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CVS, Walgreens Look for Big Data Reward from Covid-19 Vaccinations

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(The Wall Street Journal) – Administering Covid-19 vaccines comes with a valuable perk for retail pharmacies: access to troves of consumer data. Chains such as CVS Health Corp., Walmart Inc. and Walgreens-Boots Alliance, Inc. are collecting data from millions of customers as they sign up for shots, enrolling them in patient systems and having recipients register customer profiles. The retailers say they are using the information to promote their stores and services, tailor marketing and keep in touch with consumers. The companies also say the information is critical in streamlining vaccinations and improving record-keeping, while ensuring only qualified people are receiving shots.

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BMI, Age, and Gender Affect COVID-19 Vaccine Antibody Response

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(Medscape) – The capacity to mount humoral immune responses to COVID-19 vaccinations may be reduced among people who are heavier, older, and male, new findings suggest. The data pertain specifically to the mRNA vaccine, BNT162b2, developed by BioNTech and Pfizer. The study was conducted by Italian researchers and was published February 26 as a preprint. The study involved 248 healthcare workers who each received two doses of the vaccine. Of the participants, 99.5% developed a humoral immune response after the second dose. Those responses varied by body mass index (BMI), age, and gender.

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Contagious Brazil COVID-19 Variant Evades Immunity, Scientists Warn

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(Medscape) – A highly transmissible COVID-19 variant that emerged in Brazil and has now been found in at least 20 countries can re-infect people who previously recovered from the disease, scientists said on Tuesday. In a study of the mutant virus’s emergence and its spread in the Amazon jungle city of Manaus, the scientists said the variant – known as P.1 – has a “unique constellation of mutations” and had very rapidly become the dominant variant circulating there.

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Covid Deaths High in Countries with More Overweight People, Says Report

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(The Guardian) – Countries with high levels of overweight people, such as the UK and the US, have the highest death rates from Covid-19, a landmark report reveals, prompting calls for governments to urgently tackle obesity, as well as prioritising overweight people for vaccinations. About 2.2 million of the 2.5 million deaths from Covid were in countries with high levels of overweight people, says the report from the World Obesity Federation. Countries such as the UK, US and Italy, where more than 50% of adults are overweight, have the biggest proportions of deaths linked to coronavirus.

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India’s Covid-19 Vaccine Is Found Effective, Boosting National Efforts

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(Wall Street Journal) – India’s Bharat Biotech said its Covid-19 vaccine has proven 81% effective at protecting people in a large clinical trial, a report that could invigorate India’s inoculation drive and vaccine-diplomacy efforts. Bharat Biotech is one of the world’s largest producers of vaccines but is little known outside of the industry. It has been developing a Covid-19 vaccine since the first half of 2020, which New Delhi approved for emergency use this year. India has already administered the vaccine to more than one million people.

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Los Angeles County Finds Fewer Cases Among Health Care Workers as More Get Vaccinated

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(New York Times) – What was once a flood of health care workers catching the coronavirus in Los Angeles County has now slowed to a trickle, in large part because the vast majority of them have been vaccinated, local public health officials said. Reports of new virus cases among health care workers in the county have fallen by 94 percent since late November, just before vaccination began.

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CRISPR Rivals Put Patents Aside to Help in Fight Against Covid-19

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(STAT News) – In many countries, it’s possible to walk into a pharmacy and buy a simple, cheap, at-home test that will almost instantly signal a pregnancy. But even now, more than a year after Covid-19 emerged, it’s hard to get such a test for the infection. The standard method of using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique involves complex chemical mixtures and temperature cycling. The teams around Zhang and Doudna began developing an alternative: directly detecting the genetic material of viruses the way bacteria do using a CRISPR system.

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5 Pandemic Mistakes We Keep Repeating

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(The Atlantic) – The problem is not that the good news isn’t being reported, or that we should throw caution to the wind just yet. It’s that neither the reporting nor the public-health messaging has reflected the truly amazing reality of these vaccines. There is nothing wrong with realism and caution, but effective communication requires a sense of proportion—distinguishing between due alarm and alarmism; warranted, measured caution and doombait; worst-case scenarios and claims of impending catastrophe. We need to be able to celebrate profoundly positive news while noting the work that still lies ahead. However, instead of balanced optimism since the launch of the vaccines, the public has been offered a lot of misguided fretting over new virus variants, subjected to misleading debates about the inferiority of certain vaccines, and presented with long lists of things vaccinated people still cannot do, while media outlets wonder whether the pandemic will ever end.

