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Morning Rounds Elizabeth Cooney

South Africa stops Covid-19 vaccine rollout after AstraZeneca shot falters against variant

South Africa is halting its rollout of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford Covid-19 vaccine, the country’s minister of health said at a press conference yesterday, following a new analysis that suggests the shot “provides minimal protection” against mild disease caused by the new coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa. Two top virologists advising the government said South Africa would institute a new protocol in which vaccines are initially studied in a research phase to determine if each vaccine reduces Covid hospitalizations in South Africa despite the widespread new variant there. This is the third vaccine, and the first approved vaccine, to show what appears to be reduced efficacy against B.1.351. STAT’s Matthew Herper has more.

Q&A: What’s happening with coronavirus mutations?

Since the pandemic began, researchers like Emma Hodcroft of the University of Bern have been looking out for genetic changes to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that could dramatically shift the dynamics of the Covid-19 pandemic. STAT’s Andrew Joseph asked her about these variants. The full interview is here.

How sufficient are the U.S. data now being shared about variants and mutations?
It’s hard to know what we’re missing when we don’t have the data. And I would say the U.S., it’s not terrible, it’s just really disparate. We just have blind spots in some places.

What public health strategies can control variants?
The good news/bad news about the variants is that they can be controlled in very much the same way that SARS-CoV-2 original versions could be controlled.  The good news is that we have an idea of what works. The bad news is that getting populations on board with that … is a different story.

We know masks work. What about mask mandates?

The science is clear on the value of masks in limiting Covid-19 spread, for the wearer and for people nearby. Now in a new pair of reports, the CDC evaluates state and university mandates for mask-wearing. From March through September, 10 hospitals saw the growth in Covid-19 admissions for adults under 65 slow by 6 percentage points four weeks after state mask mandates were imposed, compared to four weeks before the rule. And from September through November, trained observers on six college campuses with mask mandates reported that compliance was high indoors, outdoors, and in nearby neighborhoods. Masks were worn properly most of the time indoors: 97% for N95-type masks, 92% for cloth masks, and 79% for bandanas, scarves, and the like. 

Inside STAT: A scientific journal’s ‘grotesque overreaction’ in the Alzheimer's drug debate 

An aducanumab study participant. (Charles Krupa/AP)

A science journal owned by the Alzheimer’s Association punished three leading researchers after they published a stinging rebuke of Biogen’s controversial treatment aducanumab — a drug that the powerful advocacy group is lobbying regulators to approve. The Alzheimer’s & Dementia journal notified the authors that they had committed an “ethical violation” by tweeting a link to their own deeply skeptical aducanumab paper, not yet in its final form. The researchers were placed on a two-year publishing probation, and a letter disclosing the censure was sent to their academic bosses. While the situation may seem like a trivial squabble relegated to the ivory towers of academic publishing, it comes amid a ferocious debate over influence and perceived conflicts of interest surrounding aducanumab. STAT’s Damian Garde and Adam Feuerstein have more for STAT+ subscribers on what one outside expert called a "grotesque overreaction."

Misinformation on Covid-19 vaccines linked to lower acceptance

Getting to Covid-19 herd immunity from the coronavirus depends on people’s willingness to be vaccinated. A new study tested the impact of vaccine misinformation on participants’ intentions. The researchers asked 8,000 people — half in the U.S., half in the U.K. — if they planned to get vaccinated. After showing three-quarters of them misinformation such as “the new Covid-19 vaccine will literally alter your DNA” or “97% of corona vaccine recipients will become infertile,” respondents who would “definitely” take the vaccine dropped by 6 percentage points, compared to the group that saw factual information. And more moved from “definitely” to “yes, but leaning towards unsure” (9 percentage points) and from “yes, but leaning towards unsure” to “no, but leaning towards unsure” (11 percentage points).

For living kidney donors, financial and insurance barriers vary by state

Most transplanted organs come from deceased donors, but a nonprofit group contends that living kidney donations could grow if a patchwork of state regulations were changed to encourage living donors. Every day, 13 people in the U.S. die waiting for a kidney. The American Kidney Fund gave only two states — Arkansas and Connecticut —  an A on its new report card of policies that ensure donors get job security in the form of paid leave (donors need up to 12 weeks of recovery following surgery), protection from insurance discrimination, and tax deductions for donation expenses and tax credits for their employers. “It is not merely a humanitarian gesture — it is good public policy that can save lives,” LaVarne Burton, the fund’s CEO, said in a statement.

Covid-19 cases in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 129,674
Deaths yesterday
: 3,114
Vaccine doses distributed, per CDC59,307,800
Total doses administered: 41,210,937

What to read around the web today

  • Don't tell me what to do. The New Yorker
  • Where did Covid come from? Investigator foreshadows fresh clues. Bloomberg
  • Coronavirus cases drop at US homes for elderly and infirm. Associated Press
  • Is your vaccine card selfie a gift for scammers? Maybe. New York Times
  • When scientists become allergic to their research. Undark

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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Monday, February 8, 2021

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