WUHAN, China — World Health Organization investigators on Wednesday visited a research center in the Chinese city of Wuhan that has been the subject of speculation about the origins of the coronavirus.

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Members of a World Health Organization team wear protective gear during a field visit Tuesday to the Hubei Animal Disease Control and Prevention Center in Wuhan. The team is investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Associated Press/Ng Han Guan

The WHO team’s visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology is a highlight of its mission to gather data and search for clues as to where the virus originated and how it spread.

Reporters followed the team to the high security facility, but as with past visits, there was no direct access to team members, who have given scant details of their discussions and visits thus far. Uniformed and plainclothes security guards stood watch amid thick morning fog, but there was no sign of the protective suits team members had donned Tuesday during a visit to an animal disease research center.

One of China’s top virus research labs, the institute built an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. That has led to unproven allegations that it may have a link to the original outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan in late 2019.

China has strongly denied that possibility and has promoted theories that the virus may have originated elsewhere or even been brought into the country from overseas with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a notion roundly rejected by international scientists and agencies.

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People who’ve had COVID-19 may not need both vaccine doses, study suggests

A study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggests that people who have already had COVID-19 may not need both doses of the vaccine to be protected from the virus.

The emerging research comes as states, including Maryland, face continued vaccine shortages, leaving the growing list of eligible patients to scramble for few available appointments. But experts say that withholding second doses could present logistical obstacles for an already challenged process.

The study, which isn’t yet peer reviewed, evaluated antibody responses to one dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines among health care workers who had previously tested positive for COVID-19, compared to that of health care workers who hadn’t caught the virus. It included people who had experienced coronavirus symptoms during their infection and people who hadn’t.

The researchers’ findings indicated that, in times of vaccine shortage, patients who have had laboratory-confirmed coronavirus infections — whether or not they experienced symptoms — could justifiably only receive a single dose of the vaccines, and that those patients “can be placed lower on the vaccination priority list.”

As part of the study, researchers drew blood from the 59 participants on the day they got their vaccine, a week later, 10 days later and 14 days later.

“What we found was that the group that had COVID before had much higher antibody responses than the people who were not infected. It’s not surprising. That’s what the hypothesis was. But the reason why we think it’s particularly relevant is the shortage of vaccine,” said Dr. Anthony Harris, professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who co-authored the study alongside associate professor Dr. Mohammad Sajadi.

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Harris said. And it’s continuing. The doctors are following the 59 participants as they get their second doses of the vaccines.

The early data is encouraging, said Gigi Gronvall, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. But verifying prior COVID-19 infections in order to redirect second doses could be just another hurdle for a complicated vaccine rollout process that can’t handle many more, she said.

“Every wrinkle that you put into the logistics may make things a little bit more challenging,” Gronvall said.

For now, people eligible for the vaccine should follow the guidance of health officials and their health providers, she said — especially those who didn’t receive a positive test confirming that they had COVID-19, or only received an antibody test result.

“If you don’t know that you had COVID — if you were weren’t diagnosed with COVID — don’t do self diagnosis and then decide you don’t need the second shot,” Gronvall said.

Harris emphasized that the University of Maryland study needs to be replicated, but that it could be helpful for local and national officials as they try to determine how to distribute the vaccine with limited numbers. He said that while a two-dose regimen would be ideal, many places “don’t have that luxury.”

UK officials go house-to-house in search of new virus variant

LONDON — England has begun house-by-house COVID-19 testing in some communities as authorities try to snuff out a new variant of the virus before it spreads widely and undermines a nationwide vaccination program.

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A member of the public arrives at Blackburn Cathedral, which is being used as a mass vaccination center during the coronavirus outbreak in Blackburn, England, last month.  Jon Super/Associated Press

Authorities want to reach the 80,000 residents of eight areas where the variant, first identified in South Africa, is known to be spreading. The focus is on communities where 11 cases have been detected among people who haven’t traveled abroad.

Home testing kits and mobile testing units are being dispatched in an effort to reach every resident of those communities.

