MIAMI — Jenn Greenberg is pretty busy helping her kindergartner with virtual classes and taking care of a toddler in her Florida home. But somehow she has also found the time to help dozens of seniors she has never met navigate the confusing, often chaotic process of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

Greenberg is part of a 120-member volunteer force helping South Florida residents 65 and older clear the daunting hurdles of state-run registration systems that are poorly organized and rely heavily on a technology that is often like a foreign language to them.

The problem has emerged in numerous states, where the absence of a streamlined national system has forced local governments to hurriedly cobble together a puzzling patchwork of vaccine distribution and administration plans.

“I realized how many barriers were in place which made lining up appointments very difficult,” said Greenberg, 36, who was inspired to volunteer her services after she saw how much work it took to get her own parents and grandparents signed up. “Unfortunately, there are many people in need.”

When Florida expanded eligibility for the vaccine to the general elderly population in late December, anxious seniors camped out overnight at vaccination sites, phone lines rang unanswered and websites crashed.

Read the full story here.

U.S. officials consider whether to send masks to all Americans

WASHINGTON — Biden administration officials are weighing sending masks to every American as they hope to nudge individuals to do their part in lowering coronavirus transmission rates.

White House chief of staff Ron Klain said in an interview with NBC News that administration officials are looking at using mask supplies that the government already has in its stockpile.

Biden_94896

President Biden removes his face mask before delivering remarks on COVID-19, in the State Dining Room of the White House last month in Washington. Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Klain said that the administration hopes to make an announcement on a potential move “in the next few days or next week.”

Biden has pleaded for Americans to wear masks during the first 100 days of his administration. It’s a step he said could help save thousands of lives as Americans await their turn to be vaccinated.

Johnson & Johnson seeks emergency authorization for single-shot vaccine

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson submitted its single-shot coronavirus vaccine to U.S. regulators Thursday afternoon for emergency use authorization after the vaccine was shown to be robustly effective against illness in a global trial – and especially at preventing severe disease and death.

Virus_Outbreak_Vaccine_58672

Johnson & Johnson has asked U.S. regulators to clear the world’s first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, an easier-to-use option that could boost scarce supplies. Johnson & Johnson via AP

The submission is “a pivotal step toward reducing the burden of disease for people globally and putting an end to the pandemic,” Paul Stoffels, chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson, said in a statement. If the vaccine receives regulatory clearance by the Food and Drug Administration, it would be the third authorized vaccine in the United States.

Stoffels said the company would be ready to ship doses immediately upon authorization but did not specify the number – which government officials have told The Washington Post could be in the single-digit millions.

If the vaccine follows the same trajectory as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines that were authorized late last year, an expert panel of advisers to the FDA would consider the data at a full-day meeting near the end of this month. The FDA is guided by that panel’s deliberations. For the other vaccines, it acted within a day of the advisory committee meeting.

Johnson & Johnson has committed to delivering 100 million doses by the end of June but has not been specific about how many doses could be shipped each month.

The easier logistics of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which can be stored at refrigerator temperatures for months and requires only one shot, would make it a welcome addition amid the drive to accelerate vaccinations as variants loom that can elude some immunity.

Read the full story here.

How is Alaska leading the nation in vaccinations? With boats, ferries, planes and snowmobiles.

Alaska, the state with the largest land mass in the nation, is leading the country in a critical coronavirus measure: per capita vaccinations.

About 13 percent of the people who live in Alaska have already gotten a shot. That’s higher than states such as West Virginia, which has received a lot of attention for a successful vaccine rollout and has inoculated 11 percent of its people.

Virus_Outbreak_Alaska_Vaccine_34455

Nurse Banu Mufale administers a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine to physical therapist Becca Mamrol on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Loren Holmes/Anchorage Daily News via Associated Press

But the challenge for Alaska has been how to get vaccines to people across difficult, frigid terrain — often in remote slivers of the state?

“Boats, ferries, planes, snowmobiles — Alaskans will find a way to get it there,” said the state’s chief medical officer, Anne Zink, 43.

Alaskans are being vaccinated on fishing boats, inside 10-seater planes and on frozen landing strips. Doctors and nurses are taking white-knuckle trips to towns and villages across the state to ensure residents are protected from the coronavirus.

Contributing to Alaska’s quick speed in getting the vaccine to its residents is a federal partnership that allows the state, which has more than 200 indigenous tribes, to receive additional vaccines to distribute through the Indian Health Service.

Other reasons include the state’s small population of 732,000, as well as a high number of veterans, Zink said. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure that high-risk veterans receive priority for the vaccine.

But one big reason is the state is practiced in delivering precious cargo by transport not often used in the Lower 48. Sometimes that even means adventures by sled.

