Public health doesn’t know political ideology, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the International AIDS Society meeting Monday.
“When you’re in a public health crisis, you’ve got to pull together, everybody rowing in the same direction,” he said. “Otherwise you’re not going to stop what is now, as we all know, this historically destructive pandemic that we’re dealing with.”
The “divisive society” in the US, Fauci said, has proven that “you’ve got to separate public health measures from political ideology.”
“You can’t have arguments where wearing a mask or not wearing a mask becomes a political statement,” Fauci said. “It is a public health issue, period.”
Linda-Gail Bekker, the deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town South Africa, who was also at the conference, said that ideology gets in the way of good public health practices.
“People’s lives and well-being have to transcend our ideology,” Bekker said.
All the Covid-19 vaccines have probably taken “some hit” in terms of efficacy with the variants, and that’s why its urgent that vaccinations happen as fast as possible said Dr. Linda-Gail Bekker, deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
“The message has to be, let’s vaccinate while we’ve got a window of opportunity and a vaccine, several vaccines, that work against the current virus,” Bekker said at the International AIDS Society Monday.
Trials in South Africa show that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does seem to provide protection against the variants there, even if it is slightly diminished protection. It provided 57% protection against moderate disease in South Africa, compared to the US where it provided 72% protection, according to J&J. But globally it provided 85% protection against severe disease.
The mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are still being tested to see how they protect people from the variants, with more than 90% efficacy in clinical trials against the original virus, Bekker said, there is “a lot of headroom.”
“Even if there is a little bit of a ding there, we will still be in a very good space in terms of efficaciousness,” Bekker said.
“Vaccine impact is a mixture of efficacy and coverage. So what we take away from this is, if we give up a little bit of efficacy because we have a mutation to deal with, then we have to be sure to get that coverage out even more,” Bekker said. “That really just spurs us on to the urgency to get the vaccine out there as quickly as possible.”
The Biden administration touted progress in Covid-19 vaccine doses being administered, but expressed concern that health care providers could essentially be hoarding second doses of vaccine that could be administered in real time, warning that that “should not happen.”
“We expect the efficiency of doses being administered will steadily improve. On January 20, states had administered 46% of their inventory. Today, that number is 62%. We are focused on this every hour of every day,” White House Covid-19 senior adviser Andy Slavitt said at Monday’s virtual press briefing.
But, Slavitt cautioned, there is concern that providers, because of a lack of predictability on supply, are holding back available doses.
“There’s another thing going on that I want to alert people to, particularly the nation’s providers. We believe that some health care providers are regularly holding back doses that are intended as first doses, and instead keeping them in reserve for second doses for patients. We want to be clear that we understand why health care providers have done that, but that it does not need to happen, and should not happen,” he said.
Slavitt suggested that in some cases, patients’ appointments for a first dose are being canceled, and conveyed understanding but urgency in getting first doses out as quickly as possible.
“We completely understand that this has been a direct result of the lack of predictability many states and providers have had regarding how many doses that they would receive. That’s one reason why last week, we announced that the federal government will be providing a continual three-week window in the vaccines that will be shipped. With this action, states and vaccine providers will more rapidly use their first doses to vaccinate as many people as quickly and as equitably as possible, because they now have the predictability, that the second dose will be there when the time comes,” he added.
It is still recommended for people to get their second dose of Covid-19 vaccine on time, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a White House briefing on Monday.
“Until we have further data,” Walensky said, people should continue to follow the data from trials by continuing the schedule of receiving two doses 21 days apart for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and 28 days apart for the Moderna vaccine.
“The policy is that we certainly want everyone who gets a first dose to get their second dose,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during Monday’s briefing.
“The first priority will always be to get the people who have gotten their first doses to get their second doses,” Fauci said. “A dose that’s available is going to go into someone’s arm. If a person is ready for their second dose, that person will be prioritized.”
A total of 471 cases of coronavirus strains first spotted in the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been reported in at least 32 US states, according to data posted late Sunday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vast majority of these cases, 467, are the more contagious variant known as B.1.1.7, which was originally detected in the UK. These include 147 cases in Florida, 113 in California, 42 in New York and 22 in Michigan. The rest have fewer than 20 cases each
In addition, there are three US cases of a strain initially seen in South Africa, called B.1.351 – two in South Carolina and one in Maryland. Last, Minnesota health officials previously reported one case of the P.1 strain first linked to Brazil.
