Pandemic news from around the world:
Gorillas at San Diego park test positive for COVID-19
Multiple gorillas at a San Diego zoo have tested positive for COVID-19, in what appears to be the first cases of captive great apes contracting the virus.
On Monday (Jan. 11), officials with the San Diego Zoo Safari Park said that eight of their gorillas are believed to be infected with the virus, according to the Associated Press. At least two gorillas have tested positive, and staff are working under the assumption that all of the gorillas could be infected, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The cases were caught after staff members noticed on Jan. 6 that two of the park's gorillas were coughing. Subsequent testing of fecal samples from the gorillas revealed the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the gorilla troop, according to a statement from the park.
Park officials believe the gorillas caught the virus from an asymptomatic staff member who also tested positive for the virus. It appears to be the first reported case of natural transmission of COVID-19 to great apes, the statement said.
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Antarctica has its 1st COVID-19 outbreak
The first COVID-19 cases have been reported in Antarctica, meaning the disease has now spread to every continent in the world.
On Tuesday (Dec. 22), Chilean officials reported an outbreak of 36 COVID-19 cases at the Chilean research base General Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme on the Antarctic Peninsula, according to the BBC. Of these, 26 cases were military personnel and 10 were maintenance workers, the BBC reported.
All of these cases have been evacuated from Antarctica to Punta Arenas, Chile, according to The Guardian.
Antarctica had been COVID-19 free up until the current outbreak. The continent has no permanent residents, but about 1,000 people, including scientists and other workers, stayed there this past winter, The Guardian reported.
Biden gets Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine
President-elect Joe Biden received a dose of Pfizer's new COVID-19 vaccine on Monday (Dec. 21), according to The New York Times. He received the shot on camera at the Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware.
"I'm doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it's available to take the vaccine. There's nothing to worry about," Biden said.
London and southeast England are under an emergency lockdown
Following concerns of a new version of the coronavirus that might be more transmissible, London and most of southeast England are now under an emergency lockdown, according to The New York Times. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the lockdown on Saturday (Dec. 19) citing concerns that the mutated virus — which was detected a couple of weeks ago in southeast England — may be as much as 70% more transmissible than previous versions, according to the Times. The new version of the coronavirus is detected in more than 60% of new infections in London and have also been detected in several other countries, according to the Times. But it's not yet clear if this coronavirus version is any more infectious than the last and thorough analyses will need to be conducted before conclusions are made, scientists cautioned. In South Africa, a similar version of the virus has been found in up to 90% of new cases detected since mid-November, according to The Times. It's common for viruses to mutate, and this particular coronavirus has mutated many times since the start of the pandemic. But experts told The Times that it would take years for the virus to mutate enough such that it would make the current vaccines developed to fight COVID-19 ineffective.
COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the U.S.
There have now been more than 17 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and more than 300,000 deaths, according to The COVID Tracking Project. There are currently 114,237 people hospitalized across the country and 21,900 people in the ICU. California is facing a massive surge in cases; the state reported 41,012 new COVID-19 cases and 300 new deaths on Thursday (Dec. 17), according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard. By comparison, at the start of November, California was reporting a seven-day average of 4,183 cases, compared to an average of 38,774 on Thursday, according to CNN.
"We're experiencing an explosive and very deadly surge," Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Public Health Director said, according to CNN. Intensive care unit beds are rapidly filling up across the state; there are only 1,234 ICU beds left available in California, according to the dashboard. Current closures across California are impacting around 98% of the state's population, according to CNN.
FDA expected to authorize Moderna's vaccine on Friday
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine on Friday (Dec. 18).
Once authorized, it will be the second coronavirus vaccine to get the green light from the agency in just a week, with Pfizer's vaccine gaining authorization on Dec. 11.
Moderna is expected to begin shipping 5.9 million doses of its vaccine on Sunday (Dec. 20), with the first deliveries arriving Monday (Dec. 21), according to The New York Times.
Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, Moderna's vaccine does not require storage in extremely cold temperatures, and states are hoping to distribute the vaccine to rural hospitals and community health centers, the Times reported.
California becomes new epicenter of COVID-19 in U.S.
California, once praised for its early pandemic response, is now the new U.S. hotspot for COVID-19 infections. The state has reported an alarming surge in cases, breaking previous records for daily cases. On Thursday (Dec. 17), the state reported some 50,000 COVID-19 infections in 24 hours, and nearly 100,000 in 48 hours, according to The Washington Post. That's more than the daily cases reported in many countries, including India, Germany and Britain, the Post reported.
The state also set a record for daily deaths on Thursday, with 379 fatalities reported, up from the previous high of 293.
Capacity in intensive care units has also dropped dramatically, with hospitals in Southern California reporting zero percent capacity on Thursday.
"I want to be very clear: Our hospitals are under siege, and our model shows no end in sight," said Christina Ghaly, director of Los Angeles County's Department of Health Services, the Post reported.
An FDA advisory panel will meet today to vote on whether to recommend Moderna's coronavirus vaccine for emergency approval
On Thursday (Dec. 17), a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee will meet to determine whether to recommend that Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency approval, according to The New York Times. This panel, composed of independent experts, will vote on whether to recommend the vaccine after hearing from the company, FDA scientists and the public, according to The Times. Last week, the same panel of experts met to discuss Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine and voted to recommend emergency authorization; the authorization came the next day.
