MONDAY, Nov. 23, 2020 – Americans were greeted with possible advances against coronavirus as Thanksgiving week began: A third vaccine candidate shows good results in shielding recipients against the virus, and an antibody therapy used by President Donald Trump against COVID-19 got emergency use approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Meanwhile, U.S. coronavirus cases continued to explode: Almost 142,000 new cases were recorded on Sunday, with more than 12 million Americans now known to be infected.
Hopes for the roll-out of another effective vaccine brightened on Monday, however. Drug giant AstraZeneca announcing that late-stage clinical trials of its coronavirus shot showed it to be 70.4% effective, The New York Times reported.
The trials were conducted in the United Kingdom and Brazil in collaboration with the University of Oxford. The AstraZeneca vaccine becomes the third shot to show good effectiveness, following on the heels of promising data on vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. Both of the latter two shots had effectiveness around 95%.
The AstraZeneca results were based on the results of two dosing regimens for the vaccine: One regimen showed an effectiveness of 62%, the company said, while the other showed a 90% effectiveness.
The regimen showing a 90% effectiveness involved a first dose given at half strength and a second dose given at standard strength. No severe cases of COVID-19 emerged among any recipients, and there was a reduction in asymptomatic infections, suggesting that the vaccine was reducing transmission of the virus, AstraZeneca said.
Another antibody treatment
In other news, U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized emergency use of a second antibody drug to help the immune system fight COVID-19 — the same experimental drug that President Donald Trump received after contracting the coronavirus in October, the Associated Press reported.
The FDA has sanctioned the use of the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. drug to try to prevent hospitalization and worsening disease in patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms.
The drug is given intravenously as a one-time treatment. The FDA allowed its use in adults and children aged 12 and over who weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kilograms) and who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of age or certain other medical conditions.
According to Regeneron, initial doses will be made available to about 300,000 patients through a federal government allocation program, the AP said.
The new drug is a combo of two antibodies, which might boost the odds that it will help the immune system fight off the coronavirus. A similar antibody drug, developed by Eli Lilly, contained one form of antibody and was given emergency use authorization by the FDA earlier this month.
In the meantime, the new coronavirus is spreading across America with unprecedented speed, the White House Coronavirus Task Force said in its first briefing in four months on Thursday.
“This is more cases, more rapidly, than what we had seen before,” Dr. Deborah Birx said during the briefing. “You can see the increase in test positivity to around 10%.” That’s the number of people tested who get a positive diagnosis.
Birx pointed to a map of the country that is covered in red, highlighting the number of daily hospitalizations, which now regularly tops 70,000, CNN reported. Birx said she has been crisscrossing the country as she tries to encourage state and local leaders to take measures to stop the spread of the virus.
Still, task force members spoke out against the idea of nationwide lockdowns or schools, even as New York City returned to remote learning this week, CNN reported.
“We do know what to do and we are asking every American to do those things today,” Birx stressed. That starts with wearing masks, but also staying apart and limiting gatherings, she said.
The virus spreads even when people do not show symptoms, Birx noted. “It is because of this asymptomatic spread that we are asking people to wear a mask indoors,” she said. “Decreasing those friend-and-family gatherings where people come together and unknowingly spread the virus,” will also help slow the spread, she added.
Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving. More than 187,000 cases were announced nationwide on Thursday, another single-day record, and daily tallies have been rising in 47 states, according to The New York Times.
In California, officials reported more than 13,000 new cases, a single-day record, prompting the state to announce a 10 p.m. curfew for all but essential workers, the Times reported.
Even if the current seven-day national average of about 166,000 daily cases plateaued until the end of the year, nearly 7 million more people would still contract COVID-19, the Times said.
Though talk of two highly effective vaccines came this week, they will not be widely available until spring of 2021.
“We are in for a rough period through the end of February,” Dr. Jessica Justman, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, told the Times. “It looks hard to find a way to break it.”
A global scourge
By Monday, the U.S. coronavirus case count passed 12 million while the death toll neared 257,000, according to a Times tally. According to the same tally, the top five states in coronavirus cases as of Monday were: Texas with nearly 1.2 million; California with just over 1.1 million; Florida with over 938,000; Illinois with nearly 657,000; and New York with almost 601,000.
Curbing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains challenging.
Many European countries are tightening restrictions, the Associated Press reported. France has entered a nationwide lockdown, and Germany and Austria have started partial lockdowns as government officials across the continent scramble to slow a sharp rise in infections that threatens to overwhelm their health care systems.
England has followed suit, while Italy, Greece and Kosovo also announced new measures, the AP reported.
Things are no better in India, where the coronavirus case count has passed 9 million on Monday, a Johns Hopkins University tally showed. More than 133,000 coronavirus patients have died in India, according to the Hopkins tally, but when measured as a proportion of the population, the country has had far fewer deaths than many others. Doctors say this reflects India’s younger and leaner population. Still, the country’s public health system is severely strained, and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the Times said. Only the United States has more coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, Brazil passed 6 million cases and had over 169,000 deaths as of Monday, the Hopkins tally showed.
Worldwide, the number of reported infections neared 59 million on Monday, with nearly 1.4 million deaths recorded, according to the Hopkins tally.
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