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Solving COVID: April 21, 2021

1.

On Monday, every adult over the age of 16 in the United States became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, marking a milestone in America’s aggressive vaccination program. The nation has so far administered at least one dose to nearly 50 percent of the eligible population, according to The Washington Post. Daily cases remain steady at about 60,000, but daily deaths have fallen to about 700, down from a peak of more than 3,000 in January, CNBC reports. Unfortunately, the global outlook is worrisome: Last week was the worst yet for global infections, led by out-of-control surges in India and Brazil. With 5.2 million new weekly cases, “the data from Johns Hopkins University showing a 12 percent increase in infections from a week earlier casts doubt on the hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight,” writes Jinshan Hong at Bloomberg. [The Washington Post, Bloomberg]

2.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says people will “likely” need to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose within 12 months after they’ve been fully vaccinated, CNBC reported on Thursday. “It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus,” he said. Bourla also reportedly said it’s possible that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 annually will be necessary. Previously, Pfizer said that an analysis of a phase 3 study found that its COVID-19 vaccine remained highly effective at least six months after the second dose. Dr. Anthony Fauci has explained it’s “highly likely that it will be effective for a considerably longer period of time,” but “we very well may need to get booster shots to keep up the level of protection.” [CNBC, Mediaite]

3.

Prescription-free rapid COVID-19 tests that can be taken at home will be on sale at some Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS stores starting this week. One test kit, produced by Abbott Laboratories, will be sold at all three retailers, as well as online, while CVS stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts will sell another test made by the Australia-based company Ellume. The latter will be available online and in other states by the end of May, USA Today notes. The benefits of the tests are clear — people don’t need to visit a doctor or testing center, and both deliver results in about 15 minutes. There are concerns, though. For starters, antigen tests are less reliable than PCR tests, and while that issue could be countered by taking multiple at-home tests, both kits are fairly expensive. Abbott’s costs $23.99 and Ellume’s has a price tag of $38.99. [USA Today]

4.

Johnson & Johnson said Tuesday that it planned to resume distribution of its coronavirus vaccine in Europe. Regulators there found a link to rare blood clots, but said the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the risks of side effects. Johnson & Johnson paused the shot’s rollout in the European Union after U.S. agencies recommended a delay of the vaccine’s use pending review of the blood clot concerns. The European Medicines Agency’s latest recommendation is not binding, but it cleared the way for the block’s 27 member states to decide whether to use the vaccine, according to their case load and access to other vaccines. Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine already has been administered to nearly eight million Americans. The pause with Johnson & Johnson’s product hampered an already troubled EU vaccination effort, following the suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine over similar clotting concerns. [The New York Times]

5.

Researchers at the University of Oxford are looking for 64 healthy people between the ages of 18 and 30 who have recovered from COVID-19. In a new, first-of-its kind study, the volunteers will be reinfected with the original strain of the coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, under controlled, quarantined conditions for 17 days, the university said Monday. The main goal of the challenge trial is to discover what levels and types of immunity are needed to prevent reinfection, which could aid vaccine developers going forward. So far, natural infections and vaccines appear to provide strong protection against reinfection in most cases, but it’s unclear how long that will last. The study may also reveal how much virus it takes to reinfect a recovered patient. While Oxford is excited about the study’s potential, challenge trials have their critics, who argue that deliberately infecting someone is unethical, regardless of the circumstances. [Bloomberg]

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