Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

Merck’s two Covid-19 vaccine candidates fail

In a stunning setback, Merck announced this morning it will stop developing both of its current Covid-19 vaccine formulations, citing inadequate immune responses to the vaccines, STAT’s Matthew Herper and Helen Branswell report. Both vaccines generated lower levels of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, including binding antibodies and neutralizing antibodies, than is seen in the blood of individuals who have recovered from Covid-19. The failures increase the pressure on other companies — notably, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax — awaiting results from Covid-19 vaccine trials. Work will continue on at least one of the Merck vaccines, which is being developed in partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, to see if using a different route of administration would improve how effective it is. Read more.

Undercounting of Covid-19 deaths is greatest in pro-Trump areas, analysis shows

Tens of thousands of Covid-19 deaths are going unreported in the U.S., with far more missed in counties that strongly supported former President Trump, according to new research. The figures suggest that political leanings have helped suppress the true scale of deaths. In cases where the deceased didn’t have a Covid-19 test, a coroner or medical examiner has the freedom to interpret symptoms. “There’s potentially latitude to make a judgement call conditional on a set of beliefs about Covid and whether it represents a serious problem or a hoax,” said Andrew Stokes, a professor of global health at Boston University School of Public Health who performed the analysis for STAT. Olivia Goldhill has more in this STAT exclusive.

CDC reports rare allergic reactions to Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine

The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine, like the one made by Pfizer and BioNTech, appears to induce rare anaphylactic reactions in a small number of people who receive the vaccine, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening if not treated quickly. As of Jan. 19, there have been 15 confirmed cases of anaphylaxis after receipt of Moderna’s vaccine and 45 confirmed cases of anaphylaxis after receipt of the Pfizer vaccine, the CDC said in a statement to STAT on Friday. That works out to a rate of 2.1 cases per million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 6.2 cases per million doses of the Pfizer, according to the agency. More here.

Inside STAT: Why the vaccine rollout is so slow, when it will pick up, and who can get it

Medical supplies are placed at the vaccination area in the Townsquare mall in Rockaway, N.J. (kena betancur/afp via getty images)

Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine. When can we get it? How can we find out? How well will the vaccines work? How close will they get us back to the life we can see now only in TV shows and movies filmed in the before times, when health workers and trick-or-treaters wore masks and social distancing wasn’t part of anyone’s vernacular? We all have questions. While she’s waiting, too, STAT’s Helen Branswell has some answers on why it’s taking so long, when newer vaccines might become available, who’ll get it, and how people are supposed to find out when and where they can get vaccinated. Read more about virus variants, vaccine cost, and what is known now about what vaccines can and can’t do.

Two Covid-19 treatments, two kinds of data behind them

News about two treatments for Covid-19 arrived over the weekend with two different levels of evidence behind them. First came word about using blood thinners to help prevent strokes, heart attacks, and lung failure, a treatment first tracked by New York doctors in the pandemic’s early days. Now, three clinical trials uphold the practice in moderately ill hospital patients. In contrast, the Montreal Heart Institute said in a press release that treating people recently diagnosed with Covid-19 with colchicine, a drug commonly prescribed for gout, could reduce the risk they will need to be hospitalized. But there’s a caveat, STAT’s Matthew Herper writes: The press release said these results were not statistically significant, although the numbers are close.

Revised WIC food package tied to better child development up to age 2, study suggests

When Tennessee changed guidelines on what foods its WIC safety net program would cover, it provided a natural experiment to see how the move might affect children whose mothers obtained WIC foods during pregnancy. A new study comparing 1,203 children born before and after the 2009 shift found that children’s growth and cognitive development up to age 2 improved with access to healthier options. The new benefits included $10 vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables, requirements for milk to be low fat and bread to be whole-grain, and incentives to breastfeed. The developmental differences waned by age 4, but the researchers called the results encouraging. “Policies to improve maternal nutrition during pregnancy can have long-term consequences for child health,” they write.

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 190,730
Deaths yesterday: 3,131
Vaccine doses distributed, per CDC41,411,550

Total doses administered: 20,537,990

What to read around the web today

  • 2 in 5 Americans live where COVID-19 strains hospital ICUs. Associated Press
  • Surge of student suicides pushes Las Vegas schools to reopen. New York Times
  • In a stab at equity, L.A. hospital vaccinates older relatives of housekeeping staff. Los Angeles Times
  • From Montreal to Manchester, efforts are launched to vaccinate the homeless. Washington Post
  • ‘I’m not looking to be vindicated,’ Deborah Birx says in televised interview. STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Monday, January 25, 2021


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