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Global Covid-19 death toll tops 2 million, Vaccine access expands

U.K. scraps travel corridors over fears of new virus strains

The U.K. is to close all travel corridors from Monday, to protect against the risk of new strains of coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a news conference Friday.  

Introduced last summer, travel corridors allowed people arriving from some countries with low Covid numbers to avoid having to quarantine for 10 days.

Johnson said that they would be revoked in response to the rollout of coronavirus vaccines. “It’s precisely because we have the hope of that vaccine and the risk of new strains coming from overseas that we must take additional steps now to stop those strains from entering the country,” he said. 

The new policy came a day after the U.K. banned all travel from South America and Portugal. It means arrivals from every destination will need to self-isolate for 10 days, or receive a negative result from a coronavirus test taken at least five days after they enter Britain. 

CDC says U.K. coronavirus variant could become predominant strain in U.S. by March

The U.K. variant of the coronavirus could become the predominant strain in the United States by March, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Friday.

So far, only 76 cases of the variant, called B.1.1.7, have been identified in the country, in 10 states, the CDC said.

But models project that the variant could see “rapid growth” in coming months, putting further strain on the health care system.

“We are very concerned about this variant,” said Michael Johansson, one of the study’s authors and co-lead of the modeling team for the CDC’s Covid-19 response.

Johansson said the CDC is working to increase efforts to do more testing for such variants in the U.S.

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Thousands of Covid-19 vaccines wind up in the garbage because of fed, state guidelines

A hospital Covid-19 vaccination team shows up at the emergency room to inoculate employees who haven’t received their shots.

Finding just a few, the team is about to leave when an ER doctor suggests they give the remaining doses to vulnerable patients or nonhospital employees. The team refuses, saying that would violate hospital policy and state guidelines.

Incensed, the doctor works his way up the hospital chain of command until he finds an administrator who gives the OK for the team to use up the rest of the doses.

But by the time the doctor tracks down the medical team, its shift is over and, following protocol, whatever doses remained are now in the garbage.

Isolated incident? Not a chance, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told NBC News.

“This kind of thing is pretty rampant,” Jha said. “I have personally heard stories like this from dozens of physician friends in a variety of different states. Hundreds, if not thousands, of doses are getting tossed across the country every day. It’s unbelievable.”

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Global Covid-19 death toll tops 2 million

The global death toll from Covid-19 topped 2 million Friday, just over a year after the coronavirus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, according the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.   

The number of dead, is about the equivlent of the population of Brussels, Mecca, Minsk or Vienna.

The figure was reached as vaccination drives continue to be rolled out in countries around the world. 

However, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the terrible number of deaths “has been made worse by the absence of a global coordinated effort.”

He added: “Science has succeeded, but solidarity has failed.” 

Instagram influencers are a vaccine priority in wary Indonesia

Among the first in the line for coronavirus vaccines in Indonesia has been one conspicuous group — social media influencers.

Alongside President Joko Widodo as the world’s fourth most populous country kicked off its vaccination drive on Wednesday was Indonesian television personality, Raffi Ahmad, who boasts almost 50 million followers on Instagram.

“Alhamdulillah [Praise be to God] a vaccine … Don’t be afraid of vaccines,” the 33-year-old celebrity wrote under a video of him receiving the shot, next to a heart emoji and another of Indonesia’s red and white flag.

Deciding who should be first in line for limited vaccine doses has been a challenge around the world, with many countries prioritizing vulnerable medics and the elderly.

Senior health ministry official, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, said the decision to include influencers alongside almost 1.5 million healthcare workers in the first round of inoculations was a deliberate government communications strategy.

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Moderna offers third ‘booster’ shot to clinical trial participants

Moderna is offering a third dose of its coronavirus vaccine to people who participated in the company’s early clinical trials, as part of ongoing research on how the vaccines perform over time and whether individuals will need additional vaccinations to protect them from the virus.

The third shot, known as a booster, has been offered to volunteers who participated in Moderna’s Phase 1 clinical trial. The company’s Covid-19 vaccine uses genetic material called messenger RNA, or mRNA, to trigger the immune system to produce protective antibodies without using actual bits of the virus. In clinical trials, the vaccines were given in two doses and were found to be 94.5 effective at preventing the illness.

Researchers are now investigating how long protective antibodies from the vaccines last, whether additional boosters are needed and how they can be safely administered.

“We anticipate that an additional dose could further boost the levels of neutralizing antibodies, should such a boost be required, and that this is expected to be an advantage of mRNA vaccines,” a Moderna spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News. The spokesperson added that additional booster shots may be investigated in later research, if necessary.

Monoclonal antibodies could ease record Covid hospitalizations. Why are they going unused?

A drug that could protect high-risk Covid-19 patients from developing severe illness is sitting on shelves unused as a record number of people are hospitalized in the U.S.

On Thursday, public health officials at the federal and state levels pleaded with the country to take advantage of its vast supply of monoclonal antibody treatments, the only available therapy that can potentially keep patients out of the hospital.

“This is the first time during the pandemic that I can recall when our resources far exceed demand,” Dr. William Fales, medical director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said Thursday during a media briefing organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fales estimated that just 10 percent of Covid-19 patients in the state who are eligible for the therapy had received it.

Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made drugs meant to mimic natural antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. They’re recommended for people who are at high risk of getting very sick from the virus, including anyone over age 65 and people with underlying health conditions.

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More than 3,900 died of Covid-19 Thursday, Nevada sets record

Thursday was the third consecutive day that more than 3,000 died of Covid-19 in the United States, with a daily total of 3,957.

The country also logged 229,842 new cases, according to NBC News’ tally. 

Overall, 23,421,424 cases have been confirmed and 389,652 people have died from Covid-19 in the United States. The number of New daily cases has risen 20 percent in the past two weeks, and the number of new daily deaths has risen almost 23 percent.

Nevada set a single-day record with 62 deaths.

Fauci: We ‘obviously we have to do better’ on vaccine rollout

Dr. Anthony Fauci told the “TODAY” show on Friday what he expects to see when President-elect Joe Biden takes office in less than a week, saying “obviously we have to do better” about getting vaccines into the arms of the American people.

“There will be a greater degree of coordination, interaction, and support on the part of the federal government interacting with the states,” Fauci said.

When asked if he believes in Biden’s plan to rollout 100 million vaccines in 100 days, Fauci said: “I believe strongly that it’s doable.”

He told host Craig Melvin: “You don’t want the federal government to take all the responsibility on doing this. You don’t want the states to be left on their own. You got to have a good degree of interaction. That’s what we’re going to see more of — where states will have the help and resources, but more of a general coordinated plan to do all of this.”

To return to some semblance of normalcy, Fauci shared a few parting words: “Please, when the vaccine becomes available, get vaccinated.”

Former FDA chief tapped to serve as Biden’s chief science officer for Covid-19 response

The Biden transition team announced Friday that former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler will join the new administration’s Covid-19 response team as its chief science officer. 

Kessler already serves as a co-chair of Biden’s Covid-19 task force and has regularly briefed Biden on the pandemic. He led the FDA from 1990 to 1997 under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“Dr. Kessler helped spearhead a major global effort to make drugs available to millions to end the transmission of mother-to-child HIV-AIDS. A professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Kessler has also served as the dean of the medical schools at Yale and UCSF,” the announcement said. 

Andy Slavitt, former acting chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will serve as senior adviser to the Covid-19 response coordinator. 

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