by Robin Foster and Ej Mundell, Healthday Reporters
The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a Senate committee on Wednesday that 90% of Americans are still at risk of contracting the virus.
“The preliminary results in the first round [of a very large, ongoing CDC study] show that a majority of our nation, more than 90% of the population, remains vulnerable, “testified Dr. Robert Redfield.” A majority of Americans are still susceptible to this virus. “
Redfield added that some states are seeing infection rates of 15% to 20% while others are seeing an infection rate of less than 1%, reported CBS News.
At the same time, Redfield reiterated that the majority of Americans may not get a coronavirus vaccine until next year after President Donald Trump said last week that Redfield “made a mistake” when he stated earlier this month, CBS reported News.
“We’ll have the 700 million doses based on the projection by the end of March, early April,” Redfield told the committee.
At the same hearing of the committee, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said there will likely only be 50 million doses by December. “So there won’t be a large part of the population” will receive the vaccine by the end of the year. Fauci said the first to receive the vaccine will “likely be health care providers and likely those at risk from pre-existing conditions”.
Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the US Food and Drug Administration, repeatedly told the committee in his opening speech that the effectiveness of a vaccine is only determined by FDA scientists.
“I will fight for science. I will fight for the agency’s integrity,” said Hahn. Just this week, the agency proposed guidelines that would strengthen the review process of any new coronavirus vaccine.
Later on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said the White House may or may not approve these new FDA guidelines, claiming they may be politically motivated, the New York Times reported.
New study shows that the coronavirus is mutating quickly
Also on Wednesday, a new study of more than 5,000 genetic sequences from the coronavirus revealed the virus’s continued buildup of mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious, the Washington Post reported.
However, researchers didn’t find that these mutations made the virus more deadly.
Each mutation is a roll of the dice, and transmission is so widespread in the US that the virus has had many opportunities to change, with potentially problematic consequences, study author James Musser of the Houston Methodist Hospital told the Post.
“We gave this virus a lot of chances,” said Musser. “There’s a huge population right now.”
The study was published on the preprint server MedRxiv and not reviewed by experts. A large number of sequences were published by scientists in the UK earlier this month. These scientists also concluded that a mutation that alters the structure of the “spike protein” on the surface of the virus could fuel the over-spread of this particular strain.
David Morens, a senior virologist at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the finding “could have an impact on our ability to control it.”
“Wearing masks, washing our hands and all of those things are barriers to communicability or contagion, but as the virus becomes more contagious, it is statistically better to bypass those barriers,” Morens said.
In addition, the virus can potentially affect the shelf life of a vaccine, Morens added.
“While we don’t know yet, it is entirely possible that if our population-level immunity gets high enough, this coronavirus will find a way to bypass our immunity,” Morens said. “If that happened, we would be in the same situation as we were with the flu. We have to hunt down the virus and, as it mutates, work on our vaccine.”
One-shot vaccine moves to larger studies
In news that could help make it easier for all Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the first coronavirus vaccine to require a single shot has entered the final stages of testing in the US, the Post reported.
The international study will eventually recruit up to 60,000 participants. The vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, is the fourth to participate in the large phase 3 trials that will determine effectiveness and safety, the Post reported.
Paul Stoffels, the company’s chief scientific officer, predicted Tuesday that there may be enough data to produce results by the end of the year, and the company plans to produce 1 billion cans over the next year.
Three other vaccine candidates have a head start. The US studies began earlier this summer. However, the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson could be easier to administer and distribute if it’s proven safe and effective, the Post reported.
The company is testing a single dose first, while the other vaccines will need a second shot three to four weeks after the first, the newspaper said. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine can also be stored in liquid form at refrigerator temperature for three months, while two of the other three vaccines must be frozen or kept at ultra-cold temperatures for long-term storage, the Post reported.
“A single vaccine, when safe and effective, has significant logistical advantages for global pandemic control,” said Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, who worked with Johnson & Johnson, um to develop the vaccine.
“It is really good that we have this variety of platforms as this is a critical crisis in relation to our global circumstances,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health. “Now, here in the US with 200,000 deaths, we want to do everything without compromising safety or effectiveness.”
The housings are getting bigger and bigger
The number of U.S. coronavirus cases was 6.9 million as of Thursday, when the death toll hit 201,000, according to a Times record.
By the same record, the top five states in coronavirus cases on Thursday were: California, with over 798,000; Texas with more than 753,000; Florida with more than 690,000; New York with over 456,000; and Georgia with over 292,700.
Containing the spread of the coronavirus in the rest of the world remains a challenge.
By Thursday, India’s coronavirus case count had topped 5.6 million, just over a month after hitting the 3 million mark, the Times reported.
More than 91,000 coronavirus patients have died in India, but the country has far fewer deaths than many others based on its population. Doctors say this reflects India’s younger and leaner population.
Still, the country’s public health system is under severe strain and some sick patients cannot find hospital beds, the newspaper said. Only in the United States are there more coronavirus cases.
Meanwhile, Brazil recorded nearly 4.6 million cases and more than 138,000 deaths on Thursday.
Cases are also increasing in Russia: the number of coronavirus cases in the country has exceeded 1.1 million, according to the Times. On Thursday, the death toll in Russia was over 19,867.
Globally, the number of reported infections exceeded 31.9 million on Thursday, with over 977,000 deaths, according to the Hopkins tally.
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