There have now been more than 16.9 million cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. and more than 307,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins dashboard. There are currently 113,090 people hospitalized across the country with more than 21,900 of them in the ICU and 7,778 on a ventilator, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
A wild mink tested positive for the coronavirus, it may be the first wild animal to have a confirmed case
A wild mink in Utah may be the first "free-ranging, native wild animal" confirmed to be infected with SARS-CoV-2, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Live Science reported. The mink was found near a mink farm and likely picked up the infection from the farmed mink. There's no evidence that the virus spread to other minks or wild animals; but if the virus does begin circulating in wild animals, it could pick up mutations that COVID-19 vaccines may not protect well against if it spreads back to humans, according to the report.
"If it does [establish a reservoir], then we've got a long-term issue here, where this virus has the potential to be with us for millennia," Sarah Olson, associate director of the health program at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Vox. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has screened other animal species for the virus near mink farms in Utah, Michigan and Wisconsin, but all of them have tested negative so far, according to a statement.
FDA authorizes first over-the-counter COVID-19 test
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the first over-the-counter COVID-19 test, which can be done at home and does not need a prescription.
The test, made by the Australia-based company Ellume, provides results in as little as 20 minutes, according to a statement from the FDA. It is a "lateral flow antigen test," meaning it works in a similar way to a home pregnancy test, by running a "liquid sample along a surface with reactive molecules," the FDA said.
The test works in conjunction with a smartphone app. Users take a nasal swab and place their sample in an analyzer, which communicates to the smartphone app via Bluetooth. The results are delivered through the app, and also reported to public health authorities (based on a user's zip code) through a secure cloud connection, the company said.
Ellume is ramping up production of its test, and expects to produce three million tests in January 2021, and 20 million within the first half of 2021.
FDA analysis confirms Moderna's vaccine is safe and effective, emergency authorization is likely to come Friday
A new briefing document from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released on Tuesday (Dec. 15) confirmed that Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, according to NPR. Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective and has "a favorable safety profile," according to the document. A panel of experts is set to meet on Thursday (Dec. 17) to discuss the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine and vote on whether or not the FDA should grant emergency approval to the vaccine. Last week, the same panel voted that the FDA should grant emergency approval to Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine; the authorization came a day late and the first doses were given on Monday (Dec. 15). The FDA will likely approve Moderna's vaccine for emergency use on Friday (Dec. 18), according to The New York Times.
ICU nurse in New York becomes first person in the US to receive a coronavirus vaccine outside of clinical trials
New York, the worst-hit state at the start of the pandemic, just became the first to administer a coronavirus vaccine outside of clinical trials, kicking off a long, massive effort to vaccinate the American people, Live Science reported.
Around 9 a.m. E.T. on Monday (Dec. 14), the very first dose of Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine was given to Sandra Lindsay, an intensive care nurse in Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York, according to The New York Times. This comes as the U.S. continues to battle a massive wave of the virus that has more than 109,000 people currently hospitalized, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
Since the start of the pandemic, New York has recorded more than 780,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 35,100 deaths, according to The Times. "This vaccine is exciting because I believe this is the weapon that will end the war," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a live broadcast of the first vaccination. "It's the beginning of the last chapter of the book, but now we just have to do it."
Australia abandons local COVID-19 vaccine after it caused false-positive HIV tests
An Australian COVID-19 vaccine that had shown promising results in early trials is being abandoned after researchers found that the shot caused false-positive results on HIV tests.
On Friday (Dec. 11), Australian officials said they had canceled an order for some 51 million doses of the vaccine, which was being developed by The University of Queensland and CSL Ltd., a local biotech company, according to The New York Times.
In an early trial with 216 participants, the vaccine appeared to be safe and to produce a robust immune response against COVID-19, according to a statement from CSL. But some volunteers falsely tested positive for HIV, which officials feared would undermine trust in the vaccine, the Times reported.
The vaccine contained small fragments of an HIV protein, which helped stabilize the vaccine. Some of the participants developed antibodies against these fragments, and these antibodies triggered false positive results on some HIV tests.
It's important to note that there is no way for the vaccine to cause an HIV infection, because it contains harmless fragments of the virus.
Vaccine approval could come this weekend, as U.S. continues to record high daily death tolls
On Thursday (Dec. 10), the U.S. recorded another 2,902 COVID-19 deaths, a day after the country set a record of 3,253 deaths, according to Reuters. “Probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had on 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday, according to Reuters. "The reality is the vaccine approval this week is not going to really impact that, I think, to any degree for the next 60 days."
On Thursday, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee discussed, voted and recommended that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should grant an emergency use authorization for Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine has already been approved in the U.K. and in Canada, and FDA approval for use in the U.S. could come this weekend.
FDA panel recommends authorization of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine
A panel of experts for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that the agency authorize Pfizer's new COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.
