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‘Disheartened’ Medical Staff Stretched, Again, by COVID-19

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(Associated Press) – Soaring hospitalizations of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients are putting medical staffs in Louisiana under stress for a fourth time, as state officials continue the plea for people to get the shots that can prevent the disease. Hospitalizations were nearing the 1,000 mark as the delta variant becomes the dominant strain of the coronavirus in Louisiana and around the country. Gov. John Bel Edwards prepared to talk about the latest surge Friday afternoon. Louisiana has among the nation’s lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates. (Read Full Article)

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European Agency Clears Moderna Vaccine for Children 12-17

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(Associated Press) – The European Medicines Agency on Friday recommended authorizing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 17, the first time the shot has been authorized for people under 18. The EU drug regulator said research in more than 3,700 children aged 12 to 17 showed that the Moderna vaccine — already given the OK for adults across Europe — produced a comparable antibody response.  Until now, the vaccine made by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech has been the only option for children as young as 12 in North America and Europe. (Read Full Article)

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Study: Chinese COVID Shot May Offer Elderly Poor Protection

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(Associated Press) – A new study suggests that a Sinopharm vaccine offers poor protection from COVID-19 among the elderly, raising questions for dozens of countries that have given the Chinese company’s shots to their most vulnerable populations. A survey of blood samples taken from 450 people in Hungary at least two weeks after their second Sinopharm dose found that 90% under 50 years old developed protective antibodies. But the percentage declined with age, and 50% of those over 80 had none. (Read Full Article)

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CDC Panel Updates Info on Rare Side Effect After J&J Vaccine

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(Medscape)- Despite recent reports of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) after the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, independent experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the use of vaccines agree the benefits of the one-dose shot still outweigh its risks. The company also presented new data suggesting that the shots generate strong immune responses against circulating variants and that antibodies generated by the vaccine stay elevated for at least 8 months. (Read Full Article)

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Twofold Increased Risk for Death from COVID-19 in Psych Patients

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(Medscape) – Patients with a mental illness, particularly a psychotic or mood disorder, are twice as likely to die after infection with SARS-CoV-2 compared with those without a psychiatric diagnosis, according to the results of the largest study of its kind to date. These findings, investigators note, highlight the need to prioritize vaccination in patients with preexisting mental health disorders. (Read Full Article)

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Study: J&J Vaccine Less Effective Against Variants

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(Medscape) – A new study says the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides less protection against the Delta and Lambda variants than against the original COVID-19 strain. The study, which was published Tuesday in the online journal bioRxiv, said the J&J vaccine’s effectiveness in neutralizing those two variants was “significantly decreased” over time. People vaccinated with the J&J vaccine may need to get a second shot, perhaps with the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, to achieve good protection against variants, the study said. (Read Full Article)

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Dirty Games? Testing Slowdown During COVID Raises Questions

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(Associated Press) – The low numbers came in from across the globe and covered most every distance, from 100 meters through the marathon. The reasons behind all the improving times throughout the sport of track and field were every bit as diverse: better shoe technology, better running surfaces, less wear and tear on bodies during the COVID-19 pandemic and just a good old-fashioned itch to start running for real again. Another possibility: For the better part of three months during the pandemic, testing for performance-enhancing drugs came to a virtual standstill worldwide. Only in recent months has it begun to ramp back to normal. (Read Full Article)

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Argentina Threatens to Cancel Deal for Sputnik Vaccine as Russia Fails to Deliver

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(The Guardian) – Argentina’s gamble on Sputnik V vaccine has left it in a “very critical situation” because of Russia’s failure to fulfill delivery commitments, according to an official letter to Moscow leaked on Thursday. Russia owes Argentina 18.5m doses of its Sputnik V jab, over two-thirds of them vital second-component doses. Only 12% of Argentinians are fully vaccinated so far, partly due to failed Sputnik deliveries of its second component. Another 37% have received only a single dose. (Read Full Article)

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Pfizer, BioNTech Join Halting Effort to Produce Covid-19 Vaccines in Africa

