July 10, 2020

Covid-19 roundup: WHO acknowledges new coronavirus may spread through the air

Daily Briefing
    • The Covid-19 Prevention Network, a group of more than 100 clinical trial sites at medical facilities throughout the world, has launched a website allowing people to volunteer for clinical trials for potential coronavirus vaccines, which are slated to begin later this month. The effort aims to recruit tens of thousands of volunteers, with the goal of identifying and producing "substantial quantities of a safe, effective vaccine by January 2021," HHS Secretary Alex Azar said (Johnson, Washington Post, 7/8).

    • Emergent Biosolutions has partnered with Mount Sinai Health System to test whether a drug derived from the blood plasma of patients who have recovered from Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, can prevent the disease in health care providers and military personnel. The Department of Defense, which is looking for ways to prevent military units from contracting and transmitting the coronavirus, is providing $34.6 million to fund the study (Marcus, Wall Street Journal, 7/8; Singh, Reuters, 7/8).

    • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently approved two Lysol disinfectant sprays for use against Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. EPA in a statement said laboratory testing showed the sprays are effective at combating Covid-19 on surfaces (Reuters, 7/6).

    • FDA last week issued emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for three tests than can be used to screen patients for the new coronavirus and the flu simultaneously. The agency said the tests will help health care providers determine whether patients' respiratory symptoms are caused by the new coronavirus or seasonal influenza using just one patient sample, which could help to reduce testing supply shortages and strains on laboratories' capacity to process diagnostic tests (Anderson, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/7).

    • In addition, FDA on Monday issued an EUA for Becton Dickinson's BD Veritor Plus System, which is a rapid, hand-held test for the new coronavirus. According to Becton Dickinson, the system is faster and lower-cost than other coronavirus tests currently available in United States, producing results with 15 minutes (Court, Bloomberg, 7/6; O'Donnell, Reuters, 7/6).

    • HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), is working with the American Red Cross and other blood-donation groups to increase collections of blood plasma from patients who have recovered from Covid-19. BARDA has asked the organizations collect at least 400,000 units of plasma for use as a potential Covid-19 treatment (Marcus, Wall Street Journal, 7/2; Anderson, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/2).

    • HHS last week announced that it is partnering with CVS Health, Kroger, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Walmart to improve Americans' access to coronavirus tests. Under the partnership, the retailers have established a total of 600 coronavirus testing sites throughout the United States (Malara, Reuters, 6/30).

    • Results from a study conducted by Henry Ford Health System that were published last week in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases linked the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to lower death rates among Covid-19 patients. The study found the death rate among patients who received the drug was 13%, compared with a death rate of 26.4% among patients who weren't treated with hydroxychloroquine. However, critics of the study noted that it was not a randomized controlled trial, and that patients in the study who received hydroxychloroquine were also likely to be treated with steroids, which have been shown to benefit severely ill Covid-19 patients (Johnson, The Hill, 7/3; Richardson, Washington Times, 7/3; Fredericks, New York Post, 7/3; Herper, STAT News, 7/8).

    • Humana last week announced that it's partnering with LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics, and Walmart to provide coronavirus testing for the health insurers' members. Quest will administer drive-thru testing for Humana members at hundreds of Walmart locations throughout the country, while LabCorp will provide at-home testing kits for Humana members (Maddipatla, Reuters, 6/30; Tozzi, Bloomberg, 6/30).

    • Moderna has delayed its phase-three clinical trial of its experimental coronavirus vaccine, which had been scheduled to start on July 9. Moderna said changes to the trial's protocol caused the delay, but the company still intends to start the trial at some point this month (Anderson, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/6).

    • Drugmaker Novavax will receive $1.6 billion from the federal government to speed its development of a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus. Under the funding agreement, Novavax will produce 100 million doses of its vaccine candidate for the United States by the start of 2021. Meanwhile, Regeneron has received $450 million from the federal government to develop a potential coronavirus vaccine. Regeneron recently announced that it has begun a phase-three study of its vaccine candidate to determine whether it can prevent Covid-19 (Thomas, New York Times, 7/7; Budryk, The Hill, 7/7; Dearment, MedCity News, 7/7; Adams, Becker's Hospital Review, 7/7).

    • Albert Bourla, chair and CEO of Pfizer, recently said the drugmaker believes it will have safety and efficacy data from its phase-three trials of the company's coronavirus vaccine candidate by September, and the company aims to have FDA approve for the vaccine by October. If that occurs, Pfizer said it should have hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine available by the end of this year. Pfizer also said its vaccine candidate has been shown to trigger immune responses in healthy patients and has been generally well-tolerated by patients in trials. However, the vaccine candidate also caused fever and other side effects in some patients, the company said (Wang, Inside Health Policy, 6/26 [subscription required]; Herper, STAT News, 7/1; Reuters/NBC News, 7/1).

    • University Hospitals (UH) has partnered with NASA to develop technologies and practices aimed at decontaminating personal protective equipment for both aerospace applications and frontline health care workers treating patients with Covid-19. UH and NASA will work on developing ways to make face masks reusable by sanitizing them on site with atomic oxygen and peracetic acid (Dyrda, Becker's Health IT, 7/1).

    • The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday revised its guidance on coronavirus transmission, acknowledging that some outbreak reports indicate the virus can be transmitted in indoor spaces through tiny airborne particles, such as those emitted by people talking in restaurants or singing in choir practice. However, the WHO guidance—updated amid pressure from many scientists—stopped short of confirming airborne transmission, instead saying that more research is "urgently needed to investigate such instances and assess their significance for transmission of Covid-19." The organization on Thursday also said nearly 50% of viral transmission could come from asymptomatic people who are unaware they are infected (Hinshaw/Alpert, Wall Street Journal, 7/9; Steenhuysen, Reuters, 7/9).
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