One all-female medical crew of four in December used a sled pulled by a snowmobile to deliver vaccine to the village of Shungnak in the state’s remote Northwest Arctic Borough.

“It’s just an easier way to get around when you don’t have a lot of roads,” said Kelli Shroyer, public communications director for the Maniilaq Health Center in Kotzebue, Alaska, where the crew started their journey.

Britain to test mixing and matching of COVID-19 vaccines

British scientists are starting a study Thursday to find out if it’s OK to mix and match COVID-19 vaccines.

Britain_Testing_Vaccines_74007

Mary Williams receives an injection of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at the mass vaccination center in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, last month. British scientists studying whether shots of different coronavirus vaccines can be used safely, in the world’s first experiment to see if vaccines made by different companies can be used together. Scott Heppell/Associated Press

The vaccines being rolled out now require two doses, and people are supposed to get two shots of the same kind, weeks apart.

Guidelines in Britain and the U.S. say the vaccines aren’t interchangeable, but can be mixed if the same kind isn’t available for the second dose or if it’s not known what was given for the first shot.

Participants in the government-funded study will get one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a dose from Pfizer, or vice versa.

“This study will give us greater insight into how we can use vaccines to stay on top of this nasty disease,” said Jonathan Van Tam, the U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer.

He said that given the challenges of immunizing millions of people amid a global vaccine shortage, there would be advantages to having data that could support more “flexible” immunization campaigns.

COVID-19 vaccines all train the body to recognize the coronavirus, mostly the spike protein that coats it. The ones from AstraZeneca and Pfizer use different technologies. AstraZeneca’s uses a common cold virus to carry the spike gene into the body. Pfizer’s is made by putting a piece of genetic code called mRNA — the instructions for that spike protein — inside a little ball of fat.

The British research is scheduled to run 13 months and will also test different intervals between doses, four weeks and 12 weeks apart.

A study published this week on the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine showed it was about 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. Some immunologists credit the fact that the vaccine uses two slightly different shots, made with similar technology to AstraZeneca’s.

But the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are “so different that it’s really hard to know if that would work,” said Alexander Edwards, an associate professor in biomedical technology at Britain’s University of Reading.

 

U.S., Israel years ahead of Europe in early race for COVID shots

The U.S. is on pace to vaccinate 75 percent of its population against COVID-19 this year, while Canada would need almost a decade to reach that coverage level, according to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker.

Virus_Outbreak_Vaccine_Transparency_67988

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 on Jan. 21. Mikala Compton/Herald-Zeitung via AP, File

The starkly different trajectories show how unevenly countries around the world have kicked off the largest mass vaccination drive in history. The U.K. and Israel are also on a path to administer a two-dose vaccine regimen to three-quarters of people this year — reaching a rough estimate for when herd immunity might kick in — while much of Europe would need a few years for that.

Though overall the U.S. is faring relatively well compared with other countries, the picture varies by individual states. Hawaii is headed for the key coverage level this year, with New York currently looking at summer 2022.

These projections are the latest feature on the tracker, and are based on the average daily vaccination rates in different countries and U.S. states. The function will be updated daily and is designed to offer an evolving picture of how quickly vaccine campaigns are accelerating.

Herd immunity occurs when enough people have resistance to a virus, either through vaccination or antibodies from previous infection, that the pathogen can no longer make inroads.

It’s a complicated concept, and experts disagree on how fast it will be achieved on a regional, national or global scale, especially in the face of mutating virus strains and questions about the longevity of protection from covid shots. The pace of vaccinations is also expected to accelerate considerably around the world as more COVID shots get approved and production scales up.

Number of administered doses of vaccine surpasses number of reported COVID cases worldwide

The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered around the world has surpassed the number of confirmed cases of the disease.

According to data compiled by Our World in Data, a research publication based at the University of Oxford, as of Wednesday a total of 107.3 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered around the world — while Johns Hopkins University recorded 104.5 million confirmed cases globally.

Virus_Outbreak_Britain_94648

Pharmacist Bhaveen Patel administers a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid vaccine to Joshua Labor at a coronavirus vaccination clinic held at Junction Pharmacy in Brixton, London, Thursday, Jan. 28. Dominic Lipinski/PA via AP

In gross numbers the United States leads the chart with 33.88 million doses administered since the first shot was given in mid-December, followed by the United Kingdom, with 10.52 million and Israel, with 5.21 million doses.

In numbers relative to the population, Israel easily beats other nations, with 60.1 doses per 100 people. In the U.K. there have been 15.5 doses administered per 100 people. The U.S. comes in third, with 10.1 shots per 100 people.

The numbers count a single dose of the vaccine and don’t necessarily reflect the total number of people, as it also includes some people who have received more than one shot.

