This article was updated Feb. 26, 2021, at 5:25 p.m. ET.
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Canadian Regulators Authorize AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 Vaccine
Feb. 26, 5:25 p.m.
Health Canada, the country’s health regulatory agency, approved the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for all adults ages 18 and older on Friday, according to The Associated Press.
Two versions were authorized -- one manufactured by AstraZeneca and developed by the University of Oxford, and the Serum Institute of India’s version of the vaccine. Canada has previously authorized the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“This is very encouraging news. It means more people vaccinated, and sooner,” Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, said during a news conference.
Canada will receive 6.5 million COVID-19 vaccines before the end of March, the AP reported, including 500,000 AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute. The country has ordered 22 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in total, which will arrive between April and September.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine clinical trials showed 62% efficacy, according to Health Canada, which appears to offer less protection than the other COVID-19 vaccines. However, public health officials have said any vaccine with 50% efficacy or higher could help bring an end to the pandemic.
“This is another option, and it’s a good option,” Supriya Sharma, MD, the chief medical adviser for Health Canada, said during Friday’s news conference.
Public health officials raised concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine after an early study showed that it might not prevent mild and moderate disease caused by the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, the AP reported. South Africa scaled back a planned rollout of the vaccine and opted to use the unlicensed Johnson & Johnson vaccine for health care workers.
The World Health Organization and more than 50 countries have authorized the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine, which is cheaper to manufacture and easier to store at typical refrigerated temperatures. The vaccine makes up the bulk of the stockpile for COVAX, the global COVID-19 vaccine distribution initiative.
The U.S. hasn’t yet authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine. Some countries, such as France and Germany, have authorized it only for people under 65. Health Canada said the vaccine would work in older adults based on a pooled analysis from four ongoing clinical studies, as well as data from countries where the vaccine has been approved.
“We’re starting to get real-world evidence,” Sharma said. “There is evidence that in older age groups, it would be effective.”
Boy, 12, in Vaccine Trials Hopes He Got ‘the Real Thing’
Feb. 26, 1:42 p.m.
A 12-year-old boy says he’s had a good experience so far participating in clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine designed for adolescents.
“It feels pretty cool. It’s nice knowing that I have the vaccine, hopefully, and I'm like helping out society,” Henry Turcotte, 12, of Boise, ID, told the TODAY show.
Henry got his first shot of the trial Feb. 3. The next day he had arm soreness, a headache, and tiredness, but he doesn’t know if he was given the Moderna vaccine or a placebo.
“I think it might be the real thing, just because of all the side effects I had after it, and they're kind of similar to the ones adults had, so I'm hoping I got the real thing,” Henry said.
“I'm also really hopeful he actually got the shot. I don't know that I've ever cheered so much for side effects,” said his mother, Diana Lachiondo.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines being given in the United States are only for people over 18 and 16, respectively.
Moderna is now conducting a trial with 3,000 participants for kids 12-17 and Pfizer for kids 12-15. Trials for even younger kids will come later.
Henry, a sixth grader, is taking part with two of his friends. Lachiondo told TODAY that her husband and sister are both doctors and they talked it through with Henry before signing him up.
“I'm really proud of him,” she said. “We're proud to do our part and hopefully it'll give parents some peace of mind when these vaccines hopefully become available for kids.”
Lachiondo provided informed consent for Henry’s participation, TODAY said. Henry then went through informed assent, with the doctors asking him many questions to make sure he wanted to take part in the trials.
That first visit included a blood draw and nasal swab to test for COVID-19, TODAY said. He’s scheduled for his second shot on March 3
“The anticipation was the scariest part,” Henry said. “But the shot itself did not hurt.”
Henry will record symptoms in an electronic diary, make six visits to the clinic, and have two phone or video visits with the study doctor. The family is financially compensated.
Children don’t appear to suffer severe sickness from COVID-19 as often as adults, health authorities have said, but they may be asymptomatic and still spread the virus.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association said that as of Feb. 18, more than 3.1 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Children account for 0-0.25% of all COVID-19 deaths.
There were about 71,000 new child cases in the last week of reporting, the two groups said, but new cases have been dropping for 5 straight weeks.
Moderna Variant Vaccine Ready for Clinical Trials
Feb. 25, 6:33 p.m.
Moderna has manufactured and shipped samples of its vaccine targeting the South African coronavirus variant to the National Institutes of Health for human clinical trials, the company said in a news release.
Moderna says its two-dose vaccine does not work as well against the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa as it does against the first form of the coronavirus. The South African variant has spread around the world, with a few cases found in the United States.
“We look forward to beginning the clinical study of our variant booster and are grateful for the NIH’s continued collaboration to combat this pandemic,” Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO, said in the news release. “As we seek to defeat COVID-19, we must be vigilant and proactive as new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge.”
To battle the South African variant, Moderna is considering three kinds of booster shots to be given after two doses of the original vaccine: The new vaccine, the original vaccine, or a combination of the new and the original vaccines.
These booster shots would be given in 50 microgram doses, Moderna said. The first two doses are 100 micrograms each.
It’s not known when Moderna’s variant-specific vaccine, called mRNA-1273.351, might be ready for the public if it receives emergency use authorization. The FDA said this week that clinical trials for booster shots won’t take as long as for other COVID vaccines.
U.S. Nursing Home Deaths Decline Sharply
Feb. 25, 6:20 p.m.
When the U.S. coronavirus vaccination program began in December, residents and employees of long-term care facilities were put at the top of the priority list. That made sense, since those facilities accounted for more than one-third of all virus-related deaths while representing less than 1% of the population, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The strategy appears to be working. Deaths and confirmed coronavirus cases have dropped sharply in U.S. nursing homes -- a category of all long-term care facilities -- since the vaccination program began, according to a The New York Times analysis of federal information.
The New York Times said deaths in nursing homes went down more than 65% between late December and early February. New cases went down 80% in that time period, twice the rate of the general population, with new cases at their lowest level since May.
“I’m almost at a loss for words at how amazing it is and how exciting,” Dr. David Gifford, the chief medical officer for an organization that represents long-term care facilities, the American Health Care Association, told the Times. “If we are seeing a robust response with this vaccine with the elderly with a highly contagious disease…I think that’s a great sign for the rest of the population.”
The first coronavirus outbreak occurred in a nursing home in Washington State a little more than a year ago. Since then, long-term care facilities have struggled to contain the spread of the virus. One of the most heart-wrenching hardships of the pandemic was the elimination of visits by outsiders, including families, to long-term care facilities.
More than 170,000 COVID-related deaths occurred in long-term care facilities, with 1.3 million cases reported, The COVID Tracking Project said. In the total population, the United States has had about 28.3 million cases and 506,000 deaths.
Some states were hit harder than others. The The New York Times analysis says nursing home deaths account for more than half the COVID-related deaths in 10 states -- Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
The CDC says 6.7 million doses of vaccine have been distributed to long-term care facilities, with 4.5 million people receiving one dose and 2.2 million getting two doses. Overall, 88.7 million doses have been delivered in the United States, with 66.5 million doses administered.
The Times noted how life has improved at one nursing home, Valley Senior Living in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where residents are socializing again and visiting with a few relatives at a time.
“Things are better,” said Garth Rydland, the chief executive at Valley Senior Living. “You kind of knock on wood every time you say something like that, but now, I feel a lot more confident.”
How many people have been diagnosed with the virus, and how many have died?
According to Johns Hopkins University , there are more than 113.26 million cases and more than 2.51 million deaths worldwide.
How many cases of COVID-19 are in the United States?
There are more than 28.46 million cases in the U.S. of COVID-19, and more than 509,700 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University .