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Rural Americans in Pharmacy Deserts Hurting for Covid Vaccines

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(Kaiser Health News) – As the Biden administration accelerates a plan to use pharmacies to distribute covid-19 vaccines, significant areas of the country lack brick-and-mortar pharmacies capable of administering the protective shots. A recent analysis by the Rural Policy Research Institute found that 111 rural counties, mostly between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, have no pharmacy that can give the vaccines. That could leave thousands of vulnerable Americans struggling to find vaccines, which in turn threatens to prolong the pandemic in many hard-hit rural regions.

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Black Americans During Pandemic

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(NPR) – Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say fatal drug overdoses nationwide have surged roughly 20% during the pandemic, killing more than 83,000 people in 2020.  While the CDC doesn’t track overdose deaths by race, a growing body of research suggests Black Americans have suffered the heaviest toll.

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Oxford and Pfizer Vaccines ‘Highly Effective’ in Reducing Severe COVID-19

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(Medscape) – Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines were highly effective in reducing COVID-19 among older people, new data revealed. The preprint of a study submitted by Public Health England (PHE) suggested that since January 4, approximate protection against symptomatic COVID-19 for people aged 70 and over after a single dose of vaccine ranged between: 60% and 70% for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 60% and 75% for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine

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COVID-19 Pandemic Fuels Attacks on Health Workers Globally

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(Medscape) – Two Nigerian nurses were attacked by the family of a deceased COVID-19 patient. One nurse had her hair ripped out and suffered a fracture. The second was beaten into a coma. Following the assaults, nurses at Federal Medical Centre in the Southwestern city of Owo stopped treating patients, demanding the hospital improve security. Almost two weeks passed before they returned to work with armed guards posted around the clock.

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Covid-19 Variant in Brazil Overwhelms Local Hospitals, Hits Younger Patients

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(Wall Street Journal) – Researchers and doctors are sounding the alarm over a new, more aggressive coronavirus strain from the Amazon area of Brazil, which they believe is responsible for a recent rise in deaths, as well as infections in younger people, in parts of South America. Brazil’s daily death toll from the disease rose to its highest level yet this week, pushing the country’s total number of Covid-19 fatalities past a quarter of a million. On Tuesday, Brazil reported a record 1,641 Covid fatalities. Neighbor Peru is struggling to curb a second wave of infections. The new variant, known as P.1, is 1.4 to 2.2 times more contagious than versions of the virus previously found in Brazil, and 25% to 61% more capable of reinfecting people who had been infected by an earlier strain, according to a study released Tuesday. 

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Covid-19 Vaccinations Proceed Slowly Among Older Latino, Black People

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(Wall Street Journal) – Across the country and age groups, vaccination rates are lower among minority groups than among white people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. The nonprofit reported last week that vaccination rates among elderly Black and Latino people were lower than those for elderly white people in South Carolina and Washington, the two states reporting comprehensive data. Black and Latino people are also three times more likely than whites to be hospitalized with Covid-19 and roughly twice as likely to die from the disease, federal data show.

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Chinese Vaccines Sweep Much of the World, Despite Concerns

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(Associated Press) – China’s vaccine diplomacy campaign has been a surprising success: It has pledged roughly half a billion doses of its vaccines to more than 45 countries, according to a country-by-country tally by The Associated Press. With just four of China’s many vaccine makers claiming they are able to produce at least 2.6 billion doses this year, a large part of the world’s population will end up inoculated not with the fancy Western vaccines boasting headline-grabbing efficacy rates, but with China’s humble, traditionally made shots. 

