AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine shows a hint that it may reduce transmission of the virus and offers strong protection for three months on just a single dose, researchers said Wednesday in an encouraging turn in the campaign to suppress the outbreak.

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AstraZeneca vaccine, ready to be used Wednesday at a homeless shelter in East London, England. Frank Augstein/Associated Press

The preliminary findings from Oxford University, a co-developer of the vaccine, could vindicate the British government’s controversial strategy of delaying the second shot for up to 12 weeks so that more people can be quickly given a first dose. Up to now, the recommended time between doses has been four weeks.

The research could also bring scientists closer to an answer to one of the big questions about the vaccination drive: Will the vaccines actually curb the spread of the coronavirus?

It’s not clear what implications, if any, the findings might have for the two other major vaccines being used in the West, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s.

In the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, dismissed the idea of deliberately delaying second shots, saying the U.S. will “go by the science” and data from the clinical trials. The two doses of the Pifzer and Moderna vaccines are supposed to be given three and four weeks apart.

Still, the research appears to be good news in the desperate effort to arrest the spread of the virus and also suggests a way to ease vaccine shortages and get shots into more arms more quickly.

Read the full story here.

Wisconsin mother finally meets baby delivered 3 months ago during COVID-19 coma

Nearly three months after Kelsey Townsend gave birth to her fourth child, the 32-year-old Wisconsin woman was finally face to face with her.

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The Townsend family poses for a photo in Poynette, Wis., on Jan. 27, the day mother Kelsey Townsend came home from the hospital, nearly three months after being admitted due to COVID-19. Taryn Ziegler/Taryn Marie Photography via Associated Press

Lucy, now bright-eyed and alert, flashed her a smile.

“Hi. I love you. I love you so much. Yeah, I’ve missed you,” Kelsey Townsend told her.

Townsend was in a medically-induced coma with COVID-19 when she gave birth to Lucy via via cesarean section on Nov. 4, not long after getting to SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison. She ended up spending 75 days on life and lung support. She finally met Lucy on Jan. 27 — the day Kelsey was discharged from University Hospital in Madison.

“We instantly bonded when we met. She gave me a great big smile and looked at me like she knew exactly who I was and that made me feel just so happy,” the Poynette, Wisconsin, woman said.

Dr. Jennifer Krupp, a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist and the Women’s and Newborn Health Medical Director for SSM Health Wisconsin Region, said it has been rare for the hospital to deliver a baby to a mother so sick with COVID-19.

Kelsey Townsend’s oxygen saturation was very low when she arrived at the hospital — so low that a fetus’ brain and other organs could be damaged — and her skin was tinged grey and blue, Dr. Thomas Littlefield said via email Wednesday, so her baby had to be delivered as soon as possible.

Doctors thought Townsend might need a double lung transplant at the end of December. But then she started improving — so much that she was moved out of the intensive care unit, taken off a ventilator in mid-January and removed from the transplant waiting list.

Townsend’s husband, Derek Townsend, described the experience as a “big roller coaster.”

“There was many, many nights that I would get phone calls late at night and into the early morning, and the doctors kind of informed me that they’ve done all that they can to support Kelsey and they’re having a hard time stabilizing,” he said. “So there was many times that we thought we were going to lose her.”

Derek Townsend says even his baby daughter seemed to notice someone was missing when his wife was still hospitalized.

“The past three months with Lucy, you know, her head is always moving and she’s always looking. And I told Kelsey that I believe she’s just constantly looking for, for her,” he said.

The pair contracted COVID-19 despite taking precautions, Derek Townsend said. As he got better, his wife got worse. That’s when they went to the hospital.

“Family is everything to me,” Kelsey Townsend said. “So I have everything to live for right here and coming home. There was no question that I wouldn’t.”

Some states are holding key vaccine discussions in closed meetings

IOWA CITY, Iowa — As the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign accelerates, governors, public health directors and committees advising them are holding key discussions behind closed doors, including debates about who should be eligible for the shots and how best to distribute them.