Still, the figures suggest a glimpse of hope in the fight to overcome the pandemic — though health experts continue to push for greater cooperation among the world’s nations as a way to put a definitive end to the crisis.

“We are in a race against time,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in an essay published Tuesday on Foreign Policy.

“The development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in record time is a remarkable testament to modern scientific capabilities. Whether it will bring an end to this terrible pandemic is a test of the world’s political will and moral commitment,” he added.

While highlighting an increasing number of vaccine options — which he sees as “the best chance of bringing this pandemic under control” — Tedros noted that “current manufacturing capacity meets only a fraction of global need,” he said, warning world leaders about the dangers of “vaccine nationalism.”

According to the head of the WHO, rich countries — which have 16 percent of the world’s population — have purchased 60 percent percent of the world’s vaccine supply.

“Vaccine nationalism is not just morally indefensible. It is epidemiologically self-defeating and clinically counterproductive,” he said.

“Allowing the majority of the world’s population to go unvaccinated will not only perpetuate needless illness and deaths and the pain of ongoing lockdowns, but also spawn new virus mutations as COVID-19 continues to spread among unprotected populations,” Tedros added.

Super-rich and punctual Switzerland is also behind on vaccines

Being famously wealthy, a model for efficiency and punctuality and having a big pharmaceuticals industry is no guarantee of success when it comes to the coronavirus vaccination drive.

The European Union’s procurement saga has dominated headlines, but neighboring Switzerland is facing a similar predicament. With shops, theaters and restaurants closed and a public desperate for respite, authorities in the capital of Bern weren’t offering covid-19 immunization appointments at the weekend. There simply wasn’t enough vaccine.

The Swiss often refer to their country as a “Musterschüler,” or “model student” because of its ability to get things done in time. On Wednesday, the government announced it had ordered more batches, including from two new suppliers. Yet like the EU, a bloc it never joined in order to maintain in control over all its affairs, Switzerland is suffering from acting too late.

A Swiss national flag flies in front of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) in Bern, Switzerland in June. Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg

About 3.7 percent of the population has been inoculated, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. That’s marginally more than the average for the 27-member EU, though a fraction of the U.K. on 15 percent. It’s also less than continental frontrunner Serbia, a country beyond the EU with a gross domestic product per capita that’s less than 10 percent of Switzerland’s.

“The government’s vaccination plan has failed,” said Marco Chiesa, head of the Swiss People’s Party, the nationalist group that has the most seats in parliament’s lower house. “We’re not used to such unreliability.”

Frustration with the slow rollout escalated when ministers were secretly immunized while senior citizens have to wait. “The government is putting its credibility on the line,” newspaper Tages-Anzeiger wrote on Jan. 15. Government advisers reckon delays to vaccines cost as much as 110 million francs ($122 million) for each day the economy can’t operate normally.

The issue might simply be that Switzerland isn’t set up for the swift decision-making that the vaccine procurement needed. It also eschews state involvement in commercial business. Business lobby Economiessuisse on Wednesday called for a national crisis response group that reports directly to the government and is able to act quickly.

Despite healthcare spending second only to the U.S. and having two of Europe’s biggest drugmakers, the country that hosts the World Health Organization didn’t provide funds for vaccine development.

Sitting on billions, Catholic dioceses applied for and got over $1.5 billion in pandemic aid

Scores of Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. had more than $10 billion in cash and other readily available funds when they received at least $1.5 billion from the nation’s emergency relief program for small businesses slammed by the coronavirus, an Associated Press investigation has found.

Virus_Outbreak_Small_Business_Loans_Catholic_34258

The Most Rev. Peter Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte, conducts Palm Sunday services inside the empty St. Patrick Cathedral in Charlotte, N.C. The Charlotte Diocese received more than $8 million in paycheck program aid. David T. Foster III/The Charlotte Observer via Associated Press

The financial resources of several dioceses rivaled or exceeded those available to publicly traded companies — like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House — whose participation in the Paycheck Protection Program triggered outrage last spring.

The taxpayer-backed aid was supposed to help recipients that lacked the kind of financial safety net that cash and short-term assets provide.

While dioceses, their churches and schools went into the pandemic with billions, the cash catastrophe church leaders feared did not materialize, AP found. New financial statements that several dozen dioceses have posted for 2020 show available resources improved despite the pandemic’s hard, early months — the same time they sought paycheck protection aid.

The pattern held whether a diocese was big or small, urban or rural, East or West, North or South.

Read the full story here.

Vaccination rates are driving many currencies

The stop-start pace of vaccine rollouts around the world is handing investors a new route to profit in the $6.6 trillion-a-day currency markets.