“Our mission must be to stop its spread altogether and break those chains of transmission,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons.

Scientists say there is no evidence the strain makes people sicker than the original strain, but they are concerned because it is more contagious and vaccines may be less effective against it.

The discovery that the strain is spreading in the community has led to calls to shut the U.K.’s borders — or to require a 14-day hotel quarantine for all international arrivals.

But closing the borders isn’t sustainable, said Professor Andrew Hayward, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London.

“You can think about completely shutting the borders or having quarantine, (but) what’s the endgame in that?’’ Hayward told Sky News. “Is that something that you’re going to do forever, because it looks like these strains may continue to arise in the long term? So we need some sort of sustainable strategy, and I think that’s very difficult for politicians to think about that.”

Some 10,000 people will be tested in Kent as part of the door-to-door testing, Kent County Council director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark said.

“We are more concerned about this variant because we know that the vaccine is slightly less effective against this,” Clark said. “Clearly we need to understand whether this is actually circulating locally and that’s why we are doing the work to ask people to get tested so that we can find out and make sure that we don’t have this variant circulating within our local community.”

Fauci says COVID-19 vaccine boosters will tackle one mutation at a time

WASHINGTON – COVID-19 vaccine boosters will tackle one coronavirus variant at a time, focusing first on a mutation recently identified in South Africa that is alarming scientists, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told McClatchy in an interview.

The “ultimate solution” to the coronavirus pandemic may be a vaccine that protects against all mutations — but work on that project is just beginning, Fauci said.

The chief medical adviser on COVID-19 to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that vaccine manufacturers could develop the boosters quickly, and expressed confidence that they could pass regulatory hurdles and reach the public within “months.”

But a longer-term goal — one that could end the cycle of variants, and the pandemic, once and for all — is a universal vaccine that could protect against all types of mutations, Fauci said in an interview Monday evening.

Vaccines for COVID-19 first became available in December, but the new coronavirus continues to mutate, creating the risk that existing vaccines will not be enough to protect Americans and end the pandemic.

The long-term goal, Fauci said, is a vaccine that would work against all mutations of this particular coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2. Eventually, a pan-coronavirus vaccine that could protect against all different types of coronaviruses might emerge in the future, he added.

It is a hopeful, but realistic project, Fauci said — and scientists around the country, including in the Army, the National Institutes of Health and in private industry, are already working towards those types of vaccines.

“The long-range goal would be to get a vaccine that would be good against all coronaviruses. But I think the first goal you want is to get a vaccine that’s upgraded enough that whatever mutation occurs with the current SARS-CoV-2 will be covered by the vaccine,” Fauci said.

“That’s the ultimate solution. You don’t even need a pan-coronavirus one — you need a pan-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine first, because that’s the one that continues to mutate,” he said. “We’re going to be upgrading them to match better the mutants.”

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White House says more vaccines headed to pharmacies next week

WASHINGTON — The White House said the federal supply of COVID-19 vaccines to states will increase by another 5% in the coming three weeks to 10.5 million doses.

COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new allocation to governors and the public Tuesday, as President Biden looks to provide states certainty on upcoming deliveries.

Zients says it will be a 20% jump in weekly dose deliveries since the Biden administration took office on Jan. 20.

Starting next week, the federal government will begin distributing an additional 1 million doses per week to about 6,500 pharmacies across the country, Zients says.

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UPS reports record revenue as pandemic fuels online orders, shipping

ATLANTA — Package delivery giant UPS reported $1.4 billion in net income for 2020, a challenging year that brought a surge in online shopping capped off with a hectic holiday shipping season and the start of vaccine deliveries.

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The tails of three UPS aircraft are shown parked at Miami International Airport in Miami in July. UPS, whose brown delivery trucks have become omnipresent on neighborhood streets during the pandemic, is reporting strong profits and revenue in its most recent quarter. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File

Sandy Springs, Georgia,-based UPS booked record revenue of $84.6 billion for the year, up 14% from 2019, amid a massive shift toward e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic as more consumers stayed home and ordered items online. In the busy fourth quarter, revenue soared 21% to $24.9 billion.