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Edna Becker receives the Moderna coronavirus vaccine from nurse Patricia Torres at the mass vaccination clinic at the New Braunfels Civic/Convention Center in New Braunfels, Texas, in January. Some governors, public health directors and committees advising them are holding key discussions behind closed doors, including debates about who should be eligible for the shots and how to best distribute them. Mikala Compton/Herald-Zeitung via Associated Press

A review by The Associated Press finds that advisory committees created to help determine how to prioritize limited doses have held closed meetings in at least 13 states that are home to more than 70 million people.

In at least 15 other states, the meetings have been open to the public, the AP found. But even in those states, governors and health departments can modify or override committee recommendations with little or no public explanation. In several others, governors and their staffs make decisions without formal advisory bodies to guide them.

The lack of transparency raises the risk that some decisions will be grounded in politics rather than public health and that well-connected industries could receive special treatment while the concerns of marginalized groups are ignored.

“You don’t want to have ‘God squads’ making these decisions about life and death without any kind of public oversight or public accountability,” said Oregon State University professor Courtney Campbell, an expert in bioethics.

In Iowa, the governor moved legislators and other Capitol employees ahead of inmates and correctional officers on the vaccine priority list, despite at least 19 coronavirus deaths among state prisoners and staff. In Oregon, the governor prioritized teachers for shots before the elderly without seeking a recommendation from an advisory committee that has debated other sensitive topics publicly.

Campbell praised the Oregon panel’s transparency and commitment to equity but criticized the lack of public deliberation that went into the decision on teachers. “You want to know what groups are prioritized but also what evidence is used scientifically to determine which should go first and their reasoning process,” he said.

The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that states “promote transparency” as one of four ethical principles in vaccine allocation programs. The committee advised in November that decisions and plans “must be evidence-based, clear, understandable and publicly available,” and that public participation in their creation and review should occur to the extent possible.

Public distrust of government has been a major problem throughout the pandemic, and “you want to take those kinds of factors that contribute to public suspicion out of the equation,” Campbell said.

Davos economic forum pushed back to August over COVID-related havoc

GENEVA — Leaders of the World Economic Forum say their annual gathering — usually held in the Alpine snows of Davos, Switzerland — is being postponed again because of “the international challenges in containing the pandemic.”

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German Klaus Schwab, left, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, WEF, listens to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, displayed on a video screen, during a conference at the Davos Agenda in Cologny near Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. The Davos Agenda from Jan. 25 to Jan. 29, 2021 is an online edition due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

The forum, which staged a virtual “Davos Agenda” meeting last month, says the in-person event this year will take place in Singapore from Aug. 17-20 and not May 25-28 as previously planned.

“Current global travel restrictions have made planning difficult for an in-person meeting for the first half of the year,” a forum statement said, alluding to quarantine and air transportation rules that have made travel plans more complex.

It marks the latest change of plans for the elite gathering of government leaders, business executives, civil society advocates and artists, actors and musicians.

Because of COVID concerns, the event usually held in January was first postponed to May and scheduled for the Swiss city of Lucerne, before the venue was moved to Singapore that same month.

Capt. Tom Moore, WWII vet whose walk cheered UK, dies at 100 but his legacy live on

LONDON  — The legacy of Capt. Tom Moore, the super fundraiser who died Tuesday of COVID-19, lives on in Imogen Papworth-Heidel — and many others.

The 11-year-old soccer player, who dreams of playing for England, watched Capt. Tom pushing his walker up and down his garden to raise money for the National Health Service and was inspired.

So she decided to help by doing something she’s good at: keepy uppies — kicking the ball into the air and passing it from one foot to the other without letting it touch the ground.

Imogen was able to raise 15,000 pounds ($20,500) for key workers keeping hospitals open, streets safe and trains running while everyone else stays home to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“I wanted to do something to help as well to raise money, so I did this,’’ she told The Associated Press from her home in Framlingham in southeastern England. “I chose to do 7.1 million — one for every single key worker in the whole of the country.”

Capt. Tom Moore waves after achieving his goal of 100 laps of his garden, at his home in April. Joe Giddens/PA via Associated Press

Capt. Tom, a World War II veteran, walked into the hearts of a nation in lockdown as he shuffled up and down his garden to raise money for health care workers, died after testing positive for COVID-19. He was 100.

His family announced his death on Twitter, posting a picture of him behind his walker in a happy moment, ready for an adventure.