CDC says this does not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but rather just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples. The agency cautions that its numbers may not immediately match those of state and local health departments.
The Biden administration announced the US Department of Defense and US Department of Health and Human Services are working with Australian company Ellume to provide more of its fully at-home Covid-19 tests to the United States.
“Ellume has been ramping up manufacturing and will ship 100,000 test kits per month to the US from February through July,” Andy Slavitt, the senior Biden White House adviser for Covid Response, said during a White House briefing on Monday.
“That’s good but it’s obviously not where we’ll need to be – so I’m excited to announce that today, the Department of Defense and HHS has awarded $230 million to Ellume in order to scale the manufacturing base and capacity of this easy-to-use test,” Slavitt said. “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 US government.”
Slavitt said the test can detect Covid-19 with 95% accuracy within roughly 15 minutes.
In December, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized the Ellume Covid-19 test for emergency use. This antigen test, sold over-the-counter, can be done at home using a nasal swab, dropper and processing fluid. The test uses an analyzer that connects with a software app on your smartphone to help you perform the test and then interpret your results all from home, similar to at-home pregnancy tests.
Scientists have been pushing for this kind of accessible and affordable at-home testing since the start of the pandemic – and although the Trump administration previously insisted that anyone who wants a test can get one, that didn’t always happen.
CIC Health COO Rachel Wilson said despite the winter storm barreling down on the Northeast the site is open and vaccinations are underway, “here in New England we are hardy stock.”
On Monday, Wilson said large vaccination sites like Boston’s Fenway Park are great because they are “able to reach a large proportion of the population and help get as many people vaccinated, as quickly as possible.”
Speaking to CNN, Wilson said on top of that, “it’s totally a draw,” to visit a place like Fenway Park.
“It’s so iconic to be here at Fenway Park,” Wilson said. “We have three photo-op stations where people can tell their friends and family about their experience here at Fenway and hopefully help people have the confidence to come in and get their shot, once it’s their turn in line,” she said.
The demand “far outpaces” the supply that they have available, Wilson said, and they are working closely with the state to ramp up vaccine doses.
Once more vaccine is available, the Fenway Park site is anticipated to have 1,250 people per day. Right now, “We’re only opening up enough capacity for the amount of vaccine supply we have.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misreported the number of anticipated vaccinations per day at the Fenway Park site. It is 1,250 per day.
Criminals are selling forged Covid-negative test certificates as an increasing number of countries require travelers to provide proof of such results, European law enforcement agency Europol warned Monday.
Several cases of fake documents being sold have already been identified, the agency says in an “Early Warning Notice” issued to European police forces.
This includes the “arrest of a forgery ring at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris selling forged negative test results to passengers,” who were charging between $180 to $360 for fake certificates, Europol said
In the United Kingdom, Europol intelligence found, “fraudsters were caught selling bogus COVID-19 test documents for $135, faking the name of a genuine laboratory on the false certificates.”
Criminals are also using online platforms to sell fake certificates, Europol warns, including in Spain where a “fraudster was apprehended by the Spanish National Police for selling false negative PCR certificates,” for $50 each.
In the Netherlands, “scammers were discovered selling fake negative test statements for $60-72 through messaging apps.”
A genuine “fit-to-fly” PCR certificate in the UK costs upwards of $273, CNN research found.
In the Warning Notice Europol said:
“As long as travel restrictions remain in place due to the COVID-19 situation, it is highly likely that production and sales of fake test certificates will prevail.”
“Given the widespread technological means available, in the form of high-quality printers and different software, fraudsters are able to produce high-quality counterfeit, forged or fake documents,” the agency said.
The agency issued the notice to “increase further awareness of the illicit production and sales of fraudulent COVID-19 negative test certificates,” and asked law enforcement agencies, “to share any relevant information on criminal activities related to fake COVID-19 test documentation.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the President, stressed to people across the US, “when the vaccine becomes available to you, please get vaccinated.”
Speaking during a White House Covid briefing on Monday, Fauci said that the best way to fight the new variants that are spreading is to get people vaccinated “as quickly and expeditiously as possible throughout the country.”
He continued: “And the reason for that is that there is a fact that permeates virology and that is that viruses cannot mutate if they don’t replicate. And if you stop the replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations.”
He added that he believes vaccinating the population as quickly as possible is “going to prevent the emergence of variants here in our country.”