Of the five countries leading the fight against covid-19, all but one saw their currencies gain versus the dollar in January, according to a Bloomberg study of the 15 biggest economies with publicly available vaccination and infection data. The U.K.’s inoculation progress offset elevated case rates enough to propel the pound higher, while the European Union’s chaotic distribution has weighed on the euro. These moves have blurred the picture for the dollar, which lies on the other side of these trades and has defied expectations that it would weaken even as the U.S. itself grapples with varied infection and vaccination rates.

A pedestrian passes a currency exchange signs in London on Jan. 5, 2021. Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

As the pandemic shifts the currency trading landscape, one thing is becoming clear: gone are the days when central bank rate outlooks and growth differentials were the pre-eminent drivers of trading strategies. Instead, fund managers like those helping oversee billions of dollars at Aberdeen Standard Investments and Brandywine Global Investment Management are becoming amateur experts on herd immunity, parsing the growing correlations between inoculations and foreign exchange for trading signals.

“The trend in terms of speed of vaccinations, and then in terms of the infection rates as a follow through, gives a good insight into who will open up fastest,” said Charles Diebel, who manages about 4.5 billion euros ($5.4 billion) at Mediolanum in Dublin.

Many traders see defeating the virus as a prerequisite to a nation rebooting its economy, and thereby bolstering its currency, elevating the importance of a successful — and quick — vaccine rollout.

For example, Australia’s dollar took a dive versus its New Zealand peer last week after Germany cast doubt on the effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s covid-19 shot, which forms part of Australia’s vaccination program.

Calls grow in Germany to punish queue-jumping for vaccines

BERLIN  — Calls are growing in Germany to punish people who squeeze to the front of the line for COVID-19 vaccines after several cases in which officials allegedly queue-jumped and received shots while millions of people wait for their turn.

The head of a trust that operates three hospitals in northwestern Germany apologized to staff members Wednesday for getting vaccinated ahead of doctors and nurses at the facilities.

Virus_Outbreak_Germany_66903

People queue in front of a coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccination center in Berlin on Feb. 1. Associated Press/Michael Sohn

German public broadcaster NDR reported that fewer than 400 of the 2,500 staff members at the hospitals in Aurich, Emden and Norden have gotten vaccines so far and the ones still waiting include employees who work in intensive care units and COVID-19 wards.

The trust’s chief executive, Claus Eppmann, said he accepted an invitation to get a shot on Jan. 9, the first day a hospital received vaccine supplies, and that he has since received his second dose, too. The trust, which is publicly owned, said the doses had to be used quickly and medical staff weren’t on hand that day.

“I take full and sole responsibility,” Eppmann said in a letter to hospital staff obtained by The Associated Press. He said the decision to accept the invitation was wrong and he regretted it.

“At no point did I intend to gain personal advantage due to my role or function in the company, nor did I want to withhold or take anything away from (other) employees,” he said.

Earlier this week, a senior Red Cross manager in the city of Hamburg left his post after criticism that he and other managers had used surplus vaccines from a supply the aid group was tasked with administering to elderly people in nursing homes.

According to the German government’s priority list, coronavirus vaccines were initially reserved for those over age 80, people living or working in nursing homes, and hospital staff treating particularly vulnerable patients. Managers and office workers are not on the list.

Germany’s Foundation for Patient Protection said it was aware of cases in which the priority list had been ignored and complained that there are no penalties for skipping ahead.

International travel linked to rise in COVID deaths: study

International travel at the start of the pandemic had the biggest impact on COVID-related deaths in countries worst hit by the virus, according to a new study.

Medical researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland examined factors such as international arrivals, population and urban density, age and smoking prevalence and compared those mortality rates across 37 countries.

A TSA agent assist checks a traveler’s identification at a security checkpoint at the Dallas airport in November. Associated Press/Tony Gutierrez

They found that the biggest increase in death rates was linked with international arrivals, including in the United States and Europe. In fact, an increase of a million international arrivals was associated with a 3.4 percent jump in the mean daily increase in COVID deaths during the first wave of the pandemic, the authors said.

The findings could affect how governments respond to surges in infections or the global spread of more transmissible variants of the virus. Some nations have opted for strict travel and quarantine rules, while others simply recommend isolation on arrival or require a negative PCR test before flying.

According to the researchers, early travel bans at the start of the pandemic may have resulted in fewer deaths, particularly in Western Europe and the United Kingdom. In the United States, nearly 450,000 people have died of the virus.

“Our assessment of available data indicates that very early restrictions on international travel might have made a difference in the spread of pandemic in Western Europe, including the U.K.,” said the study’s chief author, Tiberiu Pana.

“These findings are particularly important as the world looks to control future waves and strains of the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent related deaths,” Pana said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: