Updated: Feb 11, 2021
The first week of February 2021 opens with the good and not so good COVID-19 news in the US, to keep things interesting. Although issues remain, significant progress has been made to give hope there is light at the end of this COVID-19 / SARS-CoV-2 tunnel. However, the speed at which we arrive at the light depends on everyone doing their part to reduce disease spread. So let's begin with the good news of current COVID19 Solutions to date.
Thanks to the Biden Administration in aggressively attacking SARS-CoV-2, the ingenuity of science plus technology, and enormous financial investments made into research, manufacturing, distribution, etc. to quickly produce arsenals against this disease, the US can sigh in relief that we have formidable disease prevention strategies and solutions in play via the following processes:
The House of Representatives passed the Biden $1.9 Trillion Recovery Plan on Wednesday, and Senate approved a budgetary measure that would let Democrats pass the plan without Republicans. The passage of this recovery plan will provide necessary funding for local and state governments to enhance COVID-19 testing and vaccination strategies and rollout. It will also support families, businesses, public health, education, transportation, fire department, law enforcement and other agencies required to maintain viable communities within cities, counties and states.
A new, first non-prescription over-the-counter COVID-19 self-test authorized by the FDA will soon be available for purchase in stores near you. It's a Nasal Swab test that produces 95% accuracy within 15 minutes, and is applicable for symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals that are 2 years or older. Ellume, an Australian company, just received $231.2 Million agreement from the Biden Administration to ship and scale-up its US production in Valencia, California. This will create new jobs, and customers buying these kits will invest in the U.S. economy. In doing so, these efforts will help quickly and easily identity infected individuals to minimize the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
Johnson & Johnson Announced its Phase 3 Clinical Trial of Single-Shot Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine to produce results that are 72% Effective in the US and 66% Effective Overall at Preventing Moderate to Severe COVID-19, 28 Days after Vaccination. Key data to note is that it is 85% Effective Overall in Preventing Severe Disease and Demonstrated Complete Protection Against COVID-19 related Hospitalization and Death as of Day 28. Although there is efficacy reduction against the South African and Brazilian variants, it holds complete protection against hospitalization and deaths with just one shot. This Thursday Johnson & Johnson submitted its application for the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of its vaccine with an estimated FDA approval by the end of February. After which, the company can start vaccinating at the beginning of March, if data continues to be favorable.
Oxford University researchers confirm 100% protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death in its primary analysis of Phase III trials, for which the British-Swedish company, AstraZeneca, will provide manufacturing. The vaccine shows increased efficacy with longer inter-dose interval with protection of over 70% starting after a first dose. There is indication of disease transmission reduction up to 67% after the first dose. Oxford also began a mix vaccine efficacy trial in which one type of vaccine is administered as the initial dose, followed by a different type of vaccine as the required second dose. Since vaccines are in short supply, this trial will demonstrate if it is safe and efficacious for individuals to receive a second dose of a different vaccine that is available at the time.
The Biden Administration issued a mask mandate at all Public Transportation Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs. Individuals failing to abide by the new mask mandate will be issued fines starting at $250 for the first offense up to $1,500 for repeat offenders. Per the Administration's new COVID-19 response plan, the CDC issued a requirement that all passengers, including citizens, traveling to the US from another country will need to show negative COVID-19 test results or have documentation to support they have recovered from COVID-19 and are noninfectious before boarding their flights.
In the last week, an average of 1.34 million doses per day were administered in the US. This slightly exceeds President Biden's goal of 1 million doses in arms per day. Over 27 million Americans have received 1 vaccine dose, which is more than the total number of COVID cases.
The significant federal investment, in addition to biotech development and its promising data further suggests strategies applied are producing results in the right direction.
The not so good news is that all 3 new variants from the UK (B1.1.7), South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) have found its way into the US. These variants are easily and quickly transmissible, which may lead to increase cases, hospitalization and deaths. Currently, California has 127 cases and Florida has 186 cases of the UK variant, as shown below in the US COVID-19 Cases Caused by Variants Chart provided by the CDC. Although these states lead the nation with the UK variant, current vaccines seem to be effective against it.
Unfortunately existing vaccines appear to be less efficacious against the South African and Brazilian variants. As a result, Moderna has been working on modifications to their vaccine to improve its efficacy against these more challenging variants. With enhanced genomic sequencing technologies available, researchers have greater probability of finding new solutions to these variants. The problem is, the longer it takes to stop COVID-19, the more opportunity the disease has to mutate into more new variants which current therapeutics may be ineffective or less efficacious against.
Other issues lie in the logistics of vaccine supplies, production, distribution, qualified healthcare professionals to administer it, and a particular syringe supply shortage. This type of syringe is necessary to get all 6 instead of just 5 doses out of each Pfizer vaccine vial, so each valuable does is not wasted. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. On top of that, mother nature's temperamental weather conditions add another bottle neck to the already complicated process.
But, the US will prevail against COVID-19, as has been done with other diseases. All these logistics hiccup will be sorted out with good planning, perseverance and implementation from the new administration, and patience from the public to give these strategies time to fully take effect. Until then, each person can do their part by social distancing, wearing masks and maintaining good hand hygiene to save lives. Additionally, everyone can contribute to rebuilding America's economy by buying American.