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(Wall Street Journal) – Pfizer Inc. and its partner BioNTech SE said Wednesday that their Covid-19 vaccine will be partly produced in South Africa from next year, joining a halting effort to manufacture shots on a continent that has been left behind in the global fight against the pandemic. The deal—under which the Cape Town-based Biovac Institute will fill vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and ready them for shipment—follows growing pressure from the U.S., Europe and international organizations for drugmakers to do more to tackle global inequities in accessing Covid-19 shots. They said Biovac will deliver more than 100 million doses annually once its plant is fully operational next year. (Read Full Article)

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Havana Syndrome Task Force to Be Led by Veteran of Hunt for Bin Laden

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(Wall Street Journal) – CIA Director William Burns has tapped a veteran of the agency’s hunt for Osama bin Laden to head a task force aimed at finding the cause of unexplained health incidents suffered by U.S. spies and diplomats around the world, current and former officials familiar with the matter said. The choice of the Central Intelligence Agency officer—whose identity remains undercover—is part of what the officials described as a quickening effort to determine the source of the apparent attacks, which has proven elusive. They have affected scores of U.S. officials posted overseas over the last five years, and are sometimes known as “Havana Syndrome” because the symptoms were first reported in 2016 by diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. (Read Full Article)

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‘Gold Standard’ Study Confirms COVID mRNA Vaccines Prevent Infection

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(Medscape) – Clinical trials of mRNA vaccines have consistently demonstrated high effectiveness against COVID-19, but now a large, real-world study confirms that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are more than 95% effective in preventing confirmed infection. Lead author Adeel A. Butt, MBBS, MS, professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, told Medscape Medical News the numbers of people in the study population who received the Johnson and Johnson vaccine were too small to include in the study, as that vaccine was not widely available yet during the study period. (Read Full Article)

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US Virus Cases Nearly Triple in 2 Weeks Amid Misinformation

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(Associated Press) – COVID-19 cases nearly tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation that is straining hospitals, exhausting doctors and pushing clergy into the fray. “Our staff, they are frustrated,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, a Florida hospital that is canceling elective surgeries and procedures after the number of mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 inpatients at its two campuses jumped to 134, up from a low of 16 in mid-May. (Read Full Article)

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We’re Zeroing in on the ‘Holy Grail’ of COVID-19 Immunity

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(The Atlantic) – In recent weeks, the correlate community has been buzzing louder than ever. Scientists are on the cusp of confidently defining some correlates of protection against symptomatic disease for the COVID-19 vaccines. If confirmed, these correlates could revolutionize the way we tackle SARS-CoV-2 immunization: Vaccine makers testing a new inoculation may no longer need to follow tens of thousands of people for many months to test their product’s protection. Instead, they could inject just a few hundred people, snag some drops of blood, and see if the elusive correlate is met. That’s how we tee up new flu vaccines every year without the rigmarole of gargantuan clinical trials. (Read Full Article)

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How the Delta Variant Achieves Its Ultrafast Spread

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(Nature) – Since first appearing in India in late 2020, the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has become the predominant strain in much of the world. Researchers might now know why Delta has been so successful: people infected with it produce far more virus than do those infected with the original version of SARS-CoV-2, making it very easy to spread. According to current estimates, the Delta variant could be more than twice as transmissible as the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. (Read Full Article)

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In the Same Health System, Black Patients Are Prescribed Fewer Opioids Than White Patients

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(STAT News) – Inequities in health care are pervasive, from access to quality of care, and a new study finds that common opioids such as codeine and morphine are more often prescribed to white patients than to Black patients treated within the same health system. White patients received both more pills and stronger doses, according to the study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. In about 90% of the 310 health systems studied, the opioid dose prescribed to white patients was higher than the one prescribed to Black patients. On average, white patients received 36% more pain medication by dosage than Black patients, even though both groups received prescriptions at similar rates. (Read Full Article)

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Unvaccinated Staff Eyed in Rising Nursing Home Cases, Deaths

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(Associated Press) – Lagging vaccination rates among nursing home staff are being linked to a national increase in COVID-19 infections and deaths at senior facilities, and are at the center of a federal investigation in a hard-hit Colorado location where disease detectives found many workers were not inoculated. The investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of facilities in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area raises concerns among public health doctors that successes in protecting vulnerable elders with vaccines could be in peril as the more aggressive delta variant spreads across the country.  (Read Full Article)