But delivering individual items to doorsteps is more costly for UPS than dropping off pallets of goods at stores, so Wall Street analysts are hoping for an economic recovery that will bring a rebound in more profitable business-to-business shipments this year. Profit also was weighed down by $5.6 billion in fourth-quarter charges.

UPS CEO Carol Tomé said in a written statement she is “optimistic” about 2021 and continued deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines.

Nonetheless, the company declined to forecast revenue or profit for 2021 given “continued economic uncertainty due to the global pandemic.”

In the fourth quarter, UPS took an accounting hit from $4.9 billion in non-cash, mark-to-market pension losses, a $556 million asset impairment charge for the recently announced sale of UPS Freight, and other costs. That resulted in a quarterly $3.3 billion loss.

Those items also decreased the company’s full-year net income, which UPS said would be nearly $7.2 billion excluding the pension losses and other charges. A year ago, UPS reported $4.4 billion in net income for 2019, including a $106 million fourth-quarter loss after pension and other charges.

Tomé said the company’s fourth-quarter performance in 2020 “exceeded our expectations” and thanked “customers who worked with us during this challenging year.”

Some of the challenges came during the record holiday shipping season when the coronavirus drove consumers to order more gifts online instead of venturing out to stores, overloading shipping networks and driving UPS and FedEx to enforce limits on how many packages it would pick up from retailers. That affected some of the companies’ biggest customers as well as smaller businesses that turned to the U.S. Postal Service — which in turn overloaded the post office and contributed to delivery delays.

Nestle plans to help distributing vaccines in COVID-19 fight

Nestle SA, the world’s largest food company, plans to help distribute coronavirus vaccines to communities, especially in developing countries, once shots become more readily available.

The maker of KitKat chocolate and Nespresso coffee could help with the financing or logistics of the rollout, Chief Executive Officer Mark Schneider said.

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Drivers with a vaccine appointment enter a mega COVID-19 vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday. The federal government said it encourages everyone “regardless of immigration status” to receive the vaccine when they are eligible. Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

“The problem now is scaling up,” Schneider said at a business forum organized by the Swiss newspaper Le Temps Tuesday. “We’re very open-minded: we’ll try to find ways to either sponsor the payment for the vaccine or sponsor the way it gets applied in communities where we’re present.”

Nestle is well-placed to help as the consumer-goods giant sells its products in 187 countries. Drugmakers have been stepping up to accelerate the production of vaccines as governments push for more capacity to ease the crisis. Bayer AG agreed to produce CureVac NV’s experimental shots, while Sanofi and Novartis AG are putting their manufacturing capacities behind scaling up Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s injection.

More than 100 million doses have been administered worldwide, according to the latest data tracked by Bloomberg. But countries have experienced unequal access to vaccines and varying degrees of efficiency in getting shots into people’s arms. Most nations haven’t given any shots yet.

Nestle partnered with the International Federation of the Red Cross early in the pandemic to donate money, food, bottled water and medical-nutrition products to most-affected countries.

Specifics of how Nestle will contribute to the global vaccine rollout still need to be hammered out, Schneider said.

“A lot of this is still work in process as the most important ingredient isn’t there, and that’s the vaccine itself,” Schneider said.

Spain cancels San Fermin bull-running festival

MADRID — The northern Spanish region of Navarra has announced the cancellation of the famed annual San Fermín bull-running festival in Pamplona for a second year in a row of because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“An international festival like San Fermín, in which millions of people come to Navarra, is not going to be possible,” said regional President María Chivite on Tuesday.

Revellers run next to fighting bulls from Cebada Gago ranch during the running of the bulls at the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain in 2019. Associated Press

The nine-day festival in July is easily Spain’s most international event. The festival was popularized by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises” and up to last year’s cancellation had last been called off during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

Last year, many residents of Pamplona dressed up in the traditional white clothes and red scarves to mark the July 6 festival start but there were none of the usual popular street parties.