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Abortion Concerns Prompt Archdiocese Warning on Vaccine

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(ABC News) – Roman Catholic leaders in St. Louis and New Orleans are advising Catholics that the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, newly approved for use in the U.S., is “morally compromised” because it is produced using a cell line derived from an aborted fetus. The New Orleans archdiocese says the decision to receive a vaccine is one of individual conscience. In its statement late last week, it stopped short of advising Catholics not to take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but adds that Catholics should choose coronavirus vaccines made by Moderna or Pfizer — if they are available.

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Substance Use, Suicide, and Cardiometabolic Conditions Drive Rise in Working-Age Mortality, Report Finds

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(STAT News) – Increasing mortality rates among working-age Americans since 2010 have been mainly driven by drug- and alcohol-related deaths, suicide, and cardiometabolic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, according to a sweeping new report. The report, released Tuesday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, examined data from 1990 to 2017, and revealed that the rise in deaths among working-age adults (those between 25 and 64) was seen across rural and metropolitan areas and racial and ethnic groups. The increase also appears to be behind the recent fall in U.S. life expectancy, which is significantly lower than in other high-income countries. 

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Virus Variant Races Through Italy, Especially Among Children

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(ABC News) – The variant of the coronavirus discovered in Britain is prevalent among Italy’s infected schoolchildren and is helping to fuel a “robust” uptick in the curve of COVID-19 contagion in the country, the health minister said Tuesday. Roberto Speranza told reporters that the variant, associated with higher transmission rates, has shown pervasiveness “among the youngest age group” of the population.

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Doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Pile Up in Europe Amid Government Restrictions

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(The Wall Street Journal) – Europe’s reluctance to distribute millions of doses of AstraZeneca PLC’s Covid-19 vaccine is coming under pressure after the French government authorized use of the shot for some older people. The French government announced it would allow people with comorbidities between the ages of 65 and 74 to receive the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca. New data from the U.K. on Monday showed just one dose of the vaccine was effective in preventing disease and deaths among adults aged 70 and older who had received it.

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Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Reduces Infection Risk After One Dose: UK Study

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(Medscape) – A single dose of Pfizer and BioNtech’s COVID-19 vaccine cuts the number of asymptomatic infections and could significantly reduce the risk of transmission of the virus, results of a UK study found on Friday. Researchers analysed results from thousands of COVID-19 tests carried out each week as part of hospital screenings of healthcare staff in Cambridge, eastern England.

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Israel’s “Green Pass” Is an Early Vision of How We Leave Lockdown

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(MIT Technology Review) – Some proponents, including those on one side of a fierce debate in Thailand, have focused on ending quarantines for international travelers to stimulate the hard-hit tourism industry. Others imagine following Israel’s lead, creating a two-tiered system that allows vaccinated people to enjoy the benefits of a post-pandemic life while others wait for their shots. What is happening there gives us a glimpse of the promise—and of the difficulties such schemes face.

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CDC Chief Signs Off on Advisory Panel’s Backing of J&J Vaccine

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(Medscape) – The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, MD, signed off Sunday on an advisory panel’s unanimous endorsement of the newly approved single-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Her action clears the way to begin distributing the adenovirus vaccine across the United States for use in people aged 18 years and older.

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UN Rights Chief Cites ‘Need’ to Assess Rights in Xinjiang

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(Associated Press) – The United Nations’ human rights chief on Friday cited the need for an “independent and comprehensive assessment” of the rights situation in China’s Xinjiang region, while emphasizing that activists, lawyers and rights defenders face unfair charges, detention and trials in China. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said her office is working to find “mutually agreeable parameters” for her to visit China, including Xinjiang. Efforts to arrange such a visit for the human rights commissioner date to before she took office in September 2018.

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Dutch Parliament: China’s Treatment of Uighurs Is Genocide

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(Reuters) – The Dutch parliament on Thursday passed a non-binding motion saying the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in China amounts to genocide, the first such move by a European country. Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least one million Muslims are being detained in camps in the remote western region of Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labour and sterilisations.

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States Easing Virus Restrictions Despite Experts’ Warnings

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(Associated Press) – With the U.S. vaccination drive picking up speed and a third formula on the way, states eager to reopen for business are easing coronavirus restrictions despite warnings from health experts that the outbreak is far from over and that moving too quickly could prolong the misery. 

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