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Drug Distributors, J&J Reach $26 Billion Opioid Settlement

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(Axios) – The three dominant prescription drug distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — and Johnson & Johnson have agreed to pay a combined amount of $26 billion to settle allegations that they fueled the country’s opioid crisis. Why it matters: The companies, which have admitted no wrongdoing, are paying a sum of money that equates to 4% of their combined annual revenue. Meanwhile, a record 70,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses during the pandemic in 2020. (Read Full Article)

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‘Dealing with a Different Beast’: Why Delta Has Doctors Worried

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(Medscape) – Catherine O’Neal, MD, an infectious disease physician, took to the podium of the Louisiana governor’s press conference on July 16 and did not mince words. “The delta variant is not last year’s virus, and it’s become incredibly apparent to healthcare workers that we are dealing with a different beast,” she said. Louisiana is one of the least vaccinated states in the country. In the United States as a whole, 48.6% of the population is fully vaccinated. In Louisiana, it’s just 36%, and Delta is bearing down. (Read Full Article)

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‘Speech Neuroprosthesis’ Gives Voice to a Man Who Couldn’t Speak

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(Medscape) – A “speech neuroprosthesis” that translates brain signals into words that appear on a screen has helped a man with severe paralysis, who had lost the ability to speak, communicate in sentences. It’s believed to be the first time words and sentences were decoded directly from cortical activity during attempted speech from someone who is paralyzed and cannot speak. (Read Full Article)

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States Are Sitting on Millions of Surplus Covid-19 Vaccine Doses as Expiration Dates Approach

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(STAT News) – Millions of unused Covid-19 vaccines are set to go to waste as demand dwindles across the United States and doses likely expire this summer, according to public health officials. Several state health departments told STAT they have repeatedly asked the federal government to redistribute their supply to other countries, many of which are facing a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Officials in Washington have rejected those requests, citing legal and logistical challenges. (Read Full Article)

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China Moves to Ease Child-Rearing Costs, in Drive to Boost Births

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(Wall Street Journal) – China said it would ease financial burdens and social restrictions associated with child-rearing, seeking to encourage births as it loosens decades-old rules on family planning. China said that it would reduce the cost of raising and educating children and shore up labor protections for women over the next five years, according to a policy document drafted by China’s ruling Communist Party and its cabinet, which was published Tuesday by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. (Read Full Article)

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Virus Slams Cuba as It Races to Roll Out Its New Vaccines

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(ABC News) – The COVID-19 pandemic is slamming Cuba like never before, even as the country races to roll out its homegrown vaccines — the only locally developed shots being widely used in Latin America. The island had seen far fewer infections that most other Latin American nations over the first year or so of the disease, imposing strict quarantines, isolating the infected and shutting down its tourism industry despite devastating economic consequences. (Read Full Article)

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India’s Pandemic Death Toll Could Be in the Millions

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(Associated Press) – India’s excess deaths during the pandemic could be a staggering 10 times the official COVID-19 toll, likely making it modern India’s worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research yet on the ravages of the virus in the South Asian country. Most experts believe India’s official toll of more than 414,000 dead is a vast undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading. The report released Tuesday estimated excess deaths — the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected — to be 3 million to 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021. It said an accurate figure may “prove elusive” but the true death toll “is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count.” (Read Full Article)

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US Opioid Lawsuits on Verge of Settlements with 4 Companies

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(Associated Press) – The yearslong effort by state and local governments in the U.S. to force the pharmaceutical industry to help pay to fix a nationwide opioid addiction and overdose crisis took a major step forward Tuesday when lawyers for local governments announced they were on the verge of a $26 billion settlement with the nation’s three biggest drug distribution companies and the drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. (Read Full Article)

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Third Covid Wave Upends Fragile South Africa, a Warning for Developing World

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(Wall Street Journal) – Wave after wave of coronavirus is pummeling South Africa’s fragile economy and its largely unvaccinated population, creating a spiral of death, lockdowns and anger that has fueled the country’s worst rioting since the collapse of white minority rule in 1994. At least 215 people died in the violence across South Africa’s two most populous provinces, and more than 3,400 have been arrested. While the looting had quieted by Monday, the situation remains tense in parts of the country.  (Read Full Article)

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