On Thursday (Dec. 10), the panel voted 17 to 4 to recommend that the vaccine receive emergency use authorization (EUA) for people ages 16 and older, according to The New York Times.
The FDA typically follows the advice of its panels, and so today's vote is an important step towards the vaccine's authorization. It is anticipated that the agency will officially authorize the vaccine on Saturday (Dec. 12), the Times reported.
Several countries have already authorized Pfizer's vaccine, including Canada, the United Kingdom and Bahrain.
Daily COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. reaches record-high, surpassed 9/11
On Wednesday (Dec. 9), the U.S. recorded 3,124 new COVID-19 deaths, the highest daily death toll to date, according to CNN. In comparison, 2,977 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. has now recorded 280,488 deaths related to the virus, according to The COVID Tracking Project. A forecast from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that the total death toll can increase to between 332,000 and 362,000 by January 2, according to CNN. There are currently 106,671 people hospitalized with the virus in the U.S.; 20,903 of them are currently in the ICU and 7,621 are currently on a ventilator, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
On Thursday (Dec. 10), the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is set to meet to discuss an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
Canada approves Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine
Canada has authorized Pfizer's new COVID-19 vaccine, with the first doses expected to be administered there as early as next week.
Health Canada, the country's health regulatory agency, said in a statement on Wednesday (Dec. 9) that it had determined that the vaccine "meets the Department's stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements for use in Canada," according to CTV News.
"We expect vaccines to arrive maybe as early as Monday [Dec. 14]. It takes time to prepare the vaccine," said Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the top military general leading the vaccine rollout for the Public Health Agency of Canada, according to CTV News. The first doses could be administered by the middle of next week, he said.
Canada is the third country in the world to authorize the Pfizer vaccine, following the United Kingdom and Bahrain.
The country should receive up to 249,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of December, and has purchased 20 million doses total, with the option to purchase more, CTV News reported.
People with significant allergies should avoid Pfizer vaccine, UK warns
The U.K.'s Regulatory Agency is advising people with a history of "significant" allergic reactions to avoid Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, after two National Health Service members developed severe allergic reactions to it on Tuesday (Dec. 8), Live Science reported.
"As is common with new vaccines the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) have advised on a precautionary basis that people with a significant history of allergic reactions do not receive this vaccination after two people with a history of significant allergic reactions responded adversely yesterday," Stephen Powis, the national medical director for England's National Health Service said in a statement on Wednesday (Dec. 9).
Both workers have a history of severe allergies and carry adrenaline auto injectors (such as EpiPens) around with them, according to The Guardian. Shortly after receiving the vaccine, both NHS workers developed anaphylaxis-like symptoms, or severe allergic reactions, but have recovered after receiving treatment. The MHRA will investigate further and Pfizer and BioNTech will support their investigation, according to Reuters.
"Allergic reaction occurs with quite a number of vaccines, and perhaps even more frequently with drugs. So it is not unexpected," Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in remarks to journalists published by Britain's Science Media Center.
“What would be wise, as the MHRA have already advised, would be for anyone who has known severe allergic reaction such that they need to carry an EpiPen, to delay having a vaccination until the reason for the allergic reaction has been clarified," he said. For the general population this does not mean that they would need to be anxious about receiving the vaccination, he added. "One has to remember that even things like marmite [a quintessential British food spread] can cause unexpected severe allergic reactions.”
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine starts to work just 10 days after 1st dose
Pfizer's new COVID-19 vaccine starts to protect people from the novel coronavirus just 10 days after the first dose, according to new documents from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The documents were released on Tuesday (Dec. 8), two days before a meeting of the FDA's vaccine advisory panel, which will vote on whether to recommend authorization of the vaccine in the U.S, Live Science reported.
The FDA analyzed data from Pfizer's phase 3 clinical trial, which included some 44,000 people in the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Turkey, about half of whom received the vaccine while the other half received a placebo. Both groups received two shots, 21 days apart.
About 10 days after the first dose, there was a noticeable drop-off in new COVID-19 cases in the vaccine group compared with the placebo group, indicating that even one dose provides some protection, the report said. However, scientists don't know how long the protection from a single dose will last, so it will still be important for people to receive two shots, according to The New York Times.
Overall, the vaccine was 52% effective after the first dose and 95% effective after the second dose, the report said.
90-year-old woman in the UK receives first dose of Pfizer vaccine, FDA review confirms vaccine is safe and effective
A 90-year-old woman (who will turn 91 next week) became the first in the world to be given Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine outside of clinical trials, according to the BBC. Margaret Keenan, who is originally from Northern Ireland, was given the vaccine at the University Hospital in Coventry, England. She received the first of 800,000 doses expected to be administered in the U.K. in the coming weeks, according to the BBC. "I feel so privileged to be the first person vaccinated against Covid-19," Keenan said, according to the BBC."It's the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the new year after being on my own for most of the year."
"My advice to anyone offered the vaccine is to take it. If I can have it at 90, then you can have it too," she added. Up to four million doses of Pfizer's vaccine is expected to be given to people in the U.K. by the end of the month. Meanwhile, a 53-page Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review published Tuesday (Dec. 8) confirmed that Pfizer's vaccine is safe and effective, according to The Washington Post.
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