Spain has seen least 59,000 confirmed virus deaths.

As teachers struggle for vaccines, a celebrity SoulCycle instructor hopped the line by calling herself an ‘educator’

After driving an hour to a Staten Island coronavirus vaccination site on Friday, SoulCycle celebrity instructor Stacey Griffith made her case to officials as to why she should receive a first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

What qualified Griffith, a spin instructor with a cult following among New York’s wealthy gym-goers, for the hard-to-come-by vaccine? The 52-year-old was an “educator,” she told the Daily Beast this weekend.

 

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A post shared by Stacey Griffith (@staceygnyc)


“In my profession of health and wellness as a teacher, it’s my priority daily to keep my community and their respiratory systems operating at full capacity so they can beat this virus if they are infected by it,” she told the publication. “I can only teach to them if I am healthy myself.”

But after boasting on Instagram that she had received “step one of the Moderna magic,” the fitness coach faced an outpouring of criticism from her own fans and even New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D). On Monday, Griffith apologized for a “terrible error in judgement.”

Many balked at the news that a seemingly young and fit spin instructor who reportedly earns a minimum of $800 per class could cut the vaccination line, ahead of many essential workers and vulnerable New Yorkers who may have to wait months. Critics vented frustration on Griffith’s post and shared stories of high-risk family members who cannot yet be vaccinated, including at least woman who said her wife is sick with cancer and will not be able to get the vaccine for months.

Bandannas no longer accepted as mask substitutes in Belgium

BRUSSELS — Belgian health authorities say face covers like bandannas or scarves will no longer be authorized but the use of medical-grade FFP2 masks will not be made mandatory in the country to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, virologist Yves Van Laethem said these protections were tolerated last year when masks were short in supply but can’t be used anymore because their filtering capacity is not stringent enough.

Van Laethem said that homemade masks that properly cover one’s mouth and nose remain authorized. He said FFP2 masks are not recommended for the general population, notably because they are expensive, uncomfortable and not reusable.

Infection numbers have plateaued in Belgium over the past 10 weeks, with new daily cases between 2,000 and 2,500.

Belgium has vaccinated 280,000 people so far, 3% of the population over 18. It has been hard-hit by the pandemic, with over 21,000 confirmed virus deaths.

Tanzania ‘has no plans’ for vaccines, minister says

Tanzania has no plans to accept coronavirus vaccines and will rely instead on herbal remedies and improved hygiene to fight infections, the country’s health minister said this week.

The comments by Dorothy Gwajima follow the president’s evidence-free assertion last month that vaccines could be harmful to the population. Tanzanian leader John Magufuli has consistently downplayed the pandemic and his government stopped publishing case counts in May.

Speaking to reporters in the capital, Dodoma, on Monday, Gwajima, who was not wearing a mask, said that her ministry “has no plans to receive vaccines for covid-19.”

She said that the government has its own protocol for importing medicine and other medical supplies, which it will implement when it is sure that the products are safe — even as Western-made coronavirus vaccines began arriving elsewhere on the African continent.

Instead, Gwajima said, Tanzanians should wash their hands, exercise and eat nutritious food. Then, along with two aides, the health minister prepared and drank a concoction of ginger, garlic, lemon and pepper — a remedy she said, without evidence, would help fight the virus.

World Health Organization officials have publicly pushed back against the Tanzanian leadership, urging the government to ramp up health measures and prepare for the vaccine.

“We particularly encourage the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania to prepare for the vaccine, to put in place the preventive measures to protect their population and to share data on the covid-19 situation,” the WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said last week.

“Science shows that #VaccinesWork,” Moeti said later in a tweet directed at Tanzanian leaders. “I encourage the government to prepare for a COVID vaccination campaign.”

The extent of the outbreak in Tanzania is unclear. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the East African nation listed as Level 4, the highest on its scale warning travelers of covid-19 risks.


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