8; Coleman, The Hill, 10/13; Adams, Becker's Hospital Review, 10/13)
    • A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that women who received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine had significantly higher levels of antibodies after six months than men who received two doses, The Hill reports. For the study, researchers surveyed 4,868 Israeli health care workers vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from December to July. Covid-19 antibodies sharply decreased for both sexes in the first 80 days following the second dose, with a slower decline from there. However, women in the study had higher antibody levels than their male counterparts both at their peaks and at the end of the study. According to the Washington Post, these findings are similar to those of an earlier study, which also found antibody levels decline more quickly in men than women. (Jeong, Washington Post, 10/7; Prieb, The Hill, 10/7; Anderson, Becker's Hospital Review, 10/7)
    • Nearly one in five U.S. households reported not being able to get treatment for a serious illness in the last few months due to hospitals crowded with Covid-19 patients, according to a new poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. These care delays have also led to more negative health outcomes for many patients, including more advanced cancer and severe pain, NPR reports. Robert Blendon, a pollster at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, said the numbers in the poll were "much greater than [the team] expected" and likely due to "the delta variant chang[ing] what was going on." (Dawson, “Shots,” NPR 10/14)
    • Moderna Chair Noubar Afeyan on Monday said the company plans to scale up production of its Covid-19 vaccine—instead of sharing the recipe—to increase global vaccine supply, Modern Healthcare reports. While WHO and the United Nations previously pressed the company to share its vaccine formula, Afeyan said, "Within the next six to nine months, the most reliable way to make high-quality vaccines and in an efficient way is going to be if we make them." However, the New York Times reports that Moderna has largely supplied its vaccine to wealthy countries, leaving poorer countries without access. In addition, some middle-income countries, such as Thailand and Colombia, have had to pay higher prices for the company's vaccine than the United States or European Union. Currently, officials in the Biden administration are pressing the company to "step up" and provide more vaccine doses for other countries through WHO's COVAX program, The Hill reports. "We've been in very, very intense discussions with Moderna," said David Kessler, chief science officer of the White House Covid-19 response team. "There is very substantial capacity through 2022 for them to close and in fact even exceed the COVAX gap, and they need to do that." (AP/Modern Healthcare, 10/11; Robbins, New York Times, 10/13; Sullivan, The Hill, 10/13)
    • At least 90,000 Covid-19 deaths among unvaccinated adults since June could have been prevented with vaccination, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) analysis released Wednesday. For the analysis, researchers calculated the number of Covid-19 deaths among the unvaccinated since June and used results from a CDC study that found vaccines were 91% effective against death to estimate the total number of preventable Covid-19 fatalities. Around 49,000 of the preventable deaths occurred in September, The Hill reports, as the delta variant caused cases to surge across the United States. The KFF analysis also found that Covid-19 was the second leading cause of death in the country behind heart disease and the leading cause of death among people ages 35 to 54 that same month. (Coleman, The Hill, 10/13; Ortaliza et al., Kaiser Family Foundation, 10/13)

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