He was recovering from a broken hip when he set out to raise 1,000 pounds ($1,400) by walking 100 laps of his back garden before his 100th birthday last April. Three weeks later, he had raised 33 million pounds ($45 million) for Britain’s NHS after his quest cheered a nation in lockdown and triggered donations from around the world.

But he also made a broader impact as his simple challenge — to do whatever you can to help others — persuaded the young it’s never too soon to start, and the old that it’s never too late.

“Captain Sir Tom inspired so many people to take on their own extraordinary challenges, from running marathons to swimming lakes, and he gave us all hope,” said Ellie Orton, chief executive of NHS Charities Together, using the honorific Capt. Tom earned when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

“He showed NHS patients and staff, who were struggling, that people cared, that they were looking out for them and doing what they could to support them.”

Tokyo Olympics organizers unveil their pandemic playbook

The organizers of the delayed Tokyo Olympics unveiled a set of rules governing how teams move about and interact in order to avoid the spread of the covid-19 pathogen, assuming that the games will go ahead this summer as planned.

Coronavirus tests will be conducted before and after arrival in Japan and then at least every four days, with movements in the country limited to a pre-determined plan, according to the first version of the “Playbook” unveiled on Wednesday. The document was prepared by the Tokyo Organizing Committee, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee.

A man wearing a protective mask stands in front of Olympic rings in Tokyo in March 2020. Bloomberg/Kiyoshi Ota

The protocols outlined in the playbook are aimed at holding a successful games even as countries across the globe struggle to bring the pandemic under control. Japan implemented stricter measures last month seeking to reduce infections and pave the way for the Olympics, which were postponed last year.

While questions linger over whether the games can be held at all, the playbook is an important step in clarifying the conditions under which they can take place. The document was light on many details, however, including how and on what schedule participants, athletes and other staff would be tested for coronavirus.

Organizers said they will decide those specifics in an update in April, in order to make use of the latest technology. Participants will need to submit a negative test before departure for Japan and may be tested on arrival.

One thing was clear: vaccinations won’t be mandatory. The organizers won’t require athletes and teams to be inoculated in order to take part, but said instead that they’ll work with each national Olympic committee to “encourage and assist their athletes, officials and stakeholders to get vaccinated in their home countries, in line with national immunisation guidelines, before they go to Japan.”

Fauci cautions against attending Super Bowl parties

WASHINGTON — When it comes to Super Bowl parties during this pandemic year, Dr. Anthony Fauci’s says to “just lay low and cool it.”

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser says during TV interviews Wednesday that now isn’t the time to invite people over for watch parties because of the possibility that they’re infected with the coronavirus and could sicken others.

He says big events like Sunday’s game in Tampa, Florida, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are always a cause for concern. Fauci says the best thing people can do is watch the game on TV at home with the people in your household.

The NFL has capped the game attendance at 22,000 because of the pandemic and citywide coronavirus mandates.

AstraZeneca vaccine shows strong effect against coronavirus with just one dose

LONDON — Britain’s health chief said Wednesday that a new study suggesting that a single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine provides a high level of protection for 12 weeks supports the government’s strategy of delaying the second shot so more people can quickly be protected by the first dose.

Britain’s decision has been criticized as risky by other European countries, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the study “backs the strategy that we’ve taken and it shows the world that the Oxford vaccine works effectively.”

A woman wearing a mask against coronavirus walks past a neon sign display in London on Feb. 2. Associated Press/Alastair Grant

Hancock’s comments came after Oxford University released a study showing the vaccine cut the transmission of the virus by two-thirds and prevented severe disease.

The study has not been peer-reviewed yet and does not address the efficacy of the other vaccine currently in use in the U.K., made by Pfizer. Pfizer recommends that its shots be given 21 days apart and has not endorsed the U.K. government’s decision to lengthen the time between doses.

The U.K. has already given at least one vaccine shot to 10 million people, far quicker than the European Union’s vaccine rollout.

Republican lawmakers in Kansas want to condemn governor for prisoner vaccinations

TOPEKA, Kan. — Republican lawmakers in Kansas are moving toward formally condemning Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s decision to give prison inmates COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of others.

The state Senate’s health committee agreed Tuesday to sponsor a resolution from its GOP chair, Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, that calls on Kelly to reverse her policy on inoculating inmates.

