Solving COVID: February 3, 2021

The Week Staff
·4 min read

1.

Andy Slavitt, White House COVID-19 response team adviser, on Monday announced the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services have awarded $230 million to Ellume, the company that makes the first over-the-counter, fully at-home COVID-19 test authorized by the FDA, so they can "scale the manufacturing base and capacity" of the test. "Thanks to this contract, they'll be able to scale their production to manufacture more than 19 million test kits per month by the end of this year, 8.5 million of which are guaranteed to the U.S. government," Slavitt said. The FDA previously authorized the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test, which can show results on a smartphone in about 15 minutes, for emergency use in December. [The Wall Street Journal, CSPAN]

2.

Johnson & Johnson on Friday said its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine candidate in a global trial was found to overall be 66 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, but 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease, and there were no cases of COVID-19-related hospitalization and death in people who received the vaccine. In the United States, the vaccine was 72 percent effective against moderate to severe COVID-19, but it was 66 percent effective in Latin America and 57 percent in South Africa. The overall 66 percent efficacy rate fell short of that of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are both about 95 percent effective after two doses. But experts still saw the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as a potential "game changer" because it only requires one shot and can be stored at refrigerator temperature. The company planned to file for FDA approval within a week. [The Washington Post, The Associated Press]

3.

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine was found in an interim analysis to be 91.6 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19. The peer-reviewed preliminary analysis showed the vaccine provided full protection against moderate and severe COVID-19 cases. The vaccine was already approved in Russia in August, despite the fact that it hadn't yet undergone large clinical trials, and in the medical journal The Lancet, virology professors Ian Jones and Polly Roy addressed criticism of this quick process. "The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticized for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency," they wrote. "But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination demonstrated, which means another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of COVID-19." [Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal]

4.

Further analysis of trial data for the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide a boost for the United Kingdom's plan to lengthen the interval between doses to up to 12 weeks, which allows the country to administer the initial shot to more people. The latest update to the study, which hasn't been peer-reviewed yet, suggests the vaccine is 76 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections up to three months after a single dose. That level of immunity appears to kick in a little more than three weeks after the initial shot, with little evidence of protection waning in the interim period. The figure then rises to 82 percent after the second dose. Swabs taken weekly from volunteers in the U.K. also showed a 67 percent reduction in positive PCR tests, raising confidence the vaccine may help prevent transmission as opposed to just lowering the risk of symptomatic and severe infections. [The University of Oxford, BBC]

5.

The Biden administration said Tuesday that it would start sending some coronavirus vaccine doses directly to pharmacies. Many pharmacies already are administering vaccine doses distributed through state systems, but the new program will create a direct pipeline from the federal government to pharmacies. It is part of an effort to make vaccines more widely available. The initiative is separate from the federal government's use of Walgreens and CVS to get vaccine doses to long-term care facility residents. White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said the government will start by sending one million doses per week to 6,500 pharmacies. [Politico, The Washington Post]

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