The full Senate could debate it later this week.

Michigan health director sued for depriving athletes of their constitutional rights

LANSING, Mich. — An athletic advocacy group, hockey league and parents of athletes have sued Michigan’s health director, seeking a reversal of 2 1/2-month state ban on contact sports that was issued to curb the coronavirus.

Let Them Play Michigan, a group of student-athletes, parents, coaches and school administrators, is among plaintiffs that sued in the Court of Claims Tuesday.

The complaint contends that the order, which was recently extended through Feb. 21, arbitrarily and irrationally singles out and deprives athletes of their constitutional rights and freedoms.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she’s optimistic that the state can move toward reengagement in sports.

Some Australia Open players have to isolate after hotel worker tests positive for virus

MELBOURNE — Some players preparing for the Australian Open will have to isolate until they return a negative test for COVID-19 after a worker at one of the tournament’s quarantine hotels tested positive for the virus.

Daniel Andrews, the political leader of Victoria state, called a late-night news conference Wednesday to announce the case and urged anyone with symptoms in Melbourne to get tested.

Andrews said the case could have an impact on some of the six tuneup tournaments being held this week ahead of the Australian Open, with any players, coaches or officials who quarantined at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Melbourne deemed to be casual contacts of the 26-year-old infected man and required to isolate until they’ve returned a negative test.

Melbourne Park where the Australian Open tennis championships will begin on Monday. Associated Press/Hamish Blair

The hotel advertises it has 550 rooms, including 25 premium suites, so potentially hundreds of people could be involved. It could also test the resolve of players who have recently come out of two weeks in quarantine, and give ammunition to critics of the decision to allow people to fly in from all over the world for the Australian Open.

“It may have an effect on tomorrow’s play in the leadup event,” Andrews said. “At this stage, no impact on the tournament proper.”

The Australian Open is scheduled to start Monday, with up to 30,000 spectators expected daily at Melbourne Park under guidelines which allow for up to 50% capacity.

Australian Open organizers didn’t immediately have details of how many players would have to isolate.

Everyone who arrives in Australia must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine under the COVID-19 pandemic regulations. The Australian Open used three hotels in Melbourne for the bulk of the players to quarantine and had other secure accommodation and facilities in Adelaide, South Australia state, for some of the biggest stars, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

The infected worker tested negative on his last day at the hotel on Jan. 29 but subsequently tested positive and has been working with government and health officials on contact tracing.

“This is one case,” Andrews said. “We’re well trained and well schooled in what to do.”

He said he was holding the news conference and announcing restrictions, which require the mandatory use of face masks while indoors, “through an abundance of caution.”

Israel expands vaccination campaign to everyone over age 16

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Health Ministry says it is widening its COVID-19 vaccination campaign to all of its citizens over the age of 16 starting on Thursday.

Israel is leading the world in vaccinations per capita, and as of Wednesday’s announcement has given 3.2 million people their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. More than 1.8 million people have received two doses of the vaccine.

At the same time that Israel has vaccinated around a third of its population, the country is under a nationwide lockdown to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, and new cases continue to mount at a troubling rate. Government statistics have also pointed to a drop in the number of daily vaccinations in recent weeks.

The Health Ministry has reported over 664,000 cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, and at least 4,890 deaths from the disease. More than a quarter of those deaths — 1,423 — were in January alone.

Denmark developing a digital vaccination passport

COPENHAGEN — Denmark’s government said Wednesday it is joining forces with businesses to develop a digital passport that would show whether people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, allowing them to travel and help ease restrictions on public life.

Finance Minister Morten Boedskov told a news conference that “in three, four months, a digital corona passport will be ready for use in, for example, business travel.”

“It is absolutely crucial for us to be able to restart Danish society so that companies can get back on track. Many Danish companies are global companies with the whole world as a market,” he added.

Before the end of February, citizens in Denmark would be able to see on a Danish health website the official confirmation of whether they have been vaccinated.

“It will be the extra passport that you will be able to have on your mobile phone that documents that you have been vaccinated,” Boedskov said.

The coronavirus pandemic has seen a severe reduction in international travel as countries try to contain the spread of the virus.

 

 

 


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